St. Isaiah the Solitary, On Guarding the Intellect, Twenty-Seven Texts
5. When the intellect hears these words of reassurance, it says boldly to its enemies, “Who would fight with me? Let him stand against me. And who would accuse me? Let him draw near to me. Behold, the Lord is my helper; who will harm me? Behold, all of you are like an old moth-eaten garment.”
The reassurance referred to is presumably that in the previous text, that God’s presence will be always with us, which is promised when we have submitted our intellect entirely to God. The fear I spoke of commenting on Text 4 was about the fear that the intellect’s own purposes and nature would be subverted by being subjected. The fear then was that an untrammeled intellect seems to be necessary for it to achieve its purpose of seeking truth, and that binding it to God might block the goal of the intellect. But, once we realize that God is truth, we hear the promise, the reassurance, that God will always be with the intellect, and will not abandon it, and the intellect is strengthened, not weakened, by its submission to God.
The strengthening now is broader in Text 5. Not only is it guarded against an apparent loss of its own function, but it is able to stand firm more solidly than before, with God as helper. Challenges to our ideas, to our thoughts, to our knowledge and our wisdom, are the sort of thing we would normally meet with a challenge back. The intellect asserts itself to defend our ideas in a sort of combat with opposing ideas, or worse, the people who express them. St. Isaiah, again quoting his namesake the prophet Isaiah, accepts the martial metaphor, but turns it on its head.
The intellect is strengethened here not to better argue against its enemies, or oppose them intellectually. But rather, by resting in the confidence of God’s presence, it has nothing to fear. There is no mention here of defeating the intellectual opponent, but only of withstanding because that opponent can do nothing. Indeed, the opponent need not be fought because he is only an “old moth-eaten garment.”
The intellect, secure in its knowledge that God is present and will always be present, confident in its submission to God, has nothing to fear either from a subversion of its purpose of seeking truth, or from a need to defend itself against enemies. God has promised help, and there is no need for combat or defense any longer.
This is thus quite different from Socratic dialectic, which must always be tested in discussion. (See the Crito!) Instead, the truth is not known because it is hard-won through struggle with competing visions of other people; the truth is known in a relationship of submission and loving adoration of God. The dialectic is thus perhaps exposed to be what Socrates’ opponents always thought it was: self-assertion.
Index of Comments on the Philokalia