Wednesday, September 27, 2006

St. Isaiah the Solitary 9

St. Isaiah the Solitary, On Guarding the Intellect, Twenty-Seven Texts

9. If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.

The previous text explained that freedom of the intellect from hope in things visible is a sign that sin has died within. Here this is broadened in two ways.

First, the freedom described is not just freedom "from hope in things visible", but simply freedom, full stop. Freedom therefore not from mistaken hope in things not able to deliver, but freedom from whatever oppresses. Indeed, the primary oppression is sin, and so this follows on, rather than restates, the previous text.

It is as if we are told that the care expressed in text seven about the use of the senses was first said to play a role in the freedom of our intellect from sin, and then we are told that this freedom in turn eliminates "the breach between it and God". Our intellect is divided from God in so many ways. Divided in understanding of God and itself, divided in relating to the world, divided in its anxiety and confusion.

But still not clear here is the story about how our intellect is freed, how the death of sin is obtained, how the breach between it and God is eliminated. The ontological fact is that the breach has been eliminated, for the Christian, and for St. Isaiah and the rest of the hesychastic tradition, by the already present and active grace of God, the sacramental life of the church, and the prayer of our hearts. These are the operative means by which this occurs.

It is our subjective apprehension of this already-accomplished objective fact which is lacking, and so it is appopriate to focus so strongly in this way on the intellect. It is the intellect which is principally implicated in the gap between our subjective apprehension and the objective reality as things are. It is here that the practical strategies of St. Isaiah (and the rest) come to the fore: not as mechanisms to achieve the cure for sin, but as mechanisms to apprehend it, to know it to have happened.

We seek signs and signals to see this already-accomplished objective fact. This is the proper function of the intellect, to seek these things, and so here we are told the practical strategies for that seeking and that growing understanding.

Index of Comments on the Philokalia

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