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Rationalism in Our Times


                              Saint Paisios of Mount Athos

Rationalism in Our Times


Note: Geronda means Elder in Greek.

Question: Geronda, what is the place of reason and logic in the spiritual life?

Saint Paisios: Which logic are you talking about? If you mean secular logic, then this kind of logic* has no place at all in the spiritual life. Angels and Saints, enter through our windows, we can see them, talk with them, and then they leave... There is no way that one can explain this logically. Today, increased knowledge and trust in logic has, unfortunately, shaken our faith to its foundations and filled our souls with question marks and doubts. This is why we don’t have miracles anymore, because a miracle cannot be explained logically, it can only be experienced. But faith in God will bring down divine power and overturn all human expectations. It will perform miracles, resurrect the dead and astonish science. From the outside, all things pertaining to the spiritual life seem upside down. Indeed, the mysteries of God will be impossible to know and will appear strange and contrary to nature as long as we don’t overturn our secular mindset and see everything with spiritual eyes. Those who believe that they can come to know God’s mysteries through mere scientific theory, without a spiritual life, resemble a fool who thinks he can look through a telescope and see Paradise.

[*Footnote: When the Elder refers to logic and reproaches it, he does not mean by this term the gift of reason with which God has honoured human beings, but rather rationalism, or, as he calls it “afflicted reason”, the logic that is void of faith in God, rejects divine Providence and denies the possibility of miracles.]

Logic is very harmful when we use it to scrutinize the divine, the mysteries and the miracles. Logic drove the Roman Catholics, as I have heard, to put the Holy Communion through chemical tests to determine if it is the actual Body and Blood of Christ! Now think of the Saints who had so much faith that they could often see flesh and blood on the Holy Communion spoon. Pretty soon, they will be putting the Saints through an X-ray machine to establish their sainthood! Thus, the Catholics got rid of the Holy Spirit, put logic in its place and now spend their time with “white magic”. I said to a Catholic, a man with a good disposition, who came to see me and was in tears, “Among the most important differences that we have with you, is that you put the mind first, whereas we put faith. You have developed rationalism and, in general, you stress the human factor. This way you limit the power of God, because you put divine Grace aside. You put a preservative in Holy Water to keep it from spoiling. We, on the other hand, pour Holy Water on spoiled things and they become fresh again. We believe in Grace that sanctifies, and for this reason Holy Water remains unspoiled for two hundred years, five hundred years; it never spoils.”

Question: In other words, Geronda, what has happened is that logic and rationalism have taken precedence over God?

Saint Paisios: Could it be that what we are talking about is not logic but pride? Because you see, this kind of logic is actually impaired rather than sound reason. Pride is reason that is impaired, full of egoism, harbouring demons. When this sort of logic is involved in our actions, we grant rights to the devil to intervene.

Question: Geronda, when a spiritual person is confronting temptation, can’t they make use of logic?

Saint Paisios: In that case, they should do what is humanly possible, and where something is not in their power, they should leave it to God. There are some people, who will try to grasp everything only with their mind, for example, those who say the Jesus Prayer silently, only with their mind. They put pressure on their mind to concentrate and they end up getting a headache. If I were to deal this way with the problems I have to face daily, do you think that I would be able to manage? I just do what is humanly possible and leave the rest to God. I say to myself, “God will show me, He will enlighten me and I will know what to do.” You will hear many people complain, “How will I get this done and how will I manage to finish this or that...” The smallest problem gives them a headache. If we try to solve problems using nothing else but our logic, we will end up quite confused. In each and every one of our actions, God must take the lead. Everything we do, we must do trusting God, for otherwise we will be full of anxiety, our mind will get overwhelmed and our soul will be miserable.

Extract from “Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels I: With Pain and Love for
Contemporary Man” (pages 244-246)