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Author Topic: Saint John Chrysostom on The Limitations of Reason  (Read 1747 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: February 03, 2011, 01:44:10 AM »

“For where faith exists, there is no need of question. Where there is no room for curiosity, questions are superfluous. Questioning is the subversion of faith. For he that seeks has not yet found. He who questions cannot believe. Therefore it is his advice that we should not be occupied with questions, since if we question, it is not faith; for faith sets reasoning at rest.” - Homily 1 on First Timothy

“And some turn aside from the faith, who seek out everything by reasoning; for reasoning produces shipwreck, while faith is as a safe ship.” - Homily 5 on First Timothy

“Thus it is blasphemy to search into divine things by our own reasonings. For what have human reasonings in common with them?” - Homily 5 on First Timothy

“For when the soul is fevered with reasonings, and stormy, then it questions, but when it is in a sound state, it does not question, but receives the faith. But from questionings and strifes of words nothing can be discovered. For when the things which faith only promises are received by an inquisitive spirit, it neither demonstrates them, nor suffers us to understand them. If one should close his eyes, he would not be able to find anything he sought: or if, again with his eyes open, he should bury himself, and exclude the sun, he would be unable to find anything, thus seeking. So without faith nothing can be discerned, but contentions must needs arise. “Whereof come railings, evil surmisings”; that is, erroneous opinions and doctrines arising from questionings. For when we begin to question, then we surmise concerning God things that we ought not.” - Homily 17 on First Timothy

"But, in short, when God does anything, reasonings are of no use; for how did He make us out of those things that were not?" - Homily 66 on John

“For where there is not faith, there is not knowledge; when anything springs from our reasonings, it is not knowledge.” - Homily 18 on First Timothy

"Faith is all. If that establishes [it], the heart stands in security. It follows that Faith establishes: consequently reasonings shake. For Faith is contrary to reasoning." - Homily 33 on Hebrews

"There is nothing worse than that man should measure and judge of divine things by human reasonings." - Homily 2 on Second Timothy

“Do you see how when one commits spiritual things to his own reasonings, he speaks ridiculously, seems to be trifling, or to be drunken, when he pries into what has been said beyond what seems good to God, and admits not the submission of faith? …For nothing causes such dizziness as human reasoning, all whose words are of earth, and which cannot endure to be enlightened from above.” - Homily 24 on John

“Faith is a shield; but wherever there are quibbles, and reasonings, and scrutinizings, then is it no longer a shield, but it impedes us.” - Homily 24 on Ephesians

“Be then in nothing over-curious, nor demand reasonings. Our [religion] needs faith.” - Homily 19 on Hebrews

“From solidity follows compactedness, for you will then produce solidity, when having brought many things together, you shall cement them compactedly and inseparably; thus a solidity is produced, as in the case of a wall. But this is the peculiar work of love; for those who were by themselves, when it has closely cemented and knit them together, it renders solid. And faith, again, does the same thing; when it allows not reasonings to intrude themselves. For as reasonings divide, and shake loose, so faith causes solidity and compactness. For seeing God has bestowed upon us benefits surpassing man's reasoning, suitably enough He has brought in faith. It is not possible to be steadfast, when demanding reasons. For behold all our lofty doctrines, how destitute they are of reasonings, and dependent upon faith alone. God is not anywhere, and is everywhere. What has less reason in it than this? Each by itself is full of difficulty. For, indeed, He is not in place; nor is there any place in which He is. He was not made, He made not Himself, He never began to be. What reasoning will receive this, if there be not faith? Does it not seem to be utterly ridiculous, and more endless than a riddle? Now that He has no beginning, and is uncreate, and uncircumscribed, and infinite, is, as we have said, a manifest difficulty; but let us consider His incorporealness, whether we can search out this by reasoning. God is incorporeal. What is incorporeal? A bare word, and no more, for the apprehension has received nothing, has impressed nothing upon itself; for if it does so impress, it comes to nature, and what constitutes body. So that the mouth speaks indeed, but the understanding knows not what it speaks, save one thing only, that it is not body, this is all it knows.” - Homily 5 on Colossians

“Faith needs a generous and vigorous soul, and one rising above all things of sense, and passing beyond the weakness of human reasonings. For it is not possible to become a believer, otherwise than by raising one's self above the common customs [of the world].” - Homily 22 on Hebrews.
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« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2011, 02:11:09 AM »

Not much of a scholastic it seems.
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« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2011, 03:03:07 AM »

I love St John Chrysostom. Great quotes.
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« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2011, 03:15:01 AM »

Thanks for posting these! Wonderful. Smiley


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« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2011, 11:24:27 AM »

Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe.
It has shown to the world the riches of riches poverty;
it has revealed to us the heights of humility.
Teaching us by your words, O Father John Chrysostom,
intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls!
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« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2011, 11:45:38 AM »

Keep in mind though that faith and knowledge are not mutually exclusive, nor did St. John argue for the same. Archbishop Demetrios addressed these very points in this year's Encyclical on the Feast of the Three Hierarchs. I think that his words point out the distinction between a 'scholastic' approach to knowledge and that envisioned by the Holy Hierarchs. http://www.goarch.org/news/threehirarchsencyclical2011

In part he notes:

     "Saint John Chrysostom addresses knowledge in a similar way in his homily on Colossians 1:9-10.  In his exposition of this letter of Saint Paul, Chrysostom states that “to be in error” is “not to know God as one ought.” (Homily II on Colossians)  Thus, true knowledge is knowing the will of God and living in a manner which increases the knowledge of God.  He also affirms that to know God, a person must know and believe in Christ, the Son of God who has revealed the Father and His love for us.

The relationship of knowledge and faith is essential to the meaning and purpose of our lives in our contemporary world. While we live in a world filled with information and means for acquiring and storing more and more knowledge, we can also say that we live in a world where many are spiritually illiterate, having no or very limited knowledge of God.  This reality accentuates the uniqueness of our celebration.  On this day of the Three Hierarchs and Greek Letters, we combine an emphasis upon learning, intellectual growth, language, music, art, and many other areas of knowledge with the truth of our faith. We affirm that knowledge and faith are not exclusive, but, as seen in the lives and teachings of Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Basil and Saint Gregory, are very interrelated in both our abilities and existence, and ultimately in our relationship with God. We also recognize that knowledge of God is the foundation, standard, and goal of all knowledge.  When we know God we understand the value of the knowledge we have about all that He has made.  In our relationship with God we find the wisdom and discernment to use knowledge in ways that sustain life and well-being.  We also realize that knowledge both leads us to faith and strengthens our faith in Him."
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« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2011, 11:54:56 AM »

Keep in mind though that faith and knowledge are not mutually exclusive, nor did St. John argue for the same. Archbishop Demetrios addressed these very points in this year's Encyclical on the Feast of the Three Hierarchs. I think that his words point out the distinction between a 'scholastic' approach to knowledge and that envisioned by the Holy Hierarchs. http://www.goarch.org/news/threehirarchsencyclical2011

In part he notes:

     "Saint John Chrysostom addresses knowledge in a similar way in his homily on Colossians 1:9-10.  In his exposition of this letter of Saint Paul, Chrysostom states that “to be in error” is “not to know God as one ought.” (Homily II on Colossians)  Thus, true knowledge is knowing the will of God and living in a manner which increases the knowledge of God.  He also affirms that to know God, a person must know and believe in Christ, the Son of God who has revealed the Father and His love for us.

The relationship of knowledge and faith is essential to the meaning and purpose of our lives in our contemporary world. While we live in a world filled with information and means for acquiring and storing more and more knowledge, we can also say that we live in a world where many are spiritually illiterate, having no or very limited knowledge of God.  This reality accentuates the uniqueness of our celebration.  On this day of the Three Hierarchs and Greek Letters, we combine an emphasis upon learning, intellectual growth, language, music, art, and many other areas of knowledge with the truth of our faith. We affirm that knowledge and faith are not exclusive, but, as seen in the lives and teachings of Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Basil and Saint Gregory, are very interrelated in both our abilities and existence, and ultimately in our relationship with God. We also recognize that knowledge of God is the foundation, standard, and goal of all knowledge.  When we know God we understand the value of the knowledge we have about all that He has made.  In our relationship with God we find the wisdom and discernment to use knowledge in ways that sustain life and well-being.  We also realize that knowledge both leads us to faith and strengthens our faith in Him."
I just posted something related;
As for Sophiology, it was condemned by the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad in the 1930s, IIRC. The turbulent times prevented church trials from happening and specific proponents from being disciplined.

Is there a philosophy(er) that is endorsed by or often used as a basis for Orthodox theology?

No. Orthodoxy comes from divine revelation, and is articulated and theologized by the Holy Fathers.

they do use philosophy, however: St. Clement of Alexandria used Stoicism, Origin Platonism, St. John of Damascus Aristoteleanism.  But only as a tool to explain revelation.  Not as a source. As soon as it is used as a basis of dogma alongside revelation, disaster sets in.
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« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2011, 08:50:23 PM »

 Smiley
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« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2011, 08:54:52 PM »

OK, there is a bunch of free stuff of Saint John Chrysostom's out there in electronic format. But they are poorly formatted and the versions seem a bit dated.

Any suggestions on where to start with some decent critical contemporary English versions of his homilies?
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« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2011, 08:58:39 PM »

Quote
they do use philosophy, however: St. Clement of Alexandria used Stoicism, Origin Platonism, St. John of Damascus Aristoteleanism.  But only as a tool to explain revelation.  Not as a source. As soon as it is used as a basis of dogma alongside revelation, disaster sets in.

Good post.

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I feel that God has revealed too much of Himself to man.
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« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2011, 09:44:10 PM »

Quote
they do use philosophy, however: St. Clement of Alexandria used Stoicism, Origin Platonism, St. John of Damascus Aristoteleanism.  But only as a tool to explain revelation.  Not as a source. As soon as it is used as a basis of dogma alongside revelation, disaster sets in.

Good post.

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I feel that God has revealed too much of Himself to man.

??
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« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2011, 11:03:33 PM »

Quote
they do use philosophy, however: St. Clement of Alexandria used Stoicism, Origin Platonism, St. John of Damascus Aristoteleanism.  But only as a tool to explain revelation.  Not as a source. As soon as it is used as a basis of dogma alongside revelation, disaster sets in.

Good post.

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I feel that God has revealed too much of Himself to man.

Many of the Fathers, including (amongst them) St. Dionysios and St. Gregory Palamas, would argue that God hasn't revealed all that much about Himself at all, and that's ok - it's in the divine darkness that a relationship with Him is forged.

As to the OP: These words of St. John display a tremendous balance; for on the one hand he was an advocate of learning everything we are able to about what has been revealed from all sources (scripture, philosophers, nature, etc.), and on the other hand is prudent in reminding us to not try and wrap our heads around the incomprehensible.  True wisdom and grace!
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« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2011, 11:18:57 PM »

Could Hegel's dialectics possibly be applied here, i.e "thesis," "antithesis," and ultimately "synthesis"? For example, human reason and logic can lead us to acknowledge that God transcends (not contradicts) human reason and logic. Thus there is a synthesis of these truths which are paradoxical yet reconcilable. Orthodoxy affirms this synthesis as divine Mystery.

I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud. I'm no expert on Hegelian dialectics.


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« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2011, 11:36:04 PM »

Could Hegel's dialectics possibly be applied here, i.e "thesis," "antithesis," and ultimately "synthesis"? For example, human reason and logic can lead us to acknowledge that God transcends (not contradicts) human reason and logic. Thus there is a synthesis of these truths which are paradoxical yet reconcilable. Orthodoxy affirms this synthesis as divine Mystery.

I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud. I'm no expert on Hegelian dialectics.

It's been over 10 years since I had to study Hegel, but... The thesis and antithesis (actually, he used abstract and negative) have to be logical opposites, not rhetorical ones, and are usually manifested as pure theory (abstract) and observed reality (negative); so, for example, from the Orthodox POV a thesis/abstract could be that we, as humans, can know God intellectually, the antithesis/negative would be that we are unable to know anything about God intellectually, and the synthesis (he used the word "concrete") would be the combination of apophaticism & God's revelation.

I think that was a poor example, but I hope it demonstrates the point.
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« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2011, 11:37:23 PM »

I found this, hope it helps with the idea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectic#Hegelian_dialectic

Quote
In the Logic, for instance, Hegel describes a dialectic of existence: first, existence must be posited as pure Being (Sein); but pure Being, upon examination, is found to be indistinguishable from Nothing (Nichts). When it is realized that what is coming into being is, at the same time, also returning to nothing (in life, for example, one's living is also a dying), both Being and Nothing are united as Becoming.[28]

The footnote: Section in question from Hegel's Science of Logic - http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hl/hlbeing.htm#HL1_82
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« Reply #15 on: February 04, 2011, 12:02:42 AM »

Thank you Father. You obviously know much more about it than I do. I like the way you applied it to an Orthodox point of view, which is what I was wondering about. From the way you explained it, it seems that we can indeed apply it (to a degree) to Orthodoxy.

Thank you.

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« Reply #16 on: February 04, 2011, 12:11:55 AM »

I'm no expert on Hegelian dialectics.


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If you find one, please bring them to me; I would like to hit them. Hegel is utterly confounding nearly always.
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« Reply #17 on: April 01, 2011, 09:45:54 PM »

As to the OP: These words of St. John display a tremendous balance; for on the one hand he was an advocate of learning everything we are able to about what has been revealed from all sources (scripture, philosophers, nature, etc.), and on the other hand is prudent in reminding us to not try and wrap our heads around the incomprehensible.  True wisdom and grace!

Fr. George, and anyone else, is this merely talking about spiritual knowledge, or all knowledge? I've seen knowledge divided into two or three types in the Church Fathers, but what exactly are the limitations for the different types? Should we be open and seek and search and speculate and test and whatnot about everything accept dogmas? Or spiritual doctrines? Or what...?
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« Reply #18 on: May 03, 2011, 12:36:25 AM »

As to the OP: These words of St. John display a tremendous balance; for on the one hand he was an advocate of learning everything we are able to about what has been revealed from all sources (scripture, philosophers, nature, etc.), and on the other hand is prudent in reminding us to not try and wrap our heads around the incomprehensible.  True wisdom and grace!

Fr. George, and anyone else, is this merely talking about spiritual knowledge, or all knowledge? I've seen knowledge divided into two or three types in the Church Fathers, but what exactly are the limitations for the different types? Should we be open and seek and search and speculate and test and whatnot about everything accept dogmas? Or spiritual doctrines? Or what...?

*Bump*
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« Reply #19 on: May 03, 2011, 09:52:07 AM »

Personally if I had a higher intellect, I would seem to find  most interesting possibilities in seeing relationships to certain Orthodox concepts of the uncreated energy of God's grace that seem to show expression in areas like the laws of conservation of energy & matter. I believe that it is possible to see God as creator of matter (of course!) but the idea of energy as neither being created or destroyed showing the divine mastery over all of creation in which we find greater understanding of the Lord's creation in science. This is not to advocate the idea of a divine clock maker or something like that but  hopefully a 21st century expression in conformity with holy tradition. Where St. Paul upholds the icon of the Pantocrator in Colossians 1:15-17 who creates & sustains all by His uncreated grace.
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« Reply #20 on: May 04, 2011, 12:24:55 AM »

OK, there is a bunch of free stuff of Saint John Chrysostom's out there in electronic format. But they are poorly formatted and the versions seem a bit dated.

Any suggestions on where to start with some decent critical contemporary English versions of his homilies?

*Bump*

Anyone have suggestions on this?
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« Reply #21 on: January 06, 2013, 05:40:19 PM »

Sometimes it's nice (or not so nice) to revisit this thread...
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« Reply #22 on: January 06, 2013, 05:56:49 PM »

Well what are we supposed to use if we cannot use reason? How are we supposed to know God? How are we supposed to know which religion is true? Reason is all we got.
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« Reply #23 on: January 06, 2013, 05:59:16 PM »

Sometimes it's nice (or not so nice) to revisit this thread...
So this is a "thread revisiting", not a "thread resurrection"? Shocked Smiley
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« Reply #24 on: January 06, 2013, 05:59:52 PM »

Well what are we supposed to use if we cannot use reason? How are we supposed to know God? How are we supposed to know which religion is true? Reason is all we got.
We also have experience, upon which reason can act.
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« Reply #25 on: January 06, 2013, 07:11:22 PM »

Well what are we supposed to use if we cannot use reason? How are we supposed to know God? How are we supposed to know which religion is true? Reason is all we got.

St. John doesn't say that we can't use reason, he only says that reason has it's limits. Are there any quotes given in the OP that you disagree with? We can discuss it/them...


Sometimes it's nice (or not so nice) to revisit this thread...
So this is a "thread revisiting", not a "thread resurrection"? Shocked Smiley

That's the ticket!  Grin
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« Reply #26 on: January 06, 2013, 07:53:49 PM »

Well what are we supposed to use if we cannot use reason? How are we supposed to know God? How are we supposed to know which religion is true? Reason is all we got.

St. John doesn't say that we can't use reason, he only says that reason has it's limits. Are there any quotes given in the OP that you disagree with? We can discuss it/them...

Pretty much the whole thing. St. John seems to be suggesting that we can't approach the issue of whether God exists or not with reason, but my question is, if we can't approach the issue with reason, then how are we to approach it? We have nothing else. How is faith so virtuous if it is just clinging onto something unreasonable for no good reason? Sure, we could talk about the whole "experience/revelation" abstract thingy, but that hardly makes sense, and barely anyone has a direct revelation from God. Unless He literally speaks to you and says "I exist" or you see the resurrected Christ, I don't see how you could believe in God. Going even further, I don't even see how you approach Christianity. There are millions of religions in the world and we have absolutely no way of knowing which one is true or not unless a figure from the correct religion does something to give us reason to believe. How would St. John answer this?
« Last Edit: January 06, 2013, 07:54:55 PM by JamesR » Logged

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« Reply #27 on: January 06, 2013, 08:00:23 PM »

Nothing can prove or disprove the existence of God, but we can get on the right track, I think. There are three important things here: reason, faith, and experience.Reason is what we use to understand the world around us, communicate, etc. It is an imperfect but necessary element. Faith is what we use to accept (or not) the revelation of God given to our hearts and our heads. It is not a blind faith, exactly, nor a faith that is at war with reason, but it is a faith that goes past and above reason. Third is experience, living the "life in Christ." Experience is the key, for it is through experience, in cooperation with God, and by only His grace, that we are healed, and are led to better understanding. Understanding thus comes not from reason, but from experience. Reason is what we use when we try to articulate it and share it with others, or if we try to understand more cognitively what has been revealed to us.  So to understand the things of God, don't "think" so much as "do." Thinking plays a part, but it can also get in th way.
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« Reply #28 on: January 06, 2013, 08:16:36 PM »

There's also a practical concern about trying to use reason to prove or disprove God's existence: none of the arguments either way work (sorry Anselm, Aquinas, Hume, etc.). Christianity can offer a good explanation why this is the case; the laws of logic, while certainly more basic than the laws of physics, etc., are among God's creation. For that reason, God is not bound to obey them. That makes it absolutely impossible to apply the methods of philosophy to theological questions. In fact, philosophers who approach theological questions often take it for granted that God must obey the laws of logic. From a Christian standpoint, we must see God as prior to logic. This is not often appreciated. This is why the Orthodox tradition has always seen theology as an essentially mystical endeavor. When the mind attempts to grasp something with which it has not been directly acquainted, it uses logic and reason as its tool. But when the thing that the mind is attempting to grasp transcends logic, it cannot be grasped through logic by itself. That is why we know God, as we always do, mystically-- that is to say, through direct experience that is given to us through grace, that is always present in its fullness but is never fully comprehended, and which is most of the time entirely unnoticed. The continuing, historical miracle of the Church exists in part to alert us to the revelation that is always already in our hearts.
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« Reply #29 on: January 06, 2013, 11:53:51 PM »

Nothing can prove or disprove the existence of God, but we can get on the right track, I think. There are three important things here: reason, faith, and experience.Reason is what we use to understand the world around us, communicate, etc. It is an imperfect but necessary element. Faith is what we use to accept (or not) the revelation of God given to our hearts and our heads. It is not a blind faith, exactly, nor a faith that is at war with reason, but it is a faith that goes past and above reason. Third is experience, living the "life in Christ." Experience is the key, for it is through experience, in cooperation with God, and by only His grace, that we are healed, and are led to better understanding. Understanding thus comes not from reason, but from experience. Reason is what we use when we try to articulate it and share it with others, or if we try to understand more cognitively what has been revealed to us.  So to understand the things of God, don't "think" so much as "do." Thinking plays a part, but it can also get in th way.

Wonderful post Asteriktos.
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« Reply #30 on: January 07, 2013, 12:47:36 PM »

There's also a practical concern about trying to use reason to prove or disprove God's existence: none of the arguments either way work (sorry Anselm, Aquinas, Hume, etc.). Christianity can offer a good explanation why this is the case; the laws of logic, while certainly more basic than the laws of physics, etc., are among God's creation. For that reason, God is not bound to obey them. That makes it absolutely impossible to apply the methods of philosophy to theological questions. In fact, philosophers who approach theological questions often take it for granted that God must obey the laws of logic. From a Christian standpoint, we must see God as prior to logic. This is not often appreciated. This is why the Orthodox tradition has always seen theology as an essentially mystical endeavor. When the mind attempts to grasp something with which it has not been directly acquainted, it uses logic and reason as its tool. But when the thing that the mind is attempting to grasp transcends logic, it cannot be grasped through logic by itself. That is why we know God, as we always do, mystically-- that is to say, through direct experience that is given to us through grace, that is always present in its fullness but is never fully comprehended, and which is most of the time entirely unnoticed. The continuing, historical miracle of the Church exists in part to alert us to the revelation that is always already in our hearts.
Some extreme rationalists (in the sense as opposed to voluntarism-seeing God's will as supreme over reason) and some not so extreme would dispute this.  They say that God has to obey the laws He sets up.  This was part of the debate Michael Paleologus had that got Pope Benedict XVI in trouble with the Muslims a while back.

But you are right, and they are wrong.
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« Reply #31 on: February 10, 2013, 07:24:03 AM »

OK, there is a bunch of free stuff of Saint John Chrysostom's out there in electronic format. But they are poorly formatted and the versions seem a bit dated.

Any suggestions on where to start with some decent critical contemporary English versions of his homilies?

Catholic University of America Press has:
- Commentary on the Gospel of John (in 2 volumes)
- Homilies on Genesis (in 3 volumes)
- Apologist [against Pagans]
- Discourses Against Judaizing Christians
- On Repentance and Almsgiving
- On the Incomprehensible Nature of God

Paulist Press has:
- Baptismal Instructions
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