Just another few paragraphs from Father Sophrony’s St. Silouan the Athonite. He is here even more explicit on the difference between the knowledge acquired by experience and that acquired in a more abstract manner:
God is neither envious, selfish nor ambitious. Humbly and patiently He pursues all men on all life’s paths, and each of us can therefore come to know God to some degree, not only in but outside the Church, though perfect knowledge of God is impossible apart from Christ or outside Christ. Apart from Christ no spiritual (mystic) experience will lead to knowledge of the Divine Being as One Objectivity, absolute and inconceivable, in Three Persons, absolute and inconceivable – to knowledge of the Trinity, consubstantial and indivisible. This revelation is given in Christ alone. In Him it becomes light eternal pouring itself out on all the manifestations of human existence…..
The Staretz [St. Silouan] testified categorically that the Divinity of Jesus Christ is made known in the Holy Spirit. The knowledge of Christ’s Divinity thus acquired through spiritual experience enables man to comprehend in Christ the unfused union of two natures and two wills. The uncreated nature of Divine Light and the other dogmas of our faith are likewise made known through inner experience in the Holy Spirit. But here it must be noted that the dogmatic consciousness that comes from experience of grace differs essentially from a dogmatic knowledge which outwardly resembles it but is the product of ‘faith in things heard’, of academic study or a philosophical conviction in the form of a series of ideal abstract conceptions.
It is one thing to believe in God, and another to know God, as the Staretz said.
Ideal – abstract – conceptions may correspond to the facts of existence but, separated from positive experience of grace, they are not that knowledge of God which is actual life eternal. Yet they, too, are precious for at any moment they may afford help to a man in his spiritual life.
I find this last paragraph strangely comforting. I know that most of what I know I do not know by experience but from books. I think that it is precisely book knowledge that fuels so many arguments on very high subject (theological) on the internet. It is also why I tend to avoid argumentation like the plague (discussion is fine) because it produces anger and other passions rather than any advance in grace. But having said that, here is that strange comfort that says, “Don’t despise knowledge that comes from books, ‘for at any moment [it] may afford help to a man in his spiritual life.”
Having said all that, it is certainly true that I probably read less now than at any point in my life.