The Knowledge We Should Seek


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, absoluteĀ 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.

ItĀ 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.


  1. says

    The photo is at the entrance to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Unfortunately, when I visited this summer, students were sitting exams and touring was extremely limited. What a wonderful place to study it must be. Having spent time as a graduate student at Duke University, which in fine American style, was built to “look old” immediately, I can say that walking around Oxford for even a very few minutes easily reveals the difference between the real thing (a medieval university) and its ersatz American cousin. I don’t wonder if we attempt to do the same thing with our spiritual lives. “The prayer life of Mother Teresa and all of the shoes of Imelda Marcos,” has been my way of describing our hurry for what can only come with time (and ascesis).

  2. says

    I am reading Wounded by Love by Elder Porphyrios and I am at the part where he is explaining how much zeal he had at first, so much that his elders wouldn’t let him read certain books, like the Ladder of Divine Ascent. He would go crazy with it, so he says it was very good that he was obedient, because “Obedience shows love for Christ. And Christ especially loves the obedient. That’s why He says, ‘I love those who love me, and those who seek me will find grace.'” (Prov.8:17)
    So books are great when we are ready for the knowledge that they contain, if not then at best they just don’t make sense and at worst, they can drive a wedge between us and God.
    Christ is in our midst!
    the handmaid,

  3. tony c says


    I was reading something recently, C.S. Lewis?, where the author says that he found reading theology more “devotional” than reading devotional things. I can relate to that.

    Anyway…I have the “other” St. Silouan book: Wisdom from the Holy Mountain, I think it’s called. The intro is by Archimandrite Sophrony, but the book is the actual writings of St. Silouan. (published by St. Vlad’s)

    It’s funny. I’m a Catholic who returned to the Catholic Church via discovering Orthodoxy. In my early re-conversion ravenous-reading days, one of the books I found (at a Catholic bookstore, in the “Other Religion” section, oddly enough) was this St. Silouan book. I thought, “I kn