A. Problem or pseudo-problem?
The antithesis and consequent collision between faith and science is a problem for western (Franco-Latin) thought and is a pseudo-problem for the Orthodox patristic tradition. This is based upon the historical data of these two regions.
The (supposed) dilemma of faith versus science appears in Western Europe in the 17th century with the simultaneous development of the positive sciences. About this same time we have the appearance of the first Orthodox positions on this issue. It is an important fact that these developments in the West are happening without the presence of Orthodoxy. In these recent centuries there has been a spiritual estrangement and differentiation between the [rational] West and the Orthodox East. This fact is outlined by the de-orthodoxiation and de-ecclesiastication of the western European world and the philosophication and legalization of faith and its eventual forming as a religion in the same area. Thus religion is the refutation of Orthodoxy and, according to Fr. John Romanides, the sickess of the human being. Therefore, Orthodoxy remained historically as a non-participant in the making of the present western European civilization, which is also a different size than the civilization of the Orthodox East.
The turning points in western Europeans course of alteration include: scholasticism (13th century), nominalism (14th century), humanism/renaissance (15th century), Reformation (16th century) and the Enlightenment (17th century). It is a series of revolutions and, at that same time, breaches in the structure of western European civilization, that was created by the dialectic of these two movements.
Scholasticism is supported on the adoption of the Platonic realia. Our world is conceived of as an image of the transcendent universalia (realism, archetype). The instrument of knowledge is the mind-intellect. Knowledge (including knowing God) is accomplished through the penetration of logic in the essence of beings. It is the foundation of metaphysic theology, which presupposes the Analogia Entis, the consequitive ontological relation between God and the world, the analogy between the created and uncreated. Nominalism accepts that the universalia are simple names and not beings as in realism. It is a struggle between Platonism and Aristotelian thought in European thought. However, nominalism turned out to be the DNA, in a way, of European civilization, whose essential elements are dualism philosophically and individualism (eudomenism) socially. Prosperity will become the basic quest of the western man, theologically based on the scholastic theology of the middle ages. Nominalism (that is dualism) is the foundation of scientific development of the western world, that is the development of the positive sciences.
The Orthodox East had had another spiritual evolution, under the guidance of its spiritual leaders the saints and of those who followed them, the true believers–who remained loyal to the prophetic-apostolic-patristic tradition; this tradition stands at the opposite end of scholasticism and all the historic spiritual developments in the European word. In the East, hesychasm or prayer of the heart is dominant (and is the backbone of patristic tradition) it is expressed with the ascetically experienced participation in the Truth as communion with the Uncreated. The faith in the possibility of the joining of God and the world (the Uncreated and the created) within history is preserved in the Orthodox East. This, however, means the rejection of every form of dualism. Science, to the degree it developed in Byzantium/Romania, developed within this framework.
The scientific revolution in Western Europe of the 17th Century, contributed to the separation of the fields of faith and knowledge. It resulted in the following axiomatic principle: New (positive) philosophy only accepts truths which are verified through rational thought. It is the absolute authority of Western thinking. The truths of this new philosophy are the existence of God, soul, virtue, immortality, and judgment. Their acceptance, of course, can only take place in a theistic enlightenment, since we also find atheism as a structural element of modern thought. The ecclesiastical doctrines that are rejected by rationality are the Triune nature of God, the Incarnation, glorification, salvation, etc. This natural and logical religion, from the Orthodox viewpoint, not only differs from atheism but is much worse. Atheism is less dangerous than its distortion!
B. Orthodox Gnosiology
It has been said that in the East the antithesis between faith and science is a pseudo-problem, Why? Because gnosiology in the East is defined by the object to be known which is twofold: the Uncreated and the created. Only the Holy Trinity is Uncreated. The universe (or universes) in which our existence is realized, is created. Faith is knowledge of the Uncreated, and science is knowledge of the created. Therefore, they are two different types of knowledge, each having its own method and tools of inquiry.
The believer, moving within the territory of supernatural, or knowledge of the Uncreated, is not called to learn something metaphysically or to accept something logically, but to experience God by being in communion with Him. This is accomplished by introducing him to a way of life or method which leads to divine knowledge.
It has been correctly stated that if Christianity were to appear for the first time in our era, it would have taken the form of a therapeutic institution, a hospital to reinstate and restore the function of man as a psychosomatic being. That is why Saint John Chrysostom calls the Church a spiritual hospital. Supernatural-theological knowledge is understood in Orthodoxy as pathos (experience of life), as participation and communion with the transcendent and not an unreachable personal truth of the Uncreated and certainly not a mere exercise in learning. Thus, the Christian faith is not the abstract contemplative adoption of metaphysical truths, it is rather, the experience of beholding True Being: the experience of the Supersubstantial (Superessential) Trinity.
This clearly expresses that in Orthodoxy, authority is found in experience. The experience of participating in the Uncreated, of seeing the Uncreated (as expressed by the terms and “theosis” and “glorification”), and is not based on texts or in the Scriptures. The tradition of the Church is not preserved within texts but in people. Texts help, but they are not the bearers of the Holy Tradition. Tradition is preserved by the Saints. Human beings are the bearers of the Gospel. The placing of texts above the actual experience of the Uncreated (an indication of the religionizing of faith) leads to their ideologization and in fact to their idolization. This in turn leads to the absolute authority of the text (fundamentalism) and all the well understood consequences.
The presupposition of the function of knowing the Uncreated, for Orthodoxy, is the rejection of every analogy (either Entis or Fide) in this relationship of the created and the Uncreated. St. John of Damascus summarizes this previously extant patristic tradition in the following manner: It is impossible to find, in creation, an icon that would reveal the way of existence of the Holy Trinity. Because, how could it be possible for the created, which is complex and changeable and describable, which has shape and is perishable, to clearly reveal Superessential Divine Essence, which is free of all these categories? (P.G. 94,821/21).
Therefore, it now becomes apparent why school education and philosophy more specifically, according to the patristic tradition, are not presuppositions for knowledge of God (theognosia). Alongside the great academic St. Basil the Great (+379) we also give honor to St. Anthony (+350), who by wordly standards was not wise. Yet they are both teachers of the faith. Both witness to knowledge of God, St. Anthony as someone uneducated and St. Basil as someone who was more highly educated than Aristotle. St. Augustine (+430) differs (something that the West would find very painful, if they knew about it) from patristic tradition at this point when he ignores scriptural and patristic gnosiology and is in essence a Neo-platonist! With his axiom credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to understand) he introduced the principle that man is lead to a logical conception of Revelation through faith. This gives priority to the intellect (the mind), which is considered by this form of knowledge to be the instrument or tool of knowing both the natural as well as the supernatural. God is considered as a knowable object that can be conceived of by the human intellect (mind) just as any natural object can be conceived of. After St. Augustine the next step in this evolution (with the intervention of the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas+1274) will be made by Decartes (+1650) with his axiom cogito, ergo sum (I think therefore I am) in which the intellect (mind) is declared as the main basis of existence.
C. The two types of knowledge
- divine or that which “from above” and
- secular (thyrathen) or lower.