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Intellectual love

Monday, January 28, 2019

As usual, I find much to think on in the comments section of “Thinking Anglicans”. I know I shouldn’t for the sake of my blood-pressure and for my keeping of the Lord’s commandments, but I had occasion to read this particular comment aimed at the Evangelicals and other traditionally minded folk in the CofE.

I suppose that I am a fairly traditional, ‘orthodox’ believer in many ways, but I have never felt that intellectual assent to any doctrine or creed is essential to being a Christian. For me, and I suspect for you, and probably the majority of Christians world-wide and millennia-wide, it’s about being part of a Body. Maybe if I was more tied into professional ministry as was the case pre-retirement, I’d be more worked up about the failures and dogmatism of the institutional Church. But many of the concerns aired on this website leave me cold. God is all (but don’t ask what that means); I can’t envisage living without the sacraments (especially the eucharist); and a regular discipline of prayer is important. The struggle for justice is vital. But that is all about being part of the Body. Obsession about doctrines or sexuality, or box-ticking about numbers in church, is all about the institution and I’m not interested.

It does raise an interesting question: does being a Christian require an intellectual assent?


We do have to be careful. Given that there are human beings who lack the capacity for intellectual thought through no fault of their own, we cannot indeed proclaim that they are not Christian and cannot be saved by Christ. For a churchman to pronounce on the state of anyone’s soul without Divine permission is a claim that the Church has the keys to Hell which it manifestly does not. As cases of the Gnostics have proved to Orthodox Christians, we do not get to Heaven by special knowledge save only in getting to know the Divine Master and thereby learning to trust Him and learning to be faithful to Him. The Commentator I quoted above is concerned with the way that people with same-sex attraction are not being allowed to “love”. Of course, love is the means by which we forge relationships. The two greatest commandments, Our Lord tells us, are about love.

If this particular chap is concerned with love, let us look at those commandments very closely.

Deuteronomy vi.5: (Hebrew) And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.


.ךָדֶאֹמְ-לכָבְוּ , ךָשְׁפְנַ-לכָבְוּ ךָבְבָלְ-לכָבְּ , ךָיהֶלֹאֱ הוָהיְ תאֵ ,תָּבְהַאָוְ


(Septuagint) And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and all thy strength.


καὶ ἀγαπήσεις Κύριον τὸν Θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς δυνάμεώς σου.


Matthew xxii.37: Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.


ὁ δὲ ἔφη αὐτῷ · Ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ καρδίᾳ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου ·


Luke x.27: And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.


ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν · Ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ ⸃ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ἰσχύϊ ⸃ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ ⸃ σου, καὶ τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.

It’s interesting that there seems to be a bit of an inconsistency between what God tells Moses in the Deuteronomy and what Our Lord tells us in the Gospels. We need to have a careful little examinations and ask the question, “with which of our faculties are we to love God?”


Of course, the spirit of the commandment is that we love God in every aspect of ourselves with every fibre of our being but, given that some are trying to love God with “aspects “ of themselves which are not actually aspects of the self, we do need to look at the text carefully.


The Hebrew version of Deuteronomy tells you to love God:


ךָבְבָלְ-לכָבְּ – with all your hearts


ךָשְׁפְנַ-לכָבְוּ – and with all your souls


ךָדֶאֹמְ-לכָבְוּ – and with all your strength.


The Septuagint version tells you to love the Lord your God:


ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου – with all your hearts


καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου – and with all your soul


καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς δυνάμεώς σου. – and with all your strength.


Clearly kardia is being used to translate leb, psyche nephesh and dynamis me’od here. Yet, we notice from the Gospels, we have ischys translating me’od and have the addition of dianoia.

Of course, Greek and Hebrew have different philosophies of identity. A Greek has a soul, but a Hebrew is a soul. The Hebrew thinks and feels with the heart, the Greek separates the affective capacities of the heart from the reasoning. Even within the Greek, we have differences between the ischys - i.e. power – and the dynamis - i.e. capability – both apparently translating me’od.


This might seem confusing at first, but we do remember that, in Deuteronomy, God the Father is speaking to His chosen people Israel almost exclusively. They have a Hebrew understanding of identity and therefore clarifications are not necessary. However, given the mission of Our Lord goes now beyond Israel, we see Him applying more cosmopolitan terms in the Lingua Franca of Greek.which does suggest that Our Lord probably did teach in Greek and therefore that the Greek Gospels do indeed preserve His actual words rather than being a translation from Aramaic. This leads us to another question.


What does this say about Our Lord’s understanding of our identity as human beings?


Our psyche is neither our vitality, nor our rational spirit but the seat of the senses, our kardia the seat of our passions, our dianoia the seat of our reason, our ischys the force we have to enact our capabilities all directed by our will. St Paul requires us to glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits which are God’s. Clearly, if we do not have the power of intellect, then we cannot love God in our intellect, thus those who are mentally handicapped are not barred from the love of God


And now, we can return to the question posed: Does being a Christian require an intellectual assent?

If we are to love God then the answer is yes because we need to love God as He is and this is precisely the path that Holy Scripture, Tradition and Reason all together set us on. They present us with the truth be it historical, metaphorical, moral and/or analogical. The Creeds tell us the beginning of what we know of God, and then the rest is taken up with seeking to know God as a rational, lovable being not an abstract object. The moral code of the Bible is there to help us to discern what is of God from that which is not and thereby gives us a way of transformation. No-one comes to God with perfect belief in Him; our task is to come to know Him and allow that process of transformation and growth in Him to happen. We may not have all the intellectual faculties as the great Doctors of the Church, but if we possess the intellectual ability to learn to read sacred doctrine, then we should exercise that capacity so that by it we may love God all the more. Right at the beginning, and then throughout Psalm cxix, we read:

Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way : and walk in the law of the Lord.
Blessed are they that keep his testimonies : and seek him with their whole heart.
For they who do no wickedness : walk in his ways.
Thou hast charged : that we shall diligently keep thy commandments.

If we love God, then we keep His commandments and we can only know what His commandments are by using what He has revealed to us. To see Doctrine as something separate from living and therefore us unnecessary demonstrates either that one is lacking in an intellectual capacity, or not loving God as fully as possible. As I say, our Christian life is that of transformation and we will never get it right immediately but our efforts will be rewarded in the fulness of God’s love to which we tend. What we must not do is reject the teaching given to the Church on what is right and wrong on the grounds that it does not fit with our lifestyle. Our lifestyle is meant to be bent to fit the path on which God guides us, not the other way round.



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