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The character of a man’s knowledge depends on the disposition, nature and condition of his organs of understanding. At all levels knowledge depends intrinsically on the means of understanding. Man does not make truth; the act of understanding is an act of making one’s own a truth which is already objectively given. This integration has an organic character, not unlike that of the grafting of a slip onto a vine, or its life in and from the vine (cf. John 15:1–6). Understanding is, then, a fruit on the tree of the human person. As is the tree, so are its fruits; as are the organs of understanding, so is the knowledge they engender.

Analyzing man by his empirical gifts, St. Isaac the Syrian finds that his organs of understanding are sick. “Evil is a sickness of soul”, whence all the organs of understanding are made sick. Evil has its perceptions, the passions, and “the passions are illnesses of the soul”. Evil and the passions are not natural to the soul; they are accidents, adventitious and intrusive, an unnatural addition to the soul.

What are the passions in themselves? They are “a certain hardness or insensitivity of being”. Their causes are to be found in the things of life themselves. The passions are the desire for wealth and amassing of goods, for ease and bodily comfort; they are thirst for honor and the exercise of power; they are luxury and frivolity; they are the desire for glory from men and fear for one’s own body. All these passions have one common name—“the world”. “The world means carnal conduct and a carnal mind”. The passions are the attacks of the world on man by means of the things of the world. Divine grace is the only power ca- pable of repulsing them. When the passions make their home in man, they uproot his soul. They confuse the mind, filling it with fantastic forms, images, and desires, so that his thoughts are disturbed and filled with fantasy. “The world is a prostitute”, which, by means of its soul- destroying desires, beguiles the soul, undermines its virtues and destroys its God-given purity. Then, the soul, having itself become impure and a prostitute, gives birth to impure knowledge.

A feeble soul, a diseased intellect, a weakened heart and will—in brief, sick organs of understanding—can only engender, fashion and produce sick thoughts, sick feelings, sick desires, and sick knowledge.

(Sourceexcerpt The Theory of Knowledge of Saint Isaac the Syrian by St Justin Popovich — All the references in the text are from The Ascetic Writings of our Holy Father Isaac the Syrian, ed. Nikephoros Theotokis (Leipzig 1770), re-edited by Joachim Spetsieris (Athens 1895).