Philosophy and Reason

“But the blessed Apostle Paul, taking precaution against this, as we have often shown, warned us to be on our guard, saying: Take heed lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ, in Whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Therefore we must be on our guard against philosophy, and methods which rest upon traditions of men we must not so much avoid as refute. Any concession that we make must imply not that we are out-argued but that we are confused, for it is right that we, who declare that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, should not flee from the doctrines of men, but rather overthrow them; and we must restrain and instruct the simple-minded lest they be spoiled by these teachers. For since God can do all things, and in His wisdom can do all things wisely, for neither is His purpose unarmed with power nor His power unguided by purpose, it behooves those who proclaim Christ to the world, to face the irreverent and faulty doctrines of the world with the knowledge imparted by that wise Omnipotence, according to the saying of the blessed Apostle: For our weapons are not carnal but powerful for God, for the casting down of strongholds, casting down reasonings and every high thing which is exalted against the knowledge of God.

The Apostle did not leave us a faith which was bare and devoid of reason; for although a bare faith may be most mighty to salvation, nevertheless, unless it is trained by teaching, while it will have indeed a secure retreat to withdraw to in the midst of foes, it will yet be unable to maintain a safe and strong position for resistance. Its position will be like that which a camp affords to a weak force after a flight; not like the undismayed courage of men who have a camp to hold. Therefore we must beat down the insolent arguments which are raised against God, and destroy the fastnesses of fallacious reasoning, and crush cunning intellects which hit themselves up to impiety, with weapons not carnal but spiritual, not with earthly, learning but with heavenly wisdom; so that in proportion as divine things differ from human, so may the philosophy of heaven surpass the rivalry of earth.”

St Hilary of Poitiers, Book 12 on the Trinity. Post-Nicene Fathers.

18 Responses to Philosophy and Reason

  1. Sophocles,
    It is very weird. I normally get an email each time a comment is posted to ask me to approve it but none has come through and neither is there any sign of such a comment on the site. Could you post another comment to double check. Thanks.

  2. Sophocles says:

    Father Patrick,

    Ok. I posted a comment there and I know you have it set up that comments must first meet your approval. I wasn’t sure if it went through so I re-submitted it and the friendly WordPress prompt informed me that I had “already said that” so it should be there. But if not, that’s ok too. Would you mind checking on it once more on “Sacred Traditions”?

  3. Sophocles,

    No, it was just to mention a link.

  4. Sophocles says:

    Father Patrick,

    Was the comment you received the one where I asked you those many questions?

  5. monkpatrick says:


    I haven’t received a comment under the “Obedience” post yet but I received one from you earlier.

  6. Sophocles says:

    Father Patrick,

    Did you receive my comment under your “Obedience” post on your own blog?

  7. NeoChalcedonian,

    I don’t know Van Til, so I cannot make a comment in reference to him or to those thoughts that he was dealing with. However, I think that there is a principle that can be applied to this issue, similar to all issues in the Church.

    Firstly, from a secular view, I am sure that many professors of ethics would argue that we can have ethics without revelation and they have good explanations on how this may occur. I don’t think it is worthwhile considering that point much further here.

    I think that from an Orthodox view things are quite different. While it is acknowledged that secular ethics is in a sense ethics and able to be established in a variety of matters, this is about ethics at a human level. Christian ethics, as every other aspect of Christian life, is living the “ethics” of Christ. We know these “ethics” in Christ and by living our life in Him and HIm is us. We know Christ through revelation and participation. We do not divorce any aspect of life from Christ, so every aspect of life is properly known in Christ, through revelation and participation. I use participation because life and ethics are not abstract principles but something lived in faith.

    So, to consider ethics without revelation is to consider ethics apart from Christ. True life, the fullness of life and the true way of life are only in Christ.

  8. Rob Grano says:


    The Lutheran-trained theologian Steve Hutchens did a piece many moons ago in Touchstone which included a brief critique of Van Til, referring to him basically as a fideist. I have a hard-copy of the piece but it’s not posted on Touchstone’s archives. It’s called “The Bible Under Spirit and Church.”

    Hutchens argues that Van Til presupposes revelation in such a way as to completely remove it from its ecclesial and traditional matrix. In other words, his view assumes that, in effect, the Bible dropped from heaven whole and entire. Not that Van Til believed this literally, obviously, but his view of Scripture amounts to something like it. I’d say that the Van Tillian approach to Scripture is to treat the Bible rather like the Quran, unfortunately.

  9. Sophocles,

    Certainly, because those who employ Van Til’s apologetic would agree with many of your criticisms of philosophical speculation.

    To the Energetic-Procession Contributors (I can still remember the old days where all one had to say was “Perry & Photios”),

    Can we have ethics without (presupposing) revelation? Or can ethical norms be established on the basis of natural law? If not, why? If so, how?

  10. Sophocles says:

    Nick and William,

    As to my own(at present) capabilities in regards to philosophy I direct you here:


    Thank you for your beautiful post. I am glad we came to this ground where after reading your post(several times) I would have to say I am in agreement with how you use “philosophy”. I especially enjoyed how your thought crystallized in your point #7. Very well said.

    If I’m understanding you correctly, you are stating that in the sense you employ “philosophy” it is all encompassing in that whatever a man may know, do, feel(how the feeling itself is processed) aspire, reject, desire, etc.,etc., how said man interfaces with Reality and how Reality creates that with which to interface with for the man, the man “in” Reality yet “distinct” from it, the man is doing philosophy in the sense that whatever one does, one cannot help but do philosophy.

    In this sense, then, did you explain your point #8 as an application of the entirety of your post.

    My only hesitation, again, is that even an all encompassing philosopy which takes into account all you have stated, if one is not careful, may still simply become a category in the sense of becoming a system into which all is made to fit and as such, a system, ANY system, is “synthetic” and any similitude to Life is not life but something else. And as such, philosophy, as something exterior to oneself, as Principal, is still an appendage.

    My understanding of the Life in Christ is again to shed that which is exterior to myself, anything that is of a “construct” of any kind, Christian or non, to be not Him Himself.

    Having said that, I do recognize that to become god(the goal), the entire human personality must undergo a transformation of some kind and I believe you are stating that for this to occur the right philosophical groundwork must be laid aforehand. Am I correct?

    Any further clarification you may give would be appreciated.


    I am not familiar with this work or author. Would it be ok to inquire why you ask?

  11. Rob Grano says:

    I’ve found this piece by Fr. Reardon to be quite helpful on philosophy as it relates to Christian faith. His opening paragraph is: “The purpose of these remarks is to inquire what sort of guidance theology may give us with respect to choosing a philosophy. More specifically, I want to take the highest knowledge available to man, the knowledge of God, as a starting point for investigating how the human mind should go about pursuing other and lower forms of knowledge.”

    The article is also available as a taped lecture from Orthodox Christian Cassettes.

  12. William B says:


    Do you have any thoughts on Foundationalist epistemology or on Van Til’s apologetic?

  13. Nick says:

    Well said, I guess we were just talking past each other in regard to what philosophy is and the possibility of Chritian philosophy. I think I recall in many of my readings of the Fathers both Greek and Latin that there are multiple references to the philosophy of the Christians, or Christian philosophy. Now of course they were giving a very different content to their philosophy than the Greeks or Hebrews (as St Paul does in his interactions with the Jews and Greeks). All I mean by philosophy is something like the following:

    (1) Lets call (x) some agent (whatever that may be, a soul or person, mind/body composite a nous/heart composite pick your poision).

    (2) Now in some sense it seems that X has a capacity to come to know certain things it did not know before and the coming to know new things is a kind of intellectually or personally becoming aware of and in some sense becoming related to the object that one has come to know in a new sense. So at T1 (x) does not know P and at T2 (x) can undergo a processes (whatever that may be) of coming to know that P. Here there may be (i)many different kinds of things we come to know and (ii) different modes of knowing things. In regard to (i) we may come to know persons through some mode of knowing qua being persons ourselves. We may come to know concepts, ideas, ideal objects or propositions (I make no assumptions on these matters as philosophers have debated what exactly these intellective objects are) through some intellective faculty (the Greek tradition might call the latter kind of knowing, knowledge of the logoi that we come to know through the faculty of the nous. The former they would say we know through the Divine activities working in us, in our heart or persons).
    (3) The point in all of this is that whatever it is we come to know and how ever we come to know it, we can say this process just is doing philosophy. And the different ways folks explain how this occurs just are the different kinds of philosophies. So when I am talking about a Chrisitian philosophy, I am talking about thinks existing like God, persons, angles, heaven, hell, Jesus Christ the second person of the Trinity become man (forever blessed), basically, the way reality is according to this philosophy. And when we say how we come to know these realities we are also doing Christian philosophy. And hopefully, the Christian philosopher is propounding a different picture than the Gnostics, or Idealists or Richard Dawkins (what ever overlap there may between these philosophies). The Christian is saying that reality is a certain way with a specific content and that we can come to know the realities this content refers to in some sense. Dawkins tells us reality is a certain way and our mode of knowing it is very different from that of the Chrisitians. Now as we engage in this disscusion of what is real and how we can know it, this just is doing philosophy and a Chrisitian philosophy just is telling the Chrisitian story about all these things. So *of course there is a truly Chrisitian philosophy*.
    (4) What Perry, Daniel and others are doing on this site is trying to present a truly Chrisitian Philosophy as opposed to other philosophies (even competing versions of Christian philosophy).
    (5) And of course we can talk about all this with the provisio about the different motivating factors that cause folks to come to the positions they do. Some positions and relations of knowing arrived atoccur through malevolent motivations like disordered passions and desires (I know I struggle with these all the time). Others are arrived at motivated or enlightened by the Divine activities working in us allowing us through ascetical cooperation with these Divine energies to *see and participate in* what is good true and right.
    (6)Now it is certainly true the Orthodox are rightly concerned with what they saw in the Latin tradition (and among their own number at times) as the prostitution of what is Divinly revealed by God with human philosophies. But this does not change the fact that when an Orthodox is putting forward the content of Divine Revalation they are not not doing philosophy they are just presenting a philosophy (a content) with a special mode of presentation, namely, something that is directly given by God via personal energies and not something that is obtained by sense perception alone or inference alone.
    (7) So in the way I have used philosophy I have not excluded any special kind of content like divine revalation but have included any content an agent might propose as to how reality is. And I have not excluded any mode in which an agent may come to know a certain content that is proposed. I think I have been using a more ancient way of defining philosophy and I think this is closer to how many of the fathers would have understood philosophy (actually it may turn out many contemporary phenomenologist might be satisfied with my definition) and not a more narrow definition one might get from certain analytic philosopher that would put the content of supposed Divine revalation outside of what is properly philosophical in nature. And thats fine, we could go with this understanding but I think you give up the farm in the contemporary discussion if you relegate Divine revelation and the mode in which we procure it to some other non-philosophical status. You don’t privalege certain realites or philosophies and exclude others becuase some don’t comport with the mode of presentation the *going philosophy* that has set for the contemporary discussion .
    (8) One application of this point and then I will shut up. It seems to me as I study Russian history something like this is exactly what happened. The Marxist philosophical party undermined or rejected the Orthodox parties supposed mode of knowing reality (and hence rejected their claims to what reality is like, if your mode of knowing is defunct then what you claim to know can’t be right) because they thought is was not properly scientific or philosphical (a philosophical assumption itself). But I would be willing to be corrected in the error of my ways if I hear some good arguments or am appeared to in some mode of presentation that I have not been before (interesting, it will take philosophy as I have explained it to change my philosophy).

  14. Sophocles says:


    Thank you.


    And I would ask that you accept mine as well. My response was actually not directed toward you directly, but I was hoping to capture the essence of the above passage and to somehow detach it’s meaning from the scrutiny of philosophy as it seems to me that herein lies the danger: the man speaking to us in the passage is not giving an opinion, but as it is his experience with putting down the high exalted things that would raise themselves against God and he goes on to tell us how that is to be done.

    It’s main point is spiritual warfare and as such I believe that I did address the topic under consideration in what I hope was in its context and its spirit apart from any of your points. I simply attempted to more fully explicate its meaning .

    Further, if I’m not mistaken, this passage is not here by accident as the last several posts on this blog ,especially by Monk Patrick, have dealt with similar themes raised especially during the “Grand Mofffin Returns” thread, posting passages which are meant for the reader’s consideration to be taken not as something to be debated with, but to be accepted as the experience of the one speaking( take ’em or leave ’em BUT, if one takes them one is now thinking with the mind of the Church, entering into the Life of the Church; if one leaves them, one is rejecting the Church through the rejection of the one who is in Her living Her life which is His Life).

    Christian philosophy? It is my belief that such a thing does not exist.

    These are some of my thoughts.

    None of the above is intended polemically but is my small(and fallen) effort to explicate the Orthodox Faith as I currently am able.

  15. Nick says:

    Yes Sophocles, thanks for the point, I guess I stand corrected for not including every nuance of consideration that might be made in this discussion. St Maximus makes basically the same point on this exigesis that I have tried to point out, simply that the love of wisdom qua love of wisdom is not being condemed in this passage but a certain kind of so called wisdom is, namely, wisdom motivated by the disordered passions and desires and not enlightened by the divine activities working in us (e.g. first principles according to Christ). The interesting thing is that Maximus makes the exigetical point I did, and makes something like the point you did in another place, but he assumed that his readers would (i) give him some charity in their reading of his work and not instantly point out what was not included at a certain point in the disscusion and (ii) he hoped they would not super impose something into the disscusion that was not immediatly being adressed (in this case the employment of the ratio in favor of or against the kingdom). Look, you can’t say everything that needs to be said in every discussion, so you should give your interlocuter the benefit of the doubt, this is called charity. Next time, first address the topic under consideration and what has been actually said about the topic under consideration before you rebuke or point out a perceived lack in ones considerations (in this case the Hilary text and more particularly, the narrow point I was making about a particular passage). You can avoid red herrings if you stick with a critique of the the content of what is said by an interlocuter, and then if you want to add to the disscusion, like what you think should be said to fill out what was lacking in the initial consideration thats fine. Certainly St Paul and the great asectic masters would and have said much more than I said here, but they certainly are not saying less than what I have pointed out about this passage exegetically (and how it might be applied in the context of doing public Christian philosophy). Just some thoughts, take em or leave um. If I have missunderstood your point please accept my aplogies in advance.

  16. Death Bredon says:

    Bravo Sophocles!

  17. Sophocles says:


    I think it important to remember that the Apostle and others in the Church who repeatedly warn about being leary of philosophy are coming at us from somewhere else, not necessarily from warning about philosophy that does not employ Christian first principles.

    The Apostle and all the ascetic masters it must be remembered were not only brilliant in the purely intellectual sense, but they had (and have) a profound understanding of the human condition.

    He warns as one who has wrestled against himself. As one who knows that the intellect in and of itself is not complete but is prone to delusion and that it can be easily trapped.

    “Philosophy” as “the love of wisdom” has an immediately apparent appeal to me as a fallen creature in my effort to exclude God and to replace His wisdom with that of my own. To possess His wisdom requires humility and ever present repentance to constantly “replace” my knowledge with His. “I must decrease that He may increase”. The goal of the Christain life is to become a vessel of the Holy Spirit, yielded to Him in love. With practice in the ascetic life over time the difference between my own wisdom and that of God becomes ever more apparent as from the source being Him or me. The fruit itself is the test from which source I draw from and for a good list I defer to The Book of Galatians.

    When a man devises a philosophical system , it comes forth from within him and is constructed in an effort to make order or sense of “Reality”. In order for me to master a philosophy it requires for me to enter into the mind or psyche from which it was formed and here lies the danger, that I may become trapped in here.

    The Faith is oppossed to this as it is alive and not a system, not a construct. It is in fact His Faith and in this Faith I find life for I am in Him Who Is Life. When a man enters a construct, however beautiful or all-encompassing, he has not found this Life but has now found himself within a lifeless or dead system.

    As the passage above states it is not that reason is put aside but that reason must be transformed and given life within Him. The intellect needs illumination from God to “see” properly, to make Him my knowledge; me in Him and Him in me. Hence the strong warning from the Master to “Take heed lest the light witin you be darkness”.

    Even Christian philosophy when it becomes a thing is dead. It is still a construct. He is to be my philosophy: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life”

  18. Nick says:

    Nice quote, there is a nice (breif) exegetical study in the first chapter of Bill Craigs “Philosophical Foundations of a Christian World View” (if you can stomach the fact that he presents a monothelite Christology). He shows that the statement ‘do not be taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy based on human wisdom’ is clearly not condeming philosophy proper, but is condeming a certain kind of philosophizing, namely philosophizing with first principles that are some how opposed to propositions that comport with Chrisitian first principles. This interpretation is contra what you frequently hear from certain fighten fundy camps, namely, that the passage is condeming philosophy proper (or any use of the mind in discipleship). The former seems to be how Hillary is taking the passage. Arent you glad that we have Bill Craig (who it turns out has done some pretty good apologetics even though he holds to some heretical views) to confirm what a Father says (I am just kidding of course).

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