The handmaiden of the Devil

“Whence spring those “fables and endless genealogies,” and “unprofitable questions,” and “words which spread like a cancer? ” From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, “See that no one beguile you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost.” He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers) become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, whilst it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief.”

-Tertullian, De praescriptione haereticorum c.7, 9

33 Responses to The handmaiden of the Devil

  1. Reflection on Tertullian’s Athens and Jerusalem begins with a certain understanding of reason in relation to faith. You have accepted all the assumptions of post-patristic thinking.
    a) Note that the comparison is between two cities, not between, says, Christ and Plato, as might have been done. In other words, there is a necessary conflict between two world-views, each under the symbol of the two cities.
    b) The opposition between “faith” and “reason” is a Western, not a patristic one. We are not dealing with “faith” (religion) as subjective, and “reason” (philosophy) is objective. Then, to be sure, there will be a never-ending debate about their relationship (if any).
    c) In truth all philosophy presupposes a “faith” or should I say, “the Faith.” It under the life of which “reason” is a function; hence, dysfunctional reason is the result of a false faith which produces a wrong a way of life.
    d) The difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism is not so much in doctrine as in the way of life. That “life” with its “reason” begets church dogma. In a word, there is no antagonism between “faith” and “reason,” only between “faiths” which underlie “ways of life” for which “reason” acts.
    e) Therefore, the animosity between Athens and Jerusalem is the animosity between the “reason” of Athens and “reason” of Jerusalem; or, more precisely the life of the one and the life of the other, both of which rest on disparate faiths.

  2. photios says:

    Who was the academic?


  3. Asher Black says:

    Incidentally, this is also what happens when there’s no prayer before, during, or after such a lecture and discussion – not even a blessing over the food that was served. And there were four priests present, and other ordained clergy. They even had one point that they didn’t seem to know what to do – I felt like saying, “this is the point, where Christians pray, actually.”

  4. Asher Black says:

    I went to hear an academic “theologian” speak tonight. I’d been warned, in a sense. One Bishop, referring to him as a popularizer of theology for the educationally-challenged, had mentioned that this man offers his own advice as the only solution to the problems he sees; From his seminary post, with arrogance and self-delusion, he presumes to lecture not only bishops but councils of bishops. He further noted that any matushka and many other ladies in all his parishes have as good a grip, as advanced piety, and as many brains as this professor.

    I was dubious. Then I went to hear him at the local Orthodox-megachurch (an abhorrent combination indeed), and some people actually fell asleep, despite his amplified and animated oratory about nothing. It was the worst lecture I’ve ever heard given by an Orthodox ‘thinker’. It was like someone was trying for all the drama and flash of a Whitfield sermon (as a lecture, not a sermon) but a complete mediocrity of substance, taken up mostly by repeating each trite point as many different ways as possible. And the Q&A was far worse. I’d rather run a corn cob in one of my ears and pull it out the other. The impiety, the arrogance, the unadulterated pride, and the virtual nonsense he was spouting. It is everything I was trained in the early days of my Faith to abhor. I walked out of the Q&A; so did a number of other people, depending on which deeply offensive, shockingly arrogant, and utterly heterodox thing he said. A lecture with answers like that would never have been allowed to happen at my Church; happily, he’s not in my archdiocese. I’m embarrased and ashamed that people flock to hear him. My working theory is that mediocrity posing as substance is far more attractive than anything that’s actually true and challenging. Gosh… my ears. Just gouge them out!

    I’m not a fan of academics in general, academic theologians even less so, but the academic theologians that present themselves as the solution to our problems, the source of our wisdom, the essential ingredient in our decisions… it’s like a cult within the Church. I watched this man use two techniques I know very well:

    * The first was that he began a rant about stupidity and fundamentalism in the Church, contrasting it with his own novel, arrogant, and heretical views. In short, it’s a false dichotomy – he offers the mind two choices – since it flees thinking itself stupid and fundamentalist (which apparently is a derogatory term for reasons unspecified), it finds haven in the only other available option – this man’s opinions and attitudes, for which pride this technique makes an excellent cover.

    * The other technique is traditional for academics: the academic recites endless details, footnotes, and interesting esoterica (a litany of the little known fact), emphasizing what “ordinary people don’t understand”. This sets up a deep need for the academics to keep us from falling into darkness and to deliver us to the light of their esoterica. The compliment to this is to recommend that we all become mini-academics – encouraging us stoutly to study minutae and esoterica – naming off obscure texts that none of us will buy – but this creates a lot of armchair academics with an elite class of true academics (the equivalent of believers and saints or, in Latin thinking, laity and clergy). Both techniques ensure the hegemony, usefulness, attributed awe, almost magical power attributed to the ‘priesthood’ of lifelong seminarians.

    Sending, for the sake of one’s pride, a lot of new and impressionable converts, fed on his ill-deserved reputation, into the arms of the professional textual critics, gnostics the lot of them, as he advocated tonight, is obscene. His comments on the superiority of modern academics to the fathers, using the academic “we” (as in “what we now know that we once didn’t”), claiming they didn’t understand what we now understand, that they just didn’t get it because they didn’t have access to mass information and all this archaeology, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, of all things… his words were foolish, dangerous, and nigh blasphemous in some cases. Coupled with jokes that demeaned the Mother of God and the Bride of Christ (citing one description of the latter as the harlot of Christ) is unforgiveable. That’s when I walked out. Those two comments/jokes in a row. His answers to questions take about 20 minutes each, and he was still going on in response to that question, which he’d answered in the first 20 seconds, when my friend also walked out to find me sitting in the car. I imagine he got 4 questions answered in the space of an hour, if he resolved to say “I don’t know” to the third one.

    But the Bishop can say to such people: “I rightly divide the word of truth, not you. You need me; I don’t need you. It is Bishops and Monks and Priests and Deacons and Readers and Laymen. Academics are not an order in the Church.”

    I’m disgusted. This is what happens when I go to hear an academic speak rather than a monastic. I’ve no use for these people. Ours is not a faith of the seminary but of the desert. If it wouldn’t be appropriate in a sermon, it shouldn’t be appropriate in the dining hall. If it would make a monk cross himself and ask forgiveness, it shouldn’t be spoken in the churches. Let these people found their own religion – that of schools and philosophers. This is Jerusalem, not Athens.

  5. […] Philosophy is inherently anti-Christian; philosophy is what atheists do instead of theology. This position might be summed up in the proverbial interrogative ‘What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?’ […]

  6. Magic Man,

    No more posts from you. Anymore posts under this name will be deleted. I didn’t mock your patron, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, he’s actually on my side in which I pointed to a paper I wrote and to a book by Fr. Michael Azkoul.

    The condemnation of dialectic:

    “In order, then, to render their attack upon the Savior efficacious, this is the blasphemous method that they [Eunomians] have adopted. There is no need, they urge, of looking at the collective attributes by which the Son’s equality in honour and dignity with the Father is signified, but from the opposition between generate and ungenerate we must argue a distinctive difference of nature; for the Divine nature is that which is denoted by the term ungenerate…and declaring this to be sovereign and supreme they make this word comprehend the whole greatness of Godhead, so as to necessitate the inference that if ungeneracy is the main point of the essence, and the other attributes are bound up with it, viz. Godhead, power, imperishableness and so on—if (I say) ungeneracy mean these, then, if this ungeneracy cannot be predicated of something, neither can the rest.”

    St. Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium II, NPNF II, 5, p. 256


  7. I think you mistake agreeing with a point of Tertullian with siding with him carte blanch. Tertullian isn’t alone in his attitude on this specific point. One can find similar statements in Hippolytus and others. The asymmetrical relationship that the Church has maintained between theology and philosophy is sufficient proof that the Church has maintained such a view. One has only to read through the Akathist Hymn for example to see this. To propose a limit to reason is hardly sufficient to claim that we are phlebotomizing reason.

    You mention Origen and what a great example his use of dialectic was for Christian theology. An eternal world, a cycle of falls and redemptions, a God who never is genuinely incarnate, pre-existing souls and a subordinated deity to boot. St. Justin is better but even the most sympathetic accounts of his writings still point out his subordinationalism which was the result of employing hellenistic metaphysics which did not permit a distinction between person and nature.

    Gregory of Nazianzus and Palamas are better examples, but Palamas is certainly in his works against Barlaam and Akdindynos no friend to Hellenism and neither is Nazienzen.

    Even if it were true that Daniel or I do not understand what we read, a mere claim to that effect is not an argument. Something else that isn’t an argument is the claim that we post material to antagonize others. Neither is the claim that there is a necessary dialectical relationship between faith and reason.

    I have read the article you reference before and I am not sure how you think it supports your position. I can’t see how you think it supports your position at all.
    As for St. Augustine, I think you misread him if you think that the City of Man is human civilization and the City of God is the church. Augustine thought no such thing. Those two things are eschatological realities. In any case my aversion to dialectic in theology comes from no Reformed dislike of Natural Theology motivated by total depravity. The irony is that I teach philosophy for a living. In any case, if you wish to show that I am importing elements into Orthodoxy which are not Orthodox, then please, by all means make such an argument. But rhetorical flailings will get you nowhere fast.

    I have read Acts 17 a good number of times. It is not as I haven’t read Scripture before. But I don’t think Paul’s speak is an endorsement of the kind of project that Augustine and the medieval scholastics had in mind. If you do, then you need to give an argument to that effect.

    Gal 3 is in the context of Jew and Greek being one in baptism. It is hardly an adequate textual basis for how you are viewing reason.

    In any case, if you’re Orthodox, I can’t see in the main why you’d have a problem with what we write, especially if you claim familiarity with Palamas.

  8. cognitivemagic says:

    This post smacks of the points it wishes to condemn. I will offer a Pauline position in my defense, since greater weight is placed on scripture here in debate. Furthermore, it’s dishonest and false to claim that “Orthodoxy” has sided exclusively with Tertullian in this matter, as though this had been a pressing issue for the Church. Tertullian was not the only father to combat Gnosticism. St. Clement of Alexandria did it without lobotomizing “reason”; in fact, encouraged the reading of Plato, Aristotle, ect. If you haven’t read his “Stromateis” and “Paedagogus”. You also fail to mention Origen, St. Justin Martyr, St. Gregory Nazanzius and St. Gregory Palamas as Fathers and Saints who saw no antagonism between Jerusalem and Athens. And I don’t think you understand quite what you read when you engage with the Fathers or the councils; except to see points that allow you means by which you want to raise a bully pulpit and antagonize those who agree and disagree with your seemingly Roman and Protestant lenses. This Tertullian quote is, in fact, “schismatic”? And it’s an insult to many in Orthodoxy, including yourselves. “Credo, ut intelligiam” is what your proposing; but I say that “Intelligiam, ut Credo” is true also. They are mutually necessary sides of the same coin.

    Read here:,_Prayer,_and_Vision

    So what this thread amounts to is platform to “dung” that has been mined from North Africa. Beginning with Tertullian; but it doesn’t end here. His thoughts are traduced to that giant of Romanist and Protestant theology, St. Augustine; with his insistence on the false duality and hostility between “The City of God” and “The City of Man”, Jerusalem and Athens. And that torch was passed onto Aquinas; onto Anselm; onto Luther and Calvin and the whole of the west. And then you have “western” Romanists and Protestants sneaking into Orthodoxy and positing positions and ideas of the “west” and claiming this is “eastern”!! May this never be so.

    I have no problems with either Jerusalem or Athens. I accept them both because each are given to men by God. But hear what St. Paul says in this regard in Acts 17:

    “Men of Athens” (i.e. Jews and Greeks)

    “I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering objects of your worship, I even found and altar with this inscription:


    Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God,
    who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven (i.e. Jerusalem) and earth (i.e. Athens), does not dwell in temples made with hands (again, representing Jerusalem). Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands (again, representing Athens), as though He needed anything, since He gives to all (i.e. both Jerusalem and Athens) life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood (Adam) every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they (Jerusalem and Athens) should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we (Jerusalem and Athens) live and move and have our being, as also some of you own poets (philosophers/prophets) have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’. Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think think the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone (whether Temples or Idols), something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world (Jerusalem and Athens) in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

    And elsewhere he says,

    “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ”


    “I say then, have they (Jews) stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now, if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump also is holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and the fatness of the Olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”

    And so, Tertullian has laid the axe to that Olive tree….and has helped lead the way in the eventual severing of the branch of Rome from the Communion of the Church. And that withering branch, as it sits on the floor next to the tree, has been severed into ever more bits by Luther, Calvin and the Reformers.

    You mock my patron Saint, Gregory of Nyssa and defend Tertullian like he was your bestest buddy; and then expect that your unkindness, rudeness and pride would not grab the attention of this blessed Saint in heaven. Have you not heard it said that God is not the God of the dead but of the living? In my hood, people call each other “homey” and “dawg”. And if you “dis” a “homey”, there’s going to be a throwdown.

    I will not give my name to anyone who insults and bullies strangers; and allow continuance the western tradition of the crusades and inquisitions.

    I came to this website, initially, to get information; but when I see the inflammatory and divisive comments by heretics (regardless of the website), I by conscience, am bound to act. That is how I’ve been trained and how I engage. I mean no quarrel for quarrel’s sake. I’ve lived in bondage to the west, as some here may have, and have come to the east to escape it. So when I see the ‘west’ starting to take foothold here, I cannot, in good conscience, be silent and just let it pass. And if you read G.K. Chesterton’s essay “Maniac”, in his book “Orthodoxy”, and like myself, have been in the shoes of a William Cowper, you can imagine why I would be very motivated to speak (without going into my own autobiographical disclosure). I much prefer “peace” to “war”. And, in the final analysis, I mean no one harm or disrespect. I only mean to say that it is sad that people as bright and learned in Orthodoxy today are stalemated and reduced to regurgitating the past, especially leaning on specious fathers of the past, rather than having the freedom to express those ancient truths afresh in a new generation; in the language and thought of that generation. I believe that Tertullianism, or this seeming understanding of Tertullian, prevents this from happening. I would hate to see Orthodoxy capitulate to Orthonomy; that’s all.

  9. Magic man,

    No more anonymous posts. We stopped taking anonymous posts on this blog a while back. So if you want to continue to have privileges of posting here, shake the magic act and have some accountability.

    The purpose of this quote is to highlight a common theme of the ante-Nicene Church in the West. Where is the natural theology? Where are the general categories? Where is the science that needs to understand the essence of things to understand their causes? They are no where. What is going on during this period up to Nicea in the likes of St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus is a common theme that recognizes that Philosophy and the use of its dialectical tools to solve theological questions and importing the content of pagan philosophical terms is the handmaiden of Gnosticism. It is a subtle technique of subversion. This is the stability of the West for many centuries, even past Augustine. On the other hand, during this same time period, the East is quietly and slowly making theology the handmaiden of theology. First, more innocently so with the logos theology of the apologists and then finally culminating with the ‘Origenist Problematic’ producing the Nicene Crisis. This is the reason why the Ecumenical Councils happened in the East and why the East fell into all kinds of different Christological heresies and each time had to be restored to a proper ordo theologiae of understanding these questions. St. Justinian the Great in recognizing what many so-called Christian thinkers were doing, closed the Academy.

    The ‘Jerusalem’ that Tertullian speaks of is the same Jerusalem that Pauls speaks of in Romans 9-11: The Church, the sons of Abraham. I could’ve quoted any number of Fathers to demonstrate the same point including St. Gregory of Nyssa. I guess you never took it seriously to read the works I suggested by Gregory.

    You further didn’t understand the logoi doctrine of Maximus. Maximus’ point is that we understand the logoi, as principles of nature of God and man, through Christology, and not through something called ‘natural theology.’ This presupposes revelation to man first in order to have an understanding of a Christian anthropology and a Christian Theology in order to say anything of dogmatic content! Is Absolute Divine Simplicity your dogma, and the filioque your dogma? Then go follow your fathers Plotinus, Porphyry, and Aristotle. This doesn’t mean that man can’t know anything apart from theology. It’s just that those things that are learned from such disciplines aren’t truly “natural” and aren’t “theology” at all. When some Church Fathers were confronted with the Neoplatonic Augustinian trinity, they recognized that it had more to do with what pertained to sensible things, i.e. science, and not theology.


  10. Cognitivemagic,

    1. Protestant presuppositionalism is indeeed dialectical, whether it is Clarkian or Van Tillian, but I don’t think Tertullian could be fairly placed in either. His is a denial of dialectical thinking whereas theirs is an affirmation of it. Moreover, the same point made by Tertullian can be found made by lots of other Fathers who were in no way sympathetic to Montanism, such as Hippolytus for example.

    Drawing a distinction between Jerusalem and Athens only employs dialectical thinking if distinction is tantamount to dialectic. It is not. And we know its not because the two natures in Christ are distinct but not opposed. Your argument then turns on a faulty Christology. Moreover, the laws of logic are by and large dependent on and flow from certain presuppositions about causation deriving from the Hippocratic triumph over Empedoclean metaphysics. This explains well the rise of Aristotle’s logic and the square of opposition from Platonic metaphysics. Forms are all cause and no effect, middle entities are some cause and some effect and matter is all effect and no cause. Aristotle’s fruit doesn’t fall far from Plato’s tree. Orthodox theology cuts across this latent dialectical opposition.

    2. Tertullian has a fair amount to say regarding Judiazing as well, but it is true for both Jew and Greek that neither could make sense of the wisdom of God. But Jerusalem for Tertullian at that stage of his thinking is not the earthly Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem that is above, which is the mother of the faithful. (Gal 4:21ff) And that Jerusalem is hardly “condemned.”

    3. The term “logos” is certainly a greek term but words and concepts aren’t necessarily identical. More to the point, Christians at their best stripped such terms of their philosophical content and/or reoriented them in the proper way. Consequently it is fallacious to claim that such notions were taken wholesale from Stoicism or Platonism. Jesus is not viewed unqualifiedly as the Nous of Middle Platonism. Even Augustine doesn’t make such unguarded claims.

    What is more, what philosophical content do you think homoousias has for example? What philosophical content will not end up yielding some form of heterodoxy? The problem here is that you haven’t grasped the way the Orthodox view the relationship between theology and various disciplines and are in “tilt” mode. The reaction is fairly common, resulting in arguments of the kind that, well if we don’t view philosophy as supplying the conceptual content of theology, then cats and dogs will live together, the Klingons will invade and no one will be able to communicate at all! This rather betrays an inability to think differently than you are accustomed to and to simply react in a kneejerk fashion. I believe the term is prejudice.

    Daniel didn’t start out the gate with some lame horse. In case you didn’t notice the sidebars, we’ve been talking about such things for quite some time. Often we just post quotes from various persons and periods to illustrate a point, to prompt discussion, etc. St. Augustine and St. Gregory aren’t exactly the best examples for you case, given that the conclusions were the distinctive marks of their hellenization were rejected and/or condemned as heterodox.

    5. It’s a blog not an article, a book or any other formal kind of writing. We post things for reflection and discussion so I am not sure that the charge of spoof texting applies, especially when we are more than willing to give analysis. Whether Tertullian is condemned as a heretic is immaterial. Tertullian, when used properly can serve as a witness for pieces of information about early Christianity, when used in conjunction with the Fathers. The same can be said with Origen. Moreover, Catholics and Protestants seem quite comfortable citing Tertullian, heretic or not when it suits their purposes. Here the Orthodox are exercising their right to be ecumenical. 😛

    6. Plenty of philosophical development has occurred, but not very much that is fundamentally new has occurred. Moreover, it is not as if human nature and the human situation has changed all that much. Light switches and microwaves a new race do not make. Perhaps the reason that we speak in such ways is that such ways are approved by the Church and perhaps the culture needs to be transformed by the church and not the other way around. Our approach is definitely not scholastic by any means.
    I am familiar with Kantianism, but it seems to have had its day. If anything we are moving back to Thrasymachus as the worries about Carl Schmitt make plain. In any case, Willard’s reading of Kant leaves something to be desired. The Categories are not hard wired neurological structures, but rather achievements of the human race. Kant is quite explicit about this in a number of places in the 1st Critique, Prolegomena, etc.

    Trying to plug in apophatic theology to Kantianism I don’t think will work. Apophaticism isn’t built off of a nominalistic metaphysics and resulting skepticism regarding signs. That is, the reason why earthly knowledge fails to grasp the divine essence is not because, even in its pristine state it is skewed, but rather, God is simply not an object. God is not being.

    The energies of God are consequently not noumenal and neither is the essence and neither are the divine persons for the same reason that the energies are not phenomena either. Phenomena are constructions, appearances enriched by rules to render the appearances intelligible to us and that is not what the energies are. Your view is still trying to, to use a Lutheran phrase, catch God in the nude. We are quite happy to worship a fully clothed deity. Orthodox theology then is not an attempt to spy on or join in on a metaphysical nudist colony. In Augustinian terms, such is a clear manifestation of libido.

    And human belief producing mechanisms are quite able to truly comprehend God, in his energies. This doesn’t imply that there is no personal condescenion on God’s part but the relation is not one of superiority and reliability to lesser and malfunctioning. There is nothing inherently bad epistemically speaking about being a creature.
    And to be fair to Kant, I don’t think he is groping for a grounding for the categorical imperative. He is just fine postulating transcendental ideas as a precondition for it. That is the whole point, given Kant’s Heraclitean metaphysics. The world of fact and the world of value are mere appearances, which is why any incompatibility is limited to the level of ordered appearances and not to reality. There are just different rules for different appearances. Of course this betrays a fundamental problem for Kant. There really can be no hypostatic union for him. And Christ is not the mere hybrid or conjunction of two realms, fact and value. In any case, your attempt to suppliment Kant’s ethics with Christian theology fails for it seems to ignore the significant criticisms of Hegel of Kant’s ethical theory. Merely telling us that such and so practices and beliefs are necessary for such and so institutions doesn’t tell us that we must have such things, but only that if we are to have such institutions we must have those practices and beleifs. There is nothing in Kant’s argument it seems that justifies the former. And this is the weakness in any transcendental argument, specifically that to escape adherence or assent to the proposed necessary condition for some phenomena, one has only to deny the necessity of the phenomena, which is exactly what Hegel pointed out. Kan’t silver bullet is in fact made of bronze.

    More existentially, Christ does not call us to contemplate metaphysical truths. Being rational doesn’t make you more genuinely human for the imago dei isn’t reason per se. Man’s problem is that he doesn’t know the “nature” of every day objects or that he really needs progress and so reliable rules by which such progress can be made. Progress on the whole has only amplified the fact that we are driven by desire and not reason and amplified our fear of death and our construction of coping mechanisms. Surely Freud had it right, even if he gave the wrong answer. Man’s problem is that he dies, and dying sucks.

    I don’t go to the Liturgy because I am worried about the shift from medieval causal theories to modern ones, where signs no longer carry any over metaphysical power from their cause such that the sign can be produced in me by a cause completely different from the sign itself. I go because I am going to die and I wish to die in Christ. I hope. I trust. And I love, and Kant has very little to say about those things. Will Kant make me a better father? Will Kant make me a master over my own weaknesses? Isn’t Kant still dead? So much for the self legislating agent. I have no use for Kantian autonomy. Christ didn’t come to give us a nice example per se, but to conquer death and your Kantian reading leaves out the heart of Christ’s mission in the Cross, to go down into death, to its farthest reaches and take death captive.

    Kant will reply to your theological claims quite directly. Nothing about God can be demonstrated. It is at best only logically possible, but not really possible. In order for something to be really possible for humans, a model must be constructed. You might as well be talking about a diangle, a two sided enclosed plane figure doing all the things you ascribe to God, for you can never give a demonstration for either. Such claims are therefore idle. They go nowhere and do no work. Proclaim all you like, while we produce demonstrations, garnering assent free and make progress. Kant didn’t postulate God for a grounding of ethics, he postulated a CONCEPT, a transcendental idea, that we made, that functioned in a specific way to render our practices, beliefs and appearances intelligible, but that hardly implies that there are such things or that one can demonstrate their existence (or non-existence) Such things are idle for Kant. The idea God for Kant is the creation of man, which is why Neitzche proclaimed the death of that idea. Human constructions betray psyhological motivations not truth.

    Kant’s God is not the God of Christianity and therefore his system is incompatible with Christian theology. The problem is your view of reason. You need to take more seriously the demands of a Chalcedonian and consistently Dyothelite Christology. You need to read Maximus.

  11. cognitivemagic says:

    Indeed, your link has underscored what I have said. That Protestant “presuppositionalism” is utilized in making a point just capitulates to that very “philosophy” that your father Tertullian has scoffed at. Perhaps it is you that need to reread Tertullian here.

    But let me put things more plainly.

    1) To draw a distinction between “Jerusalem” and “Athens”, smacks of that very “dialectical” and “discursive” philosophical reasoning that Tertullian is seeking to renounce. He has presupposed, as it were, Aristotle’s “law of identity” and “law of non-contradiction” in proposing cleavage between these two, supposedly, antithetical realms of thought. And then he wants to nullify them. He’s like the man who falsely claims to have emasculated himself in childhood, but is confronted by DNA evidence that shows that he has, in fact, fathered many children!!

    2) His schismatic thinking has left out something else equally problematic here: that while the gospel of Christ is “foolishness” to Athens, it is equally a stumbling block for “Jerusalem”. His “Jerusalem” stands equally condemned.

    3) The “logos” doctrine is itself philosophical in nature. Are we to excise portions of Tradition that have these “pagan” and “philosophical” accretions, like “hypostasis”, “homoousias” and “energies”? Then we will have also to dismantle this entire website, portions of the New Testament, the Creed, and much of the Fathers themselves.

    4) Why have you made your point using the least, rather than the most, common denominator in your argument? If the consensus of the Patrium has spoken on this matter, then why not quote that? Why start out of the gate with the flimsiest race horse, instead of the most sturdy and reliable? And then you want to defend the losing horse while mocking the winning ones (i.e. St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Augustine).

    5) Your brand of proof-texting bespeaks a knowledge of the “letter” of the Fathers and Tradition; yet woefully neglects the “spirit” and “heart” of the Fathers. And the proof of what I say is in this pudding: Tertullian is condemned as a heretic.

    As the scriptures say:

    “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”

    6) Today, we are almost 1800 years ahead of Tertullian and much “philosophical” development has occurred. Our “soil” is not the same as the early Church. When we speak to others about Orthodoxy, why do we inundate them with language, concepts and realities that are far removed from their thinking? And not just their thinking, but ours as well. We are not Hebrews, Greeks or Latins and yet we use technical philosophical expressions of antiquity, expressions that were not “common” even by their standards, to continue expositions of Orthodoxy in our contemporary environment. And so a “scholastic” treatment of the Fathers and Tradition is what we wind up with. That’s what I hinted at in my 5th point above. Can the ships anchoring to Tradition have line that stretches no further than the surface of the water? But let me develop this point by example, rather than just precept.

    Kant has loomed large in our present horizons and happens to be one the most significant thinkers in philosophy over the past 300 years. If you doubt this, then consider reading Dallas Willard’s 1999 essay in Philosophia Christi, entitled “How the Concepts of the Mind Relate to Its Objects”.

    Kant drew a distinction between Noumena and Phenomena; he maintained that “categories” of the mind, while independent of sensory perception, indeed inform us of those conditions of perception. But the mind can only reach the “phenomena” (things-as-they-appear) and never the “noumena” (things-as-they-really-are). So the categories of the mind cannot get beyond or behind our “experience” and inform us of what the “true” nature of reality is. Therefore, God, freedom and immortality are forever consigned to the fate of the antinomy’s of Pure Reason, since they are neither objects of sense perception nor “categories” of the mind themselves.

    However, Kant still needed a grounding for his metaphysics of morals; otherwise, his idea of the “categorical imperative” would make little sense. So he posits God, freedom and immortality as the transcendental ground of his “Practical Reason”. He doesn’t say that these things (God, freedom and immortality) are “proven” by this transcendental reasoning; just that they seem to be requirements of the postulation of deontological ethics. And he believes that his scheme, rather than eliminating “faith”, has rather made room for it.

    How might the Orthodox profit and reason with Kant in all this?

    That God has not left man in the quagmire of the mere phenomena. He has revealed the “noumena” to us: his Only-begotten Son. That the categories of the mind cannot “transcend” experience and “get beyond” the veil of perception, is quite true. So God, in His wisdom, has condescended to our human epistemic frailty and bridged the gulf between the noumena and the phenomena. The “thing-in-iteself” (reality beyond perception) has become a “thing-in-appearance” (a reality of perception); that is, the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

    Furthermore, no longer must the Kantian grope yonder for the grounding of the “categorical imperative” in abstract metaphysics; the “categorical imperative” has arrived. Even more striking, the Person of whom is embodied those precepts has also, much more practically than mere “Practical Reason”, signified what the “categorical imperative” really entails by concrete example; through life and death. And beckons and calls all men to witness and participate in His life by the eschatological ascension of the Liturgy. That Liturgy is the transcendence of the people of phenomena up to the the God of the noumena.

    And should the Kantian say, “But we can’t know the ‘noumena’ of which you speak”.

    I would reply:

    What you believe in ignorance, this I will proclaim to you. God, who made all phenomena of perception, is Lord of the noumena and phenomena. And since He is Lord of the noumena and phenomena, He is not limited to any category of the mind nor is He discerned through any crafty mode of reason. But He gives all men reason, life, and all things. He has given us places to live and people to learn from and reason with so that we should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live, move and reason, as one of your philosopher’s has said, “The postulation of God is a necessary grounding of the metaphysics of morals.” Therefore, we ought not think that the Divine Nature is equal to deductive or inductive chains of speculative reason or any sum of empirical perception. Truly, these times of ignorance God has overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He will judge the world rightly by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this by way of perceptible experience, by raising Him from the dead.

    7) And should my means of communicating seem odd to some, I can only say that Kant has been the “soil” that I have had to work in. Is this philosophy? Of course.
    This is Jerusalem and Athens together, because they come from the same God. If we are to condemn the one, then we ought to condemn the other. If you want to err on the side of the Judaizer, then be my guest. But please, for the love of Christ, don’t hinder and mock your Athenian brothers, for the scriptures say:

    “For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge” (Proverbs 1:22)


    “He who is not against Me is for Me”

  12. Photios,

    Back to the post: Is the view that realism with respect to metaphysics, epistemology and ethics is self-justifying coherent? Is the attempt to justify them solely through philosophy doomed to failure?

    I know their complete denial leads to some self-defeating conclusions, but I’d like to know if you think they’re intelligible or rationally justifiable apart from the facts of revelation.

  13. cognitivemagic says:

    Dearest Pho;

    Does not Montanism advocate a strong stance against all “worldliness”, including philosophy? Was Tertullian not motivated by these tendencies, even from his pre-Montanist years? Maybe. I understand that his affiliation with the Montanists “late” in his life does not directly bear upon your quote of his against the gnostic heresy. What I am suggesting, however, is that the road to Montanism may have been paved with good intentions; intentions that seem to begin here (i.e. his tracts against the gnostics).

    But, perhaps we are misunderstanding one another here. Here is what I’m not saying:

    Accept philosophy hook, line and sinker.

    At the same time, it’s impossible to extricate one’s thinking from the culture, age and ideas you find yourself confronted with. In the course of this blogging, we are communicating in a common language; and we can do this because we are trained and nurtured in a common educational milieux (western academia). And I doubt that you are unaware that all “educational” systems have underlying philosophical assumptions about what “facts/information/ideas” are relevant and irrelevant for a student body to know; what the “best” means of communicating and inoculating students with those “facts…”, which implies a mode of communication, logic and rhetoric for inculcation and assimilation, ect. In fact, the very approach you take in your “refutation” has demonstrated a vast amount of suckling from the teat of this system. And underlining your vision of Orthodoxy, is precisely those philosophical predilections that you want to condemn. That you are conversant in the terminology and strategy of philosophy, just underscores this fact. If you wish to so separate yourself from philosophy, well and good. Perhaps communion with God in silence would be your best bet. St. Antony did it; as have many others.

    We don’t do is to begin or end discourse in a vacuum. We do not create dirt, seed and water and then proceed to cultivate and farm. We take from resources that are given to us. Why not take from those resources and then transfigure them? That was “loosely” what my point is.

    The very fact that you have engaged me in a “warfare” style, bespeaks this common field we share and shows just how much of a ‘western’ man you actually are; are we now to condemn the “dialectical” method while our feet remain firmly entrenched in it?

    St. Augustine may take many “smackings” for his “integrationanism”; but that “smack” needs to return to an eye that looks very much like his: your own.

  14. Jason says:


    Thanks for your clarification, and for your reference to Father Behr. I was just genuinely curious, more than anything else.


  15. This quote is a part of Tertutllian’s anti-gnostic writing. The heresy he is combating is gnosticism, this is why his Montanism is irrelevent.

  16. Jason,

    Father Behr at St. Vlad’s says that the only thing that is at the level of dogma concerning Mary is the theotokos: that she is the God-bearer. I agree with him. In the Dormition iconography, the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes represents Mary’s soul and not her body. Her body as being assumed is speculation. There’s nothing in revelation to make a dogmatic case for it: it is pious theologoumena. To make it at the level of dogma is to put it on the level of Christ’s two natures or the Trinity, which is just absurd.

    Do I personally believe that she was assumed? I tend toward it, but it is not something that must be believed to be saved. That’s the important point that needs to be understood.


  17. Magic Man,

    What does Tertullian’s Montanism have to do with this quote? I would submit nothing. I see what Tertullian is saying here is harmonious with what St. Irenaeus did in refuting the gnostics. It was the gnostics and later the apologists leading up to Origen and later with the Nicene crisis that were making philosophy the handmaiden of theology. Philosophers had interesing insights, but I would submit that they missed the mark every time. This is also the consensus of Orthodoxy, the culmination being the Synodikon and the Sunday of Orthodoxy anathematizing those who follow the philosophers and the closing of the Academies by Justinian. Indeed, philosophy is the handmaiden of heresy. Not only is philosophy NOT the handmaiden of theology, it’s not even on the list of staff of servants.

    St. Augustine takes a smacking on this blog for his integration of such. His integration of the NeoPlatonic One with God the Father.

    I’m aware that St. Gregory of Nyssa was the most philosphical of the Cappadocians, but a key points he backs off from philosophy and even calls it “blasphemous” when dealing with theology. Try Fr. Michael Azkoul’s work: St. Gregory of Nyssa and the Tradition of the Fathers and my paper “Breaking from the Dialectical Method”


  18. Jason says:


    You said: “From my reading of the Fathers, I’m pretty open to the fact that scripture is the sole basis of dogmatic theology.” In light of that, I’m curious whether you regard any common Orthodox beliefs regarding the Dormition of the Theotokos as items of dogmatic theology, i.e., as dogmata. It is usually asserted to me that certain such beliefs (at least *some* of them, e.g., the belief that Mary’s body was taken from the earth) *are* dogmata, but I’m interested in your take. Thanks.

  19. cognitivemagic says:

    It must be remembered that Tertullian was a Montanist and defended that to the very last; sadly, forfeiting possible veneration and/or an honorable burial within the Church.

    But his voice has not been a consensus within Orthodoxy itself on this matter. Certainly, St. Augustine advocated the integration of philosophy with Christianity; if not in word, then certainly in deed. And, of course, his views have permeated all of Western Christendom.

    On the Eastern side of Christendom, you have the Cappadocian father St. Gregory of Nyssa encouraging and practicing the integration of philosophy and theology; both in word and deed. He claimed that Plato had some real insights that were congruent with the faith. Indeed, it’s hard not to notice, particularly in “The Republic”, ideas that echo in portions of the New Testament. Some historians have even noted that he has been one of the few Christian thinkers to have successfully reached a synthesis between the two.

    And, what of St. Antony of Egypt? He studied neither philosophy nor theology (i.e. academically or institutionally) and yet was able to effortlessly respond brilliantly to those philosophers and thinkers who came to “reason” with him in the desert.

    Therefore, I would offer extreme caution concerning Tertullian’s view on this matter.

  20. Death B.,

    Could you email me? Thanks.

  21. Death Bredon says:

    Bingo Mark! Well put.

    It’s not pagan literature per se, but rather any attempt to regard classical rationalism as a standard of ontological truth, that offends. The medieval schoolmen always gave the correct lip service about pagan philosophy — “the handmaiden of revealed theology.” But, in actually practice, they used philosophy as a co-equal (or even superior) criterion of ontic truth than Revelation. Also, Orthodox correctly levels the same charge at the systematic Protestant Reformers and their own (ultimately pagan) species of Scholasticism.

  22. Mark Krause says:

    I don’t think the point is to deny that Christianity appropriates any termonlogy, concepts, or arguments from pagan philosophy. Obviously that isn’t true. However, those terms, concepts and arguments are all tweaked and find fundamentally different meanings within the Christian worldview and method of theology. What’s most important in this quote is the inclusion of “dialectic.” Christianity denies that dialectic is an appropriate way to come to theological truth.

    Look at your examples. Christian participation in the Divine Energies has no exact analog in pagan philosophy. (It’s sure not the same thing as a participating in a Platonic form). We use the term union, but it’s not the exact same thing as any other kind of union. “Becomes uncreated by grace”…well, i don’t think that I have to say that this has no exact analog anywhere else.

    Again, most fundamentally it’s about the rejection of dialectic in favor of a Christological and Triadialogical methodology based on revelation.

  23. When we say that man “participates” in God’s life, is “united” to God or “becomes uncreated” by grace? How or to what extant can we speak positively about these realities without recourse to Hellenistic metaphysics or presuppositions?

  24. It is my thought that rather than sola scriptura the Fathers use the Scripture as an unchanging rule by which to measure doctrines and customs. This relates to the principle that Tradition is also unchanging and both testify to Christ. Tradition does not develop due to new understandings or insights nor is Tradition subject to cultural or temporal settings. It is rather the Christian way of Faith and life that transcends time and space because it is a reflection of the very life of the unchanging and timeless Son of God as Incarnate in mankind. Thus, Scripture is not subject or opposed to the Church or Tradition, nor is the Church or Tradition developed from Scripture but both testify to the one unchanging Faith and Tradition, delivered to the Apostles by Christ, that is Christ with/in us.

  25. One of the big reasons I disagree with Rome’s presentation is that it’s argument for Tradition, whatever that really is, is that they couple “Tradition” with this dialectical development of doctrine, that we gain better understanding of some seed form revelation through the passing of time.


  26. Photios:

    I couldn’t agree more with that last comment re: arguments against sola scripture via Rome. One of the things that struck me during my catechesis was that when my priest was asked a question his first recourse was not to such and so encyclical written by Pope Fabulous the IV, but to the Scriptures. Orthodoxy is thoroughly biblical…to enter the Church is to enter the very story of the Bible.

  27. Lastly, I’ve grown very displeased with Orthodox reliance on Romanist type arguments against sola scriptura. I don’t think they do justice of the high place and view that scripture has to the Fathers.


  28. And I do think that the Reformation cry was an attempt to recover patristic theology to some degree, I just don’t think it could in the fullest while married to Augustinism, for to do so would under cut much of the doctrine it was espousing. But such a rejection is unduly necessary to have any kind of sola scriptura coherent, for the very gnostic god of Augustinism that beholds protestant crreds is married to a faith and reason that is ultimately incompatible with sola scriptura.


  29. photios says:

    Patristic texts that imply sola scriptura. I think sola scriptura could be right if understood the way Gregory of Nyssa understood it:

    But our worship of God guides our understanding of the scriptures, since it is our own lived experience. Orthodoxa often right belief is more correctly understand as right glory or worship.


  30. What texts are you referring to exactly, Photios?

  31. The protestants, generally, don’t understand how to read those texts. Where they think the Fathers are implying their theory of sola scriptura, the context is Hellenism vs. Revelation, that revelation being first and foremost scripture, not Scripture vs. Tradition. From my reading of the Fathers, I’m pretty open to the fact that scripture is the sole basis of dogmatic theology AND that scripture is confirmed by the living worship of the people: liturgy.

  32. I remember the first time I was presented with the ‘what has Athens to do with Jerusalem’ quote was at Bethel Seminary–as a check on ‘high falutin theology’…basically anything that didn’t fit the Baptist, low-church, ‘bible-believin’, version of Protestantism paradigm (as in a “see – Tertullian was a bible-only kinda guy”). I really do wonder if the professors read beyond that portion of the quote to the line about dialectical composition…probably not, as it would have unravelled more of their own theology than they cared to.

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