There are three ranks [orders] of human existence: the rank of bodies, the rank of minds and the ultimate rank of love, as the great Pascal has said. Before my death, I face all the three ranks distinctively and in their interconnectedness, so that one may conquer the other and God seizes hold of me as God pleases.
The rank of bodies is about the human body, with its beauty and weaknesses, with the complications that it hides, with that which transcends in it and that which falls, with that which brings joy and that which causes pain, until it is buried with the hope of resurrection, if we were believers. The body is a stanchion, just a stanchion, for a mind that either glows or is absent. Through the word ‘body’ Pascal points to all that he owns in this world and its abodes, to all its vanities and delights and whatever is in one’s hands of dissolution and the love of dissolution, which might seem to be existing, while it is not. However, there is in it comfort and enjoyment. Enjoyment is about things through which we stretch out, yet, they make us heedless and they veil from us that which is greater, since the greater is more difficultly accessible, and requires from us great effort to drive away the specter of death. This reminds me with what Paul has said, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” [1Cor. 15: 26]
Thus, we must enjoy. The tragedy is, however, when we stand by these enjoyments and we perceive ourselves in a horrible emptiness, similar to ‘nothingness’, until we reach at the rank of the mind, which encompasses the universe. For us, the universe is about knowledge. It is regretting that you do not know everything. Certainly, you do not know much in life, that of which you might take advantage in your [own] life, especially what concerns your health. There have been, in the past, those who knew everything, like Al- Ghazālī and Leonardo Da Vinci; however, at our times, the encyclopedic knowledge has seized to exist. Thus, the educated is partially educated, while lack of education is widely spread in many countries and continents. This is our reality, the mind is a source of power for practical life, yet it does not lead you to the thought which gives you joy. How is it possible not to be moved, with the whole of your being, when you know that a Maronite priest had memorized one-hundred thousand of verses? How do you not desire all the feelings which endowed this man with life, whenever you are able to memorize only ten verses of poetry? Then, our poets who wrote here since Imru’ Al-Qays are not alive in your thought.
Is not my intellect curtailed, I, the writer of these lines, from whom all the mathematical and natural sciences have remained absent and who is ignorant completely of all electronic education, and thus belong to a civilization which no more exists. The content of my intellect is then little.
Hence, the mind is just an ability and not a core. In addition to this, you do not have enough time to know everything. The human being is a combination of voids put together.
In one of our monasteries, we had with us a Rumanian monk, who mastered several contemporary languages beside old languages, such as the Sanskrit, and he knew all the modern sciences and could cite poetries in their original languages and the New Testament in Greek. I used to sit at his feet for hours during the day, in order that I might learn what I want. I have never known anyone in his intelligence in the whole Orthodox world. This is the mind.
The Middle Ages have known the dilemma concerning the relationship between faith and reason, or between transmission and the mind, as it was displayed in Islam, Catholicism (with Thomas Aquinas) and Judaism. Whoever has read the religious texts of those three religions would realize that the dilemma is one and it is the reconciliation between revelation and reason. In the religious dimension of all these beliefs Aristotle was, indisputably, the first master.
The Eastern Byzantine Church has not experienced this dilemma, maybe because Aristotle had not dominated it. On the other hand, Basil the Great had known that through reason one can know the nature and through revelation one can grow in faith. As if Basil had confirmed two sources for knowledge, and thus he had not perceived the problem concerning the relationship between reason and revelation.
Further, the Orthodox Church views the human mind, similar to all human constituents, as damaged, upon what we call the parental sin (i.e. the sin of the first parents, Adam and Eve). Thus, the mind was not aborted but rather it was damaged. Furthermore, the Church views a relationship between the mind and the heart. Thus, we say that the mind descends to the heart and then it ascends purified. The mind is then the means to know this world.
The importance of reason is not downplayed in the Christian East, however there is [a kind of] inebriation in its regard and the elimination of it would lead to an uncontrolled emotivity, while God is known through faith that is the outcome of the meeting through divine grace between the mind and the heart.
Since his childhood Pascal had started his intellectual life and then he went through technology and he was a great Christian writer, particularly in relation to his book ‘Thoughts’, before he passed away in the age of thirty-nine. ‘Thoughts’ is concentrated on his knowledge of Christ and it was inevitable for him to consider love as the highest rank [order] of human existence. One of our Fathers said that when John the Evangelist in his First Epistle had said, “God is love” he did not refer by it to an attribute of the divine attributes, rather God in Godself.
It might be useful here to recount a conversation between me and the departed Mufti [a Muslim scholar] Nadīm al-Jisr at a funeral. He initiated the conversation saying, ‘you are monotheists’, so I thanked him and then he added, ‘however, you are philosophers’. When I noticed that he is referring to our faith in the Holy Trinity, I answered him: ‘No, we are not philosophers. We are lovers of God.’ Then I explained that there is unity that brings the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together and that unity is love.
We do not distinguish between love [agápe], that is God, and that which descends upon us or indwells in us. I think this is what Pascal had meant when he said that the highest order in existence is love. [Love] might entail death for the sake of the Other, and it does not come neither from the rank of bodies nor of minds. In it you remain yourself, however you become poured to the extent of the death of the solitary I. You become one with the ‘Other’ without dissolving [in the Other].
Love is given to us since eternity and it remains forever as God takes us to Godself or into Godself. Thus we become it and it becomes us and nothing other than it [love] alone endures in the Kingdom.
However, it does not descend upon us unless after great purification and austerity. Then, in us and in all the people of heaven, it takes the image of a fulfilled unity. Love does not replace the mind; rather it elevates it to itself. [Love] does not abort the mind in what it has of particularity, but it transcends and purifies it so that it might give up all distortion and instability, and might become an instrument for discerning God.
Only through this vision, the mind controls the things of the world as they control it. In the last day when all people unite in love, God will be ‘all in all’. God will be revealed as love both in God’s nature and works, i.e. nothing remains in them other than God. Hence, they recognize God as their savior and there would be no trait [of the world] in them but God’s integral descent on it [the mind]. God will make them, like Christ; sit on the throne on his right hand. Love would not become a crown for us unless after it becomes our core.
Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi
Original Text: “المحبة كإكليل وفحوى” –An Nahar- 03-09-2011