Wise fools

It is not the Scripture experts, those who are professionally concerned with God, who recognize him; they are too caught up in the intricacies of their detailed knowledge. Their great learning distracts them from simply gazing upon the whole, upon the reality of God as he reveals himself—for people who know so much about the complexity of the issues, it seems that it just cannot be so simple.
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 342.

Though Pope Benedict is here writing about the Scripture scholars who interacted with Jesus in first century Jerusalem and elsewhere, the statement can be extended to those of the modern day, as well. Recognizing the simplicity of God’s revelation is a serious challenge to people trained to create and maintain complexity. Yet it is not impossible even for these. In the history of the Church, there have been numerous Saints who were excellently educated, some of the best minds of their time, like St Basil of Caesarea. But there were many more of more humble intellect, and we even know of Saints who were illiterate among the Desert Fathers. Pope Benedict’s book, in fact, points a way for such modern scholars to turn, incorporating serious scholarly results within a hermeneutical approach guided primarily by faith and love in the Tradition of the Church, not grants and publications in the academic cursus honorum of backbiting and selfishness.

I read an interesting thing today somewhere, the advice of an Orthodox priest to someone who was perhaps getting in a little over his head in theological reading: Never read for longer than you pray in a day. It’s an imbalance between the mental and Spiritual that is common, to spend much time reading theological texts, learning the intricacies of various synods, heresies, and so on, while not having the Spiritual life which would provide the proper context for all such knowledge. It’s only in such an environment that these pieces of information really take on value at all. It is only in this way that all such things can truly be understood, from inside the Tradition of the Church, to which they properly belong. The Church Fathers knew this, that their scholarship was secondary to a life of prayer. Some of us need to learn the same lesson.