I introduced the phrase “dogmatic consciousness” yesterday – a phrase coined by Fr. Sophrony Sakharov to describe the acquisition of grace in a manner that is truly engrafted within our lives and mind. Today some more thoughts:
The Dogmatic consciousness I have here in mind is the fruit of spiritual experience, independent of the logical brain’s activity. The writings in which the Saints reported their experience were not cast in the form of scholastic dissertations. They were revelations of the soul. Discourse on God and on life in God comes about simply, without cogitation, born spontaneously in the soul.
Dogmatic consciousness where asceticism is concerned is not a rational analysis of an inward experience – it is not ‘psychoanalysis’. Ascetics avoid this rational speculation because it not only weakens the intensity of their contemplation of the Light, but, indeed, interrupts it, with the result that the soul sinks into darkness, left as she is with a merely abstract rational knowledge devoid of all vitality.
What is the use of reasoning about the nature of grace if one does not experience its action in oneself? What is the use of declaiming about eh light of Tabor if one does not dwell in it existentially? Is there any sense in splitting theological hairs over the nature of the Trinity if a man has not within himself the holy strength of the Father, the gentle love of the Son, the uncreated light of the Holy Ghost?
Dogmatic knowledge, understood as spiritual knowledge, is a gift of God, like all forms of real life in God, granted by God, and only possible through His coming. This knowledge has by no means always been expressed in speech or in writing. The soul does not aspire to expound her experience in rational concepts when God’s grace descends on her. She needs no logical interpretations then, because she knows with a knowledge that cannot be demonstrated but which equally requires no proof that she lives through the true God. And were there strength left in her, she would aspire to greater fulness of Divine life, and when the action of God is beyond her strength, she swoons in blessed silence…..
The foundations of sure dogmatic cognizance are laid when man first experiences grace; and if this aspect of the spiritual life – one and undivided – is not immediately apparent, it is not because God’s gift is flawed but because a lengthy interior process is required for its assimilation.
These are such important and foundational understandings of the Orthodox mind. It is one of the reasons that conversations between East and West on the nature of grace (uncreated versus created) are often without much success. Orthodox dogma has had its foundations primarily in the experience of the saints and not in the formulations of scholastics. Conversion is not about learning a catechism, but about acquiring the Holy Spirit – knowing God.
Not that other Christian groups know nothing of this. But Orthodoxy’s steadfast refusal to offer an alternate way of explaining itself maintains a faithful witness to the Living Truth. If you want to know the Truth you must pray, fast, repent, give, confess, be patient, and do all of it (and more) with an expectancy for God. He has promised to lead us into all Truth and He is faithful to give that which He promises.