St John of Damascus: Have You Approached the Teacher Who Is the Truth?

Feast of St Cyriacus the Hermit of Palestine

John_Damascene_Square_4.jpegNOTHING IS more estimable than knowledge, for knowledge is the light of the rational soul. The opposite, which is ignorance, is darkness. Just as the absence of light is darkness, so is the absence of knowledge a darkness of the reason. Now, ignorance is proper to irrational beings, while knowledge is proper to those who are rational. Consequently, one who by nature has the faculty of knowing and understanding, yet does not have knowledge, such a one, although by nature rational, is by neglect and indifference inferior to rational beings. By knowledge I mean the true knowledge of things which are, because things which have being are the object of knowledge. False knowledge, in so far as it is a knowledge of that which is not, is ignorance rather than knowledge. For falsehood is nothing else but that which is not. Now, since we do not live with our soul stripped bare, but, on the contrary, have it clothed over, as it were, with the veil of the flesh, our soul has the mind as a sort of eye which sees and has the faculty of knowing and which is capable of receiving knowledge and having understanding of things which are. It does not, however, have knowledge and understanding of itself, but has need of one to teach it; so, let us approach that Teacher in whom there is no falsehood and who is the truth. Christ is the subsistent wisdom and truth and in Him are all the hidden treasures of knowledge. In sacred Scripture let us hear the voice of Him who is the wisdom and power of God the Father, and let us learn the true knowledge of all things that are. Let us approach with attention and in all sincerity and proceed without letting the spiritual eye of our soul be dulled by passions, for even the clearest and most limpid eye will hardly enable one to gain a clear view of the truth. “If then the light that is in us (that is to say, the mind) be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be” (Matt. 6.23)! With our whole soul and our whole understanding let us approach. And since it is impossible for the eye that is constantly shifting and turning about clearly to perceive the visible object, because for clear vision the eye must be readily focused upon the object observed, let us put aside every anxiety of the mind and approach the truth unhampered by material considerations. And let us not be satisfied with arriving speedily at the gate, but rather let us knock hard, so that the door of the bridal chamber may be opened to us and we may behold the beauties within. Now, the gate is the letter, but the bridal chamber within the gate is the beauty of the thoughts hidden behind the letter, which is to say, the Spirit of truth. Let us knock hard, let us read once, twice, many times. By thus digging through we shall find the treasure of knowledge and take delight in the wealth of it. Let us seek, let us search, let us examine, let us inquire. “For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened” (Matt. 7.8); and “Ask thy father, and he will declare to thee: thy elders in knowledge and they will tell thee” (Deut. 32.7). If, then, we are lovers of learning, we shall learn much, for it is of the nature of all things that they may be apprehended through industry and toil, and before all and after all by the grace of God, the Giver of grace.

—St John of Damascus, The Fount of Knowledge

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