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Visions Of Hope: Intellect

"As regards religion he adopted the typical stance of the intellectual: unless he was let into all the secrets of the Creator, he would not believe. Hence he was an agnostic.''

William Sykes brings profound words on intellect and belief.


Intellect—faculty of knowing and reasoning; understanding; persons collectively, of good understanding


I remember a boy at school. He was extremely clever but odd and eccentric. He spent his days studying hard, reading books, getting excellent exam results, but was hopeless at everything else. He had a particular problem in relating to people. As regards religion he adopted the typical stance of the intellectual: unless he was let into all the secrets of the Creator, he would not believe. Hence he was an agnostic.

In contrast, I know a professor whose intellect puts him at the very top of his field. He is a stimulating teacher and in the forefront of research. A marked characteristic, however, is his humility. He is modest, unassuming, and relates well with people. Although well versed in his particular discipline he is more concerned with the areas of his subject as yet unknown. He is good with his hands and has a practical bent. As regards the universe as a whole, many years ago he made an act of
faith, and from that perspective, has used his intellect as far as it will go. He is thoughtful and kindly, a man of integrity and of good understanding. He is a genuine intellectual.

Look carefully at the final quotation in this section. I'm afraid it is very long, but I've included it in totality as I think it is extremely important.

A wise man is mightier than a strong man, and a man of knowledge than he who has strength.
Proverbs 24:5

For wisdom is a loving spirit.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:6 (AV)

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Matthew 10:16

... gird up your minds.
1 Peter 1:13

But only to our intellect is he incomprehensible: not to our love.
The Cloud of Unknowing, translated by Clifton Wolters, Penguin Books, 1961, page 55

Logic does not help you to appreciate York Minster, or Botticelli's Primavera, and mathematics give no useful hints for lovers.
W. Macneile Dixon, The Human Situation, Edward Arnold & Co., 1937, page 64

It is always the task of the intellectual to 'think otherwise.' This is not just a perverse idiosyncrasy. It is an absolutely essential feature of a society.
Harvey Cox, The Secular City, SCM Press, 1967, page 228

There is a moral faith which is a virtue—faith in a friend, for example. Is there not an intellectual faith which is a virtue, which holds fast when proof fails? I believe there is such an intellectual faith and that it is a sign of strength.
Mark Rutherford, Last Pages From a Journal, Oxford University Press, 1915, page 311

To cultivate the man of intellect is not enough, for stillness is a quality of the whole man... Each man must discover the perfect tension of his being—in action or solitude, in love or asceticism, in philosophy or faith—by continual adjustments of thought and experience.
Charles Morgan, The Fountain, Macmillan & Co., 1932, page 58

But intellectual acceptance even of correct doctrine is not by itself vital religion; orthodoxy is not identical with the fear or the love of God. This fact of the inadequacy of the truest doctrine is a warning that to argue syllogistically from doctrinal formulae is to court disaster. The formula may be the best possible; yet it is only a label used to designate a living thing.
William Temple, Nature, Man and God, Macmillan & Co., 1934, page 379

The intellectual is constantly betrayed by his own vanity. God-like, he blandly assumes that he can express everything in words; whereas the things one loves, lives, and dies for are not, in the last analysis, completely expressible in words. To write or to speak is almost inevitably to lie a little. It is an attempt to clothe an intangible in a tangible form; to compress an immeasurable into a mold. And in the act of compression, how Truth is mangled and torn!
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, The Wave of the Future, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1940, page 6

Robbing your life of charm and variety
the taste of adventure, of space, spontaneity.
How cramped are your notions, formulas, judgements, always condensing yet hungry for content. Don't break down my defences, accept the human lot; each road must take the direction of thought.
Karol Wojtyla, 'Man of Intellect', in Easter Vigil and Other Poems, translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz, Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers), 1979, page 43

Western civilization is distinguished by its worship of the intellect. Yet there is no reason to give intellect pride of place over feeling. It is obviously wrong to classify young people by examinations in which the moral and organic values have no place. To make thought itself the goal of thought is a kind of mental perversion. Intellect and sexual activity alike should be exercised in a natural way. The function of the intellect is not to satisfy itself but to contribute, along with the other organic and mental functions, to the satisfaction of the individual's total needs.
Alexis Carrel, Reflections on Life, Hamish Hamilton, 1952, page 33

Faith is first of all an intellectual assent. It perfects the mind, it does not destroy it. It puts the intellect in possession of Truth which reason cannot grasp by itself. It gives us certitude concerning God as He is in Himself; faith is the way to a vital contact with a God who is alive, and not to the view of an abstract First Principle worked out by syllogisms from the evidence of created things...
Faith is not expected to give complete satisfaction to the intellect. It leaves the intellect suspended in obscurity, without a light proper to its own mode of knowing. Yet it does not frustrate the intellect, or deny it, or destroy it. It pacifies it with a conviction which it knows it can accept quite rationally under the guidance of love. For the act of faith is an act in which the intellect is content to know God by loving Him and accepting His statements about Himself on His own terms. And this assent is quite rational because it is based on the realization that our reason can tell us nothing about God as He actually is in Himself, and on the fact that God Himself is infinite actuality and therefore infinite Truth, Wisdom, Power and Providence, and can reveal Himself with absolute certitude in any manner He pleases, and can certify His own revelation of Himself by external signs.
Faith is primarily an intellectual assent. But if it were that and nothing more, if it were only the 'argument of what does not appear,' it would not be complete. It has to be something more than an assent of the mind. It is also a grasp, a contact, a communion of wills, 'the substance of things to be hoped for.' By faith one not only attains to truth in away that intelligence and reason alone cannot do, but one assents to God Himself. One receives God. One says 'yes' not merely to a statement about God, but to the Invisible, Infinite God Himself. One fully accepts the statement not only for its own content, but for the sake of Him who made it.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, Burns & Oates, 1962, page 98

Dr James Martineau, the great Unitarian divine, used to tell a story of a young American, cultivated, intelligent and prosperous, who had come to Europe expressly to ask his advice. The American had no beliefs, except the belief that religion was a mischievous illusion; and for ten years he had steadily and publicly attacked religion with considerable success. But after a time he had somehow got uneasy. He had begun to feel that perhaps after all something was left out of his reading of life; that one could not be sure that all the side of existence which religion represents was mere delusion. And so he had given up his work and come to Europe; because he felt that he must find out whether there was something in religion after all. And now the question was: How was he going to find out?
Here was Dr Martineau's prescription. He said: 'You must give yourself a year; and you must spend that year in the same country, and with people of the same race. Live for the first six months among simple, slow-minded, narrow, even superstitious peasants, brought up in and practising a rigid traditional faith. Share their lives as intimately as you can. And then go for the second six months to alert, cultured, modern intellectuals, who have given up and despise all Church and all religion. And then ask yourself: which of these two groups of people—if either—has got that mysterious thing, a hold on the secret of life? Which knows best how to meet the deepest, most crucial realities of life— birth—suffering—joy—passion—sin—failure—loneliness—death?'
So the American went to Germany for a year, and then returned to report. He had spent six months in the home of a Westphalian peasant family; devout, narrow, ignorant, slow-minded and prejudiced people, full of superstitions, always treading on his toes, always offending his taste. 'And what,' said Dr Martineau, 'did they know of how to meet the deep realities of birth and death, love, suffering, sin?' The American said, 'Everything.' They seemed to have a sure touch, a wonderful conviction that went far beyond the crude way in which it was expressed. Their lives were entirely grasped and penetrated by something greater than themselves. And then he had spent six months in the student world of Berlin; among delightful, intelligent, keen-witted people, entirely emancipated from all moral and religious prejudices, with whom he had felt most sympathetic and thoroughly at home. 'And what about these?' said Dr Martineau. 'How did they meet the dread and unescapable realities of life?' The American said, 'They were helpless.' No clue, no inwardness.
Now I think that this story expresses with peculiar vividness the real cause of the so-called modern dilemma, in so far as it concerns religion. The cause, I believe, is the contrast, the opposition which modern life and modern culture tend to set up between breadth and depth; between the sharply focused scientific truth which quickened the students' minds, and the dim, deep, spiritual truth which nourished the peasants' souls. I suppose what the American had learned from his experience was this: that the life of those peasants, however rough and uncultured, had an invisible aim running through it which ennobled it. God and the soul mattered more to them than anything else. Their being was rooted in eternal realities. And this attitude of reverence towards the fundamental mysteries of our existence gave them in life's deepest moments an immense advantage over mere cleverness. The life of the Berlin intellectuals, so free, keen, alert and delightful, had no aim or significance beyond itself, no reverence. Confronted by the awful mysteries within which we move, they were without guidance or defence. They had no root in anything that endures. And those two groups of people, one rather dull and slow and faithful, the other very quick, critical, progressive; these exhibit, each in an exclusive way, the two great movements which are possible to the human spirit—the one inwards, the other outwards. And both these movements are needed for a full, deep, and real human life. Because we are twofold creatures, we are not happy, we are not secure, we are not fully alive, until our life has an inside as well as an outside. We need the deeps of the world of spirit, as well as the wide and varied outer world of knowledge and of sense.
And here is where our modern dilemma comes in. Our generation has made such immense discoveries, has achieved such undreamed enrichments of the outside of life, that it has rather lost touch, I think, with the inside of life. It has forgotten the true riches and beauties of its spiritual inheritance: riches and beauties that go far beyond our modern chatter about values and ideals. The human mind's thirst for more and more breadth has obscured the human heart's craving for more and more depth. Not for the first time in human history, we are just now—at least many of us are—the dupes of our own cleverness. And because, in spite of this remarkable cleverness, it is very difficult for us to attend to more than a few things at a time, we leave out a great range of experience which comes in by another route and tells us of another kind of life. Our interest rushes out to the furthest limits of the universe, but we seldom take a sounding of the ocean beneath our restless keels. And then, like the American in the story, we get a queer feeling that we are leaving something out. Knowledge has grown. But wisdom, savouring the deep wonder and mystery of life: that lingers far behind. And so the life of the human spirit, which ought to maintain a delicate balance between the world visible and the world invisible, is thrown out of gear...
Because the outer world and outer life are changing so much and so quickly, always showing us new possibilities, adding more and more new powers and experiences to our natural life, we feel that the inner world and its experiences have somehow become discredited and old-fashioned; that they have got to change too. We need a new heaven to match the new earth. But does that really follow?...
As a matter of fact, those remarkable changes that strike us so much when we observe the modern scene are mostly on life's surface. There are very few changes at life's heart. That is why great literature, however ancient, always moves us and is always understood. It has to do with the unchanging heart of life. And it is in the heart, not on the surface, that the world of religion makes itself known. 'With Thee is the well of life, and in Thy light we see light.' Does the theory of relativity really make any difference to that? I do not think so. We do not, after all, reconstruct our married life every time we move into a new and larger flat. The old, sacred intimacies remain. So too, the move-out of the human mind into a new and larger physical world, which is, I suppose, the great fact of our time, does not make any real difference to the soul's relation to God; even though it may make some difference to the language in which we describe Him. And the reason in both cases is surely the same.
The reason is that the deepest and most sacred relationships between human creatures—man and wife, parent and child, teacher and disciple, friend and friend— and the yet deeper relationship between the human creature and its Keeper and Creator, God: these are real facts, which go on and will go on, quite independently of what we think about them, or the degree in which we understand or feel them. If we treat these deep things with contempt, we merely cheapen our own lives. We do not make any difference to truth. If we leave them out, then we get a very incomplete picture of reality; the picture of a world which has an outside but no inside. But we do not alter reality. Clever as we are, we cannot manage that. Just so, if we choose to shut all our own windows, the room certainly gets stuffy; but we do not alter the quality of the fresh air outside. So the reality of God, the living atmosphere of Spirit, maintains its unalterable pressure; whether we acknowledge it or not...
I am sure it is of the very essence of the modern dilemma to find a reading of reality which will give wonder and love—both together, not one alone—full value and full scope. And it is here that organized religion, so distasteful in many ways to the modern mind, so often criticized and condemned, comes in—or ought to come in—to wake up and feed our poor dim sense of the beauty and aliveness of God. For the real business of the Church is not just what is sometimes called 'surplice work.' Its business is to bind us together—the learned and simple, the strong and the weak—in a great social act of love and worship: to provide a home for the nurturing of the spiritual life. For we cannot get on alone, in religion or anything else. Our spiritual life must be a social life too. We can each only manage a bit of it—it is far too big and various in its richness for any one soul. We must be content to pool our contributions, to learn from the past and learn from each other; humbly receive, and generously give. Wonder and love are caught, not taught: and to catch them we must be in an atmosphere where we are sure to find the germs. A living Church ought to be full of the germs of wonder and love.
I think that failure of the churches which we are always hearing about comes mainly from forgetting these facts. On the one hand, we forget what the real function of a church is, and expect the wrong things from it. On the other hand, the Church in its anxiety for custom, and to meet, as it says, the needs of the present day, has often tried to give us the wrong things. It has forgotten its true business—the production of holiness. Holiness; not just consolation, moral uplift or social reform. Its real job is to weave up men's love and wonder into worship; teach us that 'holy marvelling delight in God.' Its real stock-in-trade is the pearl of great price. It is not a general store. All its symbols and sacraments, all those services which ought to be great corporate works of art—all these are meant to train the souls of men to look up.
And surely modern men, gazing at the inconceivable vastness and splendour of the universe which science has disclosed to us, should be ready for this...
Adoration is the unchanging heart of religion, and the only key to its mysterious truths. There is no dilemma for the adoring soul, 'Be still, and know!' 'Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.' The Church which teaches, nourishes and practises that adoring attention to God will never lose her hold on the hearts of men. That alone can make public worship the wonderful thing which it ought to be, and usually fails to be. But there is so much to do, there really is not time for all this, is there? Martha is busy with the cooking—she can't sit down and look. So many organizations, committees and practical questions of every sort and kind. And the poor Church is expected to attend to them all. Only lately, a London church advertised a sermon on the text, 'Buy British'; excellent practical advice, of course, but hardly the sort of sermon we should have heard on the Mount, driving its shaft into the hidden deeps of life, and disclosing the real nature of our link with God. And the business of religion is with that relation, and with those hidden deeps. Its aim is to give men eternity, and make them give themselves to eternity—that so, by this resort to the centre, they may integrate their whole existence, and learn how to make the practical surface of life significant and real. There is no other way of doing it. That is what those slow, uncultured, narrow peasants knew; and what the quick, charming, cultured, wide minded students had missed.
Here, then, is the conclusion of the matter. We are called to live in two directions, not in one; and to obey two commandments, not one. We are not fully human until we do. For we are compound creatures, of sense and of spirit, of mind and of soul— dwellers in time, yet capable of eternity. Therefore nature alone is not going to content us; nor are the greatest triumphs of the intellect ever going to teach us the secret of life.
Reason has moons, but moons not hers Lie mirror'd on her sea, Confounding her astronomers, But O! delighting me.
Evelyn Underhill, Collected Papers, edited by Lucy Menzies, Longmans, Green and Co., 1946, page 94


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