Its Fénelon Friday!
LETTER 30: Beware of the Pride of Reasoning; the True Guide to Knowledge Is Love
Your mind is too much taken up with your circumstances, and this hinders you from understanding standing the mind of God. Even worse, I find you too much inclined to arguing and reasoning. I am quite afraid of this inclination to too much reasoning because I think it is such a hindrance to the kind of quiet meditation in which God reveals Himself. You must learn to be humble, simple, and sincerely separated from the ways of men. When you are in the presence of God be quiet, calm, and do not reason with Him. I am giving you this advice because your most influential friends are such dry, reasoning, critical people that they hinder you in your inner life. Even though you may have resolved to not take spiritual advice from them, yet their endless reasonings about unanswerable questions would, ever so imperceptibly, draw you away from God and finally plunge you into the depths of unbelief. I am pointing out this danger because of the reasoning kind of person you were before your conversion. Habits of long standing are easily revived. And the subtle pressures which cause us to revert to our original position are very difficult to detect, because cause they seem so natural to us. So be very careful of taking up any habits of the past, no matter how innocent they may seem. Distrust them. You might be starting something which will be the end of you.
I haven’t had any leisure time for study for four months now. And even though I enjoy study very much, I am very happy to forego it, and not cling to anything, if this is God’s will. It may be that during the coming winter I will have some leisure time for my library, but even then I shall enter it cautiously, keeping one foot on the threshold, ready to leave it whenever God suggests gests that I should. I believe that the mind needs to fast just as well as the body. You know how much I enjoy writing and speaking, but right now I have no desire to write, or speak, or to be spoken about, or to reason, or to persuade anybody. This may seem like a rather dull way of life to some and it is true that I do have my share of problems, but I do manage to get away from it all and have a little recreation at times. I am a blessedly free man, and I try to do each day whatever I feel the Lord is leading me to do. Of course, those who are trying to figure out where I will be and when are sadly mixed up. God bless them! I am not trying to annoy them, but I insist on freedom in the Lord. I would say to them as Abraham said to Lot, “Is not the whole land before thee? If thou wilt take the left hand, I will go to the right.” (Gen. 13:9).
Happy is he who is a free man, but only the Son of God can make us really free. He can do it by breaking every fetter. And how does He do that? By that sword that divides husband and wife, father and son, brother and sister. There is not a person in the world who can be allowed to hinder us from doing the will of God. If we allow the world to hinder us, then our professed freedom is only a word. And we will be as easily captured as a bird whose leg is tied to the ground. He might seem to be free. If the string is delicate enough, you might not even see it. And if it is long enough, the bird might be able to do a little flying. But, nevertheless, he is a prisoner. I hope you see what I am trying to say. Because the freedom that I covet for you to enjoy is far more valuable than all you are fearful of losing.
I want you to be faithful, to put into practice that which you know, that you may be entrusted with more. Do not trust your intellect. It has so often misled you! My own intellect has been such a deceiver that I no longer count upon it. Be simple and firm in your simplicity. Remember that “the fashion of this world passeth away” (I Cor. 7:31) and we shall vanish with it if we make ourselves selves like it. But the Word of God will never pass away, and neither shall we if we pay attention to it and put it into practice.
Again I warn you, beware of philosophers and the world’s great educators. They will always be a snare to you. I know you have good motives, and you expect to do them some good by your associations, but I must warn you that they will do you more harm than you will do them good. They spend their time talking about trifling matters and never reach the knowledge of the truth. They have a greedy desire for knowledge which can never be satisfied. They are like those conquerors who wreck and destroy the world without possessing it. For they gain much knowledge, without any hope of ever putting it all into practice. Solomon knew all about this from personal experience and testifies to the vanity of gathering up knowledge.
I’m convinced that everything we do should be under the guidance of God. We should not study unless He guides us to study. And if He is guiding us to study, then let us meditate on our studies even on the way to the grocery store. Let’s put our whole heart into it. And then, too, we must study prayerfully. We must not forget that God is both Truth and Love. We can only know the Truth in proportion to our love. When we love Truth, we understand it well. If we do not love Love, we do not know Love. He who loves much and remains humble, is the Well-beloved one of the living Truth. He not only knows more than the philosophers know, but he knows more than they desire to know. I pray that you might obtain that knowledge which is reserved for babes and the simple-minded, while it is hid from the wise and prudent (Matthew 11:25).
Francis Fénelon, Let Go (New Kensington, PA: Whittaker House, 1973).