Tuesday, 21 May 2019
Peter Schadler: The Order of Knowing and the Acquisition of Knowledge in the De Fide Orthodoxa
That John of Damascus was a compiler and organizer of received knowledge is well-known. Less well-studied are what his methods of compilation and presentation imply he assumed of his reader. Namely, that unlike contemporary consultants of encyclopedia, John’s own assumptions were likely that he expected his readers to consume his work in toto, and that the work of the De Fide be consumed in a particular order. Understanding this tells us much about John’s theological intentions. Besides the idea that an understanding of heresy precedes that of orthodoxy, and that an understanding of logic precedes both, the organization of his three-part work also helps us to understand the repetition of certain topics. A definition of fear, for example, can be found in multiple places, as can a definition for nature or hypostasis. The reader was not expected to understand one definition without having first learned the other, and the author assumed that a compendium that contained all knowledge—and would be read from front to back—needn’t explicate central topics of Christian theology in order of significance, nor in order of easiest to most difficult, but rather a combination facilitating the movement from one level of knowledge to another within specific areas of theology.