The modern tendency to divorce intellect from spirituality, theology from contemplation, was altogether foreign to the early Church. 'Patristic writers,' Anna Williams observes, 'reason from forms of prayer and liturgical practice to theological positions, and from theological data to principles of ascetical life, with a smoothness betokening the unstated assumption that these areas.belong to the same sphere of discourse and concern.' In The Divine Sense
, Williams maps intellect or mind as a unifying theme that permeates five centuries of patristic literature, from Justin and Irenaeus through the Cappadocians, Augustine, and Cassian. She questions tired (and less than rigorous) assumptions that Christianity borrowed its intellectual veneer from Neo-Platonism-indeed, the Fathers' 'opportunistic' approach to Hellenistic philosophy rejected more precepts than it adopted. What in fact made Christianity unique among religious cults was its 'inescapably intellectual dimension, requiring as a condition of membership [baptism] the grasp and profession of what it proclaimed to be true.' (Interestingly, while the Fathers locate the origins of intellect in divine wisdom, they never discuss 'mind' per se as an attribute of God-a paradox Williams addresses in her carefully crafted analysis.) 'By the end, one may still wonder whether mind is the sole unifying principle in the patristic theologies Williams has selected to study,' notes a reviewer. 'But whatever other candidates one may suggest for this role, she has made a powerful case for it.'
An Eighth Day View:
A. N. Williams examines the conception of the intellect in patristic theology from its beginnings in the work of the Apostolic Fathers to Augustine and Cassian in the early fifth century. The patristic notion of intellect emerges from its systematic relations to other components of theology: the relation of human mind to the body and the will; the relation of the human to the divine intellect; of human reason to divine revelation and secular philosophy; and from the use of the intellect in both theological reflection and spiritual contemplation. The patristic conception of that intellect is therefore important for the way it signals the character of early Christian theology as both systematic and contemplative and as such, distinctive in its approach from secular philosophies of its time and modern Christian theology.