Literature outside the Church: Is it trustworthy food for the soul?
In this continuation on the subject of reading literature outside the Church I will offer an excerpt of a letter of St. Paisius Velichkovsky to a monk named Theophylact. A question was posed about reading questionable books that are printed and distributed by schismatics. He is approaching this issue from another aspect which supplements those discriminating words of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov. So, in his reply, St. Paisius points out:
“In a book on the profession if the Orthodox faith, there is a question asking what is the fifth commandment of the Church. The answer is that those who are unlearned in the Holy Scriptures and other necessary fields should not read heretical books or listen to the harmful teachings of heretics, or even speak or have dealings with them, as the psalm-singer prophet says: ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners’ (Ps. 1:1). Elsewhere the Holy Scripture says: ‘As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him’ (Titus 3:10). Watch carefully and note that the Divine Church does not command everyone not to hold discussions with heretics, but only those who are unlearned in the Holy Scriptures and the various fields of learning. It is very easy for the latter, as they read heretical books and get acquainted with their teachings, or carelessly enter into conversations with heretics, to succumb to their ungodly and perverse sophistry. In the eyes of ignorant people, heretical teaching often appears to be truthful, while actually being unquestionably false. Just as Satan, being darkness, becomes transformed into a radiant angel, so do heretical teachings, being darkness and totally alienated from the light of God’s Truth, often appear to people who are unlearned in the Holy Scriptures and various fields to be somewhat similar to the truth. This is why the Church forbids those who are unlearned in the Holy Scriptures and the other fields to read heretical books and to have discussions with heretics, so that they will not, do to their unsophistication, be harmed by their teachings. Those who have studied the Holy Scriptures and the other fields are exempt from this commandment. Such are the Holy Fathers, the pastors, and the teachers of the Church. Not only were they instructed to perfection in the Holy Scriptures by the grace of God, but they also mastered the other fields of knowledge, surpassing in worldly wisdom not only their instructors, but also all the ancient philosophers. These God-bearing Fathers of our’s saw how various heretics, proud of their worldly wisdom, would turn the Divine Scriptures into a weapon of their philosophy, interpreting them in an erroneous and perverted sense through philosophical proofs and bringing constant strife into the Church of Christ through their teachings. Thus the Fathers would read their false heretical teachings, and subordinating their philosophies to the Divine Scriptures in every respect, would perceive the heretic’s errors clearer than the sun, and through the invincible double weapon, i.e., theology and philosophical proof, would rend asunder all their heretical stratagems as a spider web and would defend God’s Church by the word of truth from all heretical attacks. For philosophy, too, if used correctly, as the Holy and Apostolic Church teaches us, corresponds to God’s truth to such an extent that it cannot be surpassed by any heretical verbal stratagems. If used contrary to the true sense of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Church, as is done by the heretics, it becomes opposed to God’s truth, and since it upholds lies, it gets vanquished by truthful evidence. Thus, one who starts reading schismatic books must lack neither theological knowledge nor worldly learning. For one who does not have the appropriate knowledge, it is better to obey God and the Church commandment which says: ’Do not read heretical books and do not take part in discussions with heretics.’” (Starets Paisii Velichkovskii by Sergii Chetverikov, Norland Publishing Company, Belmont, Mass. 1980, pp. 253-5)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, may our Lord Jesus Christ keep us on a level path, turning neither to the right, nor to the left. Amen!