There is much to admire in the teachings of Confucius, but there is one awfully important point that he got wrong which causes problems for his whole system. His chain of actions that would bring virtue and happiness to the world is as follows:
The illustrious ancients, when they wished to make clear and to propagate the highest virtues in the world, put their states in proper order. Before putting their states in proper order, they regulated their families. Before regulating their families, they cultivated their own selves. Before cultivating their own selves, they perfected their souls. Before perfecting their souls, they tried to be sincere in their thoughts. Before trying to be sincere in their thoughts, they extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such investigation of knowledge lay in the investigation of things, and in seeing them as they really were. When things were thus investigated, knowledge became complete. When knowledge was complete, their thoughts became sincere. When their thoughts were sincere, their souls became perfect. When their souls were perfect, their own selves became cultivated. When their selves were cultivated, their families became regulated. When their families were regulated, their states came to be put into proper order. When their states were in proper order, then the whole world became peaceful and happy.
For Confucius, knowledge of things is what enables us to become perfect beings. But this is his great mistake, for as the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church have taught, man cannot have true knowledge of the creation without first purifying his nous – his ontological receptor, the eye of the heart. St Maximus the Confessor expressed this in the words below:
Only the Cross, by taming our selfish passions and loosening our excessive attachment to the world, which is held to be the only reality, can bring lasting peace among people and nations.
The Holy Fathers have declared that the sight of God in the world, or the transparency of God in the world, depends on our purification from the passions. This idea was elaborated theoretically, in a particular manner, by Saint Maximus the Confessor. According to him, when we look at things and are free of the passions, we restore their true meaning, that is the transparency of God through them: “Meaning is affected by passion; complex thinking consists of passion and meaning. If we separate passion from meaning, what’s left is sublime thinking.” (400 Chapters on Love III, 43, PG, 90, 1029). This doesn’t mean the destruction of the world, but rather the re-discovery of the truths of its meanings—which haven’t been distorted by the passions—and of its divine transparency.
--Fr Dumitru Staniloae, http://anothercity.org/the-cross-as-a-means-of-sanctification-and-transformation-of-the-world-2/
For Confucius, perfect knowledge creates the perfect man. For the Orthodox Church it is the opposite: Perfection in the virtues is what allows one to have perfect knowledge. In fact, we cannot have perfect knowledge while we are ruled by the fallen passions, because they distort our view of reality. This, as we said, is where Confucius went off the good path, and it is also where the post-Schism West (which was once Orthodox) goes wrong, venerating the knowledge obtained by the senses/the discursive reason/the imagination as the highest knowledge. In the context of icons, this is explained by Prof Bruce Seraphim Foltz:
Here, in the icon, the terrestrial is infused with the celestial. The icon, properly understood, is not a representation, but a presentation not a Vorstellung, but a Darstellung of the invisible by means of the visible, a temporal epiphany of the eternal, a visible window upon the invisible. (Latin theology, in contrast, properly begins with the Libri Carolini, in which Charlemagne’s court theologians responding to the Second Nicene Council that had vindicated the icon from the accusations of the iconoclasts rejected this theophanous character of the icon, insisting on the jurisdictional separation of earth from heaven, and substituting the discursivity of allegory and instruction for the noetic immediacy of iconic experience.)
It is not man’s natural (i.e., fallen, darkened, distorted) reason but the acquisition of the Grace of God that bestows the fullest, deepest knowledge upon him:
Moreover, there is the rationalistic belief in the Church that saints and holy elders can not speak reliably on medical matters, if they have not studied the subject. This however is proven false by at least two modern day saints; namely, St. Porphyrios (†1991), who, despite only having a very basic education, used to be invited by doctors into consultations with their patients; and the abovementioned St. Paisios. Only completing elementary school, we read in the life of the latter that, “He was knowledgeable about everything, though without occupying himself with everything. He knew about the things of the world while living in the desert. Though far from everyone, he was spiritually with all, and he loved the entire world. He knew many things without having studied. He associated comfortably with scientists and other distinguished people, speaking with them easily and without any feelings of inferiority. On the contrary, the worldly wise consulted him…. He could, with one descriptive hand gesture, communicate information about a person or an entire situation.”
There are many valuable things in Confucius’s teachings, as well in the life and works of Western man after his sundering from the Orthodox Faith of the Apostles. But all these must be viewed in the Divine Light of the God-man that shines in its purity only within the Orthodox Church, so that all soul-corrupting distortions within them may be dispelled.
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!