Friday, June 6, 2014

Apophaticism separates Orthodoxy from the West

There are numerous issues which separate Eastern Christianity from Western Christianity, and vice versa. However, it’s interesting to identify that even the language we both use, which differs, shows a distinction between the two ecclesiastical traditions. Christos Yannaras explains that:

‘Apophaticism differentiates Orthodox from the West in clear, striking language. The West denied the apophaticism of theological expression, understanding truth as the “coincidence of meaning with the object of thought.” It identified the power of knowing truth with the individual’s capacity to understand concepts, with the capacity for correct thought. And it shaped a theological language utterly subject to this priority of individualistic intellectualism, which is the complete opposite of the Church’s way of expressing truth in apophatic language and images…The denial of apophaticism implies the rejection of the real nature of the Church, a falling away into an individualistic religiosity…’[1]
Therefore, by not understanding and explaining theology apophatically, as is the way within the Orthodox Church, we identify a separation between ‘truth from life, knowledge from experience and the Gospel’s revelation from the Eucharistic fact of the Church. This betrayal of ecclesiastical theology turns the Gospel of salvation into a religion.’[2]

[1] Yannaras, Christos, Orthodoxy and the West, (Brookline, Massachusetts, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2006), p. 200.
[2] Ibid., pp. 201-202.

1 comment:

  1. This is true, but only up to a point. The apophatic tradition survived in the Western church, went underground at times, but never entirely disappeared. The inspiration came (and comes) from the Desert Fathers, and survived in the monastic tradition brought back by John Cassian and picked up by St Benedict (among others). It is alive and well today in many forms - see the World Community for Christian Meditation ( and others such as Fr Thomas Keating. And also the writings and thinking for Rowan Williams, the former Anglican Archbishop of Caterbury, a patron of WCCM.