Thursday, January 22, 2015

Negative Theology

Negative theology, also known as apophatic theology is a quite complex idea. How do we receive knowledge from a negative idea? From a negative theology? It is, however, the way with which the Orthodox Church wishes to understand difficult ideas and realities, such as what God is and isn’t. Below, Vladimir Lossky gives a brief summary of what apophaticism, i.e. negative theology, is:

‘Negative theology is not merely a theory of ecstasy. It is an expression of that fundamental attitude which transforms the whole of theology into a contemplation of the mysteries of revelation. It is not a branch of theology, a chapter, or an inevitable introduction on the incomprehensibility of God from which one passes unruffled to a doctrinal exposition in the usual terminology of human reason and philosophy in general. Apophaticism teaches us to see above all a negative meaning in the dogmas of the Church it forbids us to follow natural ways of thought and to form concepts which would usurp that place of spiritual realities. For Christianity is not a philosophical school for speculating about abstract concepts, but is essentially a communion with the living God. That is why, despite all their philosophical learning and natural bent towards speculation, the Fathers of the eastern tradition in remaining faithful to the apophatic principle of theology, never allowed their thought to cross the threshold of the mystery, or to substitute idols of God for God Himself. That is also why there is no philosophy more or less Christian.’[1] 

[1] Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, (Cambridge, James Clarke & Co Ltd.,1991), p.42.  

1 comment:

  1. It is a very ancient approach to understanding God's nature. An Arabic-speaking North African Jew helped the West recovery the apophatic in his philosophical conversations. See this: