Apophatic theology

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Apophatic theology
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{{redirect|Via Negativa|The X-Files episode|Via Negativa (The X-Files)}}{{Philosophy of religion sidebar}}Apophatic theology, also known as negative theology,{{sfn|McCombs|2013|p=84}} is a form of theological thinking and religious practice which attempts to approach God, the Divine, by negation, to speak only in terms of what may not be said about the perfect goodness that is God.{{r|Bunnin_Yu|group=web}} It forms a pair together with cataphatic theology, which approaches God or the Divine by affirmations or positive statements about what God is.{{r|DC_interview|group=web}}The apophatic tradition is often, though not always, allied with the approach of mysticism, which aims at the vision of God, the perception of the divine reality beyond the realm of ordinary perception.{{sfn|Belzen|Geels|2003|p=84–87}}

Etymology and definition

"Apophatic", (adjective); from ἀπόφημι apophēmi, meaning "to deny". From Online Etymology Dictionary: }}Via negativa or via negationis (Latin), "negative way" or "by way of denial".{{sfn|McCombs|2013|p=84}} The negative way forms a pair together with the kataphatic or positive way. According to Deirdre Carabine,}}

Origins and development

According to Fagenblat, "negative theology is as old as philosophy itself;" elements of it can be found in Plato's "unwritten doctrines," while it is also present in Neo-Platonic, Gnostic and early Christian writers. A tendency to apophatic thought can also be found in Philo of Alexandria.{{sfn|Fagenblat|2017|p=4}}According to Carabine, "apophasis proper" in Greek thought starts with Neo-Platonism, with its speculations about the nature of the One, culminating in the works of Proclus.{{sfn|Carabine|2015|p=1}} According to Carabine, there are two major points in the development of apophatic theology, namely the fusion of the Jewish tradition with Platonic philosophy in the writings of Philo, and the works of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, who infused Christian thought with Neo-Platonic ideas.{{sfn|Carabine|2015|p=1}}The Early Church Fathers were influenced by Philo,{{sfn|Carabine|2015|p=1}} and Meredith even states that Philo "is the real founder of the apophatic tradition."{{sfn|Meredith|2002|p=545}} Yet, it was with Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor,{{sfn|Berthold|1985|p=9}} whose writings shaped both Hesychasm, the contemplative tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the mystical traditions of western Europe, that apophatic theology became a central element of Christian theology and contemplative practice.{{sfn|Carabine|2015|p=1}}

Greek philosophy

{{See also|Epoché|Pyrrhonism|Skepticism}}


For the ancient Greeks, knowledge of the gods was essential for proper worship.{{sfn|Platt|2011|p=52}} Poets had an important responsibility in this regard, and a central question was how knowledge of the Divine forms can be attained.{{sfn|Platt|2011|p=52}} Epiphany played an essential role in attaining this knowledge.{{sfn|Platt|2011|p=52}} Xenophanes (c. 570 – c. 475 BC) noted that the knowledge of the Divine forms is restrained by the human imagination, and Greek philosophers realized that this knowledge can only be mediated through myth and visual representations, which are culture-dependent.{{sfn|Platt|2011|p=52}}According to Herodotus (484–425 BCE), Homer and Hesiod (between 750 and 650 BC) taught the Greek the knowledge of the Divine bodies of the Gods.{{sfn|Platt|2011|p=51}} The ancient Greek poet Hesiod (between 750 and 650 BC) describes in his Theogony the birth of the gods and creation of the world,{{r|ellopsos|group=web}} which became an "ur-text for programmatic, first-person epiphanic narratives in Greek literature,"{{sfn|Platt|2011|p=52}}{{refn|group=note|Hesiod's Theogony was highly referred in the time of Plato (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BCE), and Plato's Timaeus shows a profound familiarity with Hesiod's Theogony.{{sfn|Boys-Stones|Haubold|2009|p=xiviii}} See also Timaeus e39-e41.{{r|ellopsos|group=web}}}} but also "explores the necessary limitations placed on human access to the divine."{{sfn|Platt|2011|p=52}} According to Platt, the statement of the Muses who grant Hesiod knowledge of the Gods "actually accords better with the logic of apophatic religious thought."{{sfn|Platt|2011|p=53}}{{refn|group=note|Richard G. Geldard: "[M]ore than any other pre-Socratic thinker, Heraclitus embodies the apophatic method. He "unsaid" the myths of the Archaic tradition on his way to transforming the ideas of divinity through the divine Logos. It was a transformation affirmed by Plotinus 800 years later."{{sfn|Geldard|2000|p=23}}}}Parmenides (fl. late sixth or early fifth century BC), in his poem On Nature, gives an account of a revelation on two ways of inquiry. "The way of conviction" explores Being, true reality ("what-is"), which is "What is ungenerated and deathless,/whole and uniform, and still and perfect."{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=109-111}} "The way of opinion" is the world of appearances, in which one's sensory faculties lead to conceptions which are false and deceitful. His distinction between unchanging Truth and shifting opinion is reflected in Plato's allegory of the Cave. Together with the Biblical story of Moses's ascent of Mount Sinai, it is used by Gregory of Nyssa and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite to give a Christian account of the ascent of the soul toward God.{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=111-112}} Cook notes that Parmenides poem is a religious account of a mystical journey, akin to the mystery cults,{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=109}} giving a philosophical form to a religious outlook.{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=112}} Cook further notes that the philosopher's task is to "attempt through 'negative' thinking to tear themselves loose from all that frustrates their pursuit of wisdom."{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=112}}


(File:Plato Silanion Musei Capitolini MC1377.jpg|thumb|Plato Silanion Musei Capitolini MC1377)Plato (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BCE), "deciding for Parmenides against Heraclitus" and his theory of eternal change,{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=113}} had a strong influence on the development of apophatic thought.{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=113}}Plato further explored Parmenides's idea of timeless truth in his dialogue Parmenides, which is a treatment of the eternal forms, Truth, Beauty and Goodness, which are the real aims for knowledge.{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=113}} The Theory of Forms is Plato's answer to the problem "how one unchanging reality or essential{{clarify|date=July 2017}} being can admit of many changing phenomena (and not just by dismissing them as being mere illusion)."{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=113}}In The Republic, Plato argues that the "real objects of knowledge are not the changing objects of the senses, but the immutable Forms,"{{r|EoP_Plato(Republic)|group=web}} stating that the Form of the Good{{refn|group=note|Identified by various commentators with the Form of Unity.{{explain|date=April 2017}}{{citation needed|date=April 2017}}}} is the highest object of knowledge.{{sfn|Kahn|1998|p=61}}{{sfn|Phillips|2008|p=234}}{{r|EoP_Plato(Republic)|group=web}}{{refn|group=note|See The Republic 508d–e, 511b, 516b)}} His argument culminates in the Allegory of the Cave, in which he argues that humans are like prisoners in a cave, who can only see shadows of the Real, the Form of the Good.{{sfn|Phillips|2008|p=234}}{{r|EoP_Plato(Republic)|group=web}} Humans are to be educated to search for knowledge, by turning away from their bodily desires toward higher contemplation, culminating in an intellectual{{refn|group=note|As opposed to mere rationality.}} understanding or apprehension of the Forms, c.q. the "first principles of all knowledge."{{sfn|Phillips|2008|p=234}}According to Cook, the Theory of Forms has a theological flavour, and had a strong influence on the ideas of his Neo-Platonist interpreters Proclus and Plotinus.{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=113}} The pursuit of Truth, Beauty and Goodness became a central element in the apophatic tradition,{{sfn|Cook|2013|p=113}} but nevertheless, according to Carabine "Plato himself cannot be regarded as the founder of the negative way."{{sfn|Carabine|2015|p=21}} Carabine warns not to read later Neo-Platonic and Christian understandings into Plato, and notes that Plato did not identify his Forms with "one transcendent source," an identification which his later interpreters made.{{sfn|Carabine|2015|p=21-22}}

Middle Platonism

Middle Platonism (1st century BCE–3rd century CE){{r|IEP_Middle_Platonism|group=web}} further investigated Plato's "Unwritten Doctrines," which drew on Pythagoras' first principles of the Monad and the Dyad (matter).{{r|IEP_Middle_Platonism|group=web}} Middle Platonism proposed a hierarchy of being, with God as its first principle at its top, identifying it with Plato's Form of the Good.{{sfn|Mooney|2009|p=7}} An influential proponent of Middle Platonism was Philo (c. 25 BCE–c. 50 CE), who employed Middle Platonic philosophy in his interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures, and asserted a strong influence on early Christianity.{{r|IEP_Middle_Platonism|group=web}} According to Craig D. Allert, "Philo made a monumental contribution to the creation of a vocabulary for use in negative statements about God."{{sfn|Allert|2002|p=89}} For Philo, God is undescribable, and he uses terms which emphasize God's transcendence.{{sfn|Allert|2002|p=89}}


Neo-Platonism was a mystical or contemplative form of Platonism, which "developed outside the mainstream of Academic Platonism."{{r|IEP_Neo-Platonism|group=web}} It started with the writings of Plotinus (204/5–270), and ended with the closing of the Platonic Academy by Emperor Justinian in 529 CE, when the pagan traditions were ousted.{{r|IEP_Plotinus|group=web}} It is a product of Hellenistic syncretism, which developed due to the crossover between Greek thought and the Jewish scriptures, and also gave birth to Gnosticism.{{r|IEP_Neo-Platonism|group=web}} Proclus was the last head of the Platonic Academy; his student Pseudo-Dinosysius had a far-stretching Neo-Platonic influence on Christianity and Christian mysticism.{{r|IEP_Neo-Platonism|group=web}}


(File:Plotinus.jpg|thumb|left|Plotinus)Plotinus (204/5–270) was the founder of Neo-Platonism.{{sfn|Gerson|2012}} In the Neo-Platonic philosophy of Plotinus and Proclus, the first principle became even more elevated as a radical unity, which was presented as an unknowable Absolute.{{sfn|Mooney|2009|p=7}} For Plotinus, the One is the first principle, from which everything else emanates.{{sfn|Gerson|2012}} He took it from Plato's writings, identifying the Good of the Republic, as the cause of the other Forms, with the One of the first hypothesis of the second part of the Parmenides.{{sfn|Gerson|2012}} For Plotinus, the One precedes the Forms,{{sfn|Gerson|2012}} and "is beyond Mind and indeed beyond Being."{{sfn|Mooney|2009|p=7}} From the One comes the Intellect, which contains all the Forms.{{sfn|Gerson|2012}} The One is the principle of Being, while the Forms are the principle of the essence of beings, and the intelligibility which can recognize them as such.{{sfn|Gerson|2012}} Plotinus's third principle is Soul, the desire for objects external to the person. The highest satisfaction of desire is the contemplation of the One,{{sfn|Gerson|2012}} which unites all existents "as a single, all-pervasive reality."{{r|IEP_Plotinus|group=web}}The One is radically simple, and does not even have self-knowledge, since self-knowledge would imply multiplicity.{{sfn|Mooney|2009|p=7}} Nevertheless, Plotinus does urge for a search for the Absolute, turning inward and becoming aware of the "presence of the intellect in the human soul,"{{refn|group=note|Compare Korean Chon (Zen) master Jinuls "tracing back the radiance":"Question: What is the mind of void and calm, numinous awareness?Chinul: What has just asked me this question is precisely your mind of void and calm, numinous awareness. Why not trace back its radiance rather than search for it outside? For your benefit I will now point straight to your original mind so that you can awaken to it. Clear your minds and listen to my words."{{r|Chinul|group=web}}See also {{Citation | last =Buswell | first =Robert E. | year =1991 | title =Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen | publisher =University of Hawaii Press}}}} initiating an ascent of the soul by abstraction or "taking away," culminating in a sudden appearance of the One.{{sfn|Mooney|2009|p=8}} In the Enneads Plotinus writes: Carabine notes that Plotinus' apophasis is not just a mental exercise, an acknowledgement of the unknowability of the One, but a means to ecstasis and an ascent to "the unapproachable light that is God."{{r|Carabine_interview|group=web}} Pao-Shen Ho, investigating what are Plotinus' methods for reaching henosis,{{refn|group=note|The Neoplatonic concept of henosis has precedents in the Greek mystery religions{{sfn|Angus|1975|p=52}} as well as parallels in Eastern philosophy.{{sfn|Gregorios|2002}}}} concludes that "Plotinus' mystical teaching is made up of two practices only, namely philosophy and negative theology."{{sfn|Ho|2015|p=20}} According to Moore, Plotinus appeals to the "non-discursive, intuitive faculty of the soul," by "calling for a sort of prayer, an invocation of the deity, that will permit the soul to lift itself up to the unmediated, direct, and intimate contemplation of that which exceeds it (V.1.6)."{{r|IEP_Plotinus|group=web}} Pao-Shen Ho further notes that "for Plotinus, mystical experience is irreducible to philosophical arguments."{{sfn|Ho|2015|p=20}} The argumentation about henosis is preceded by the actual experience of it, and can only be understood when henosis has been attained.{{sfn|Ho|2015|p=20}} Ho further notes that Plotinus's writings have a didactic flavour, aiming to "bring his own soul and the souls of others by way of Intellect to union with the One."{{sfn|Ho|2015|p=20}} As such, the Enneads as a spiritual or ascetic teaching device, akin to The Cloud of Unknowing,{{sfn|Ho|2015|p=20-21}} demonstrating the methods of philosophical and apophatic inquiry.{{sfn|Ho|2015|p=26}} Ultimately, this leads to silence and the abandonment of all intellectual inquiry, leaving contemplation and unity.{{sfn|Ho|2015|p=25-27}}


Proclus (412-485) introduced the terminology which is being used in apophatic and cataphatic theology.{{sfn|Louth|2012|p=139}} He did this in the second book of his Platonic Theology, arguing that Plato states that the One can be revealed "through analogy," and that "through negations [dia ton apophaseon] its transcendence over everything can be shown."{{sfn|Louth|2012|p=139}} For Proclus, apophatic and cataphonic theology form a contemplatory pair, with the apophatic approach corresponding to the manifestation of the world from the One, and cataphonic theology corresponding to the return to the One.{{sfn|Louth|2012|p=140}} The analogies are affirmations which direct us toward the One, while the negations underlie the confirmations, being closer to the One.{{sfn|Louth|2012|p=140}} According to Luz, Proclus also attracted students from other faiths, including the Samaritan Marinus. Luz notes that "Marinus' Samaritan origins with its Abrahamic notion of a single ineffable Name of God ({{Hebrew|יהוה}}) should also have been in many ways compatible with the school's ineffable and apophatic divine principle."{{sfn|Luz|2017|p=149}}


{{Christian mysticism}}File: Emblem - Oculus Non Vidit.jpg|thumb|left|Engraving of Otto van Veen (1660), who negatively describes God as Quod oculus non vidit, nec auris audivit (Vulgate), "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard" ((First Epistle to the Corinthians|1 Corinthians]] {{bibleref2-nb|1 Corinthians|2:9|VULGATE;NRSV)}}))

Apostolic Age

The Book of Revelation {{bibleref2-nb|Revelation|8:1|NKJV}} mentions "the silence of the perpetual choir in heaven." According to Dan Merkur,) whose revelation to Elijah on Mount Horeb rejected visionary imagery by affirming a negative theology.{{sfn|Merkur|2014|p=331}}{{refn|group=note|According to Michel Masson, Elijah's theophany is an "apophatic revelation," a mystical experience which is akin to nirvana and Böhme's Ungrund." Michel Masson (2001), Rois et prophètes dans le cycle d'Élie. In: BOOK, Lemaire, André, Prophètes et rois. Bible et Proche-Orient,weblink 2001, Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 119–131, 978-2-204-06622-8, . Quoted by BOOK, Weighing Hearts. Character, Judgment, and the Ethics of Reading the Bible,weblink Stuart, Lasine, 2012, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 121, 978-0-567-42674-1, }}}}

Early Church Fathers

The Early Church Fathers were influenced by Philo{{sfn|Carabine|2015|p=1}} (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE), who saw Moses as "the model of human virtue and Sinai as the archetype of man's ascent into the "luminous darkness" of God."{{sfn|Buxhoeveden|Woloschak|2011|p=152}} His interpretation of Moses was followed by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, the Cappadocian Fathers, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Maximus the Confessor.{{sfn|Louth|2003|p=220}}{{sfn|Lane|2007|p=67}}{{sfn|Meredith|2002|p=545}}{{sfn|Boersma|2013|p=243}}God's appearance to Moses in the burning bush was often elaborated on by the Early Church Fathers,{{sfn|Louth|2003|p=220}} especially Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395),{{sfn|Lane|2007|p=67}}{{sfn|Meredith|2002|p=545}}{{sfn|Boersma|2013|p=243}} realizing the fundamental unknowability of God;{{sfn|Louth|2003|p=220}}{{sfn|Mayes|2016|p=117}} an exegesis which continued in the medieval mystical tradition.{{sfn|Glasscoe|1992|p=57}} Their response is that, although God is unknowable, Jesus as person can be followed, since "following Christ is the human way of seeing God."{{sfn|Louth|2003|p=221}}Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) was an early proponent of apophatic theology.{{sfn|Hägg|2006}}{{sfn|Meredith|2002|p=545}} Clement holds that God is unknowable, although God’s unknowability, concerns only his essence, not his energies, or powers.{{sfn|Hägg|2006}} According to R.A. Baker, in Clement's writings the term theoria develops further from a mere intellectual "seeing" toward a spiritual form of contemplation.{{sfn|Baker|2000|p=88}} Clement's apophatic theology or philosophy is closely related to this kind of theoria and the "mystic vision of the soul."{{sfn|Baker|2000|p=88}} For Clement, God is transcendent and immanent.{{sfn|Baker|2000|p=89}} According to Baker, Clement's apophaticism is mainly driven not by Biblical texts, but by the Platonic tradition.{{sfn|Baker|2000|p=92-92}} His conception of an ineffable God is a synthesis of Plato and Philo, as seen from a Biblical perspective.{{sfn|Baker|2000|p=92}} According to Osborne, it is a synthesis in a Biblical framework; according to Baker, while the Platonic tradition accounts for the negative approach, the Biblical tradition accounts for the positive approach.{{sfn|Baker|2000|p=92-93}} Theoria and abstraction is the means to conceive of this ineffable God; it is preceded by dispassion.{{sfn|Baker|2000|p=98-103}}According to Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240),our very incapacity of fully grasping Him affords us the idea of what He really is. He is presented to our minds in His transcendent greatness, as at once known and unknown.Tertullian, Apologeticus, § 17.}}Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386), in his Catechetical Homilies, states: }}Augustine of Hippo (354-430) defined God aliud, aliud valde, meaning "other, completely other", in Confessions 7.10.16.BOOK, Vessey, Mark, With the assistance of Shelley Reid, A Companion to Augustine,weblink 2012, Wiley (publisher), John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, 978-1-405-15946-3, 107,

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

Apophatic theology found its most influential expression in the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (late 5th to early 6th century), a student of Proclus (412-485), combining a Christian worldview with Neo-Platonic ideas.BOOK, Berthold, George C., "Introduction" to Maximus the Confessor. Selected Writings,weblink 1985, Paulist Fathers, Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 978-0-809-12659-0, 9, He is a constant factor in the contemplative tradition of the eastern Orthodox Churches, and from the 9th century onwards his writings also had a strong impact on western mysticism.{{sfn|MacCulloch|2010|p=439}}Dionysius the Areopagite was a pseudonym, taken from Acts of the Apostles chapter 17, in which Paul gives a missionary speech to the court of the Areopagus in Athens.{{sfn|Stang|2011|p=12}} In {{bibleref2|Acts|17:23|KJV|verse 23}} Paul makes a reference to an altar-inscription, dedicated to the Unknown God, "a safety measure honoring foreign gods still unknown to the Hellenistic world."{{sfn|Stang|2011|p=12}} For Paul, Jesus Christ is this unknown God, and as a result of Paul's speech Dionysius the Areopagite converts to Christianity.{{sfn|Stang|2011|p=13}} Yet, according to Stang, for Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite Athens is also the place of Neo-Platonic wisdom, and the term "unknown God" is a reversal of Paul's preaching toward an integration of Christianity with Neo-Platonism, and the union with the "unknown God."{{sfn|Stang|2011|p=13}}According to Corrigan and Harrington, "Dionysius' central concern is how a triune God, ... who is utterly unknowable, unrestricted being, beyond individual substances, beyond even goodness, can become manifest to, in, and through the whole of creation in order to bring back all things to the hidden darkness of their source."{{sfn|Corrigan|Harrington|2014}} Drawing on Neo-Platonism, Pseudo-Dionysius described humans ascend to divinity as a process of purgation, illumination and union.{{sfn|MacCulloch|2010|p=439}} Another Neo-Platonic influence was his description of the cosmos as a series of hierarchies, which overcome the distance between God and humans.{{sfn|MacCulloch|2010|p=439}}{{Eastern Orthodox sidebar}}

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

In Orthodox Christianity apophatic theology is taught as superior to cataphatic theology. The fourth-century Cappadocian Fathers{{refn|group=note|Basil the Great (330–379), who was bishop of Caesarea; Basil's younger brother Gregory of Nyssa (c.332–395), who was bishop of Nyssa; and a close friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389), who became Patriarch of Constantinople.WEB, Commentary on Song of Songs; Letter on the Soul; Letter on Ascesis and the Monastic Life,weblink World Digital Library, 6 March 2013, }} stated a belief in the existence of God, but an existence unlike that of everything else: everything else that exists was created, but the Creator transcends this existence, is uncreated. The essence of God is completely unknowable; mankind can know God only through His energies.BOOK, McGinn, Bernard, 4. Hidden God and Hidden Self (pp. 85ff.), Histories of the Hidden God. Concealment and Revelation in Western Gnostic, Esoteric, and Mystical Traditions,weblink DeConick, April D, Adamson, Grant, 2014, Routledge, Abingdon-on-Thames, 978-1-844-65687-5,weblink Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.395), John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407), and Basil the Great (329-379) emphasized the importance of negative theology to an orthodox understanding of God. John of Damascus (c.675/676–749) employed negative theology when he wrote that positive statements about God reveal "not the nature, but the things around the nature."Maximus the Confessor (580-622) took over Pseudo-Dionysius' ideas, and had a strong influence on the theology and contemplative practices of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359) formulated the definite theology of Hesychasm, the Orthodox practices of contemplative prayer and theosis, "deification."Influential modern Eastern Orthodox theologians are Vladimir Lossky, John Meyendorff, John S. Romanides and Georges Florovsky. Lossky argues, based on his reading of Dionysius and Maximus Confessor, that positive theology is always inferior to negative theology which is a step along the way to the superior knowledge attained by negation.BOOK, Lossky, Vladimir, Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church,weblink 1976, SVS Press, Crestwood, Yonkers, 26, 978-0-913-83631-6, This is expressed in the idea that mysticism is the expression of dogmatic theology (wikt:par excellence|par excellence).Lossky, Vladimir (1976). p. 9.According to Lossky, outside of directly revealed knowledge through Scripture and Sacred Tradition, such as the Trinitarian nature of God, God in His essence is beyond the limits of what human beings (or even angels) can understand. He is transcendent in essence (ousia). Further knowledge must be sought in a direct experience of God or His indestructible energies through theoria (vision of God).Lossky, Vladimir (1976). p. 81.BOOK, Lossky, Vladimir, The Vision of God,weblink 1964, Society of the Faith#Faith Press, Faith Press, Leighton Buzzard, 26, According to Aristotle Papanikolaou, in Eastern Christianity, God is immanent in his hypostasis or existences.Papanikolaou, Aristotle (2006), Being With God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine–Human Communion (1st Edition), Notre Dame, Indiana:University of Notre Dame Press, p. 2, {{ISBN|978-0-268-03830-4}}.

Western Christianity

File:Hands_of_God_and_Adam.jpg|thumb|left|In The Creation of Adam painted by Michelangelo (c. 1512), the two index fingers are separated by a small gap [{{convert|3/4|in|cm}}]: some scholars think that it represents the unattainability of divine perfection by manBOOK, Raymond, Tallis, Raymond Tallis, Michelangelo's Finger. An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence,weblink 2010, Atlantic Books, Ormond House in Bloomsbury, (London Borough of Camden]], v, 978-1-848-87552-4, )Negative theology has a place in the Western Christian tradition as well. The 9th-century theologian John Scotus Erigena wrote: When he says "He is not anything" and "God is not", Scotus does not mean that there is no God, but that God cannot be said to exist in the way that creation exists, i.e. that God is uncreated. He is using apophatic language to emphasise that God is "other".BOOK, Indick, William, The Digital God. How Technology Will Reshape Spirituality,weblink 2015, McFarland & Company, McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 179, 978-0-786-49892-5, Theologians like Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) exemplify some aspects of or tendencies towards the apophatic tradition in the West. The medieval work, The Cloud of Unknowing and Saint John's Dark Night of the Soul are particularly well known. In 1215 apophatism became the official position of the Catholic Church, which, on the basis of Scripture and church tradition, during the Fourth Lateran Council formulated the following dogma:{{la icon}} DS 806.{{la icon}} CCC 43.}}}}

The via eminentiae

{{also|Credo ut intelligam|Fides et ratio}}Thomas Aquinas was born ten years later (1225-1274) and, although in his Summa Theologica he quotes Pseudo-Dionysius 1,760 times,{{citation |last=Ware |first=Kallistos |author-link=Kallistos Ware |year=1963 |publication-date= |title=The Orthodox Church |page=73 |place=London |publisher=Penguin Group |isbn=0-14-020592-6 |accessdate= |url= }} his reading in a neo-Aristotelian key{{sfn|Przywara|2014|p=38 ("Thomas Aquinas stands out as Aristotle's most important medieval commentator — both for having clarified received notions of analogy and for assessing its theological uses")}} of the conciliar declaration overthrew its meaning inaugurating the "analogical way" as (wikt:tertium|tertium) between via negativa and via positiva: the via eminentiae (see also analogia entis). According to Adrian Langdon,}}According to Catholic Encyclopedia, the Doctor Angelicus and the scholastici declare [that] }}Since then Thomism has played a decisive role in resizing the negative or apophatic tradition of the magisterium.BOOK, Payton Jr., James R., Light from the Christian East. An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition,weblink “POSITIVE” AND “NEGATIVE” THEOLOGY" (pp. 72-78), 2007, InterVarsity Press, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, Illinois,weblink 978-0-830-82594-3, See for example the Regensburg lecture delivered on 12 September 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg in Germany: weblink" title="">"as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated - unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language."

20th century

(File:Dooyeweerd.jpg|thumb|left|Herman Dooyeweerd)Apophatic statements are still crucial to many modern theologians, restarting in the 1800s by Søren Kierkegaard (see his concept of the infinite qualitative distinction)BOOK, Kierkegaard, Søren, Søren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity, and the Edifying discourse which 'accompanied' it,weblink 1941, Transl. by Walter Lowrie (author), Walter Lowrie, Oxford University Press, 139 ("the infinite qualitative difference between God and man"), BOOK, Law, David R., Kierkegaard as Negative Theologian,weblink 1993, 1989, illustrated, reprint, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 978-0-198-26336-4, up to Rudolf Otto, Karl Barth (see their idea of "Wholly Other", i.e. ganz Andere or totaliter aliter),BOOK, Webb, Stephen H., Stephen H. Webb, Re-figuring Theology. The Rhetoric of Karl Barth,weblink 1991, SUNY Press, Albany, New York, 978-1-438-42347-0, 87, BOOK, Elkins, James, James Elkins (art historian), Ellenbogen, Josh, Tugendhaft, Aaron, Iconoclasm and the Sublime. Two Implicit Religious Discourses in Art History (pp. 133–151), Idol Anxiety,weblink 2011, Stanford University Press, Redwood City, California, 978-0-804-76043-0, 147, BOOK, Mariña, Jacqueline, Taliaferro, Charles, Charles Taliaferro, Draper, Paul, Paul Draper (philosopher), Quinn, Philip L., Philip L. Quinn, 26. Holiness (pp. 235–242), A Companion to Philosophy of Religion,weblink 2010, 1997, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, 978-1-444-32016-9, 238, the Ludwig Wittgenstein of the Tractatus, and Martin Heidegger after his kehre.BOOK, Noble, Ivana, Pokorný, Petr, Roskovec, Jan, Apophatic Elements in Derrida's Deconstruction (pp. 83–93),weblink's+Deconstruction%22, Philosophical Hermeneutics and Biblical Exegesis,weblink 2002, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 978-3-161-47894-9, 89–90, BOOK, Nesteruk, Alexei, The Universe as Communion. Towards a Neo-Patristic Synthesis of Theology and Science,weblink 2008, Bloomsbury Publishing, Bloomsbury, 978-0-567-18922-6, 96 ("according to Heidegger (after his Kehre), the oblivion of Being was effected by this Being itself, as its withdrawal and it is through this withdrawal Being manifested itself, although in an characteristically apophatic way"), C. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles (1947), advocates the use of negative theology when first thinking about God, in order to cleanse our minds of misconceptions. He goes on to say we must then refill our minds with the truth about God, untainted by mythology, bad analogies or false mind-pictures.BOOK, Brazier, P. H., Transposition and Analogy (pp.181-83), C.S. Lewis — Revelation, Conversion, and Apologetics,weblink 2012, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 978-1-610-97718-0,weblink The mid-20th century Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, who is often associated with a neo-Calvinistic tradition, provides a philosophical foundation for understanding why we can never absolutely know God, and yet, paradoxically, truly know something of God.WEB, Friesen, J. Glenn, The religious dialectic revisited,weblink jgfriesen.files, 5 May 2018, Dooyeweerd made a sharp distinction between theoretical and pre-theoretical attitudes of thought. Most of the discussion of knowledge of God presupposes theoretical knowledge, in which we reflect and try to define and discuss. Theoretical knowing, by its very nature, is never absolute, always depends on religious presuppositions, and cannot grasp either God or the law side. Pre-theoretical knowing, on the other hand, is intimate engagement, and exhibits a diverse range of aspects. Pre-theoretical intuition, on the other hand, can grasp at least the law side. Knowledge of God, as God wishes to reveal it, is pre-theoretical, immediate and intuitive, never theoretical in nature.BOOK, VanDrunen, David, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms. A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought,weblink 2009, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 978-0-802-86443-7, 351-68, WEB, Skillen, James W., Philosophy of the Cosmonimic Idea: Herman Dooyeweerd's Political and Legal Thought,weblink First Principles, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 5 May 2018, The philosopher Leo Strauss considered that the Bible, for example, should be treated as pre-theoretical (everyday) rather than theoretical in what it contains.BOOK, Smith, Gregory B., Between Eternities. On the Tradition of Political Philosophy, Past, Present, and Future,weblink 2008, Lexington Books, Lanham, Maryland, 978-0-739-12077-4, 199, Ivan Illich (1926-2002), the historian and social critic, can be read as an apophatic theologian, according to a longtime collaborator, Lee Hoinacki, in a paper presented in memory of Illich, called "Why Philia?"Hoinacki, Lee.

21st century

According to Deirdre Carabine, negative theology has become a hot topic since the 1990s,{{sfn|Carabine|2015|p=i, viii}} resulting from a broad effort in the 19 and 20th century to portray Plato as a mysticist, which revived the interest in Neoplatonism and negative theology.{{sfn|Carabine|2015|p=i-ii}}Karen Armstrong, in her book The Case for God (2009), notices a recovery of apophatic theology in postmodern theology.NEWS, Blackburn, Simon, Simon Blackburn, All quiet on the God front,weblink 4 July 2009, 7 April 2017, The Guardian, Guardian Media Group, Guardian News and Media,


The Arabic term for "negative theology" is lahoot salbi,BOOK, Hart, David Bentley, The Experience of God. Being, Consciousness, Bliss,weblink 2013, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 978-0-300-16684-2, 142, which is a "system of theology" or nizaam al lahoot in Arabic. Different traditions/doctrine schools in Islam called Kalam schools (see Islamic schools and branches) use different theological approaches or nizaam al lahoot in approaching God in Islam (Allah, Arabic الله) or the ultimate reality. The lahoot salbi or "negative theology" involves the use of ta'til, which means "negation,"BOOK, Bosworth, C.E., van Donzel, E., Heinrichs, W.P., Lecomte, G., Bearman, P.J., Bianquis, Th., Encyclopaedia of Islam (New Edition), Volume X (T-U), Brill, Leiden, Netherlands, 2000, 9004112111, 342, and the followers of the Mu'tazili school of Kalam, founded by Imam Wasil ibn Ata, are often called the Mu'attili, because they are frequent users of the ta'tili methodology.BOOK, Hughes, Thomas Patrick, A Dictionary of Islam, 1994, Kazi Publications, Chicago, 978-0935782707, 425, Rajab ʿAlī Tabrīzī, an Iranian and Shiat philosopher and mystic of the 17th century. instilled a radical apophatic theology in a generation of philosophers and theologians whose influence extended into the Qajar period.WEB, Faruque, Muhammad U. and Mohammed Rustom, Rajab ʿAlī Tabrīzī's Refutation of Ṣadrian Metaphysics,weblink, 3 May 2018, Mulla Rajab affirmed the completely unknowable,unqualifiable, and attributeless nature of God and upheld a general view concerning God’s attributes which can only be negatively ‘affirmed’, by means of the vianegativa.Shia Islam adopted "negative theology".{{refn|group=note|Encyclopædia Iranica: "God Himself comprises two ontological levels: first, of the Essence (ḏāt). This is said to be forever inconceivable, unimaginable, above all thought, beyond all knowledge. It can only be described by God through revelations and can only be apprehended by a negative apophatic theology. This recalls the Deus absconditus, the unknowable that forms the hidden, esoteric level of God, the level of the absolute abscondity of God."}}WEB, Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad Ali, Shiʿite doctrine,weblink Encyclopædia Iranica, Columbia University, 3 May 2018, In the words of the Persian Ismaili missionary, Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani: "There does not exist a tanzíh ["transcendence"] more brilliant and more splendid than that by which we establish the absolute transcendence of our Originator through the use of these phrases in which a negative and a negative of a negative apply to the thing denied."BOOK, Walker, Paul.E., Early Philosophical Shiism, The Ismaili Neoplatonism of Abá Ya'qáb al-Sijistání, 1993, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 978-0521060820, 78, Early Sunni scholars who held to a literal reading of the Quran and hadith rejected this view, adhering to its opposite, believing that the Attributes of God such as "Hand", "Foot" etc... should be taken literally and that, therefore, God is like a human being.BOOK, Campo, Juan Eduardo, Encyclopedia of Islam,weblink 2009, Infobase Publishing, New York City, 978-1-438-12696-8, 45-46, Today, most Sunnis, like the Ash'ari and Maturidi, adhere to a middle path between negation and anthropomorphism.


{{See also|Philo}}(File:Maimonides-2.jpg|thumb|right|Maimonides)Maimonides (1135/1138-1204) was "the most influential medieval Jewish exponent of the via negativa."{{sfn|Fagenblat|2017|p=4}} Maimonides, but also Samuel ibn Tibbon, draw on Bahya ibn Paquda,{{citation needed|date=April 2017}} who shows that our inability to describe God is related to the fact of His absolute unity. God, as the entity which is "truly One" (האחד האמת), must be free of properties and is thus unlike anything else and indescribable.{{citation needed|date=April 2017}} According to Rabbi Yosef Wineberg, Maimonides stated that "[God] is knowledge," and saw His Essence, Being, and knowledge as completely one, "a perfect unity and not a composite at all." Wineberg quotes Maimonides as statingIn The Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides stated:According to Fagenblat, it is only in the modern period that negative theology really gains importance in Jewish thought.{{sfn|Fagenblat|2017|p=4}} Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903-1994) was a prominent modern exponent of Jewish negative theology.{{sfn|Fagenblat|2017|p=2}} According to Leibowitz, a person's faith is his commitment to obey God, meaning God's commandments, and this has nothing to do with a person’s image of God. This must be so because Leibowitz thought that God cannot be described, that God's understanding is not man's understanding, and thus all the questions asked of God are out of place.Zev Golan, "God, Man and Nietzsche: A Startling Dialogue between Judaism and Modern Philosophers" (New York: iUniverse, 2008), p. 43

Indian parallels

(File:Raja Ravi Varma - Sankaracharya.jpg|thumb|Shankara)There are interesting parallels in Indian thought, which developed largely separate from Western thought. Early Indian philosophical works which have apophatic themes include the Principal Upanishads (800 BCE to the start of common era) and the Brahma Sutras (from 450 BCE and 200 CE). An expression of negative theology is found in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, where Brahman is described as "neti neti" or "neither this, nor that".Tharaud, Barry. Emerson for the Twenty-First Century: Global Perspectives on an American Icon. Rosemont Publishing and Printing Corp, 2010. p. 453. {{ISBN|978-0-87413-091-1}}. Further use of apophatic theology is found in the Brahma Sutras, which state:Buddhist philosophy has also strongly advocated the way of negation, beginning with the Buddha's own theory of anatta (not-atman, not-self) which denies any truly existent and unchanging essence of a person. Madhyamaka is a Buddhist philosophical school founded by Nagarjuna (2nd-3rd century CE), which is based on a fourfold negation of all assertions and concepts and promotes the theory of emptiness (shunyata). Apophatic assertions are also an important feature of Mahayana sutras, especially the prajñaparamita genre. These currents of negative theology are visible in all forms of Buddhism.Apophatic movements in medieval Hindu philosophy are visible in the works of Shankara (8th century), a philosopher of Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism), and Bhartṛhari (5th century), a grammarian. While Shankara holds that the transcendent noumenon, Brahman, is realized by the means of negation of every phenomenon including language, Bhartṛhari theorizes that language has both phenomenal and noumenal dimensions, the latter of which manifests Brahman.Coward, Harold G. and Foshay, Toby. Derrida and Negative Theology. State University of New York, 1992. P. 21. {{ISBN|0-7914-0964-3}}.In Advaita, Brahman is defined as being Nirguna or without qualities. Anything imaginable or conceivable is not deemed to be the ultimate reality.Renard, John. Responses to One Hundred One Questions on Hinduism. Paulist Press, 1999. P. 75. {{ISBN|0-8091-3845-X}}. The Taittiriya hymn speaks of Brahman as "one where the mind does not reach". Yet the Hindu scriptures often speak of Brahman's positive aspect. For instance, Brahman is often equated with bliss. These contradictory descriptions of Brahman are used to show that the attributes of Brahman are similar to ones experienced by mortals, but not the same. Negative theology also figures in the Buddhist and Hindu polemics. The arguments go something like this – Is Brahman an object of experience? If so, how do you convey this experience to others who have not had a similar experience? The only way possible is to relate this unique experience to common experiences while explicitly negating their sameness.

Apophatic theology and atheism

Even though the via negativa essentially rejects theological understanding in and of itself as a path to God, some have sought to make it into an intellectual exercise, by describing God only in terms of what God is not. One problem noted with this approach is that there seems to be no fixed basis on deciding what God is not, unless the Divine is understood as an abstract experience of full aliveness unique to each individual consciousness, and universally, the perfect goodness applicable to the whole field of reality.BOOK, Pondé, Luiz Felipe, Crítica e profecia: a filosofia da religião em Dostoiévski, 2003, Editora 34, São Paulo, 74–92, 8573262842, Apophatic theology is often accused of being a version of atheism or agnosticism, since it cannot say truly that God exists.BOOK, Kvanvig, Jonathan, Jonathan Kvanvig, 2015, 7. The Ineffable, Inconceivable, and Incomprehensible God. Fundamentality and Apophatic Theology (pp. 158 — 176),weblink Jacobs, Jonathan D., Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion. Volume 6,weblink Oxford University Press, 978-0-198-72233-5, 168, "The comparison is crude, however, for conventional atheism treats the existence of God as a predicate that can be denied (“God is nonexistent”), whereas negative theology denies that God has predicates".{{sfn|Fagenblat|2017|p=3}} "God or the Divine is" without being able to attribute qualities about "what He is" would be the prerequisite of positive theology in negative theology that distinguishes theism from atheism. "Negative theology is a complement to, not the enemy of, positive theology".{{sfn|Bryson|2016|p=114}} Since religious experience—or consciousness of the holy or sacred, is not reducible to other kinds of human experience, an abstract understanding of religious experience cannot be used as evidence or proof that religious discourse or praxis can have no meaning or value.Lonergan, Bernard (1972), "Method in Theology", New York, N.Y.: Seabury Press, {{ISBN|0-8164-2204-4}}. In apophatic theology, the negation of theisms in the via negativa also requires the negation of their correlative atheisms if the dialectical method it employs is to maintain integrity.Buckley, Michael J. (2004), "Denying and Disclosing God: The Ambiguous Progress of Modern Atheism", New Haven, C.T.: Yale University Press, pp. 120ff, {{ISBN|0-30009384-5}}.

See also

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Further reading

External links and resources

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