Tag Archives: apophatic theology

Article: The Night Office: Loss, Darkness, and the Practice of Solidarity, by Douglas E. Christie

In contrast to its cataphatic spirituality and its emphasis on divine presence, fullness, and light, Christianity’s apophatic spiritual practices offer believers an alternative path that reflects the human experience of divine absence, emptiness, and darkness. Douglas Christie‘s article introduces his readers to this path, a “practice that can help us discover the courage and empathy necessary for entering into those places of profound loss and unknowing that have become so pervasive in our world and standing with those who suffer and struggle there.” Here is the article’s abstract:

What does it mean to enter the night? This question has long haunted the Christian mystical tradition. There, entering the night almost always means accepting uncertainty, insecurity and loss as inevitable and necessary, part of what it is to come to know ourselves in God and in relation to one another. In our own time, amidst increasingly acute encounters with loss, suffering and insecurity, the language of darkness is taking on new meaning and significance. In this essay, I consider what it might mean to retrieve traditions of spiritual darkness as part of a transformative spiritual practice. How might such practice help us cultivate the courage and empathy to engage the profound loss and unknowing that has become so pervasive in our world and to stand in solidarity with those who suffer and struggle there? How might it help us become, in the words of Pope Francis, more “painfully aware?”

Here is the article’s citation data:

Douglas E. Christie. “The Night Office: Loss, Darkness, and the Practice of Solidarity.” Anglican Theological Review. 99, 2 (Spring 2017): 211-232.

Essay: Exegesis as Metaphysics : Eriugena and Eckhart on Reading Genesis 1-3, by Bernard McGinn

In Eriugena and Creation: Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on Eriugenian Studies, held in honor of Edouard Jeauneau, Chicago, 9-12 November 2011 (Brepols, 2014, pp. 463-499), McGinn begins and ends his essay with references to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. This sets the context for his discussion about the metaphysical approach to biblical exegesis by two major apophatic theologians. Here is his essay’s abstract:

The first three chapters of Genesis have attracted numerous interpreters in both Judaism and Christianity for millennia, with readings ranging from the crudely literal to refined philosophical, theological, and mystical interpretations. Two of the most profound Latin interpreters were the ninth-century Irish savant John Scottus Eriugena and thirteenth-century Dominican Meister Eckhart. Both wrote long commentaries on Genesis 1-3 in different genres, and both thinkers display remarkable similarities, as well as some crucial differences. Without denying the foundational role of the biblical letter, Eriugena and Eckhart insisted that Genesis 1-3 can only be understood from a rigorously philosophico-theological standpoint, one in which exegesis reveals the depths of Christian metaphysics. In the interchange between positive and negative language about God and the world as revealed in Genesis, as well as in their modes of relating the letter and the spirit of the text, these two great thinkers made unique contributions to the history of exegesis.

Article: The Deus Absconditus of Scripture: An Apophatic Hermeneutic for Christian Contemplatives, by Vincent Pizzuto

In his article appearing in the May 2014 issue of Biblical Theology Bulletin (v.44,n. 2, pp.100-108), Vincent Pizzuto argues that negative theology can make a valuable contribution to contemporary biblical scholarship. Here’s the abstract:

The profusion of conflicting images of God in the Bible are often effectively categorized and segregated by historical-critical readings of the text in which some images are accepted at the expense of others. The result, however, is the establishment of a “canon within a canon” comprised of more palatable images of the divine while effectively ignoring those deemed to be vulgar or offensive. However, when we read through a hermeneutic rooted in a negative theology (i.e., an “apophatic hermeneutic”), conflicting images of God in the Bible may be understood as a necessary aspect of the verbal profusion that leads the contemplative not to logical contradiction, but to “linguistic self-subversion” (Turner). This can serve to dismantle our secret attachments to our preferred images which are themselves exposed as falling infinitely short of the God revealed in Christ precisely as the Deus absconditus.

Article: Reflections on the Nothingness of God, by Bernard McGinn

Bernard McGinn, the current President of the SSCS, contributed an article to the January 2014 issue of Vinayasadhana: Dharmaram Journal of Psycho-Spiritual Formation, v.5, n. 1. Here is the abstract:

There is a long tradition in Christian history that prizes a negative or apophatic approach to God. The Cappadocians, especially Gregory of Nyssa, promulgated a rigorous apophatic theology. The fifth-century Eastern monk who wrote under the pseudonym of Dionysius the Areopagite was a true heir of the Cappadocians. John Scottus Eriugena in the ninth century; Meister Eckhart, the Dominican preacher of the early fourteenth century; and Nicholas Cusanus, the Renaissance cardinal of the mid-fifteenth century are prominent figures in this often probed trend of thought or approach to the divine which was shaped by the marriage of Platonic thought and Christian belief that went back to Origen in the third century. After a period of neglect, recent decades have seen a definite “apophatic turn,” on account of the deconstruction trend that swept across various academic avenues.

Book Chapter: Hidden God and Hidden Self: The Emergence of Apophatic Anthropology in Christian Mysticism by Bernard McGinn

In Histories of the Hidden God: Concealment and Revelation in Western Gnostic, Esoteric, and Mystical Traditions,
edited by Grant Adamson and April D. Deconick (Acumen Publishing, 2013), pp. 87-100.  Here’s an excerpt from McGinn’s introductory section:

It is important to note that apophatic theology comes in many varieties and that not all forms of insisting that God is unknowable also claim that the human self is incomprehensible.  All Christian theologians pay homage to the divine mystery, insisting that God is in some sense beyond the human mind, but there is an important difference between “soft apophatism,” that is, an admission of general divine unknowability, and the various forms of “hard apophatism” that develop full-fledged accounts of speaking about God designed to subvert all human modes of conceiving and predicating.  It is among the more rigorous forms of apophatic theology that the possibility of apophatic anthropology emerges.  I will take a brief look at five examples of such hiddenness in the Christian tradition.