Thursday, May 24, 2007

Negative Theology

Negative theology is the theology that describes God for what God is not. The principle is simple enough: God is beyond human understanding and human experience that is difficult and may even be impossible to understand the nature of God positively, one can only chip away what God is not. The champion of this system of theology is Dionysus of Aeropagite (c. 5th Century) whose mystical writings were accepted by the church in the fifth century. Maximus the Confessor wrote a commentary on Dionysus’ theological approach: “The two names of Being and non Being ought both to be applied to God, although neither of them really suits God…God possesses an existence that is completely inaccessible and beyond all affirmation and negation…For ignorance about God on the part of those who are wise in divine things is not a lack of learning, but a knowledge that knows by silence that God is unknown.” (Placher, 95) (A trace of influence on Tillich’s ontology there.)

Ever wonder how we sometimes claim divine prerogatives like in prayers, “we already claimed that you oh God have answered our request in the name of Jesus” and then the opposite happened. Funny but true how we sometimes think that we know so much about God that we can lay claim on God’s prerogatives—blasphemy if you ask me, blasphemy.

A good dose of negative theology will bring us back to the understanding that there are things we cannot claim from God, even in prayers, especially in prayers; and that there is a chasm that divides us from God that cannot be bridged by the intellect and even by Faith for God is God. Unknowable but revealed, transcendent but immanent, etcetera….

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