Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

95 Theses, #83: The Apophatic and Kataphatic Ways

To see the introduction and disclaimers for my 95 Theses, first go to: 95-Theses-Introduction


83.) The Apophatic and Kataphatic Ways - According to Christian theology, there are two main ways of approaching the mystery of God: apophatic theology, which seeks to describe God in the language of negation, of transcendence, of being “wholly other”; and kataphatic theology, which seeks a more positive sense in which to understand God—immanence, “God is love,” etc. I want to suggest that there are two corollary ways of relating to God and growing toward him in our partnership in the renewed human nature. The first, the apophatic way, is the one that has received more attention throughout Christian history—it is the way of self-abnegation, of disciplines, of fasting, of renunciation, of rigorous training in the work of prayer. This way recognizes that we still struggle with a proclivity towards sin, and that it is by hard work, by habit, by voluntary sacrifice that we can train ourselves to avoid sinful impulses. It understands that the natural pleasures of the human life are ones that can easily be pursued to excess and become self-centered, so it takes the way of caution and avoids the pleasures themselves, or at least puts strict limits on them. The second way, the kataphatic way, seeks not the negative road of avoiding sin, but the positive road of seeking God. It enters into the goodness of creation and intentionally sets out to discover the joy and love of God displayed there, and to respond in gratitude toward the Maker. This is the way of feasting, of dancing, of the pursuit of beauty, of understanding all of life as prayer; and these are “spiritual disciplines” just as much as are the disciplines of the apophatic way. But one must always remember: these two ways are complementary, and they are necessary checks on one another. The Christian life is the life of both ways, just as the understanding of God must be approached from both the apophatic and kataphatic directions if we are to even begin to understand him.

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