Saturday, October 26, 2013

Patriarch Bartholomew on Apophatic Theology

If one speaks theologically, then one always does so within the context of an intimate relationship with God, who is the source of all theology. Moreover, if one articulates theology within the context of prayer, then one also realizes that the most appropriate method of theology is the way of silence before the awesome divine mystery that can never be fully grasped or described.

The final word, then, of theology is silence; its essence lies in the absence of words. For if it is difficult, as St. Gregory the Theologian claims, to conceive God, it is impossible to define God. Theology is best not said; it is most authentic when it is expressed in silence. This is why icons of St. John the Evangelist or Theologian will depict him with his fingers across his sealed mouth, as if to underline the importance of mystery and silence. So the way of Orthodox theology and spirituality cannot be properly understood without an appreciation of its negative or apophatic dimension.

Through the apophatic approach...Orthodox theology affirms the absolute transcendence of God while at the same time underlining the abiding immanence of God.

However, apophatic theology is is not simply another intellectual method of approaching God. It is not a better or even more effective way of knowing God. Theology always remains the knowledge beyond all knowledge; ultimately, it is a form of divine “ignorance.”

Negative theology, therefore, is not merely a corrective or corresponding way to the affirmative approach. It is the only way to God...

- Patriarch Bartholomew in his book, Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today. 

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