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Author Topic: Apophatic Language  (Read 1154 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: January 08, 2011, 12:39:15 AM »

In what way is using apophatic language a better way of speaking about God? If we say that "God is love," is that any less accurate than any of the apophatic (negative) alternatives we might come up with to get a similar point across? I know it's supposed to either more accurate, or less prone to misunderstanding, or something along those lines, but how exactly is that so?
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« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2011, 01:19:15 AM »

It prevents us from creating an idol of God in our minds.
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Justin Kissel
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« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2011, 01:36:09 AM »

How?
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« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2011, 02:08:28 AM »

In what way is using apophatic language a better way of speaking about God? If we say that "God is love," is that any less accurate than any of the apophatic (negative) alternatives we might come up with to get a similar point across? I know it's supposed to either more accurate, or less prone to misunderstanding, or something along those lines, but how exactly is that so?

For instance you know God is Love (cataphatic), but saying so doesn't do justice to how Big God's Love is, if you can even call that amazingness, awesomeness, "indescridableness" "love." (apophatic)

It's kinda like trying to describe something that's so awesome, the word "awesome" makes him sound not awesome.
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« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2011, 02:17:52 AM »

Well, because it is more exact.  Saying God is immortal or infinite causes less confusion than terms such as "God is Good" or "God is Love".  We don't have the tendency to equate "all that is immortal is therefore God" (we are quite willing to accept vampires, at least fictionally, without believing they created the universe) or "all that is infinite is therefore God" (outside of Pythagoreans nobody worships pi).  We do, however, have a tendency to say "God is Love, so therefore anything done in Love must be of God" and use this maxim to excuse a host of sins.  "That man does good things, therefore he must be godly."  Sure, God is Good and God is Love, but it's a strange quirk of human psychology to take these sayings and elevate the specific attribute to Godhood and use that elevation as a way of avoiding God.

As to the "why" of this tendency, I cannot be entirely sure, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the positives seem to be in our reach.  We can love, so we want to believe that loving makes us godly.  We can't not die, no matter how much effort we put in to it, so it's harder to believe we're godly just because we haven't died yet.
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« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2011, 03:01:50 AM »

It's not that it's not better.
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« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2011, 03:18:29 AM »

How?

Because any characteristics we attribute to God will always be deficient and innacurate. The God we have imagined or defined will not be as God actually is, and we will have effectively created an idol by attempting to do so.
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« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2011, 04:56:02 AM »

For instance you know God is Love (cataphatic), but saying so doesn't do justice to how Big God's Love is, if you can even call that amazingness, awesomeness, "indescridableness" "love." (apophatic)

It's kinda like trying to describe something that's so awesome, the word "awesome" makes him sound not awesome.

Well, because it is more exact.  Saying God is immortal or infinite causes less confusion than terms such as "God is Good" or "God is Love".  We don't have the tendency to equate "all that is immortal is therefore God" (we are quite willing to accept vampires, at least fictionally, without believing they created the universe) or "all that is infinite is therefore God" (outside of Pythagoreans nobody worships pi).  We do, however, have a tendency to say "God is Love, so therefore anything done in Love must be of God" and use this maxim to excuse a host of sins.  "That man does good things, therefore he must be godly."  Sure, God is Good and God is Love, but it's a strange quirk of human psychology to take these sayings and elevate the specific attribute to Godhood and use that elevation as a way of avoiding God.

As to the "why" of this tendency, I cannot be entirely sure, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the positives seem to be in our reach.  We can love, so we want to believe that loving makes us godly.  We can't not die, no matter how much effort we put in to it, so it's harder to believe we're godly just because we haven't died yet.

How?

Because any characteristics we attribute to God will always be deficient and innacurate. The God we have imagined or defined will not be as God actually is, and we will have effectively created an idol by attempting to do so.

Ok, I think I'm starting to see what yuns guys are saying. Not that I claim to totally understand, but I understand more I guess. Smiley

It's not that it's not better.

But if it's not that it's not better, then isn't it wrong to say that it's not that it's not not better, in which case it really is not better that it's not better to not be not better?  Do I have that correct? Tongue
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« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2011, 05:05:07 AM »

This subject fascinates me. However, I seem to have trouble reconciling cataphatic dogmatic statements that the Church makes about God with this apophatic approach.

Basically, when we say that God is one and three, and that the Son is begotten from the Father, and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, (not from the Father and the Son) and other precise statements about the nature of the Godhead, does this not violate the apophatic approach? How can we be so sure about these statements; that they are not merely concepts in our head of who we think God is (or should be)?
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« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2011, 10:33:40 AM »

This subject fascinates me. However, I seem to have trouble reconciling cataphatic dogmatic statements that the Church makes about God with this apophatic approach.

Basically, when we say that God is one and three, and that the Son is begotten from the Father, and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, (not from the Father and the Son) and other precise statements about the nature of the Godhead, does this not violate the apophatic approach? How can we be so sure about these statements; that they are not merely concepts in our head of who we think God is (or should be)?

I have been taught that we only use cataphatic statements when referring to revealed truths (The Creed) about the person-hood of God. Outside of this limited revelation we only use apophatic statements because we can not grasp the uncreated, therefore we explain God in relation to our own limitations: ...invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inconceivable, always existing yet ever the same...
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« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2011, 03:48:58 PM »

It completes somewhat of a circle in God, the smallest there is in a "group."  Another way of describing it is that Love manifests Himself as a person.  So the Love of God the Father to the Son is by the Holy Spirit, and the Love of God the Son to the Holy Spirit is by the Father, and the Love of God the Holy Spirit to the Father is by the Son.  Three is actually the "simplest" one.  It is by which Love is known.  Between two people, love is a mere energy, and yet this energy is not even known, and just trusted.  With the Trinity, Love is Manifest and perfected in what we weakly call "Persons."

Any other attribute of God is made up of threes as well.  Lover, Beloved, and the Life of Love.  Enlightener, Enlightened, the Life of Enlightenment.  And each take these roles together.  With Humanity, it is necessary that we take the role of the Son, being enlivened by the Spirit, that through the Spirit, we become sons of the Father directly.  And so we are part of the Trinitarian relationship in a mysterious way be being the "beloved" and the "enlightened" by grace.
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« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2011, 11:05:40 PM »

This subject fascinates me. However, I seem to have trouble reconciling cataphatic dogmatic statements that the Church makes about God with this apophatic approach.

Basically, when we say that God is one and three, and that the Son is begotten from the Father, and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, (not from the Father and the Son) and other precise statements about the nature of the Godhead, does this not violate the apophatic approach? How can we be so sure about these statements; that they are not merely concepts in our head of who we think God is (or should be)?

I have been taught that we only use cataphatic statements when referring to revealed truths (The Creed) about the person-hood of God. Outside of this limited revelation we only use apophatic statements because we can not grasp the uncreated, therefore we explain God in relation to our own limitations: ...invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inconceivable, always existing yet ever the same...

How literal are we to understand these revealed truths, given the inherent limits and inferiority of language and human thought?
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« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2011, 11:16:40 PM »

What's the difference between an atheist and someone who uses an exclusively apophatic approach towards defining God?
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« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2011, 12:36:29 AM »

What's the difference between an atheist and someone who uses an exclusively apophatic approach towards defining God?

No difference whatsoever...at least in the end.  Exclusive apophatic approach, like Islam, is actually "God-limiting."  God in unable to achieve communion with humanity.  Humanity achieves nothing more than eternal life as God creatively sees fit.  It's a belief, and not a relationship.  We're better off trying to find a way for humanity to actually achieve physical immortality since relationship with God is impossible, and we are merely "rewarded."  This is the type of theism atheists enjoy attacking, and thinking this is what Christianity is.

In Christianity, God is both beyond and within.  Panentheism is the best way to describe Christianity.  We achieve communion, and God even more achieves incarnation so that the communion may be more matured.  In Islam, God is only beyond, and can NEVER be within.  He sends angels, creates messages, but to actually send His Divine grace is an impossibility, and one pretty much is left wishing for physical rewards in the afterlife, such as the 70 virgins promised, which only proves how man-made it really is.  I mean which man in their right mind would seek spiritual things Wink
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« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2011, 12:48:20 AM »

Good points, Mina. I haven't thought about Islam that way previously.

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« Reply #15 on: January 09, 2011, 01:58:37 AM »

Perhaps I'm confused, but aren't we referring to agnostic rather than atheistic language?
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« Reply #16 on: April 01, 2011, 09:42:41 PM »

Perhaps I'm confused, but aren't we referring to agnostic rather than atheistic language?

A fair point, I think...
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