Apophatic Theology Essay

Pages: 5 (1480 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion


Explain apophatic theology and why a person must have ignorance before they can enter into communion with God

Apophatic theology is a religious philosophy predicated around union with God. On the surface, this may not seem drastically different from Western religious philosophies. However, the central aspect in which apophatic theology differs is through its emphasis on inward purification, involving a sparse, ascetic lifestyle and a more personalized, almost mystical spiritual inquiry. There have been a number of explications of apophatic theology, stemming from the influential writings of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century (most notably, Aquinas' Summa Theologica) through the more modern texts written by scholars such as Vladimir Lossky. This paper provides an overview of apophatic theology, with particular attention paid to Lossky's examinations into the religious philosophy.

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In the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Lassky aligns apophatic theology with the Eastern Church, emphasizing that the two are united through an emphasis on individuality and a form of religious adherence involving the belief that God can only be located through negation. Specifically, it is not possible to prove the existence of God in the corporeal manner characteristic of Western religion. While apophatic theology mandates that the individual believe in God, the religious approach acknowledges that attempts to locate the physical presence of God are futile, and that it is more productive to accept that God manifests differently for different people. To this end, Lossky argues that in apophatic theology, people must commit themselves to divine inquiry by acknowledging God's spirit rather than his physical manifestation. There is thus a central elusiveness to God's presence that the religious approach respects, and the emphasis is placed on conducting oneself with a heightened sense of grace and spiritual presence, resulting in a more poetic form of existence.

Essay on Apophatic Theology Assignment

One of the challenging aspects of Lossky's theories on the religious philosophy is that he stipulates that people must reflect total ignorance before entering into communion with God. This is particularly confusing because Lossky does not define ignorance in the manner that is commonly deployed in the present moment; for him, ignorance is instead synonymous with a basic form of innocence, one uncorrupted by the blatant proselytizing of Western religious doctrine. Indeed, Lossky's writings were conducted in response to the lavish institutionalization of the Western Catholic Church, which governs people's lives to the point that they have little to no autonomy remaining. If people are wholly submissive to a human religious authority who governs over them, they are unified with the religious proxy rather than with God himself. In contrast with Lossky, the Catholic Church operates through Ignorance is so unnecessary because it presupposes that the individual does not have the conception that they have discovered or domesticated God; in this context, ignorance represents a supreme form of obeisance with regard to God.

It may appear that Lossky applies a strict binary segregating Eastern (or apophatic) theology against Western religious doctrine. However, he actually positions the two in a dialectical relationship, refuting religious theorists such as Bergson who oppose the static religion of the church against the more fluid dynamic of mystical religious philosophy (Lossky, p.7). In this regard, Lossky does not actually state that apophatic theology is inherently opposed to any form of theology. Instead, Lossky stresses that mysticism should be viewed as the supreme form of theology, one that is every bit as devout as traditional Western theology, but involving a more immediate relationship with God rather than with the religious figures associated with the Catholic Church (Lossky, p.9). Thus, while it is true that the principles of apophatic theology are in some ways diametrically opposed to those of Western religion, the two religious philosophies are similar in their devotion, and in their adherence to a religiously-motivated form of existence.

Lossky's in the Image and Likeness of God lays the groundwork for a number of the central characteristics of apophatic theology. Specifically, he states that God is not an object of knowledge but rather of ignorance and that to this end, the religious philosophy is most accurately positioned as a "negative theology" (p. 13). While the term "negative theology" does suggest a form of theology that is antithetical to Western religion, it is important to acknowledge that it is not the negation of theology but rather a form of theology that acknowledges God's existence largely through specifying where God cannot be found.

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