A Self-Polemic?

Chapter Three: Affirmations And Negations

In my Theological Representations, I have praised the notions which are most appropriate to affirmative theology. I have shown the sense in which the divine and good nature is said to be one and then triune, how Fatherhood and Sonship are predicated of it, the meaning of the theology of the Spirit, how these core lights of goodness grew from the incorporeal and indivisible good, and how in this sprouting they have remained inseparable from their co-eternal foundation in it, in themselves, and in each other. I have spoken of how Jesus, who is above individual being, became a being with a true human nature. Other revelations of scripture were also praised in The Theological Representations. In The Divine Names I have shown the sense in which God is described as good, existent, life, wisdom, power, and whatever other things pertain to the conceptual names for God. In my Symbolic Theology I have discussed analogies of God drawn from what we perceive. I have spoken of the images we have of him, of the forms, figures, and instruments proper to him, of the places in which he lives and of the ornaments he wears. I have spoken of his anger, grief, and rage, of how he is said to be drunk and hungover, of his oaths and curses, of his sleeping and waking, and indeed of all those images we have of him, images shaped by the workings of the symbolic representations of God. And I feel sure that you have noticed how these latter come much more abundantly than what went before, since The Theological Representations and a discussion of the names appropriate to God are inevitably briefer than downward path an ever-increasing number of ideas which multiplied with every stage of the descent. But my argument now rises from what is below up to the transcendent, and the more it climbs, the more language falters, and when it has passed up and beyond the ascent, it will turn silent completely, since it will finally be at one with him who is indescribable.

Now you may wonder why it is that, after starting out from the highest category when our method involved assertions, we begin now from the lowest category when it involves a denial. The reason is this. When we assert what is beyond every assertion, we must then proceed from what is most akin to it, and as we do so we make the affirmation on which everything else depends. But when we deny that which is beyond every denial, we have to start by denying those qualities which differ most from the goal we hope to attain. Is it not closer to reality to say that God is life and goodness rather than that he is air or stone? Is it not more accurate to deny that drunkenness and rage can be attributed to him than to deny that we can apply to him the terms of speech and thought?

Upon first glance, whatever are we to make of this third chapter? Has the great Mystical Doctor of Translucent Darkness suddenly flipped his lid? He starts touting nonextant works like Theological Representations and Symbolic Theology—proclaiming the praises of the Via Positiva path. Has he in fact introduced a self-polemical attack against his former stance? Upon further reflection, this is highly unlikely. He was very much aware of the Big-Boy club always glancing over his shoulder to make sure that he wasn’t saying anything heretical. Furthermore, as the chapter continues it’s clear that he is writing of the value of both camps—as it still stands to this day. He’s addressing the Transcendent Father fully revealed in the incarnated Sonship of Jesus. But then, right smack in the middle of his articulation of the affirmative path he suddenly interjects:

The fact is that the more we take flight upward, the more our words are confined to the ideas we are capable of forming; so that now as we plunge into that darkness which is beyond intellect, we shall find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speeches less and unknowing….

What he has been doing is slowly working up to the dangers of the extremism inherent in the Via Positiva path. It burns itself out with all the fervent speculation. It exhausts every possibility until one awakens to the Cool-Ray of Divine Darkness that reveals the absurdity and the insufficiency of this limited way.

“Now” comes the reverse sequence, the upward contraction of speech and concepts so characteristic of Dionysian mystical theology. [Paul Rorem] “But my argument now rises from what is below up to the transcendent, and the more it climbs, the more language falters, and when it has passed up and beyond the ascent, it will turn silent completely, since it will finally be at one with him who is indescribable.” Thank-goodness he’s back on track again! But the mark remains. Living in his catholic milieu he cannot escape the alternate path which, if focused upon to its extreme, would cancel his former marvelous methodology. Truth be told, both the negativa and positiva hold value; Meister Eckhart was clearly comfortable and at home with both camps. Yet, when push comes to shove the former apophatic camp carries more weight with the incomparable nature of the Godhead As It Is in Itself. IT can never be pinned-down and defined with assertions of Its being like this or that. Yea, tenebris iter est optimus!

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2 Responses to A Self-Polemic?

  1. scott says:

    Kudos for yet another remarkable series.

    Your incorporation of Gnostic Christian Mystic thought to further elucidate the gist of Dark Zen is astonishingly superb.

    I find your teachings in this regard to be very helpful when trying to convey Buddhist philosophy as best possible to my Christian brothers and sisters when questions sometime arise.

    Thank you from the depths of my old heart for sharing your incredible breadth of knowledge.

    Sarva Mangalam

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