Cataphatic and Apophatic Theology

Dionysius is one of the seminal figures in the development of the theology of relations to God. One reason for this is that he established the concepts of cataphatic and apophatic theology


Cataphatic Theology refers to the "via ascriptions, names, or predicates we give to God. We might say, for instance, that God is good, or that God is all-powerful. The problem is that to express the nature of God in human terms means to suggest that God is in some way like us, or at least on the same continuum as we are, albeit at the furthest extreme from us. And yet, in theology we assume that we must speak of God. So what if a person is not inclined to speak of God at all? Well, for some there are God-surrogates, like Meaning, Spirit, Truth, and so forth.

Apophatic Theology refers to the "via negativa", or the way of negation or unknowing. It is hinted at by Socrates, who believed that we had to un-learn that which we thought we knew, in order to gain true knowledge. But it goes further than just gaining knowledge.

Other Options:- Analogy (Thomas Aquinas)

What are the contemporary issues here?

1. Relationship between the finite and the infinite: We might not think that the infinite is a contemporary issue at all. But in fact, we still do talk about things which are infinite.

2. Idolotry: Those who advocate the via negativa argue that any statements about God amount to idolotry, because we are venerating a substitute for God rather than the real thing. To make the claim that God is good, for instance, is not ultimately a positive thing, but misleading. We end up reading in our own ideas about what goodness, even ultimate goodness means. In fact, some people think that "God's ways are higher than our ways" and so we can't speak of God -- and yet, those people often want to implicitly say the most about God.


3. Atheism: In fact, negative theology can look a lot like outright atheism. Eckhart said "I pray to God to be rid of God." A famous Buddhist says goes "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him."


4. Theological Humility: A lot of religious groups and individuals want to make claims about what God wants and what God thinks. It is worth wondering to what extent those claims amount to hubris, and (using an earlier point) to what extent they amount to idolotry.