Jump to content


Photo
* - - - - 179 votes

Way of negation and the way of affirmation


  • Please log in to reply
11 replies to this topic

#1 Elizabeth K.

Elizabeth K.

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • 3 posts

Posted 26 January 2010 - 10:12 PM

I've wanted to ask for help understanding something I read in the introductory section to The Lenten Triodion , "The True Nature of Fasting" by Metr. Kallistos Ware. St. Tikhon's Seminary Press:New Canaan, PA. 2002 p.21 . The first paragraph on that page concludes with "The way of negation and and the way of affirmation are interdependent, and every Christian is called to follow both ways at once." What I would like to hear explained is how this works out practically for the non- monastic Christian living in the world with family. Perhaps it is because I have come out of a Protestant background with a large emphasis on enjoying, affirming God's creation and gifts , that it seems in my experience as an Orthodox Christian (convert) I have received more exhortation toward the "negation" path, and the renunciation or self- denial is predominant.
Any comments or insights on this would be very much appreciated.

#2 Olga

Olga

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 2,827 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 26 January 2010 - 10:54 PM

Elizabeth, perhaps one of the most useful books on Great Lent and fasting in English is Great Lent - A Journey to Pascha by Fr Alexander Schmemann. From memory, it addresses this apparent paradox, this "bright sadness" which characterises the whole of Great Lent. PM me if you have trouble getting a copy.

#3 Rdr Andreas

Rdr Andreas

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,035 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 27 January 2010 - 12:01 AM

From reading this text of Metropolitan Kallistos, it appears that the answer to Elizabeth's question is contained in it; he says a lot about our affirmative attitude to creation.

#4 Jacksson R.

Jacksson R.

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • 8 posts

Posted 28 January 2010 - 02:56 AM

Hello Elizabeth,
The Way of Negation is referred to as apophatic or negative theology and operates by negations. The Way of Affirmation is referred to as cataphatic or positive theology and operates by affirmations. You will find a good discussion of these two subjects in the book by Vladimir Lossky, 'Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church'.

According to Lossky, cataphatic theology (and the term theology is not a good one) tends to be the Western/RC/Protestant approach to knowledge of God and is limited and imperfect. This could perhaps be termed (my words) as dogmatic theology, it is necessary, but runs out of affirmations at a certain point. You can only, as a human being, say so much about God, you run out of vocabulary after a while. We do have to know, understand and confess the dogmatic aspects of the Orthodox Church, that is a given, but dogma will only take us so far towards God. There are many 'experts' teaching and talking about dogma, particularly in the West.

The purpose of the Church and all that goes on within it according to Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos is to produce 'relics'. That may be a simplified statement, but when you think about it, the overarching purpose of the Church is exactly that, to turn each of us into a Saint. That purpose is accomplished for those of us who avoid martyrdom or canonization as a Saint by the church for deeds accomplished (such as various rulers termed as equal to the Apostles), by the apophatic method of approaching the Divine Trinity as the only way to achieve the 'relic' state. You have to go beyond affirmations.

Apophatic theology is a negation of any knowledge of God because the dogmas that we know and confess could be considered as a drop of water in the Pacific Ocean and even beyond that huge body of water. When we speak of God, the Holy Trinity, and affirm something that we know about Him, the One and the Three, we find that knowledge is infinitesimal in relationship to His infinity. It is not that we say or believe negative facts about God, it is that when we have exhausted our affirmations, we are reduced to zero knowledgy. The way of apophatic theology is termed 'Mystical Theology' by the Church and all of the Theologians of the Church, St John the Theologian, St Gregory Nazianzen, and St Symeon the New Theologian were all practioners of the apophatic, mystical approach to the Godhead as well as the other Capodocian Fathers, St Gregory Palamas, St Maximos the Confessor, St John the Damascene, the list goes on and on. Most, if not all, of these saints base much of their belief structure on the mystical writings of St Dionysius the Areopagite. I say, 'if not all', because no one is sure that the writings of St Dionysius were available to all, the date of his writings is a matter of conjecture.

For example, quoting from Lossky, "St Gregory Nazianzen, who is sometimes called the minstrel of the Holy Trinity, tells us in one of his theological poems, 'From this day whereon I renounced the things of the world to consecrate my soul to luminous and heavenly contemplation, when the supreme intelligence carried me hence to set me down far from all that pertains to the flesh, to hide me in the secret places of the heavenly tabernacle; from that day my eyes have been blinded by the light of the Trinity, whose brightness surpasses all that the mind can conceive ; for from a throne high exalted the Trinity pours upon all , the ineffable radiance common to the Three. This is the source of all that is here below, separated by time from the things on high. . . . From that day forth I was dead to the world and the world was dead to me.'. This is the apophatic method of approaching God, realizing our poverty, our nothingness, and His infinity; then comes divine ecstasy. I don't know about the 'dogmatic content' of this statement, but he is referring to what we call in these days, Theosis or Deification, the third and final step in our approach to becoming a 'relic'.

Hope this helps.

#5 Elizabeth K.

Elizabeth K.

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • 3 posts

Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:25 PM

Thanks for reminding me of that book. I do have it and have not read through it for a couple years.

#6 Jacksson R.

Jacksson R.

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • 8 posts

Posted 03 February 2010 - 08:08 PM

Hello again, Elizabeth.
I forgot to say in my previous post, that, yes, Metropolitan Kallistos is absolutely right, "The way of negation and and the way of affirmation are interdependent, and every Christian is called to follow both ways at once.". I opened Lossky's book many times, read a ways, put it aside, and then later tried again. I just didn't want to engage my brain to the level required to understand his points. Finally, I decided that I needed to really engage the text and was greatly rewarded. It should be read many times until the concepts are firmly embedded (for me, that is). But, that is a problem that I have over and over, I am basically lazy and want to read, as a modern American, easy reading. My other problem is that I am an extremely fast reader, I skim a lot, and when you read texts such as Lossky and even Met. Ware, you need to slow down and engage the material. Enough . . .

#7 Elizabeth K.

Elizabeth K.

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • 3 posts

Posted 05 February 2010 - 12:03 AM

Hello Jacksson,
Thank your for your thoughts. You've led me into a much larger view (that has happened many times since venturing into the Orthodox faith and uniting with the church) than I had previously. At least you've pointed the way to me. I have heard Lossky's book referred to many times but haven't yet read it. I'll reflect on what you've said and perhaps come back with another question later.

#8 Anna Stickles

Anna Stickles

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,365 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 06 February 2010 - 12:02 AM

Self denial can be looked at as a negative thing, but Jesus told us to take up our cross. It is said of Christ that for the joy set before Him He endured the Cross, scorning it's shame.

Maybe the joining place of affirmation and negation is to rejoice in the opportunity to give of ourselves in the struggle toward Christ. Self denial can be something difficult and depressing when we are not really willing to give, but the lives of the saints show us that when love is present all things become joy, and the opportunity for self-denial a is considered a blessing and source of transformation by grace.

The problem with simply enjoying God's gifts is that often underneath the enjoyment passion is hidden. The child who truly and freely enjoys the day at the park goes home as cheerful as they came. The child who has passion mixed with enjoyment cries and protests when its time to go home. The wise parent knows that if you give your child everything they want, they get spoiled and demanding. We know that we have to work with our children to remain cheerful and obedient even when we say no, helping them not to be captivated by passion. The Church too acts like a wise parent helping us to keep our will soft toward God.

#9 Jacksson R.

Jacksson R.

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • 8 posts

Posted 06 February 2010 - 01:25 AM

Self denial can be looked at as a negative thing, but Jesus told us to take up our cross. It is said of Christ that for the joy set before Him He endured the Cross, scorning it's shame.

Maybe the joining place of affirmation and negation is to rejoice in the opportunity to give of ourselves in the struggle toward Christ. Self denial can be something difficult and depressing when we are not really willing to give, but the lives of the saints show us that when love is present all things become joy, and the opportunity for self-denial a is considered a blessing and source of transformation by grace.

The problem with simply enjoying God's gifts is that often underneath the enjoyment passion is hidden. The child who truly and freely enjoys the day at the park goes home as cheerful as they came. The child who has passion mixed with enjoyment cries and protests when its time to go home. The wise parent knows that if you give your child everything they want, they get spoiled and demanding. We know that we have to work with our children to remain cheerful and obedient even when we say no, helping them not to be captivated by passion. The Church too acts like a wise parent helping us to keep our will soft toward God.


Hello Anna,
I believe that you missed the point regarding the way of affirmation and negation. They have nothing to do with positive and negative, rather they are approaches to our understanding of God. I will cut and paste a few definitions from OrthodoxWiki at http://orthodoxwiki....phatic_theology.

"Apophatic theology—also known as negative theology—is a theology that attempts to describe God by negation, to speak of God only in absolutely certain terms and to avoid what may not be said. In Orthodox Christianity, apophatic theology is based on the assumption that God's essence is unknowable or ineffable and on the recognition of the inadequacy of human language to describe God. The apophatic tradition in Orthodoxy is often balanced with cataphatic theology—or positive theology—and belief in the incarnation, through which God has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ."

"Cataphatic theology (or "positive theology") seeks to understand God in positive terms, emphasizing God's revelations. With cataphatic theology, one learns about God by learning facts about God. The Orthodox tradition to theology leans far greater to apophatic theology, or "negative theology". This sees God, as beyond our understanding and, therefore, beyond defining through positive assertions in words, therefore, beyond defining through positive assertions.
When an Orthodox theologian makes a cataphatic statement such as "God is everywhere" his apophatic approach would feel this too limiting, and would also say that God is also outside creation, and we don't know everywhere that God is. Even the statement "God exists" must be countered with the apophatic statement that God's existence is altogether different than any existence that we can imagine"


Apophatic theology tends to be the Eastern Orthodox approach to God; God is infinite, unsearchable and unfathomable, unapproachable, living in light, invisible, the list goes on. This is the theology of the Capadocian fathers and most if not all of the Eastern theologians. We Orthodox say that we can only know about the 'energies' of God and even they are infinite, but we cannot know, understand, anything about his essense. The OrthodoxWiki article points out that the fathers did not believe that God exists, at least not in the form in which we exist. A very interesting statement.



Cataphatic theology tends to be the Western approach to understanding God; this is rationalistic reasoning coming from the Germanic (beginning with the Frankish captivity of Rome) mindset, definitions pin everything down, mysticism not allowed. There is no distinction between the essense and the energies of God. He can be approached via an intellectual, reasoning, methodology through understanding. That is why in Western religious literature there are fellows like Calvin and Aquinas trying to tie God down with their intellectual arguments.


Anna, I like your comment on the Cross and taking up Our Cross and bearing it. Like our savior, we are to have joy in Our Cross and ignore the shame. Actually, in this modern American world, the concept of bearing a cross is unheard of, we are supposed to enjoy, be happy, gleeful in our technology and easy living. My wife is continuing to follow the events in Haiti, watching the rescue of orphans, the medical needs, etc, constantly calling to me to come observe what whe is seeing on her computer. When I see these 'other world' events, I am put in my place and weep. Others in the world have far heavier crosses to bear (in the natural) than we do, yet we complain. Right now I am reading "The Hidden Man of the Heart; The Cultivation of the Heart in Orthodox Christian Anthropology" by Archimandrite Zacharias published by Mount Thabor Publishing, http://www.thaborian.com/, Chapter 8: Building Up the Heart by the Crucifixion of the Mind, and he states "If we are attracted by the visible outside world, then we are enemies of the cross . . . the soul suffers because she can not fulfil it (the commandment of love), and so she can only pass the years of her life as one crucified." This statement is apophatic, denying our ability to do the commandments of God, as the unworthy servants that we are. We are to do all that we are able to do and then recognize that we are unworthy servants, we have only done that which is our duty to do. We fall far short of the goal of Christ in us, the hope of glory. But, as St Silouan the Athonite said, we are to keep our minds in Hell and not despair.

#10 Herman Blaydoe

Herman Blaydoe

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,157 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 06 February 2010 - 01:55 AM

While Apophatic theology is certainly associated with Orthodoxy, I do not think it is quite right to characterize Orthodox theology as solely apophatic. But rather that Orthodoxy tends to balance both approaches, cataphatic and apophatic, while the west often tends to emphasize the cataphatic and neglect the apophatic.

#11 Jacksson R.

Jacksson R.

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • 8 posts

Posted 06 February 2010 - 03:31 AM

While Apophatic theology is certainly associated with Orthodoxy, I do not think it is quite right to characterize Orthodox theology as solely apophatic. But rather that Orthodoxy tends to balance both approaches, cataphatic and apophatic, while the west often tends to emphasize the cataphatic and neglect the apophatic.


I didn't say that Orthodoxy is solely apophatic and as Met Ware stated, "The way of negation and and the way of affirmation are interdependent, and every Christian is called to follow both ways at once." But, the Orthodox church tends to be apophatic and rightly so.

#12 Jacksson R.

Jacksson R.

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • 8 posts

Posted 08 February 2010 - 10:22 PM

The powerlessness of our mind to express God is articulated even in the Divine services.

Consider an example of negation and affirmation in the following:

"At a loss for words to express the meaning of Thine inexpressible Thrice-radiant Godhead, we praise Thee, O Lord.
(From the canon of the Sunday Midnight Office, Tone VII, Fourth Canticle)

In other words, we don't have the power or the ability to even begin to comprehend the Mystical Names of the three-rayed Divinity (negation)

So, with our hearts, we Glorify Him, for He is worth of glory (affirmation)




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users