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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: Apophatic spirituality
Author: Fraser Trevor
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spirituality (Photo credit: Loulair Harton ) Apophatic spirituality is often called "negative spirituality," or "negativ...
spirituality (Photo credit: Loulair Harton)
Apophatic spirituality is often called "negative spirituality," or "negative theology," in that it seeks to know God as the mystery beyond words, images, symbols, rituals, etc. "Kataphaic spirituality/theology" encounters God through these means and so affirms positive knowledge about God -- that we really can say something about who God is, how God operates, etc. In Christianity, our tradition of revelation lends itself to a strong kataphatic emphasis. Christ has come and has made God visible to us; we celebrate this ritually and sacramentally; we sing about it, write books, read Scripture, etc. -- and encounter God in some manner through these means and actions. "Positive" knowledge.

Apophatic spirituality and theology stands as a corrective to this, reminding us that although we do indeed know something positive, there is a great deal more than we don't know -- that the mystery of God goes far beyond what we do know, and that even our most exalted dogmas are a stammering rife with temptations to think that we understand something that goes far beyond our understanding.

In short, kataphatic spirituality/theology orients our human faculties to the God who has been revealed, and enables us to encounter God through the medium of creation, liturgy, art, Sacrament, sacred word, etc. Apophatic spirituality invites us to be open to encounter the God whose mystery goes beyond all these visible, tangible means of knowledge. Obviously, this is not meant to be a matter of either/or; one needs both. An extreme emphasis on the kataphatic aspect leads to fundamentalism, dogmatism, and egoic arrogance concerning the things of God; extreme apophaticism leads to quietism, gnosticism, and usually theological pluralism.
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