Talk:Apophatic theology

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Judaica[edit]

Just a quick note, I noticed that Eheieh Asher Eheieh is translated as 'I am the one I am', when I have always understood it to mean 'I am that which I am', the word 'AChAD' does not feature in the phrase. There are of course the subtleties of the Tribes calling HaShem simply 'Eheieh' as opposed to the full name given to Moses, and the implications of ministry subsequently by Jesus (i.e. when he tells the priests 'I am'). Secondly the section is quite light on the concept of the veils and AIN/AIN SOPh/AIN SOPh AUR; I feel the entry could be improved by its inclusion. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Nehustan (talkcontribs) 18:03, 3 April 2009 (UTC) This whole section is written as if there is one thing Judaism believes, and proceeds to basically give Rambam's approach (who is the most famous apophatic philosopher). "Jewish belief" as a single thing does not exist. And one needs to distinguish at least between mystical and philosophical bases for apophasis; zoharic apophasis is completely different. 173.52.124.148 (talk) 20:47, 24 October 2012 (UTC)

Sufi thought?[edit]

There seems to be no mention of Sufi thought, even though several mutasawwifin such as Niffari and other earlier individuals, as well as in later Persian and Turkish poetry. If no one has anything to say with regards to this, I might write up something and post it...Jamshyd 20:52, 17 May 2007 (UTC)

Buddhism and God[edit]

I find the section on Buddhism to be somewhat off-topic. The first sentence of the section does not seem to be grammatical. The rest of the section talks mainly about the Buddhist concept of soul and nirvana.

Although not born a buddhist, it is my understanding that Theravada Buddhism leaves the question of god as unanswered and irrelevant. Buddhism does not describe god by what he is not, but rather doesn't address the question at all, because it is an irrelevant distraction to ending the cycle of human suffering. So I think Theravada Buddhism could be better described as non-theistic. If there are no objections, I would like to greatly alter this section, or at least add a paragraph with the aforementioned viewpoint.--Hanuman 09:44, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Theravada is not Buddhism, but a sectarian and commentarial school based in Abhidhamma. You are equating the two, which is an error. Buddhism is Advaita, is Emanationism/Monism, as such, talk of GOD is irrelavent, the Godhead, ie Brahman is meant, same as in Platonism and Vedanta.--Attasarana
Actually I did not mean to convey a confusion between Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism, as I have understood that there are at least 3 broad major categories of Buddhism in the world today (Mahayana, Viniyana, Tibetan), with innumerable further sub-categories. The point I was trying to make was that the article starts off with "Negative theology ... is a theology that attempts to describe God by negation, to speak of God only in terms of what may not be said about God." The section on Buddhism talks about nirvana, anatta, self/non-self, but does not address God or mention the fact that many Buddhists have no use for God - which is presumably the topic of the article. Someone reading this article might come away with the impression that Buddhists believe in God. Rather, the section on Buddhism is really just noting that "via negativa" is used in Buddhism, albeit on topics other than God. Presumably, comments made on Buddhism and Buddhists without qualification would be assumed to apply to all Buddhists - this is why I focused on Theravada Buddhism. Hanuman 04:59, 9 July 2007 (UTC)
"Buddhism is Advaita" - if by advaita you mean advaita vedanta, then this is a very controversial assertion that many scholars would disagree with. If you just mean to imply that it is non-dualistic, then that is probably less controversial, but you'd need to explain exactly what you mean by that. But the fact you are saying that Buddhism is monist or emanationist and that it accepts the brahman of advaita vedanta is at best a minority interpretation of the Pali suttas. None of the later mainstream Buddhist schools (e.g. the madhyamikas) accept this view. Although it is possible to interpret certain yogacara sutras in this fashion, this again is not a mainstream opinion. In any case, your views are at best highly controversial. Lemongoat 10:11, 17 August 2007 (UTC)Lemongoat
OK, just checked out Attasarana's webpage. He is certainly controversial and does not in any way represent orthodox interpretations of Buddhism. That is not to say that he is wrong, but his views certainly doesn't represent NPOV, and neither does the Buddhist section of this article. Lemongoat 10:17, 17 August 2007 (UTC)Lemongoat
The correct way to resolve this problem according to Wikipedia NPOV policy is to describe the mainstream interpretation of the Buddhist attitude to negative theology, and then to describe deviations from that view (such as Attasarana's), without judging which interpretation is correct. If anyone has ideas about this, they should go ahead, or I will produce something over the course of the next few weeks.Lemongoat 10:27, 17 August 2007 (UTC)Lemongoat

I agree. It seems to take Buddhist thought in a theistic lens. If negative theology has referred to Buddhism, however, it can be included so long as the term is redefined. 75.85.43.236 (talk) 21:02, 14 September 2009 (UTC)

It's been almost three years since a POV tag was added to this section by Lemongoat, who nontheless has not delivered the promised additional/clarifying material. so I'm removing the tag No one's opposed his statements here, so if Lemongoat still cares he should just go ahead and make changes. There's no discernable dispute. EEng (talk) 01:41, 7 March 2010 (UTC)

Since no one has yet produced any resolution to the dispute, I intend to thoroughly re-work this section. I tend to agree with Hanuman that Buddhism does not produce theology so much as philosophy, but nevertheless I think there is something informative to be said about Buddhism in the context of this article.

Also, I agree with Lemongoat's challenge to Attasarana's NPOV. The statement "Buddhism is Advaita, is Emanationism/Monism" most clearly evinces an agenda, since Advaita Vendanta was first propounded by Gaudapada circa the 8th century CE, whereas the Buddha taught somewhere between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.

Others are of course welcome to edit my changes. Polloguapo (talk) 16:44, 6 August 2010 (UTC)

"One should not..."[edit]

Is there some level of ambiguity in the "One should not say..." comments? Certainly "God is good" is not an apophatic statement, but that does not mean that apophatic theologians do not think it should be said. For example, many in the Orthodox Church would not attempt to define God, but they would not say it was wrong to say "God is good".

Would it be better to change "One should not say God is good" to "'God is good' is not an apophatic statement, but 'God is not evil' is"? Or perhaps have the apophatic and cataphatic forms next to each other to compare and contrast?

Otherwise it makes it sound like there are two warring tribes with opposing views. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 81.156.225.215 (talk) 23:23, 16 March 2009 (UTC)


Not evil?[edit]

I would challenge the neutraility of the point "God is not evil" (or at least be more specific). because from the same argument, to say that He can be excluded by the human word 'Evil' limits Him to what evil means to humans. Also some (as in dystheists) believe that Gos is evil, so they would likewise characterize God as 'not good'

See Eutheism and dystheism

God is not evil would be an assertion prevalent in the works of Dionysius and Aquinas, and comes from a time where God's goodness was God's essence; and evil was non-being. God, as pure being couldn't logically be evil, as this would be a lack of being, a view held so strongly by Origen he argued the devil itself wasn't pure evil. Your perspective comes form a post-nominalist world, where terms like evil, being and goodness are seen as univocal. This philosophical approach means we can apply the same concepts to God like evil, and mean the same as they do for humans; but the vast majority off theologians before nominalists like Ockham and John Duns Scotus would argue when applied to God, terms like evil could simply never be applied, for under Aquinas' interpretation, what we mean by evil is completely different. So it is possible to say God is not evil, for that is true in all cases, but as your point rightly makes, to say God is evil would be entirely meaningless.

1. sign your posts with ~~~~, so that
a. we'll identify your posts
b. get a date of the post, knowing whether it is much older than the current state of the article – in which case it is prob. obsolete,
2. take a look at WP:NPOV – the issue of neutrality is not truth, just properly replicating the general opinion, and most people who believe in God believe God to be not evil,
3. take that issue on a web forum, here we're just discussing the article Apophatic theology
Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 07:47, 10 August 2010 (UTC)

Request for more info on these topics:[edit]

From Imma, Feb 27, 2004: I just have a few comments that really should be edits, but for some reason I felt uncomfortable about adding chunks of information to this specific topic. Perhaps the author of the page would like to add some of this in his own words.

Anyway, I just thought it would be important to add that apophatic theology (Negative Theology) can be found in the Western ("Catholic") Church: St. Augustine of Hippo, Meister Eckhart, and The Cloud of Unknowing. I say these three because they more better known, there were a lot more apophatics. Also, Pseudo-Dionysius (from the East) influenced a lot of Western Christian thinkers and mystics during the Middle Ages and beyond. Dionysius, basically, introduced negative theology to the West.

Ooh, and how about including the Christian 'neo-platonists' and Christian gnostics (a lot of them were apophatics), Taoists, and Zen Buddhists?

From Davidshq, Nov 2, 2004: It would be useful to add a discussion of the three ways, as discussed by Jean-Luc Marion in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, chp. 1 "In the Name."

Moved to a new title[edit]

I moved this article to the new title, because (a) on Google, this title is three times more common; and (b) in my reading on philosophy this title seems to be used more often. RK 01:05, Oct 8, 2004 (UTC)

have also heard the term buddhist christianity

A little muddy?[edit]

I'm not sure "to speak of God only in terms of what may be said about God and to avoid what may not be said" means the same thing as "describing what God is not, rather than by describing what God is." In fact, in ordinary English language, I believe these two are the inverse of each other. Am I right? Can someone look closely at this entry and see if it looks like the author was clear on his topic? I'm no expert in the area so I'll avoid making the edits but there does seem to be a breakdown of logic as this is written.

You're right - it is muddy: a legacy of the merger of the two articles... Fintor 12:29, 9 November 2005 (UTC)

Please comment on logical fallacy[edit]

I am not an expert on theology, but I come close to being an expert on language and logic. It would be very helpful if someone could add a section to this article commenting on the logical fallacy of negative statements. Namely, it is fallacious to claim that simply by making a so-called "negative statement", one is not actually asserting positive knowledge of the subject of the statement. Logically, asserting what God is not is identical to making statements about what God is, since in either case the speaker is asserting positive knowledge about a property pertaining to God. This fallacy renders the whole exercise of negative theology somewhat meaningless. Since the whole enterprise stems from the somehow certain knowledge that properties of God are unknowable, how is it possible, e.g., that anyone can know that "God is not multiple beings"? If one truly wanted to assert that all properties of God are unknowable, then the best one could say is "I do not know whether God has multiplicity or not." But even then we still have a bootstrapping problem, for how did Man come by the knowledge that properties of God are unknowable? Is that proposition known with certainty?

Put another way, we can regard the logical problem here as yet another case of the problem introduced by self-referentiality, such as was explored by Bertrand Russell, and later clarified with Gödel's incompleteness theorem and Turing's halting problem. In essence, axiomatic systems powerful enough to represent themselves can be either complete or consistent but not both. In this case, we may want to assert that all propositions involving God are unknowable. But that in itself is a proposition involving God! So we are asserting that God falls into the class of things for which no propositions are knowable—an inconsistency.

A comment or even a pointer to a trusted source on the logical and epistempological dilemmas arising from negative theology would be very helpful here. Please note that this point is related to the "muddiness" pointed out above.

I think it is supposed to be difficult, nigh impossible, to understand this theology logically. That's why it's mysticism. Seriously, I'm not being flippant. To someone who thinks about God in an apophatic fashion your argument would be seen as an example of the inability of human intellect to grasp at the nature of an infinite, omnipotent God.
I question your defintion of apophatic theology. (And I apologize if I'm not following all your rules--see P.S.) But my understanding of apophatic spiritual experience is this: that in the absence of something one wants one comes to better appreciate its qualities. For example--the original disciples of Jesus knew him personally, heard what he said, saw what he did. After the ascension they experienced--and suffered from--his absence. They began to remember and to meditate on what they had witnessed and came to a better understanding of what it meant. This way of knowing God developed into the early desert fathers' and mothers' experience of God--a very occasional spiritual experience followed by months and/or years of absence. But this was a positive absence--including prayer of silence that resulted in insights (into the meaning of Scripture, the meaning of life, God revealed in the natural world, personal experience, etc.) In other words, it's much simpler than your present definition).

P.S. my eyes don't allow me to read a computer screne for long and your rules are extremely long and complex. I hope you will find the way to simplify them Dslmagenta 21:48, 11 September 2007 (UTC).

In this type of theology, aknowledgement of the failure of logic to comprehend God is viewed as an apropriate mark of respect for finite, mortal being to show an infinite, transcendent divinity.
Apothatic theology deals in faith, not reason. You are correct to say that negative theology does not prove the existence of God, one way or the other. It is designed for people who have already decided to belive in God as a way of contemplating 'Him'.

At first I thought what a clever paradox until I realized you were only raising a tempest in a teapot. You may want to review Divine simplicity and the ineffable and then move this dialogue into the context of god's existence. Unless you were deliberately baiting some theologian naive or adamant enough to attempt a dialogue in this venue. 67.176.29.209 09:11, 24 June 2007 (UTC)

Rather than a logical fallacy I think it's more of a limitation of language involving Goedel's incompleteness theorem to describe anything outside its own formal system of logic. This discussion reminds me of a old story about a monk who asks a "Buddha" enlightened being who is greater than him and he replies "the Buddha of one mind and one body" which equates to the western idea of god. When asked who is greater than the Buddha of one mind and one body- he replies "the Buddha of no mind and no body". This is to say, that the root cause of existence is the infinite potential of the void or the inchoate. AKA- That which is not. The state of nonexistence that allows for existence. "Every cubic centimeter of empty space contains more energy than the total energy of all the matter in the known universe." - Michael Talbot and David Bohm (in quotes) in The Holographic Universe, Chapter 2: The Cosmos as Hologram, p.51 —Preceding unsigned comment added by 24.174.21.125 (talk) 01:16, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

Concept of Brahman in Hinduism[edit]

The Upanishadic concept of Brahman cannot be equated with the concept of God. The negative theology in Hinduism does not attempt to describe God but Self. Brahman is Self & not God.

The article states that in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya is questioned by his students on the nature of God, this is debatable. Yajnavalkya is questioned on the nature of 'Atman'(Self) & not God. The term "Neti Neti" (It is not this and it is not that) is used to describe Self & not God. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Yuvrajjj (talkcontribs) 15:53, 30 March 2009 (UTC)

Syncretism of Asian negative theology and Roman Catholic theology[edit]

There was a controversy in Rome about theologians blending in Asian negative theology and Roman Catholic doctrine. One theologian, Peter C. Phan, was under investigation from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for having attempted to do this. There have been similar problems with other ethnic theologies, such as African theology, Indian theology, Meso-American theology, etc. [1] ADM (talk) 05:48, 13 April 2009 (UTC

Criticism section[edit]

Shouldn't there be one? Jordan 16:38, 18 April 2009 (UTC)

Of course! Or as an alternative, per section there should be critical statements. But we need sources. I'll take a look and see what I can find. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 07:49, 10 August 2010 (UTC)

Question Neutrality of Article[edit]

Two points: First, to say that mystical experience is unmediated by organized religion reveals a bias against organized religion, but little more. The proper statement would be "unmediated by all conceptual thought." Eastern Orthodox mystics or scholars of mysticism, such as Vladimir Lossky would argue that there is always a reciprocal relationship between the mystical experience itself and the doctrinal positions of the Orthodox faith. I believe the scholars Carmody and Carmody (not Orthodox) confirm this idea. Second, to say that the Divine is simple is a statement of neoplatonic philosophy, and not universally accepted. Again, Lossky points to Maximos Konfessor as an authority on the complete incompatibility between Plotinus and Dionysius on this very issue. The former (Plotinus) arrives at belief in divine simplicity on philosophical grounds; the latter (Dionysius) rejects it on experiential grounds, though both affirm ecstatic experience as the path to mystical union. To paraphrase Dionysius, "God is NOT simple." Beau in NC (talk) 14:50, 29 March 2010 (UTC)

Yes, the article is not quite neutral. However: that seems to be due to the (lack of) enough attention only. The article is pretty well sourced for the positive voices – although a few of them appear to be shoehorned into a "mystical" position – but the critical voices are missing. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 07:52, 10 August 2010 (UTC)
It seems very hard to find sources for criticism of the apophatic theology. I'll leave the topic for later. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 08:52, 10 August 2010 (UTC)

Prasangika Sentence removed.[edit]

In Mahayana Buddhism, Nagarjuna, the founder of Madhyamaka, is regarded by Prasangika interpreters as negating all of his opponents' assertions without making any assertions of his own.

Two points - first of all, I'm not convinced that a philosophical approach is topical to apophatic theology, but far more damning is that the (unattributed) statement is actually a falsity for many Prasangikas. See the following text.

Tsongkhapa mentions in his commentary [1] several common misinterpretations of the distinction between Prasangika and Svatantrika, a couple of which are:

  1. A misinterpretation (attributed to students of Jayananda, and very commonly made by modern scholars (according to Napper[2]) stating that Prasangikas have no theses of their own, and they only refute what others believe. And because Prasangikas have no beliefs of their own, the only permissible argument is the reductio which negates the opponents theses.
  2. A broader misinterpretation (attributed to Tsongkhapa's Tibetan contemporaries, and again commonly made by modern scholars[2]is made that there are no theses, positions, or arguments whatsoever held by the Prasangika:

If I had any thesis,
Then I would suffer from that fault,
But as I have no theses,

I am alone without faults.

Also, Nagarjuna's Sixty Stanzas:

Mahatmas have no positions,
They have no arguments.
How can those who have no positions themselves

Have positions vis-a-vis others?

Nagarjuna's student, Aryadeva likewise states in The Four Hundred:

No matter how long you try
You can never rebut
Those who have no position

In regard to existence, nonexistence, or both.

These misinterpretations are comprehensively refuted by Tsongkhapa[1]. Likewise, Napper's commentary[2] includes a thorough examination of common errors made by modern academics, Translators, and Buddhologists alike. Regarding the three verses above, Tsongkhapa (based on well-accepted earlier Indian commentaries) glosses the first verse as "If I accepted that the words of a thesis had an essential existence then I could be faulted for contradicting the thesis that all things lack an essential existence, but because I do not accept that, I cannot be faulted". Regarding the second verse, Tsongkhapa uses Chandrakirti's commentary again which explains that the reason for having no position is that there is no essentially existing position for a non-essentialist, and that this isn't to be understood to be an assertion regarding a conventional position. For the last verse, Tsongkhapa uses Candrakirti's commentary to demonstrate that for the Madhyamaka this verse means that neither the essentialists nor the nihilists (implied by the last line) can refute those who accept imputed existence while repudiating essential existence. (20040302 (talk) 17:38, 14 May 2011 (UTC))

  1. ^ a b Tsongkhapa; The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Volume Three); ISBN 1-55939-166-9, (2002) pp. 226-232
  2. ^ a b c Dependent-Arising and Emptiness (1989) pp. 67-150 ISBN 0861710576