Talk:Apophatic theology

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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. (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. (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 (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)

Not a forum[edit]

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))

Incorrect statement.[edit]

"that the Logos (the Second Person of the Trinity)". This statement is false. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:28, 20 May 2015 (UTC)

Questionable reference to C.S.Lewis[edit]

In the section In the Christian tradition we find the paragraph:

C. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, advocates the use of negative theology when first thinking about God, in order to cleanse our minds of misconceptions. He goes on to say we must then refill our minds with the truth about God, untainted by mythology, bad analogies or false mind-pictures.

I cannot find this in the cited book. Can anyone provide a more specific quote or page reference? -- Matthew C. Clarke 09:27, 1 June 2015 (UTC)


The current section on Islam is copied straight from a blog post on a website called "Ecumenical Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism". This section also has two flags on it. I propose deleting this section as it now stands and replacing it with something that has more reliable sources and is not a case of outright plagiarism. Please let me know what you think. Thanks.--Jburlinson (talk) 00:10, 17 August 2015 (UTC)

Editor2020's deletion of categories[edit]

I would tend to protest Editor2020's wholesale deletion of categories from this article. MaynardClark (talk) 01:16, 27 June 2016 (UTC)

I could be wrong, so if you have a good argument as to why they are appropriate please feel free to give it. I'm listening. Editor2020 (talk) 16:36, 27 June 2016 (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