© J. Glenn Friesen 2003-2008
Linked Glossary of
The apophatic tradition in theology is also called "negative theology." It says that we cannot refer to God in conceptual language. It may be contrasted with that type of theology that speaks of the "attributes" of God.
Apophaticism varies depending on whether a person takes a monistic, dualistic or nondual view of reality. In monism, there is an apophaticism because all of temporal reality, including our concepts, is illusory. The world of appearance is ultimately not real. But that is not Dooyeweerd's position. Although he speaks of levels of reality, the temporal world still has some reality for him. It exists as meaning, as referring to its Origin. It does not have any meaning in itself, but it does have meaning in relation to God.
In dualism, we cannot speak of God because He is Wholly Other.
Metaphysical thought tries to discover and prove truths that are absolute above time (“Van Peursen’s Critische Vragen bij “A New Critique of Theoretical Thought,” Philosophia Reformata 25 (1960, 97-150, at 141). But at p. 142 of this article, he says this must not be misunderstood. A transcendental critique show that the boundaries of thought cannot mean a separation between such thought and the religious [supratemporal] point of departure of thought, because philosophical thought stands in a one-sided relation of dependence to this point of departure. A truly radical transcendental critique of thought thus necessarily leads us above the boundaries of philosophical thought, so that it arrives at reflection on the central motive force which the religious Ground-motive exercises on our thought. And at that point, philosophy must be silent, and we can only speak of religious acknowledgement and maintenance of the Truth.
Baader also has an apophaticism.
I believe that this apophaticism is the only real point of contact with postmodernism. The inadequacy of our conceptual thought is linked to the apophatic tradition. Postmodernism is correct in asserting such apophaticism. It is incorrect in its view that every distinction (or différance) implies a dualism. This is to confuse the coincidence of aspects with a coincidence of opposites. Or as Dooyeweerd says, there is a logicism that confuses logical distinction with cosmic distinctions.
An interesting book comparing postmodernist thought to negative theology is Derrida and Negative Theology, Harold Coward, ed. (SUNY, 1992). David Loy has a contribution to that book that compares negative theology to Buddhist thought. But unlike the Buddhist views of nothingness, I prefer to speak of fullness of meaning. And even apophaticism will not bridge differences with postmodernism so long as there is an unwillingness to accept a supratemporal fulfillment and totality of meaning.