The Necessity of Negative Theology

In theology, regardless of religious background, there are essentially two types of statements which can be made.  The first is cataphatic theology, or positive theology; the practice of making positive statements about the nature of God.  God is good, God is love, God is universal consciousness, etc.  While this sort of practice can be useful to begin to gain an image of God, it also necessarily limits that image.  By defining God in purely human terms, cataphatic theology runs the risk of turning God into a mere supernatural anthropomorphism–just another of many gods.

The second, much stronger type of statement which can be made regarding God are statements of apophatic theology, or negative theology.  Negative theology holds true that for any humanly-comprehensible value (x), God is neither (x) nor (not-x).  That is, God is neither good nor not-good.  God is neither love not not-love.  God is neither universal consciousness nor not-universal-consciousness.

In modern American culture this type of statement is mostly associated with “Eastern religions” (through a nominal acquaintance with Buddhism and Sanatana Dharma (“Hinduism”)).  However, it has a strong tradition in the Orthodox Church, where cataphatic theology is rightly used only by recent initiates.  Re-introducing the practice of apophatic theology would do much to strengthen the Western Church, which has lost a lot of ground in the last century due to an over-emphasis on evangelism at the expense of mystagogy.

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