CHRIST OUR SAVIOR
Roman Catholic Parish
MANCHESTER, VERMONT

 
 

April 28, 2019

Dear All,

Before Holy week came along I was bent on doing a series of pieces on the notions of covenant and election. Try as I might, I have not been able to recapture the thread of development that I hoped to follow. So … Instead, I want to ask you to perform a couple of thought experiments with me.

Imagine that you are on the absolute tippy top of the world's highest mountain, so high up that nothing lives there or grows there. Imagine further that, despite the height, there is no wind. What do you hear?

Image again that you are on the far side of the moon, where, literally, the sun don't shine. If you turn your back to the horizon, facing the utter darkness of a sunless world, what do you see?

The answer to both of these questions might well be nothing.

Or, it might be God.

When there is no created sound or when there is no creature visible, does God go away? Does he cease to exist? Or does he remain the only thing to see or hear?
These are experiments in what old Greek theologians called apophatic theology. AT is the exact opposite of emphatic theology. The latter insists on the truth of what is said. The former insists that the truth lies in what is not said … indeed in what is not say-able, in-effable.

It is our common assumption that omnipotence is just more power than human; omniscience, just more savvy; eternity, just time wide open at each end. AT insists that what is truly divine is so beyond our ability to know, see, grasp or hear that all of these is as good as ignorance compared to the truth of God.

If divine wisdom knows all that is, all that could be, all that is not, and all that can be asked of these things, then, even our questioning and our doubting are already gateways into God's wisdom.

If divine power is such that it can overcome the apparent contradiction between power and powerlessness, then even our most frustrating failures, our most disgusting diseases, and our deepest self-doubts become windows into his power.

If God's word is so perfect that it can embrace also the silence that separates that word from all other words, then our apo-phasia, our non-saying, conveys the deepest truth.

I would not want to push this too far; what is wrong is never going to become right. But it is terribly important to realize that Truth is bigger than knowledge, (even if we can't express it) and we should never believe only what we know (and, still less what we think).

Apophatic theology keeps us humble. It also offers us a reason to live by faith even when we cannot tell where our faith is based. It's like holding a hand in the dark.

I first learned about this as a kid. I read a little verse that commented on a Psalm:

Clouds as darkness/ Are all around you/ And night, enveloping me/ I find you.

Really and truly and benightedly yours,

tm

     



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