Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Maximus the Confessor Apophasis and the Incarnation

I am reading at the moment a book by Andrew Louth on Maximus the Confessor a 6th century Eastern Orthodox Monk. I was interested in a reference to him by Karen Armstrong in her recent book 'The case for God'. As with these things one discovers so much more in the process. However the particular piece of content I have found in the introduction and look forward to more detail in Max's writings themselves. It is basically his use of the term 'apophatic' as it relates to the incarnation.
Apophatic Theology is also known as Negative Theology - basically it is discovering God through negation. So if for instance I said "God is great" I would then say "yes but not great in the way we limited humans could understand it. think of the greatest thing you can ... He is not that ... so Yes He is great but not in the way we can conceptualise it". by negating the concepts we hold in our minds about God we draw closer to His reality through our intuition.
But ... who would have used the incarnation as illustrative of Apophasis? Isn't the fact that Jesus became flesh distinctly cataphatic (Which is the opposite of the apophatic - ie a conceptual tangible approach to the understanding of God)?? Well no according to Maximus.
So God becoming man is a further demonstration of his transesnsational uncontainable unknowableness! How interesting! How breathtaking! The closer God comes to us the more uncontainable He becomes to our rational minds! Another great paradox.
So how does Max come to this?
Well first of all the reason he is looking into this is because he is wrestling with a poem by a Desert Dude called Gregory of Nazianzus who uses the term 'play' for the nature of Jesus Christ ... Is He God or Man? Well says Greg its a kind of paradoxical movement between both Deity and Manhood. Whereas language of apophatic and cataphatic theology is a way of classifying our knowledge of God, for Maximus it is used in relation to the Incarnation. "To ascribe ‘play’ to God is already to embark on apophatic theology, for it is only by denial, Maximus asserts, that play can be ascribed to God."
Max gives the example of the term used by the Apostle Paul 'foolishness of God' (1 Corinthians 1) Here is an example of apophatic theology in that any privation of something which is considered as favourable to man must be apophatic in that it is clearly refering to excess. Foolishness of God is a contradistinction to the wisdom of man which is as good as saying it transcends the human conceptualisation of wisdom.
So back to the incarnation. In the same way Max refers to the word 'play' used by Greg. The act of God becoming man using the term 'play' is apophatic.
Andrew Louth goes on to say that the Incarnation seen from the Divine side (John 1:1) vears towards the apophatic spiritual theological view of the Trinity and from the human side (John 1:14) towards the fleshly cataphatic side ... this reflects a patristic distinction between the theology (Doctrine of the Trinity) and economy (Doctrine of Gods dealings with the world) of God.
So 'play' = dynamic incarnation reality = apophatic
but broken down to the term of God becoming flesh = cataphatic.
but ... in His origin as Word wrt the Trinity = apophatic.
Anyone reading this may be slightly confused but at least it may get you thinking as it has me!

No comments:

Post a Comment