A Primer on Apophaticism

“It is impossible to know God – but you have to know Him to know that.”

That simple sentence sums up the heart of apophaticism, the cloud of unknowing. Read more in this fantastic post from Father Stephen.

We behold God in a mystery and the mystery we behold is inherently unspeakable (if we truly behold Him).

None of this is to say that we do not preach the Gospel, nor share the good news of God in Christ. But it is a recognition that in our own lives we pursue God not through greater depths of rationality but in a manner that is itself “unspeakable.” Such an approach is begotten of humility and the recognition of both the truth of God and the truth of ourselves.

4 Comments on “A Primer on Apophaticism

  1. Hi Peter,

    thank you for this – something else a bit special that I wouldn’t have been aware of, had you not linked to it. As an attender at Quaker meeting perhaps I could add (slightly cheekily) – there must be a connection here to worshipping in silence….?

    in friendship, Blair

  2. Oh I think that very clear difference between the apophatic tradition and modern quaker worship is that the apophatic tradition begins with certain things that are absolutely unconditionally true, and then moves on from those into the “cloud of unknowing”. For modern quakers those absolute unconditional truths aren’t (absolute or unconditional) and therefore they have no safety point from which to move into the apophasis. It’s the difference between having a rope tied to you or having nothing tied to you before you stumble into a darkened room. With the first approach you can always (safely) return to the beginning, with the second you can completely lose yourself (and come a cropper).

    • Hi Peter,
      Your analogy of the rope suggests that you want to retain control of where you are and the ability to get back easily to a perceived point of ‘safety.’ – But surely in the apophatic way the darkness is precisely the darkness of God and faith is about becoming immersed in that darkness without the insurance of a safe way back. – The writer of The Cloud of Unknowing speaks of putting a “cloud of forgetting” between ourselves and everything else as we approach the Cloud of Unknowing.
      All good wishes

  3. Hi again Peter,

    I think there’s a good deal of truth in your comment; I would just add a little qualifier that your generalisation won’t apply to every Quaker, given the wide variations of belief among Friends. I’m talking about Quakers in Britain and am assuming you are too – Quakers in parts of Africa and some areas of the US are quite different to Quakers in Britain.

    in friendship, Blair

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