Monday, September 24, 2012

The Via Negativa

The Via Negativa -- the way of negation is a kind of contemplation of God.   For those, like Evagrius Ponticus, influenced by Platonic philosophy and gnosticism, this kind of contemplation is necessary because the visible world we live in is on a lower level of being than the invisible world of spiritual things.   It is a matter of "the One" and "the many."   The many visible things of this life - according to this model - cause us to suffer from fantasies.   Only by conversion - in this case, turning away from things and renouncing the fantasies they cause are we free to enter into ourselves to find the logos, the truth.  Developing (or devolving) the Greek concept of "know thyself" this contemplation is a movement inward to find the truth.  In fact, for Evagrius, the truth alone overcomes our fantasies.  This contemplation which is essentially an entering into oneself to find God, they say, identifies us in some sense with "the One."  So this is a mysticism of identity not unlike that which is offered by Hegel and various religious traditions from India where individual identity is lost in the absolute.

Pseudo-dionysius, also influenced by neo-platonism but in a different way, advances that Christian theology demands that we go beyond negation -- negating negation by seeing the world not as mere illusion, but rather as manifestation - epiphany.   The reasoning is that God is so totally other, He is even able to transcend his otherness by creating creatures that are able to manifest his glory.   The vision of God that is opened up in this approach suggests the Divinity is so vast, so mysterious, so deep; the glory of God requires a great multitude of unique creatures to be properly communicated.  St. Thomas Aquinas is profoundly influenced by this kind of theological contemplation.

Rather than a movement in (en-stasis), Pseudo-dionysius provides us a contemplation that is a movement out of self (ex-stasis). Unlike as is the case in a Hegelian or Gnostic system, the visible physical world is not an obstacle to the invisible spiritual world.  Instead, the whole cosmos comes from God and is ordered to God.   In other words, creation including individual souls, are meant to be in harmony with the Trinity.  Such harmony with God in his works is possible because the Trinity itself is characterized by divine and eternal subsistent relations: knowing, loving and personal relations.   Divinity goes beyond itself by allowing space for creatures to exist that they might share in his life and love.   Creatures go beyond themselves by manifesting the Creator - the ultimate end of the divine economy is ecstatic.  It is a mysticism of relation, harmony, mediation, and beauty.

In this kind of mysticism, the more they manifest Him, the more they become the creature they were created to be.   In other words, creation is in the end not identified with the Creator but in relation to the Lord - the more his works reveal the Invisible God, the more fully each creature realizes its true identity as creature in jubilant relation to the God.  This constitutes a liturgical significance for the things that are -- everything exists to reveal the glory of God.  The vision of John in the Apocalypse of all ranks of creatures gathered around the throne of the Lamb in endless praise is in harmony with this kind of contemplation of God.   At the same time, it present a paradox concerning the mystery of God - He is hidden, yet disclosed.  Here, the doctrine of the analogy of being (analogia entis) is, in its Christian sense, born.   

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