Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Negative Theology in Contemporary Interpretations

Daniel Jugrin


The tradition of negative theology has very deep roots which go back to the Late Greek Antiquity and the Early Christian period. Although Dionysius is usually regarded as “the Father” of negative theology, yet he has not initiated a revolution in the religious philosophy, but rather brought together various elements of thinking regarding the knowledge of God and built a system which is a synthesis of Platonic, neo-Platonic and Christian ideas. The aim of this article is to illustrate the views of some more modern theologians on the nature, types and levels of apophaticism in the Greek Patristic tradition, trying to establish the role that negation can play in facilitating man’s attaining to the knowledge of God.


negative theology, apophaticism, cataphaticism, mystical experience, transcendence

Full Text:



Alfeyev, Hilarion. 2000. St. Symeon the New Theologian and Orthodox Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Begzos, Marios P. 1996. “Apophaticism in the Theology of the Eastern Church: The Modern Critical Function of a Traditional Theory”. The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 41, no. 4: 327–57.

Berger, Kevin M. “Towards a Theological Gnoseology: The Synthesis of Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae.” PhD diss., The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 2003.

Bourguoin, Joseph François. 1856. “Preface.” In Oeuvres Complètes du Cardinal de Bérulle, edited by Jacques-Paul Migne. Paris: Petit-Montrouge.

Bulhof, Ilse, and Laurens t. Kate. 2000. “Negative Theology — An Introduction”. In Flight of the Gods: Philosophical Perspectives on Negative Theology, edited by Ilse Bulhof and Laurens t. Kate, 1–57. New York: Fordham University Press.

Bulzan, Daniel. 1997. “Apophaticism, Postmodernism and Language: Two Similar Cases of Theological Imbalance”. Scottish Journal of Theology 50, no. 3: 261–87. doi:10.1017/S0036930600049590.

Caputo, John D. 1997. The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Caputo, John D., and Michael J. Scanlon, eds. 2010. God, the Gift, and Postmodernism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Carabine, Deirdre. 1988. “Apophasis East and West”. Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales 55: 5–29. doi:10.2143/RTPM.55.0.2016331.

—. 1992. “Gregory of Nyssa on the Incomprehensibility of God”. In The Relationship between Neoplatonism and Christianity, edited by Thomas Finan, Vincent Twomey and John J. O’Meara, 79–99. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Coward, Harold G., Toby Foshay, and Jacques Derrida, eds. 1992. Derrida and Negative Theology. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press.

Cupitt, Don. 1998. Mysticism after modernity. London: Wiley Blackwell.

Derrida, Jacques. 1987. “Comment ne pas parler: Dénégations.” In Psyché: Invention de l’autre. 535–95. Paris: Galilée.

Derrida, Jacques. 1993. Sauf le nom [Post Scriptum]. Paris: Galilée.

Derrida, Jacques. 1996. “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials”. In Languages of the Unsayable: The Play of Negativity in Literature and Literary Theory, edited by Sanford Budick and Wolfgang Iser, 3–70. Stanford, CA.: Stanford Univ. Press.

Emery, Kent, Jr. 1984. “Mysticism and the Coincidence of Opposites in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France”. Journal of the History of Ideas 45, no. 1: 3–23. doi:10.2307/2709328.

Ferretter, Luke. 2001. “How to Avoid Speaking of the Other: Derrida, Dionysius and the Problematic of Negative Theology”. Paragraph 24, no. 1: 50–65.

Flory, Mark W. 2005. “Transforming Practices: Hesychastic Correctives to Postmodern Apophatic Theology.” PhD diss., The University of Denver.

Frenkian, Aram M. 1943. “Les origines de la théologie négative de Parménide Plotin”, Revista Clasica Orpheus Favonius, no. 15 (1943): 11–12.

Gersh, Stephen. 2006. Neoplatonism after Derrida: Parallelograms. Leiden: Brill.

Giannaras, Chrēstos, and Christos Yannaras. 2007. Person and Eros. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press.

Hart, Kevin. 2000. The Trespass of the Sign: Deconstruction, Theology, and Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press.

Heil, Günter, and Adolf M. Ritter. 1991. Corpus Dionysiacum II: Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita, De coelesti hierarchia, De ecclesiastica hierarchia, De mystica theologia, Epistulae. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Kenny, Anthony. 2006. “Worshipping an Unknown God”. Ratio 19, no. 4: 441–53. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9329.2006.00339.x.

King, Winston L. 1957. “Negation as a Religious Category”. The Journal of Religion 37, no. 2: 105–18. doi:10.1086/484903.

Laird, Martin. 2001. “Apophasis and Logophasis in Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentarius in Canticum Canticorum.” Studia Patristica 37: 126–32.

Marion, Jean-Luc. 1977. L’idole et la distance. Paris: Bernard Grasset.

—. 1999. “Au nom: Comment ne pas parler de « théologie négative »”. Laval théologique et philosophique 55, no. 3: 339–63. doi:10.7202/401250ar.

Marion, Jean-Luc. 2005. Le visible et le révélé. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf.

McDonough, Conor. 2011. “Grounding Speech and Silence: Cataphaticism and Apophaticism in Denys and Aquinas”. Irish Theological Quarterly 76, no. 1: 57–76. doi:10.1177/0021140010387977.

Mortley, Raoul. 1986. From Word to Silence: Vol. 2: The Way of Negation. Bonn: Hanstein.

Pickavé, Martin, ed. 2008. Die Logik des Transzendentalen: Festschrift für Jan A. Aertsen zum 65. Geburtstag. Walter de Gruyter.

Proclus. 1992. Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides. Translated by Glenn R. Morrow and John M. Dillon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite. 1980. The Divine Names and Mystical Theology. Translated by John D. Jones. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marquette University Press.

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. 1933. East and West in Religion. London: Allen & Unwin.

Rogobete, Silviu Eugen. 1998. “Subject and Supreme Personal Reality in the Theological Thought of Fr. Dumitru Staniloae. An Ontology of Love.” PhD diss., London Bible College.

Rorem, Paul. 1993. Pseudo-Dionysius: A commentary on the texts and an introduction to their influence. New York: Oxford University Press.

—. 2008. “Negative Theologies and the Cross”. Harvard Theological Review 101, no. 3–4: 451–64. doi:10.1017/S0017816008001958.

Rubenstein, Mary-Jane. 2003. “Unknow Thyself: Apophaticism, Deconstruction, and Theology after Ontotheology”. Modern Theology 19, no. 3: 387–417. doi:10.1111/1468-0025.00228.

Solignac, Aimé. 1991. In Dictionnaire de spiritualité: Ascétique et mystique; doctrine et histoire, edited by André Derville and Marcel Viller, 513. Paris: Beauchesne.

Stang, Charles M. 2013. “Negative Theology from Gregory of Nyssa to Dionysius the Areopagite”. In The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism, edited by Julia A. Lamm. Chichester: Blackwell.

Stăniloae, Dumitru. 1994. “Commentaire des Ambigua.” In Saint Maxime le Confesseur, Ambigua. Translated by pr. Aurel Grigoraş. Paris: Les Éditions de l’Ancre.

Stăniloae, Dumitru. 1994. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: The Experience of God, vol. 1: Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God. Translated and edited by Ioan Ioniţă, and Robert Barringer. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press.

Stăniloae, Dumitru. 2003. Ascetica și Mistica Bisericii Ortodoxe (The Ascetics and Mystics of the Orthodox Church). Bucureşti: EIBMBOR.

Steel, Carlos. 2008. “Beyond the Principle of Contradiction? Proclus’ Parmenides and the Origin of Negative Theology”. In Die Logik des Transzendentalen: Festschrift für Jan A. Aertsen zum 65. Geburtstag, edited by Martin Pickavé, 581–99. Walter de Gruyter.

Suchla, Beate Regina. 1990. Corpus Dionysiacum I: Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita, De Divinis Nominibus. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Turner, Denys. 1995. The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

—. 2005. “How to Read the Pseudo-Denys Today?”. International Journal of Systematic Theology 7, no. 4: 428–40. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2400.2005.00176.x.

Van den Daele, Albertus. 1941. Indices pseudo-dionysiani. Louvain: Bibliothèque de l’Université de Louvain.

Vlantis, Giorgos. 2010. “The Apophatic Understanding of the Church and Ecumenical Dialogue”. The Ecumenical Review 62, no. 3: 296–301. doi:10.1111/j.1758-6623.2010.00068.x.

Wackenheim, Charles. 1985. “Actualité de la théologie négative”. Revue des Sciences Religieuses 59, no. 2: 147–61. doi:10.3406/rscir.1985.3033.

Wildman, Wesly, J. 2013. “Introduction to Negative Theology”. In Models of God and Alternative Ultimate Realities, edited by Jeanine Diller and Asa Kasher, 767–73. New York: Springer.

Yannaras, Christos. 2005. On the Absence and Unknowability of God: Heidegger and the Areopagite. Edited by Andrew Louth. London, New York: T & T Clark International.

Zizioulas, John D. 1985. Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press.

Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


  • There are currently no refbacks.