The positive via negativa

At Parkminster today, I was continuing with the tract De Deo Uno. We were considering the ways in which we can, in this life, know God. In particular we looked at the Summa Theologica Prima Pars, question 13 on the names of God.

In this section, we considered the various ways in which we can, in this life reach towards the essence of God, even though (in this life) we cannot attain any intuitive vision of the essence of God. There are:

1. The way of affirmation by which we predicate certain attributes of God – that he is good, almighty etc.

2. The way of negation by which all limitations and imperfections are excluded from God. For example, God is not mortal, God is infinite etc. (Some of the Fathers also negated such things as goodness of God because our idea of goodness is limited.)

3. The way of eminence by which we explicitly assert the superabundant divine perfection above anything that the created mind can conceive.

When looking at Lateran IV's condemnation of the Abbot Joachim, I quoted Franzelin:
"The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we understand the reason why we cannot in this life comprehend him or understand him as he is in himself. The reason, that is to say, is the infinite perfection of God, as opposed to our finite and imperfect way of knowing. And reversing the order, the more deeply we understand this reason of our relative ignorance, the more truly and deeply we understand the perfection of God."
This is a helpful point, showing that even in the "via negativa" by which the Fathers denied things of God because of the limitations of our human intellect, they were also affirming the perfection of God.

In this connection, one of the students made a very pertinent observation about the place of silence in prayer. This struck me as an important practical point. In our prayers, we can say things to God or about him. These correspond to the way of affirmation and are good and right. We can also remain silent in the presence of God. This corresponds to the way of negation in which we deny any limitation or imperfection in God.

Nevertheless, this silence itself is a positive affirmation of the greatness of God. Our very silence is itself an act of adoration of the one who transcends all the things that He has created. "It is good to wait in silence for the salvation of God" (Lam 3.26)

We are now moving on to the thesis "The created intellect can be raised to the intuitive vision of God" (De Fide). One of the interesting sidelines in this question is the heresy of Gregory Palamas and the Hesychasts who denied that the blessed in heaven have an immediate, intuitive vision of the divine essence and said that instead they had only a vision of some splendour or glory that was distinct from God, yet uncreated. (Yes, that does sound inconsistent, doesn't it?)

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