the development of the negative theology reappeared the platonic - origenic
understanding of the truth, but only for its basic element, to be taken back
into the gnoseological and ontological claims. In Origen the highest level of
the truth is expressed with the prefix self-, e.g. self-truth, self-justice, and
others; on the contrary though, the negative theologians prefer the prefix hyper:
hyper-truth, hyper-substance, and others. Here lies a new radical new
orientation of the gnoseology and a taking away of the truth from its Greek
basis, because the Greek thought was satisfied with the definition of the truth
through the self-, but would have never exceeded the being or much more the mind,
which remains to Greeks always connected to the truth, as its extreme
core of the negative theology was located in the fact that the existing in it
Greek ontology should be abolished and transformed, because we wouldn't be
able to use terms of the human mind or creation, in which the term of being
would also mainly exist, in order to declare God, the truth. Thus, the absolute
dissimilarity of the existence of God is emphasized, as it exists in the heart
of the biblical theology, so intensely, that the biblical understanding of God
comes into intense contrast to that of the Greeks[ii].
Negative theology denies the Greek belief about the truth and expresses the
belief that our knowledge on the being, meaning creation, should not be
identified ontologically with God. God "has an existence that is simple,
unknown, inaccessible to all things and completely inexplicable, because it
exists over all affirmations and denials"[iii].
For this reason the truth also lies beyond the decision between affirmation and
The neo-platonic world of ideas in the "Hierarchy" of the areopagitic works
led certain researchers into the error of speaking of a neo-platonic influence.
The most essential though, does not lie in these virtual representations, but in
the meaning that reveals itself. The decisive point exists in the fact that
contrary to the neo-platonic effusions, the dionysiac "Hierarchy" does not
claim that the lesser being, comes from the higher one[v].
a better understanding of this thing, we must focus our attention on two
characteristic points of the negative theology, which are seen mainly in Pseudo-Dionysius
and Maximus the Confessor, meaning the term ecstasy, as in the discernment of
substance and energy in God. The term ecstasy means, that God is love and as
such he creates a continuous relation of love outside Himself. This "outside
Himself" has great importance, because through this is discovered that love as
ecstasy does not create an effusion with a neo-platonic sense, but a
dissimilarity of the being and also the fact that it answers and returns to its
Maximus explains this idea more fully and clearly; the being does not refer to
Him in cosmology after all, as in Pseudo-Dionysius as well, but to the
triadological existence of God[vii].
The distinction between substance and energy in God describes the relationship
of God and the world as an ontological discernment, which is surpassed by love,
but not by "nature" or "substance"[viii].
So it is that this discernment, connected to the idea of ecstasy, is the first
successful effort in the history of the Greek thought to harmonize upon a
philosophical basis the biblical ideas about discernment of God with the efforts
of the Greeks on the unity of the being. In this philosophical development this
fact discerned, which was summarized in the Eucharistic and triadological
perspective, which we have already mentioned before. The importance of these
concepts is going to be even more discerned, when we refer to the relation
between truth and human existence.
one understands the very core of the negative theology of this time in its basic
purpose, then it is proven that it does not relate at all with a theological
Its primary purpose rather lies in dividing the question about the truth and
knowledge from the field of Greek ontology and in its place to be placed in the
relationship between love and communion. The main erotic characteristic of
negative theology can already be used as a key to the understanding and its
evaluation. The mystic and ascetic theologians of that time with their views, to
which they concluded from the erotic approach of the being, reached from another
way to the same result with the Eucharistic and triadological views of the
previous time: only through its identification to the communion[x]
can the truth be harmonized to the Greek ontology. Primarily in Maximus the
Confessor it can be seen, that in this approach there is no agnosticism and no
escape from the world. The value of this great mind lies a lot more, in the fact
that he achieved the fully processed synthesis of the Greek, Judean and
Christian view of the truth. The question that was put from the beginning finds
in this Father its answer at a broad scale.
is a fact that the platonic, neo-platonic and Gnostic philosophers spoke of
a "passing away" of the beings and some of them used the prefix hyper-.
But what is important is that the "passing away" is not to these
philosophers a movement beyond the mind, but a movement away from all the
other things so that it can reach the mind at a clear state. To the Greek
philosophical tradition, which at this point Origen and his followers felt
sympathetic towards, the mind always remains capable to know God (also see
further up I). If the negative theology has been radically separated from
that tradition, this lies in the fact, that to it the truth does not reside
in the mind, but lies beyond it. (see Pseudo-Dionysius, Περί
I, 3 MPG3, 1001Α.
Also see I. Hausherr, Ignorance infini, in: OrChrP2, 1936, 357. Also
the texts R. Roques, Contemplation, extase et tenebre selon le Ps. Denys,
in: Dict. Spir. II, (1952), 1898.
contrast between this negativism and the Greek view of God becomes clear, if
one examines the idea of God in Plato. According to Plato, we reach the
knowledge of God through the anterior viewing "of the soul", especially
while it gives birth to something and transfers a "continuous flow of
being" and then through the viewing of "order, which existas in the
movement of the stars", meaning the "Word that set the universe into
order" (Die Gesetze, 966d).
Maximus the Confessor, Μυστ.
The deep meaning of this thought lies in the detachment of the truth from
the situation of the fall, where the choice between "real" and
"unreal" is put. (see further down, Part III, 1-2). This is decisive to
preserve the identification of the truth to God Himself, because God exists
beyond the capability of us choosing between the "real" and the "unreal".
At a very important extract (Απ.MPG
91, 1296C) Maximus makes this particular observation in relation to the
truth: Christ is over the truth because there is nothing to which can be
subjected to the same examination, like him, or could be compared to him,
while the "truth", of which we have experience, objects to the "lie".
Also see R. Roques, L' univers dionysien. Structure
hierarchique du monde selon le Ps. Denys,
1954, 77, footnote 6 and 135, footnote 3.
Pseudo-Dionysius of Areios Pagos, Περί
4, 14. Also,
Maximus the Confessor, Απ.
God "is silent while he leaves a continuous relationship of love and
passion to them, who are able to accept it. He moves, by attracting upon Him
naturally the desire of them , who are across Him in silence".
Also see P. Sherwood, St. Maximus the Confessor, The ascetic life-The four
centuries on charity (Ancient Christian Writers 21, 1955, 32).
The roots of this discernment must be sought in Gregory of Nazianzos. (Or.
38,7). The development of this discernment leads to the theology of Gregory
see V. Lossky, Essai sur la theologe mystique de l'Eglise Orient. 1961,
83. The purpose is discrimination between Creator and creation. Also see P.
Sherwood, the same, 32.
The identification of "negative" and "denying" can lead to a
misunderstanding. Also see the repeating phrases of Dionysius ου
2, MPG3, 869A)
(As above, 1, MPG3, 1065A)and others with which he characterizes the
positive content of the negative theology, which can be a superb theology (Περί
3, 2, MPG3,
869A). It is a theology which exceeds the scheme "positive vs negative"
or "knowledge over ignorance"..
We must take care on the importance of the prefix συν-
in the use that Pseudo-Dionysius does in the term ecstasy. (Περί
θείων ονομάτων 3, 1-2, MPG
3, 681-684). He
points at society; the dissimilarity of each member becomes respected. Also
see R. Roques, Contemplation..., ln. 1899 and on.