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Justin M. Lasser

Subject Religion

Key-Topics gnosticism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405185394.2011.x


The Greek term apophasis denotes a manner of doing theology by “not speaking.” As the alpha-privative prefix suggests, the term is concerned with a negating function. In some forms apophaticism exists as a check on kataphatic or assertive theology or philosophy. The style of apophatic theology was first developed by the Platonic school philosophers, and creatively used by Plotinus, as well as appearing in some of the Gnostic literature ( Apocryphon of John, Trimorphic Protennoia ). Apophaticism, stressing that God exceeds the boundaries of all terms that can be applied to the divinity by human mind or language, is above all else a means of preserving mystery amid a world of theological assertions. Apophaticism preserves the religious apprehension of the mystical in a more sophisticated way than the simple asseveration of dogmatic utterances. The Nag Hammadi writings (recovered in 1945) exhibit the earliest forms of Christian apophaticism. Clement and Origen of Alexandria both developed early Orthodox forms of apophaticism which were inherited and developed especially by St. Gregory of Nazianzus ( Orations 27–8) and St. Gregory of Nyssa ( Contra Eunomium ) in their controversy with the Arian logicians Eunomius and Aetius. The theology of these radical Arians (Heterousiasts) against which the Cappadocians asserted apophaticism as a way of refuting their deductions about God's ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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