II Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model...
[With apologies for typographical inconsistency: Blogger is acting up.]
The issue of praxis first: few scholars would insist that they could engage in, much less teach, pure mathematics without having first mastered arithmetic and calculus. Or consider the question the other way round. Someone who knows only arithmetic cannot teach it properly. Such a person might be familiar with numbers and sums, but without an appreciation of the abstractions that numbers represent, without calculus and the beauty of pure mathematics, what would be taught might resemble arithmetic, but distortions would occur in transmission, and the range of application would be very limited indeed, leading to immense frustration. And not insignificantly, the sheer delight of the mystery of numbers, the fun of mathematics, the play of presence and absence will be lost in this reductio as well.
But this situation is precisely what seems to have obtained in Christian theology and religion for centuries as they have become divorced from apophatic praxis, resulting in the loss of specific psychological reference points and the multidimensional character of the creation in which they operate.[i] Transmission of theology and religion without praxis leads to distortion in interpretation and doctrine, especially as regards the body. A statement of what meditation feels like, for example, can easily be mistaken for a philosophical or doctrinal statement about the relationship between the soul and the body. Along with Paul, Augustine is a classic example of a theologian who struggles with the burden of neo-platonic language, philosophy and received interpretation, at odds with his own experience.[ii] In addition, bracketing gender arguments about models of God, in the context of the model set forth in this paper, it can be seen that the monarchical model, as opposed to the kenotic, is regressive and self-defeating.
The mention of Paul and Augustine raises the problem of language. Muteness can signal its apotheosis or its failure.[iii] The movement from multidimensional to linear transmission is marked in Christian history by the shift from christophany to christology, from shared discourse unself-consciously open to experience, to the reflexive and self-conscious internecine conciliar warfare that signals the progressive loss of incarnational referents for scriptural and non-scriptural gnomic aphorisms.[iv] It is not a coincidence that the solitaries’ flight to the desert was already well underway by 325, or that they reverted to the aphorism, because for them, unlike the debaters of the age, praxis was once more the means of transmission.
[i] To sustain paradox is a matter of being willing to make the effort, and without that effort, what is multiplex in terms of the integration of body and mind is rendered simplistic, fragmented and linear. To sustain paradox as accurate descriptor is much more rigourous than to dismantle the paradox into its constituent parts, which renders it useless and contradictory. It needs to be be remembered that paradox is a seeming contradiction and that one criterion of the early church to discern heresy was whether the paradoxes were sustained. The theological climate has so deteriorated that the reverse seems true today.
[ii] For example, Paul’s description in II Cor. 12:2-4 , however else it may be interpreted, sets an interesting foundation for all of his remarks on the body and towards which they gesture. ‘Who will deliver me from this body of death’ (Rom. 7:24 REB) is the cry of someone who has known apophatic union and struggles with the discipline of incarnation -- and incarnation is a discipline before it can be a doctrine -- and the intrusive tyranny of self-consciousness. His distinction between the intentional self and self-consciousness dominated by the super-ego which enslaves to ‘law’ is clear in this chapter, even though he lacks modern language.
For Augustine, see De Gen. ad litt. xii. 12,15 & 6, 53, and the famous experience at Ostia (Conf. 9, 10), to name but two of many passages.
[iii] For further discussion, see my “Sexuality, Otherness, and the Truth of the Self” in Vox Benedictina, 1993, revised, 1995, and published on this blog beginning July 2007; and Gillespie and Ross, “The Apophatic Image: The Poetics of Effacement in Julian of Norwich”, The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, ed. Marion Glasscoe, (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer,1992). There is a vast literature accumulating on the question of whether language talks only to itself.
[iv] See A. Grillmeier, S.J., tr. J. Bowden, Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 1, (London and Oxford, Mowbrays, 1975), p. 35.