The Mystical Approach To Theology (#4)

This is the fourth post in a series. Click here for part 1.


We have spent a good deal in this series on Mystical Theology discussing the Divine Mystery. By this time we should have established the fact that our intellects are infinitely insufficient to the task of understanding God. God is ever more above us; incomprehensibility wrapped in paradoxes. The more we try to make sense of them, the more we create them. This is something that, as we have said, leaves us in utter frustration. So much so that we might be tempted to just throw our hands in the air and say “well if we cannot figure God out, then why even think about God at all!” As I have stated previously, this is to a degree the purpose of the Divine Mystery. To bring us to this point of surrender. We think of the words of Christ “unless you come to me as a little child, you cannot receive the Kingdom.” This childlike surrender of all our abilities and faculties to God is what we have been moving toward all along.

So then we are prompted to ask: is there any merit to contemplating God at all? The answer is – absolutely! St. Philaret of Moscow says to us “none of the mysteries of the most secret wisdom of God ought to appear alien or altogether transcendent to us, but in all humility we must apply our spirit to the contemplation of divine things.” Novelist Tom Robbins says, speaking of human life, that it is “…a Zen koan, that is, an unsolvable riddle. But the contemplation of that riddle – even though it cannot be solved – is, in itself, transformative. And if the contemplation is of high enough quality, you can merge with the divine.” What Robbins says about contemplating human existence, is even the more true of contemplating the source and ground of all existence. The objective is not so much to ‘figure God out’, but rather to be changed by the experience of filling our minds with Divine imagination. The contemplation of the Mystery is the ultimate purpose of human existence. It is a process that transforms us within. It is through this contemplation – what I like to call “prayerful thinking” – that we ourselves are transformed into the very image of God. St. Paul says “and we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. This method of contemplative theology, dwelling on the Divine Mystery , is an approach that demonstrates to us the true purpose of theology. Theologian Vladimir Lossky writing  about the purpose of theology says “There is, therefore, no Christian mysticism without theology; but, above all, there is no theology without mysticism.” Theology should never be a merely academic endeavor. We are reminded of the admonition of St. Paul “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

What we are speaking of here is cataphatic theology, or the method of making positive statements about God. It is to say, in the humility of our limitations, that this is what God is. When we say ‘God is Love’, we are making a declaration about the nature of who and what God is. We make this statement knowing that God must transcend any human definition of Love that we could imagine. In this manner, cataphatic theology becomes a ladder by which we ascend inwardly toward the precipice of Divine Mystery. It is in these moments when we get it. When we see God in our spirit through the window of our intellect. In those moments we are, as St. Paul says, “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.”

Click here for the next post.

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