Knowing God – 2

“Blessed are the pure of heart: they shall see God” (Mt 5:8).

Two kinds of knowledge of God exist by patristic tradition: cataphatic and apophatic knowledge. The former is rational, deductive knowledge, whereas the latter is the ineffable, mystical knowledge, of God. Staniloae (1994, The experience of God) maintained that the latter is superior to the former “because it completes it . . . through apophatic knowledge we gain a kind of direct experience of His mystical presence which surpasses the simple knowledge of Him . . . [and] transcends the possibility of being defined in words” (p. 95). This because “the attributes of God are not merely objects of thought, but are . . . experienced directly” (ibid.).

In apophatic knowledge, the individual experiences “the presence of God as Person in a more pressing way . . . in a state of revived spiritual sensibility” (p. 97). In fact, after purification, “the fineness of this kind of spiritual sensibility, which is capable of perceiving the mystical reality of God, itself becomes an enduring thing . . . [whereas in cataphatic knowledge] the mystery of God as Person is not revealed as clearly, profoundly, and pressingly.” However, apophatic knowledge cannot stand alone. It is, appropriately, completed by cataphatic knowledge that “proceeds by way of affirmation and . . . by way of negation” (p. 96) – the via negativa of Western theology.