Linked Glossary of Terms
(references to De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, unless indicated)

apophaticism NC I, 11 (philospohic thought attains the Origin only after questions cease to be meaningful), 12 (if attempt is made to go beyond this arché, the formulating of questions ceases to have meaning)

The apophatic tradition in theology is also called “negative theology.” It says that we cannot refer to God in conceptual language. It may be contrasted with that type of theology that speaks of the “attributes” of God.

Apophaticism varies depending on whether a person takes a monistic, dualistic or nondual view of reality. In monism, there is an apophaticism because all of temporal reality, including our concepts, is illusory. The world of appearance is ultimately not real. But that is not Dooyeweerd’s position. Although he speaks of levels of reality, the temporal world still has some reality for him. It exists as meaning, as referring to its Origin. It does not have any meaning in itself, but it does have meaning in relation to God.

In dualism, we cannot speak of God because He is Wholly Other.

But Dooyeweerd’s nondualism, we are the image of God, the expression of God. Our concepts are limited by cosmic time, but our supratemporal experience is not.

But like all human experience in this earthly dispensation, our knowledge of God, although directed to the absolute Truth, is also restricted and relativized by (but not at all to) our temporal cosmic existence (NC II, 561).

Concepts cannot capture the fullness of our root unity. It is, to use Dooyeweerd’s word, unfathomable [ondoorgrondelijk]. And our Ideas point to the eschatological fulfillment of meaning.

Only after the raising of questions ceases to be meaningful, does philosophic thought attain to the Origin, and is it set at rest. (I, 11)

Metaphysical thought tries to discover and prove truths that are absolute above time (“Van Peursen’s Critische Vragen bij “A New Critique of Theoretical Thought,” Philosophia Reformata 25 (1960, 97-150, at 141). But at p. 142 of this article, he says this must not be misunderstood. A transcendental critique show that the boundaries of thought cannot mean a separation between such thought and the religious [supratemporal] point of departure of thought, because philosophical thought stands in a one-sided relation of dependence to this point of departure. A truly radical transcendental critique of thought thus necessarily leads us above the boundaries of philosophical thought, so that it arrives at reflection on the central motive force which the religious Ground-motive exercises on our thought. And at that point, philosophy must be silent, and we can only speak of religious acknowledgement and maintenance of the Truth.

Baader also has an apophaticism.

everything which men say to each other should have no other goal but the mutual, reciprocal (wechselseitig) help, to perceive what is not said, and what cannot be said by men. (Elementarbegriffe 534)

I believe that this apophaticism is the only real point of contact with postmodernism. The inadequacy of our conceptual thought is linked to the apophatic tradition. Postmodernism is correct in asserting such apophaticism. It is incorrect in its view that every distinction (or différance) implies a dualism. This is to confuse the coincidence of aspects with a coincidence of opposites. Or as Dooyeweerd says, there is a logicism that confuses logical distinction with cosmic distinctions.

An interesting book comparing postmodernist thought to negative theology is Derrida and Negative Theology, Harold Coward, ed. (SUNY, 1992). David Loy has a contribution to that book that compares negative theology to Buddhist thought. But unlike the Buddhist views of nothingness, I prefer to speak of fullness of meaning. And even apophaticism will not bridge differences with postmodernism so long as there is an unwillingness to accept a supratemporal fulfillment and totality of meaning.

Revised Jan29/08; Dec 23/16