The praise of glory: apophatic theology as transformational mysticism

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: Brad J. Kallenberg


Patristic apophatic theologies were typically written as commentaries on the church's liturgy and/or as guides to the ascetic struggle for holiness. As such, apophatic theology was Christocentric, Scriptural, liturgical, and experientially mystical. Modern negative theology, by contrast, is often written as philosophical reflections on the limits of language and/or thought. It begins with the doctrine of creation, instead of Christology, and proceeds inferentially, rather than experientially, to determine that language and/or thought necessarily cannot comprehend the Creator. I argue two things about this kind of modern negative theology. First, I use the philosophical logic of Ludwig Wittgenstein to argue that the very idea of showing the transcendence of God by means of a demonstration of the limits of language or thought is fundamentally confused. Second, by contextualizing Patristic apophatic theology with ancient Jewish merkava mysticism I argue that modern negative theology functions as a way for theologians to look away from the revelation of divine transcendence in Christ as the crucified Lord of Glory.


Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1889-1951 Criticism and interpretation, Negative theology, God Knowableness, Theology, Philosophy, Dionysius the Areopagite, apophatic theology, negative theology, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jewish mysticism

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