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Denying DivinityApophasis in the Patristic Christian and Soto Zen Buddhist Traditions$
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J. P. Williams

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198269991

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198269991.001.0001

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(p.64) 4 Dionysius
Denying Divinity

J. P. Williams

Oxford University Press

Dionysius argues (in the conclusion to The Divine Names) that apophasis is an ascent towards the divine, involving not merely the intellect but the entire soul; and that the writers of scripture prefer it (to kataphasis) because of its ability to bring the soul entirely beyond the sphere of human life and thought and to unite it as far as possible with the divine. Despite the undeniable involvement of the intellect in the exegesis of scripture, Dionysius' apophasis takes us beyond the intellect. In The Celestial Hierarchy, Dionysius links apophasis with another scriptural technique, ‘unlike likeness’. Here the difference between apophasis and kataphasis is sharpened. A brief analysis of Dionysius' explicit comments about apophasis shows, first, the nature of the ascent embodied in apophasis, and its relation to the various types of negation and symbolism; second, the notion of ecstasy and its relation to the ascent; third, the role in the ascent of the intellect — and the concept of ‘unknowing’ and of the personality as a whole.

Keywords:   Dionysius, apophasis, divine, negation, kataphasis, unlike likeness, ascent, symbolism, ecstasy, intellect

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