Unspeakably Transcended—Part 1

x-Suso2I can’t seem to get enough of pondering the question of how our language apprehends God, that is, how it is that the concepts and categories we created beings use to speak of God actually apply to God. This question belongs to the larger question of God’s transcendence of the world, something religious believers have never stopped thinking about and about which there was once widespread agreement that God did in fact transcend the created order. Today however, among Protestant thinkers, this is not the case.

Transcendence worries some. The worry is that if our language doesn’t describe God univocally, then we are consigned to absolute agnosticism regarding God. On the other hand, univocal attribution worries others who believe that our terms and categories can apply univocally to God only at the cost of reducing divine and created being to a single category of ‘being’ and thereby erasing the creator-creature distinction.

I enjoyed running into this conversation recently on Dale Tuggy’s blog where he references a post (‘The Dread God Roberts’) written by James McGrath. Father Aidan over at Ecclectic Orthodoxy has engaged it as well. I thought it a good opportunity to chime in with my own thoughts and hesitations. We’ve dedicated a few posts here at An Open Orthodoxy to the question of theological language. See here and here. What makes this a particularly difficult question to address for me is that I’m of the view that there are some deep existential issues (all theology is autobiography after all) at play in how we process the arguments. I heard this for years from believers on the Orthodox side and was frustrated with what seemed to me to be a lack of urgency in providing philosophical arguments for this existential component. Now, having lived my way into a deep appreciation of apophaticism, I can appreciate their lack of urgency because, frankly, I find myself equally at the same loss, a loss to articulate a neat syllogism which captures and expresses, from within the transcended, God’s transcendence of things. The point of apophaticism is to furnish a linguistic strategy for recognizing this ‘capture’ as impossible. But from where I sit now, I’m OK with this—with the fact that the reality of the divine is, as Denys Turner says, a “language-defeating silence.”

(Picture from here.)