Definition of apophatic in US English:



  • (of knowledge of God) obtained through negation.

    The opposite of cataphatic
    • ‘Following an earlier argument for an apophatic approach to theologizing about judgment, this essay investigates some theological resources for imagining judgment.’
    • ‘This is the kernel of truth in the apophatic and mystical traditions of Christian thought that affirm that the deity of God is nameless and that, therefore, God must be praised with many names.’
    • ‘In praising the mystical strain in postmodernism, with its emphasis on the elusiveness of truth and presence, she likens it to the apophatic theology of the Pseudo-Dionysius.’
    • ‘Eastern Orthodox Christianity emphasizes apophatic theology - the Western equivalent is sometimes called ‘negative’ theology.’
    • ‘Because we know God as unknowable through Jesus Christ, the apophatic aim of theology is necessarily and irrevocably anchored in this bit of historical particularity.’
    • ‘In what follows, I first make out a brief account of the working of apophatic theology and then pursue some suggestions as to ways in which an apophatic strategy might be brought to bear upon what we say about judgment.’
    • ‘His propensity to self-divulgence was extraordinary (even obsessive), especially for someone trying to recover for the twentieth century the gifts of the apophatic tradition.’
    • ‘Clearly, she started off wanting to compare apophatic theology and something one might call ‘negation of contradiction’ in Zen.’
    • ‘Like Dionysios, John Damascene understood that our ideas and concepts of God fall short of him and that, in the end, we honor God most appropriately by the silent denial of our concepts in apophatic theology.’
    • ‘He advocates time-honored apophatic prayer, ‘empty, expectant openness’ to God, as he nicely puts it, and does so in a friendly, informal manner that is not scary or elitist or off-putting.’
    • ‘One character of the apophatic voice that was clearly valued by the ancient traditions was its tendency to breach the boundaries of conventional thought and speech, particularly the dichotomy of subject and object.’
    • ‘The apophatic approach would allow us to negotiate the tension between the inadequacies of traditional judgment speech and the lack of any better alternative.’
    • ‘Luther's insistence on a ‘theology of the cross’ was based in an insight at once profoundly apophatic and deeply christological.’
    • ‘The apophatic tradition in Christian theology recognizes first and most of all the transcendence of God beyond all our names, words, and thoughts.’
    • ‘The theology of the Reformation shares the apophatic quality of Eastern Orthodox theology.’
    • ‘A thoroughly apophatic commitment to divine unknowability appears incompatible with the claim that God is known in Christ.’
    • ‘That, I think, is the point of those who hold that apophatic theology (negative theology) and cataphatic theology (positive theology) are really two sides of a single coin.’
    • ‘The apophatic dimension is well taken, but what I missed here was affirmation of what is actually given in the apostolic faith and discussion of the limits of diversity.’
    • ‘Denys Turner, for one, claims these apophatic experiences are not inner experiences at all but rather category mistakes generated by construing critiques of positive theology as religious experiences.’
    • ‘Some may wonder at her somewhat facile distinction between apophatic and cataphatic prayer, as well as her surprising omissions.’


Mid 19th century: from Greek apophatikos ‘negative’, from apophasis ‘denial’, from apo- ‘other than’ + phanai ‘speak’.