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Cataphatic theology

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Title: Cataphatic theology  
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Subject: Christian mysticism, Eastern Orthodox Christian theology, Outline of Christian theology, Attributes of God in Christianity, Mystical theology
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Cataphatic theology

Cataphatic (sometimes spelled kataphatic) theology is the expressing of God or the divine through positive terminology. This is in contrast to defining God or the divine in what God is not, which is referred to as negative or apophatic theology. The word cataphatic itself is formed from two Greek words, "cata" meaning to descend and "femi" meaning to speak. Thus, to combine them translates the word roughly as "to bring God down in such a way so as to speak of him."[1]


To speak of God or the divine kataphatically is thought by some to be by its nature a form of limiting to God or divine. This was one of the core tenets of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. By defining what God or the divine is we limit the unlimited. A kataphatic way to express God would be that God is love. The apophatic way would be to state that God is not hate (although such description can be accused of the same dualism). Or to say that God is not love, as he transcends even our notion of love. Ultimately, one would come to remove even the notion of the Trinity, or of saying that God is one, because The Divine is above numberhood. That God is beyond all duality because God contains within Godself all things and that God is beyond all things. The apophatic way as taught by Saint Dionysus was to remove any conceptual understanding of God that could become all-encompassing, since in its limitedness that concept would begin to force the fallen understanding of mankind onto the absolute and divine.

Eastern Orthodoxy

In the Eastern Orthodox Church kataphatic theology is critical in the developmental stages of contemplation (see theoria). Once a firm grasp of the positive attributes of God or the divine has been achieved one moves onto the transcendent qualities of the superior apophatic theology.[2]

Roman Catholicism

Cataphatic treatment of ultimate reality in Buddhism

Within Mahayana Buddhism, there is a species of scripture which essays a descriptive hint of Ultimate Reality by using positive terminology when speaking of it. This manifestation of Buddhism is particularly marked in the Dzogchen and Tathagatagarbha forms of the religion. Nirvana, for example, is equated with the True Self of the Buddha (pure, uncreated and deathless) in some of the Tathagatagarbha scriptures, and in other Buddhist tantras (such as the Kunjed Gyalpo or 'All-Creating King' tantra), the Primordial Buddha, Samantabhadra, is described as 'pure and total consciousness' - the 'trunk', 'foundation' and 'root' of all that exists.[3]

In Gaudiya-vaisnavism

Gaudiya Vaishnavism speaks positively about transcendental qualities of Krishna. He has 64 transcendental qualities as Supreme Personality of Godhead, although these qualities are explained as non-material and beyond duality.[4] The paradoxical nature of Krishna, the Absolute, being both beyond description and having qualities is discussed throughout the Gaudiya Vaishnavism literature.[5] Among the 64 qualities of Krishna, 4 qualities are unique, which only Krishna has, these are:

  • He is the performer of wonderful varieties of pastimes (especially His childhood pastimes).
  • He is surrounded by devotees endowed with wonderful love of Godhead.
  • He can attract all living entities all over the universes by playing on His flute.
  • He has a wonderful excellence of beauty which cannot be rivaled anywhere in the creation.

There are other 60 qualities of Krishna, but Narayana also have them. Of these, 5 are special, which are not found in jiva-atmas or/and demigods, even those of them who are Brahma(s) and Shiva(s):

  • He has inconceivable potency.
  • Uncountable universes generate from His body.
  • He is the original source of all incarnations.
  • He is the giver of salvation to the enemies whom He kills.
  • He is the attractor of liberated souls.

Other 55 transcendental qualities are found in demigods like Brahma and Shiva, though they are common for Narayana and Krishna, but not found in jiva-atmas. And finally just 50 transcendental qualities can be found in jiva-atmas, who are not on level of demigods, but Krishna and Narayana also have these qualities. It also has to be carefully noted, that these qualities manifest in jiva-atmas only in minute qualities, and only if they become pure devotees of Krishna-Caitanya. On other hand, Krishna has these 64 qualities in full. See full list here: 64 Qualities of Lord Krishna[6]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Mystical theology of the Eastern Orthodox church pg 26
  3. ^ The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde Kunjed Gyalpo, by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu and Adriano Clemente, Snow Lion, Ithaca, 1999, p. 157
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ 64 Qualities of Lord Krishna Shrila Rupa Gosvami


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