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Freedom from the Tyranny of Fashion“…There comes a profound kenosis; emptying-out of ego, marked by a deep-reaching humility which draws us away from ourselves to that which lies beyond us. This humility is, in fact, the sine qua non for true immersion into the spiritual path of wisdom through unknowing and uncertainty. In our struggle towards true knowledge that is more divine and in seeing in your nous things invisible to most people, one must avoid arrogance, which imputes impurity. Humility links virtue to purity, which cannot be acquired without real humility of heart and that we will not be granted true spiritual knowledge (“growth”), in turn, as long as the passion of unchastity lies hidden in the depths of our souls, i.e., without the formation of humility, spiritual knowledge is impossible. This nexus between humble self-knowledge and the vision (theoria) of God was also a feature of the ancient desert. As Abba Matoes affirms, “the closer a person comes to God, all the more do they see their self missing the mark.” If unknowing and uncertainty, humbly, embraced, lead to spiritual wisdom, it is, once more, in the negation (apophatic) language of apparent ambiguity and antiology—taking us even farther from the infecund constraints of fundamentalism—that the content of spiritual wisdom, the mystical theology [mystike theologia]….a paradoxical way…ways of knowing that move us beyond appearance (limited reality) to essence (God and ultimate reality)….What can be understood by normal cognition (fact, or what is knowable) and that which is understood through the paths of unknowing, uncertainty, and ambiguity (the meaning or experience of the unknowable) are bound together in the reality of apophaticism. That reality rests in the necessary convergence of the cognitive with the trans-cognitive: fact with symbol, event with myth, appearance with essence. We are engaged, it must be carefully understood, not in mere images and metaphor, rather in an knowing system wherein we assimilate the concrete in our ascent to ineffable universals. We move, through unknowing, to a higher knowing; through uncertainty to the confirmation of the spiritually self-evident; and by way of ambiguity to an encompassing , total, integrated vision (theoria) of reality. This idea is perfectly and strikingly captured in several stanzas from a most insightful and provocative poem by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer, literary critic, and satirist, John Hoyer Updike (1932-2009), About the Resurrection of Christ, or the feast of Pascha. It is entitled “Seven Stanzas at Easter” and expresses superbly Updike’s struggle with existential reality:

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rollback, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

The specific path to apophatic theology begins with the negation of reason and sensory knowledge and categories. By unknowing one may know the One Who Is above every object of knowledge. Proceeding from negations one ascends from the inferior degrees of being to the highest, by progressively setting aside all that can be known, in order to draw near to the Unknown in the darkness of absolute ignorance.

Once the body has been properly subjected to the nous one learns to control the sensations of the nous cleansing the nous by removing from all that prevents it’s elevation to God. Our body no longer monitors bodily sensations as the basis for the formation of thought and action. These sensations (the “passions” in the nomenclature of the ascetic desert Fathers and Mothers) cease to intercede in the nous’s control of the body.

Descending into the heart, the nous, freed from the passions of the body, encounters spiritual truth in the throne of the Uncreated Energies, wherein knowledge proceeds from the Uncreated Energies, and the mind, rather than acting as the mediator of knowledge, is flooded by spiritual knowledge of an apophatic, spiritual kind, looking upon itself. This spiritual vision (theoria) is marked by a vision of the Divine, or Uncreated Light, revealing the ineffable and uncreted splendor of God. Again, freed from every conception of sensory objects, one who comes to this way of knowledge through negation has glimpsed the holy of holies and with their natural thoughts at rest, has vision (theoria) that which transcends every intellect and…has in a way been granted to some extent a vision of the true divine light.

(adapted from The Dog Delusion by Archbishop Chrysostomos, THE “UNCERTAIN RICHES” OF FUNDAMENTALISM. Some Comments on Unknowing, Uncertainty, and Ambiguity as Paths to Spiritual Wisdom)

St. Dionysios Areopagitis