The aim of good theology is to help the audience to live for a while in that silence. This means that at some point theology must remind us of what God is not. Apophatic or ‘speechless’ theology is often called ‘negative’, because it helps us to realise that when we encounter transcendence we have reached the end of what words can do. It is a habit of mind that we have lost sight of in our talkative age of information, and this has made what we call ‘God’ incredible to many. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, has adapted his Gifford Lectures to explain the role of silence in Christian history. With his customary verve, elegance and erudition, he starts with Elijah’s revelation of a voiced silence on Mount Horeb, the silent patience of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, and the dread Israel felt when their God did not speak. We then progress from Jesus’s enigmatic silences to the half-hour silent interlude in the Book of Revelation, to gnostic, monastic and Platonic silence, and to the apophatic theology of the sixth-century Syrian theologian who wrote under the name of St Paul’s Athenian convert Dionysius the Areopagite.
more from Karen Armstrong at Literary Review here.