Cataphatic theology

Last updated

Cataphatic theology or kataphatic theology is theology that uses "positive" terminology to describe or refer to the divine specifically, God  – i.e. terminology that describes or refers to what the divine is believed to be, in contrast to the "negative" terminology used in apophatic theology to indicate what it is believed the divine is not.

Theology Study of the nature of deities and religious belief

Theology is the formal critical study of the nature of the divine. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries.

Divinity divine mythological character

In religion, divinity or Godhead is the state of things that are believed to come from a supernatural power or deity, such as God, the supreme being, creator deity, or spirits, and are therefore regarded as sacred and holy. Such things are regarded as divine due to their transcendental origins or because their attributes or qualities are superior or supreme relative to things of the Earth. Divine things are regarded as eternal and based in truth, while material things are regarded as ephemeral and based in illusion. Such things that may qualify as divine are apparitions, visions, prophecies, miracles, and in some views also the soul, or more general things like resurrection, immortality, grace, and salvation. Otherwise what is or is not divine may be loosely defined, as it is used by different belief systems.

God Divine entity, supreme being and principal object of faith

In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith. The conceptions of God, as described by theologians, commonly include the attributes of omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-present), and as having an eternal and necessary existence. Depending on one's kind of theism, these attributes are used either in way of analogy, or in a literal sense as distinct properties. God is most often held to be incorporeal (immaterial). Incorporeality and corporeality of God are related to conceptions of transcendence and immanence of God, with positions of synthesis such as the "immanent transcendence". Psychoanalyst Carl Jung equated religious ideas of God with transcendental aspects of consciousness in his interpretation.



"Cataphatic" comes from the Greek word κατάφασις kataphasis meaning "affirmation," [1] coming from κατά kata (an intensifier) [2] and φάναι phanai ("to speak").

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE

The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.


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.

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite Greek philosopher

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Pseudo-Denys, was a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, who wrote a set of works known as the Corpus Areopagiticum or Corpus Dionysiacum.

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 or at least the corrective apophatic theology. [3]

Eastern Orthodox Church Christian Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 200–260 million members. As one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East. It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Pope of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares of the bishops.


Contemplation is profound thinking about something. In a religious sense, contemplation is usually a type of prayer or meditation.

Apophatic theology, also known as negative theology, is a form of theological thinking and religious practice which attempts to approach God, the Divine, by negation, to speak only in terms of what may not be said about the perfect goodness that is God. It forms a pair together with cataphatic theology, which approaches God or the Divine by affirmations or positive statements about what God is.

Roman Catholicism

Gregory of Nyssa bishop of Nyssa

Gregory of Nyssa, also known as Gregory Nyssen, was bishop of Nyssa from 372 to 376 and from 378 until his death. He is venerated as a saint in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism. Gregory, his elder brother Basil of Caesarea, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus are collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers.

Augustine of Hippo early Christian theologian and philosopher

Saint Augustine of Hippo was a Roman African, early Christian theologian and philosopher from Numidia whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. He was the bishop of Hippo Regius in north Africa and is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers in Western Christianity for his writings in the Patristic Period. Among his most important works are The City of God, De doctrina Christiana and Confessions.

Anselm of Canterbury 11th and 12th-century Archbishop of Canterbury, theologian, and saint

Anselm of Canterbury, also called Anselm of Aosta after his birthplace and Anselm of Bec after his monastery, was an Italian Benedictine monk, abbot, philosopher and theologian of the Catholic Church, who held the office of archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. After his death, he was canonized as a saint; his feast day is 21 April.

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. [4]

Mahayana branch of Buddhism

Mahāyāna is one of two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. This movement added a further set of discourses, and although it was initially small in India, it had long-term historical significance. The Buddhist tradition of Vajrayana is sometimes classified as a part of Mahāyāna Buddhism, but some scholars consider it to be a different branch altogether.

Dzogchen Tibetan Buddhist tradition

Dzogchen or "Great Perfection", Sanskrit: अतियोग, is a tradition of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism aimed at discovering and continuing in the natural primordial state of being. It is a central teaching of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and of Bon. In these traditions, Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path of the nine vehicles to liberation.

Nirvana soteriological goal within the Indian religions

Nirvāṇa is commonly associated with Jainism and Buddhism, and represents its ultimate state of soteriological release, the liberation from repeated rebirth in saṃsāra.

In Gaudiya-vaishnavism

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. [5] The paradoxical nature of Krishna, the Absolute, being both beyond description and having qualities is discussed throughout the Gaudiya Vaishnavism literature. [6] Among the 64 qualities of Krishna, 4 qualities are unique, which only Krishna has, these are:

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 (according to the Vaishnava view) other Hindu deities, even Brahma or Shiva:

Other 55 transcendental qualities are found in 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 the level of deities, 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 [7]

But once a firm grasp of the positive qualities or attributes of God has been achieved one moves onto the transcendent qualities of the superior apophatic theology. This is fully absent in Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

See also


  3. Mystical theology of the Eastern Orthodox church pg 26
  4. 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
  5. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda. "Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 25.54".
  6. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda. "KṚṢṆA, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Chapter 87".
  7. 64 Qualities of Lord Krishna Shrila Rupa Gosvami


Related Research Articles

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada Indian guru

Abhaya Caranaravinda Bhaktivedānta Svāmi was an Indian spiritual teacher and the founder-preceptor of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), commonly known as the "Hare Krishna Movement". Members of the ISKCON movement view Bhaktivedānta Swāmi as a representative and messenger of Krsna Caitanya.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Indian saint

Krishna Chaitanya, honorific: "Mahāprabhu", , was a Hindu mystic, saint, and the chief proponent of the Achintya Bheda Abheda and Gaudiya Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism. He also expounded the Vaishnava school of Bhakti yoga, based on Bhagavata Purana and Bhagavad Gita. Of various forms and direct or indirect expansions of Krishna such as Lord Narasimha, Maha-Vishnu and Garbhodakshaya Vishnu respectively, he is Krishna in the mood of a devotee. He popularised the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra and composed the Siksastakam in Sanskrit. His followers, Gaudiya Vaishnavas, revere him as a Krishna with the mood and complexion of his source of inspiration Radha. His birthday is celebrated as Gaura-purnima.

Hare Krishna (mantra)

The Hare Krishna mantra, also referred to reverentially as the Maha Mantra, is a 16-word Vaishnava mantra which is mentioned in the Kali-Santarana Upanishad, and which from the 15th century rose to importance in the Bhakti movement following the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This Mantra is composed of two Sanskrit names of the Supreme Being, "Krishna," and "Rama."

Gaudiya Vaishnavism

Gaudiya Vaishnavism is a Vaishnava religious movement inspired by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) in India. "Gauḍīya" refers to the Gauḍa region with Vaishnavism meaning "the worship of Vishnu or Krishna". Its theological basis is primarily that of the Bhagavad Gītā and Bhāgavata Purāṇa as interpreted by early disciples of Chaitanya such as Sanātana Gosvāmin, Rūpa Gosvāmin, Jīva Gosvāmin, Gopala Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmin, and others.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur Bengali philosopher

Bhaktivinoda Thakur, also written Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura), born Kedarnath Datta, was a Hindu philosopher, guru and spiritual reformer of Gaudiya Vaishnavism who effected its resurgence in India in late 19th and early 20th century and was hailed by contemporary scholars as the most influential Gaudiya Vaishnava leader of his time. He is also credited, along with his son Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, with pioneering the propagation of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the West and its eventual global spread.

Pancharatra ancient Indian religious movement around Narayana-Vishnu (Vaishnavism)

Pancharatra was a religious movement in Hinduism that originated in late 1st millennium BCE around the ideas of Narayana considered as an avatar of Vishnu. The movement later merged with the ancient Bhagavata tradition and contributed to the development of Vaishnavism. The Pancharatra movement created numerous literary treatises in Sanskrit called the Pancharatra Samhitas, and these have been influential Agamic texts within the theistic Vaishnava movements.

Theology proper is the sub-discipline of systematic theology which deals specifically with the being, attributes and works of God.

Rupa Goswami Indian guru, poet and philosopher

Rupa-Goswami (1489–1564) was a devotional teacher (guru), poet, and philosopher of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. With his brother Sanatana Goswami, he is considered the most senior of the six Goswamis of Vrindavan associated with Caitanya Mahaprabhu, a hidden avatar (incarnation) of Krishna in Kali Yuga.

Jiva Goswami Indian philosopher

Jiva Goswami was a Hindu philosopher and saint from the Gaudiya Vaishnava school of Vedanta tradition, producing a great number of philosophical works on the theology and practice of Bhakti yoga, Vaishnava Vedanta and associated disciplines. He was a member of Six Goswamis of Vrindavan, being the nephew of the two leading figures, Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami.

<i>Kali-Saṇṭāraṇa Upaniṣad</i> Sanskrit text

The Kali-Santarana Upanishad, also called Kalisantaraṇopaniṣad, is a Sanskrit text attached to the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda. It is a minor Upanishad of Hinduism.

Hinduism is a religion which incorporates diverse views on the concept of God. Different traditions of Hinduism have different theistic views, and these views have been described by scholars as polytheism, monotheism, henotheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, agnostic, humanism, atheism or non-theism.

The concept of God in Hinduism varies in its diverse traditions. Hinduism spans a wide range of beliefs such as henotheism, monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, pandeism, monism, atheism and nontheism.

Radha Krishna Divine couple in Hinduism

RadhaKrishn are collectively known within Hinduism as the combined forms of feminine as well as the masculine realities of God. Radha and Krishna are the primeval forms of God and His pleasure potency respectively in the Vaishnava school of thought in Vedic culture. Krishna is referred to as svayam bhagavan in Vaishnavism theology and Radha is illustrated as the primeval potency of the three main potencies of God, Hladini, Sandhini (eternality) and Samvit of which Radha is an embodiment of the feeling of love towards the almighty God Shree Krishna (Hladini). With Krishna, Radha is acknowledged as the Supreme Goddess, for it is said that Krishna or God is only satiated by devotional service in loving servitude and Radha is the personification of devotional service to the supreme. She is also considered in Vaishnavism as the total feminine energy and also as the Supreme Lakshmi (Adi-Lakshmi). Various devotees worship her with the understanding of her merciful nature as the only way to attain Krishna. Radha is also depicted to be Krishna himself, split into two, for the purpose of His enjoyment.

Ekasarana Dharma

Ekasarana Dharma is a panentheistic form of Hinduism founded and propagated by Srimanta Sankardeva in the 15th century. Most of the adherents of this religion today live in the Indian state of Assam. As part of the greater Bhakti movement in other parts of India, it rejects vedic and other esoteric rites of worship, and instead replaces them by a simplified form that requires just uttering the name (naam) of God.

Brahma Samhita

The Brahma Saṁhitā is a Sanskrit Pañcarātra text, composed of verses of prayer spoken by Brahma glorifying the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa or Govinda at the beginning of creation. It is revered within Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavism, whose 16th-century founder, Caitanya Mahāprabhu (1486–1534), rediscovered a part of the work, the 62 verses of Chapter 5, which had previously been lost for a few centuries, at the Adikeshav Temple in Thiruvattar, Tamil Nadu, South India. Mitsunori Matsubara, in his Pañcarātra Saṁhitās and Early Vaisṇava Theology dates the text at ca 1300 CE. The text contains a highly esoteric description, with the Kāma-Gāyatṛi, of Kṛṣṇa in His abode Goloka.

Svayam Bhagavān is a Sanskrit theological term for the concept of absolute representation of God as Bhagavan - The Supreme Personality who possesses all riches, all strength, all fame, all beauty, all knowledge and all renunciation.

Achintya Bheda Abheda

Achintya-Bheda-Abheda is a school of Vedanta representing the philosophy of inconceivable one-ness and difference. In Sanskrit achintya means 'inconceivable', bheda translates as 'difference', and abheda translates as 'non-difference'. The Gaudiya Vaishnava religious tradition employs the term in relation to the relationship of creation and creator, between God and his energies. It is believed that this philosophy was taught by the movement's theological founder Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and differentiates the Gaudiya tradition from the other Vaishnava Sampradayas. It can be understood as an integration of the strict dualist (dvaita) theology of Madhvacharya and the qualified monism (vishishtadvaita) of Ramanuja.

Aishvarya which is a noun, means lordship or sovereignty, prosperity or royal or exalted rank. Prosperity, power and recognition by society are the three aspects of man’s life that constitute aishvarya which term also refers to the aishvarya or greatness of God and of Brahman.

Satyanarayana Dasa

Dr. Satyanarayana Dasa is an Indian Gaudiya Vaisnava scholar and practitioner. Dasa is a polymath, holding a Ph.D. in Sanskrit from Agra University, a degree in Indian law from Agra University, a Bachelors of Technology in Mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology and a Masters of Technology in Industrial Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology. Currently based in India at the Jiva Institute, which he founded, Dasa has published numerous books and original papers in the field of Gaudiya Vaisnavism including translations and commentaries on the Sat Sandarbhas. His honors include an award from the President of India in 2012. Dasa has been called a leading living practitioner-scholar of Jīva Gosvāmin.