This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Apophasis and negative virtue

The bhakta pursues positive virtue, and judges himself by what he accomplishes. Likewise his relationship with God is conceived in terms of who Christ was and what he did and his relationship with these facts.

The jnanin pursues a virtue that is in a sense “negative”: he judges himself by how far he has purified himself of confusions. He does not ask if he is being charitable but whether or not he is seeing past the illusion of things, discarding errors. His theology reflect this approach, being normally apophatic. It is notable that in many bhaktic spiritual manuals the emphasis is on personal conduct: St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life and the famous Imitation of Christ. These are far different in tone and emphasis than apophatic works such as The Cloud of Unknowing which takes pains early on to explain the distinction between Mary (contemplative life) and Martha (active life) and to warn the student that the latter will never understand the former, and only then does the author offer his advice on the pursuit of this “unknowing” approach to the unknown God. It is also very telling that the author to this work is anonymous.

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