"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The God Who is Dark

Among the self-congratulatory shibboleths some Eastern Christians like to use to disdain a Western tradition about which they know virtually nothing and thus bolster their shaky self-confidence is the claim that all Eastern theology is apophatic, while all Western theology is rationalistic, scholastic, kataphatic. Even before I became an Eastern Christian I knew this was bunk after Stanley Hauerwas told me in the late 90s that if I was going to Cambridge for doctoral studies then I had to get in touch with her Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, Denys Turner, and read his book The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism, which helped me to see that the West has its own deep tradition of apophatic mysticism even as the West also has had certain periods and persons who are indeed rationalistic and scholastic--and not always in a completely good way. These latter do not, however, represent the entire Western tradition (any more than one can say that everyone in the East is a hesychast).

Turner moved back across the Atlantic to Yale, and in November of this year is being honored with a Festschrift: Eric Bugyis and David Newheiser, eds., Desire, Faith, and the Darkness of God: Essays in Honor of Denys Turner (UND Press, Nov. 2015), 480pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In the face of religious and cultural diversity, some doubt whether Christian faith remains possible today. Critics claim that religion is irrational and violent, and the loudest defenders of Christianity are equally strident. In response, Desire, Faith, and the Darkness of God: Essays in Honor of Denys Turner explores the uncertainty essential to Christian commitment; it suggests that faith is moved by a desire for that which cannot be known.
This approach is inspired by the tradition of Christian apophatic theology, which argues that language cannot capture divine transcendence. From this perspective, contemporary debates over God’s existence represent a dead end: if God is not simply another object in the world, then faith begins not in abstract certainty but in a love that exceeds the limits of knowledge.
The essays engage classic Christian thought alongside literary and philosophical sources ranging from Pseudo-Dionysius and Dante to Karl Marx and Jacques Derrida. Building on the work of Denys Turner, they indicate that the boundary between atheism and Christian thought is productively blurry. Instead of settling the stale dispute over whether religion is rationally justified, their work suggests instead that Christian life is an ethical and political practice impassioned by a God who transcends understanding.
Contributors: Eric Bugyis, Katie Ann-Marie Bugyis, David Burrell, C.S.C., Oliver Davies, Terry Eagleton, John Hare, Karl Hefty, Robin Kirkpatrick, Karmen MacKendrick, Philip McCosker, Bernard McGinn, Vittorio Montemaggi, David Newheiser, Cyril O’Regan, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Denys Turner, Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, A. N. Williams
“Desire, Faith, and the Darkness of God: Essays in Honor of Denys Turner is a testament to the range of Denys Turner’s influence and the varieties of modes of argumentation with which his work is conversant. The volume will be read with pleasure by scholars in the history of Christianity, particularly of Christian mysticism, Christian theologians, and philosophers of religion, as well as scholars across a range of subdisciplines." — Amy Hollywood, Elizabeth H. Monrad Professor of Christian Studies, Harvard Divinity School

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