Neglected word of the day: Apaphatic

This is the flip side of cataphatic, with which we are generally a good deal more familiar. Cataphatic is the same root as catechism, catechesis, and catechumen – it’s about teaching and what’s teachable, and can be grasped by the intellect… cataphatically. On the other hand, things that don’t necessarily make much sense to the intellect can still be experienced apaphatically – that is, in darkness and unknowing. Apaphatic experience is a activity that exists between the nous and God. Great theologians experience God apaphatically, and then come back and try to understand what it means cataphatically (and are right about that – many theologians have been wrong, of course), at which point it becomes Church teaching. For people aren’t great theologians apaphatic experience doesn’t generally answer any questions, unless the question happens to be “what is it like to encounter the uncreated energy of God?” And that isn’t our question nearly as often as it probably ought to be.

This is a good word for a lot of the same reasons nous is – they go together, in fact, because noetic experience is generally apaphatic as well.

“How’s your relationship with the Lord going?”

“Hard to say – I encountered some uncreated energy apaphaticially with my nous. There was a lot of darkness and unknowing involved.”


Also, like nous, apaphatic suggests that our categories are a bit off, and seeks to rectify that, while being a bit more precise than “knowing-without-knowing.”


2 thoughts on “Neglected word of the day: Apaphatic

  1. your collection may be small but it is helpful. Today was a Twofer: cataphatic and apaphatic. I wonder if numinous is related to nous? The French word for ‘we’ by the way is nous.

    • According to Wikipedia numinous is Latin from numen (presence of a deity or spirit) – I dunno if they’re related. Do you have any neglected words worthy of increased attention?

      Or an overused word that should be replaced might work as well.

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