Apophaticism in Disguise: The Function of Apophatic Theology in Gregory of Nyssa's Soteriology

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date

Fall 2022


The theological interplay between cataphatic and apophatic theology is a delicate balancing act of saying too much and admitting too little. Ultimately, a strong apophaticism serves as a corrective to the human tendency to limit the limitless, to define the indefinable, and to comprehend the incomprehensible. It can be argued that underlying all positive doctrinal statements about God lies a brilliant light Whose brightness can only appear as darkness. Thus, doctrines serve as boundaries that prevent us from imagining that the divine essence could be captured by the human intellect. Doctrines may offer positive statements about the divine, but they can also be open to a variety of competing interpretations. The doctrine of salvation conveys that God has redeemed humanity from sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This doctrinal statement is simple enough, but throughout the centuries, Christians have wrestled with its proper interpretation. Indeed, various metaphors have been employed within the Christian tradition that have articulated and expanded upon the mystery of salvation, giving rise to so-called "atonement theories." Vladimir Lossky offers a pertinent reminder that "the desire to use any of these images as adequate expression of the mystery of our salvation involves the risk of substituting purely human and inappropriate conceptions for the 'mystery of God hidden before all ages.