Between predication and silence: Augustine on how (not) to speak of God

Heythrop Journal 41 (1):66–86 (2000)
Abstract
Throughout his corpus , Augustine grapples with the challenge of how to speak of that which exceeds and resists conceptualization. The one who would speak of God is confronted, it seems, by a double‐bind: either one reduces God's transcendence to the immanence of language and concepts, or one remains silent. Even to call God ‘inexpressible’, he remarks in De doctrina christiana, is to predicate something of God and thus make some claim to comprehension. ‘This battle of words’, he continues, ‘should be avoided by keeping silent’ . Augustine thus seems to privilege and apophatic strategy. But this is not his last word on the matter. Indeed upon the heels of this passage he carefully notes: ‘And yet, while nothing really worthy of God can be said about him, he has accepted the homage of human voices, and has wished us to rejoice in praising [laude] him with our words.’ My goal in this essay is to consider Augustine's laudatory strategy of ‘praise’ as a non‐objectifying discourse concerning transcendence which navigates the straits between kataphatic theological positivism and apophatic silence. This will be taken up against the horizon of contemporary discussions of transcendence and phenomenology, particularly in the work of Jacques Derrida and Jean‐Luc Marion
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