Sunday, February 1, 2015

Allow me to  observe that reality at all levels and in every dimension is a mystery. I will not suggest that the world which we experience with our own senses is not reality; nevertheless, what we perceive is the surface of reality, which is penetrated only with great effort over time. The more deeply we penetrate into this perceived reality, the greater the mystery becomes.
Mystery is, in many ways, what reality consists in. It seems notable to me that, from the point of view of modern physics, Werner Heisenberg tells us that we have exceeded the capabilities of human language, and we resort to mathematical formalisms to express what is beyond the capacity of human concepts and normal language to express.
In the same manner St Gregory of Nyssa tells us that, in discussing the Trinity, we have exceeded the capacities of human language. He says that the language about the Trinity is only the best we can do with our limited human language to describe a relationship. Our explanation of the Trinity is not concrete; it is, in a manner of speaking, an expression  about a Divine Relationship.
Thus, in both theology and modern science, we find ourselves treading in forbidden territory. It is somewhat at Pseudo-Dyonesios says: As we plunge into that darkness which is beyond intellect, we shall find ourselves not simply running out of words, but actually speechless and unknowing. (St Dionysios the Areopagite.)
Nils Bohr gives an link between our Orthodox approach to theology and quantum physics when he says: "the purpose of science is not to know the essence of nature, but to discover what can be known about nature." He reminded us that science is a method of exploration, not the final arbiter of reality. Science is not an alternative to revelation.
This same dignified modesty is expressed in the Orthodox Christian concept of apophatic theology. Apophatic theology also acknowledges that doctrinal and poetic formulations are secondary worlds, our best models. They are more or less adequate in helping us give words to and have concepts for our encounter with ultimate reality. Since no one can know or comprehend the essence of God, even the dogma of the Trinity must be understood as a secondary world, a conceptual framework of enormous importance and clarity that is the best we can do in the framing of language for the experience of the ineffable, but it is, nevertheless, a model of reality. When we assume that we have a concrete definition of the Divine, we step onto the path of those who built the Tower of Babel. We are not seeking to know the essence of the divine, but only to discern that which can be known about the Divine. We have a bit by revelation, and we have tried to placed that revelation into doctrinal formulations much as physicists have tried to express the quantum in mathematical formulations. In both one and the other, we have constructed the best models of reality that we can; we should not think that either they or us have understood, defined and explained reality in any concrete terms. We are, at least in this, on common ground.
1. This is a paraphrase. See his short note “That there are not two  Gods.”
2. More properly, Peudo-Dionisios. On The Mystical Theology, §3

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