Wednesday, November 21, 2007


On that note...try this gem from Milbank. I won't subject it to the usual ridicule. The Cambridge Phantasists are clearly committed to a hyper-negative theology, almost as a first principle. So of course they won't like the ten lines Scotus devotes to criticizing negative theology.

Milbank, "Beauty and the Soul" in Theological perspectives on God and Beauty, p. 3:

"In the High Middle Ages, the possibility and experience of seeing the invisible in the visible, or of seeing the invisible as invisible (this is the necessary other aspect), was generally assumed and pervaded life, art and understanding. Therefore, there was no specific discipline of "aesthetics," which only arose in the eighteenth century. Beauty took care of herself.

By contrast, one mark of modernity is that we still, indeed, acknowledge the invisible, yet we only stand on its brink, and only acknowledge it as unknown. We continue to see the invisible as invisibile, but we have lost the counterpoint: seing the invisible in the visible. In consequence, we only see the invisible as visible in the sense that we are blinded by it: seing what we see when we close our eyes. Bedazzlement now no longer betokens an excess of saturated form. Thus Duns Scotus's famous rebuke to Dionysius: Negationes etiam non summe amamus misunderstands, certainly, the Dionysian hyper-positive divine provocation of negation of our highest conceptions (even of divinity itself) yet may apply, indeed, to the modern cult of the sublime. Without this cult, we moderns remain agnostic concerning the unknown; with this cult, we hypostaize and consecrate the unknownness as the force of nullity."

Not terribly interesting, to be sure, and totally out of context (a charge which I often accuse "them" of); but I was tickled by the passage as it is one of my favorite quotes from Duns Scotus, a passage which I incorporated into my recent Derrida paper. Like Scotus, and obviously under his influence, I am becoming more and more critical of negative theology. And participation as well, for that matter.


Kyle Cupp said...

If you don't mind my asking, what was the topic of your Derrida paper?

Lee Faber said...

Well, initially my prof. wanted it to be a comparison of Derrida, Deleuze, and Scotus on particularity and individuality, but that didn't work out. So it eventually became a discussion of differance in the "Differance" essay of 1968 by Derrida contrasted with some remarks of Scotus on the natural knowledge of God and negations. Not my best paper, probably the most difficult to write in my entire graduate carrer (this is my last semester of classes)

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I appreciate your blog. "Add oil!" as they say in Chinese (Keep it up).

If you can, please elaborate on your growing resistance to the idea of participation. This is a topic I am keenly interested in. Especially, with an oblique eye on the (admittedly protracted) essence-energies debate.


Anonymous said...

From within the British context, it's worth saying that the fixation on negative theology for RO is undeniably linked to their coming from Cambridge, where Nicholas Lash's idea that theology had no real object of inquiry was useful to salvage those theologians who seem to have been suspiciously close to the views of secular and atheist theologies of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Don Cupitt.

I should say, I studied in Cambridge when John Milbank and Graham Ward were both fellows there, and when RO was brewing, and I saw all the silly posturing and self-involved attitude first hand. Cupitt was still teaching in the Divinity Faculty; the Church of England never sacked him for unbelief. Milbank actually was a fellow in Social and Political Studies (SPS), unsurprising as his doctorate about Giambattista Vico was in a department of Politics, not Theology. One wonders how trained and qualified in Theology or Philosophy Milbank is.
(That's another of our problems in Britain - too few native theologians, and quite a few people in post who do not have the qualifications required of them in job adverts.)

In short, the boundary between Christian belief and unbelief was subtly blurred by such people, by the dishonest or misguided positioning of negative theology and atheism on a continuum, and thus, apostasy in the Divinity Faculty could be quietly 'managed'. This is what happens when faculties of theology have no confessional basis or boundaries, as happened in Britain in the modern period with them being in state-funded universities, where the Berlin model of non-confessional theology seems to have triumphed.