Beyond the Apophatic

Martin Laird, in his recent study Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith: Union, Knowledge, and Divine Presence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), coins the word “logophasis” to describe what happens after an apophatic mystical experience: “as a fruit of apophatic union with the Word (logos), the Word expresses (phasis) itself through the deeds and discourse of the one whom the Word indwells” (155). Here’s a longer quote:

Logophasis is a manifestation of the Word in deeds and discourse that follows directly upon an apophatic experience of union with or indwelling of the Word. It is precisely this logophatic dimension of Gregory’s apophaticism that has not received sufficient scholarly acknowledgment. For if what we have seen of the role of faith is true, then there is no apophaticism in Gregory of Nyssa which supercedes or is unaccompanied by logophaticism. (172)

One of the metaphors that Gregory uses in his commentary on Song of Songs is the fragrance of Christ, and he talks about this specifically in connection with Paul (whose experience in the third heaven was obviously a locus classicus of mysticism):

The fragrance of Christ inhaled by Paul is not simply about indwelling union. Through inhaling the Word present in the fragrance, Paul himself becomes fragrant, a fragrant transmission of the Word in the Church. Intimate and abiding as the indwelling presence of the Word is, it has at the same time a universal destination through Paul. (159)

This notion of logophasis may well save mysticism for me — much of what I’ve read in that genre strikes me as hugely self-indulgent, but it appears that here in one of the first attempts at a Christian mysticism, there is at least an attempt to get beyond the God-soul dyad.

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