Contemplative Life

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Great Contemplatives on God’s Ineffability:

Below are some words of wisdom and insight from some of the world’s great contemplatives on the subject of God’s ineffability, transcendence and creative energy.


Gregory Palamas:

“The most perfect contemplation of god and things divine is not simply 9intellectual abstraction.  It is a communion with divine realities.  If someone says anything about them, he has recourse to metaphors and analogies; he cannot show what he has seen in any other way.”



“We may go on and on speaking metaphorically, but whatever we say is incapable of expressing the reality we are going to receive.  The name of that reality is god.  But who will claim that in this one syllable we utter the full expanse of our heart’s desire?  Therefore, whatever we say is necessarily less than the whole reality.”



“God is everywhere in his immensity and everywhere close at hand.  If only we are worthy, we have him present to us.  But he is beyond words and beyond rational thought.  If you search by way of discussions for the god that cannot be defined in words, he will depart further from you than he was before.  Seek the highest wisdom not by arguments in words but by the perfection of your life.  Though he is invisible, he is partially seen by the pure of heart.”


Gregory of Sinai:

“Hesychastic stillness means the shedding of all thoughts for a time, even those which are divine and engendered by the spirit.  Otherwise, by giving them our attention because they are good we will lose what is better.”


Meister Eckhart:

“In scripture god is called by many names.  I say that whenever a man perceives something in god and attaches thereby some name to him, this is not god.  Denis the Areopagite says:  “The best one can say about god is for one to keep silent out of the wisdom of one’s inward riches.”  So be silent, and do not chatter about god.  If I had a god that I could understand, I should never consider him god.”


Abhisiktananda: (Henri Le Saux, O.S.B)

“Our filial receptiveness of the divine is produced divinely and defies all rational understanding and still more any attempt to express it in words.  A man can recognize it mainly through the changes which appear in his psyche and in the new viewpoint from which he finds himself considering everything.  He sees the world about him divinely.  Whatever has to do with thinking he now realizes must fall short of reality.  For in god there is no discursive thought.”


John of the Cross:

“The appropriate way to speak of the deep things of god is for him who has been favored with them to understand them, to experience them, to enjoy them, and to be silent.”


Basil the Great:

“It is by his energies that we claim to know our god.  We do not assert that we can approach the essence itself.  For his energies descend to us, but his essence remains unapproachable.”



“These energies are rays of the godhead penetrating the created universe.”


John Damascene:

“All that we say affirmatively about god manifests not his nature but the things concerning his nature.  The movement or rush of god have to do with his divine energies.”


Gregory Palamas:

“The divine and deifying illumination and grace are not the very essence of god but the energy common to the divine nature triadically.  To say that the divine nature is communicable not in itself but through its energy is to remain within the limits of right devotion.”


Gregory of Thessalonika:

The divine nature must be said to be simultaneously both outside of and in some sense, open to participation.  We attain to participation in the divine nature, and yet at the same time it remains totally inaccessible.  We need to affirm both at the same time; We must preserve the paradox as a criterion of right devotion.


Gregory Palamas:

God is called light with reference not to his essence but to his energy.  This experience of the divine is given to each according to his capacity;  it can be greater or less according to the suitability of him who experiences it.  He who participates in the divine energy himself becomes, so some extent, light.  He is united to the light, and by means of that light he sees in full awareness of all that remains hidden from those who possess not this grace.  Thus he transcends not only the bodily sensations but even what can be known by the rational mind.  For the pure in heart see god, who, being light, dwells in them and reveals himself to those who love him, that is, to his beloved.”

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