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This paper examines the religious tradition of ‘negative theology’, and argues that it is doubtful whether it leaves room for belief in God at all. Three theologians belonging in different degrees to this tradition are discussed, namely John Scotus Eriugena, Anselm of Canterbury and Nicolas of Cusa, and it is argued that all three, in maintaining the ineffability of God, reach positions that are in effect forms of agnosticism. There is a paradox here: if God is inconceivable, is it not self-refuting to talk about him at all, even to state his inconceivability? The final part of the paper examines the work of the nineteenth-century poet Arthur Hugh Clough, two of whose poems, Hymnos Aumnos, and Qui Laborat Orat, explore the paradox of talking about the inconceivable Godhead. Clough gives eloquent expression to the idea that leaving God unnamed is not equivalent to disowning him. There is room for a devout agnosticism.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9329.2006.00339.x

Affiliations: St John's CollegeOxford OX1 3JP, Email: ajpk@f2s.com

Publication date: December 1, 2006

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