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Atheists, Agnostics & Mystics: Crossing the Divide

A Fireside Lecture with Fr. Vincent Pizzuto, Ph.D. — August 30, 2017

Atheists, Agnostics & Mystics: Crossing the Divide

A Fireside Lecture given on August 30, 2017

by Father Vincent Pizzuto, Ph.D.

St. Columba’s Episcopal Church & Retreat House

Inverness, CA


This public lecture, originally delivered by Fr. Vincent Pizzuto, Ph.D. on August 30, 2017, was one in a series of “Fireside Chats” he introduced in his inaugural year as Vicar of St. Columba’s Church & Retreat House in Inverness, California. The series was designed to bring a range of topics into conversation with the Christian spiritual and intellectual tradition.

In this lecture, Pizzuto draws upon the framework of “Negative Theology” (apophaticism), to explore Christian mystical language about God from Pseudo-Dionysius to Augustine to Aquinas. In his Boetium de Trinitate, for example, Aquinas observed, “In the end we know God as unknown.” Thus, any God we can imagine can be nothing more than an imaginary God. The language of Negative Theology (i.e., knowing God through a process of negation) may find atheists, agnostics, and mystics in unexpectedly close quarters. 

Pizzuto concludes that “The rise of modern atheism in the West along with the precipitous decline in church attendance must be understood, at least in part, as a purifying corrective to the spiritual, moral, and imaginative failures of our religious institutions. The consequence of these failures is the church’s diminishing capacity to convey beauty. It is, after all, beauty that attracts the human spirit and beauty that compels the human conscience toward the good, not the dry, rigid formulas of doctrine, nor the clinical dissection of biblical texts, nor the ethical demands to love even before we ourselves have been made to understanI not only that we are lovable…but that we are indeed love itself.” (Contemplating Christ, 40).

Artwork: Into The Unknown by Lorraine Almeida (used with permission).


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