“Man Shall Not See Me and Live”: Relating Divine Incomprehensibility and the Beatific Vision

Throughout theological antiquity, the doctrine of divine incomprehensibility has enjoyed a pride of place in theological prolegomena. The cast of theologians whose pen wrote of an incomprehensible God is vast, spanning both continents and centuries. From the theological orations of the Cappadocians to the homilies of Chrysostom, divine incomprehensibility received considerable contemplation and treatment.

While there is a depth of agreement concerning the doctrine throughout theological antiquity, one area that seems to bring disagreement is how does the doctrine of God’s incomprehensibility relate to the doctrine of the beatific vision? In Exodus 33, Moses request of the Lord, “Show me your glory.” The audacious request is met with a grand pronouncement, “Man shall not see me and live.” This passage has been used throughout history to demonstrate the incomprehensibility of YHWH; for, he will not be seen, let alone comprehended.

The question remains, however, will this pronouncement–man shall not see me and live–be true in glory? With glorified eyes and in the enjoyment of the eschatological beatific vision, will the creature be able to look directly at the essence of God? This paper hopes to bring the question out by focusing on how the discussion of where we “root” or “dogmatically locate” the doctrine of divine incomprehensibility will ultimately dictate how we answer this question. While this paper will bring variegated voices from Church history to bear, it should ultimately be thought of as effort in systematic theology in hopes to examine the relationship between divine incomprehensibility and the beatific vision.

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