the via negativa

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  • Created by: chinwe
  • Created on: 06-02-16 11:49

pseudo- dionysius key ideas

pseudo dionysius discusses 'the princile of negation' in his book 'mystical theology'

  • the via negativa (the apophatic way- greek word 'apothasis' meaning 'denial')
  • key idea is that human language cannot be used to speak truthfully of god because god is trancendent. therefore beyond human understanding/comprehention- totally inefable.
  • the via negativa uses negative terms to discover the truth about god, in order to emphasise the difference between god and humaninty.
  • the via negativa begins by negating the least appropriate assertions and then proceeds to negate even the most appropriate asserions. for example instead of stating 'god is good', we should say god is not good but god is not evil. As humans we are unable to fully comprehend the meaning of goodness, gods goodness is greater that human concepts.
  • he stated in his book that "god is beyond assertion and beyond denial", therefore using human language will never tell us anything about gods nature.
  • dionysuis belives that we should accept that god is a mystery. and we will never fully understand divine mysteries. until humans accept this we will continue to use flawed concepts to speak of god. belliteling and anthropomorphosing god.
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moses maimondies- key ideas

maimondies wrote in his book ' giuide for the perplexed'

  • he belived that humans should be contempt and not tempted to make assertions about god.
  • we cannot know anything about god, we can only know that he exists.
  • he reffered to a jewish scripture (tora) where god states 'i am who i am'. this means god is  beyond any description.
  • through the via negativa we can gain more knolwedge about what god isnt, than what god is.
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pseudo- dionysuis evaluation


  • it avoids the pitfall of using inadequate language to speak of god. therefore we dont bellitle/anthropomorphise god
  • emphasises difference between god and humanitiy, conveying the essonial otherness and mystery of god.
  • its less subject to interpretation
  • it does not place a limit on god, by giving him assertions that are derived through human sense experience of the physical world. threrefore emphasising god as a metaphysical being


  • how can god be reached through the via negativa if he is outside of our imagination
  • by elimnating certain attributes we are more or less denying the existence of god.
  • religious belivers might be offended by the via negativa, is it means that the language used to praise and worship god is meaningless.
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