Religious Language - Via Negativa

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Gnostic: religious groups in the 1st and 2nd centuries after Jesus who claimed to have secret knowledge of God and salvation.

Where did the idea come from?

  • Influenced in both Christianity and Judaism.
  • Came initially from followers of Plato.
  • In the 3rd Century, the neo-Platonist philosopher Plotinus used this method to describe the Form of the Good.
  • Unlike the gnostic groups of his day who claimed that the Good (or in some cases God) could be known through secret knowledge, Plotinus argued that the good is seperate to world is unknowable.
  • In the 5th century, a Christian writer known as Pseudo-Dionysius used this method.
  • He speaks of God as being 'beyond assertion'.
  • God is beyond our ability to describe.
  • Making positive statements about God results in an anthropomorphic idea of God.
  • To say that God is good limits his goodness because it puts a human idea of goodness into our minds.
  • In the Jewish tradition, the philosopher Moses emphasised the…


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