The Via Negativa

  • The Via Negativa states that one can only speak of God in negative terms – God is transcendent so one cannot say what God is, therefore we can only say what he is not
  • We can, for example, know that God is not human, God is not evil & God does not have a body
  • Via Negativa literally means “the negative way”
  • One key idea behind the Via Negativa is that language cannot accurately describe God
  • Our language cannot tell people about God as he is beyond human comprehension
  • Pseudo-Dionysius suggested that if we talk of God being good, we have to say for example, that God is not good – as we cannot understand what it means to say what he is
  • Pseudo-Dionysius stated that God is beyond assertion & beyond denial; “free of every limitation, beyond every limitation
  • Moses Maimonides corroborated this argument, stating that God is beyond any description & to make positive statements describing God is improper & disrespectful
  • To describe God in this way limits him to human language & understanding

Analysis of the Via Negativa 


  1. Prevents anthropomorphic statements being made about God -the avoidance of positive assertions about God, for example, “God is good” means one avoids limiting God to human terms, as stated by Maimonides
  2. Supports the view that God is ineffable – too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words as suggested in Jewish tradition


  1. Limited understanding – to only speak of God in negative terms gives a very limited understanding of God & his characteristics
  2. Using negative language does not overcome the problems of using positive language – Maimonides argues that to positively attribute qualities to God is disrespectful & cannot truly describe him – however using the Via Negativa does not overcome this. Saying that God is “not bad” is attributing a characteristic in the same way as saying “God is great”
  3. Antony Flew – negatives ultimately amount to nothing, we are left with no clear image of what God is



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