Via Negativa: A Way of Talking to God

Vla Negatlva Is a way of talking about God In only negative terms. For example, God Is not mortal; or God is not human. Both of these tell what God is not, instead of what he is. This is because our knowledge of God is limited by our finite human understanding, therefore. as God is out of this Universe, we find it extremely hard to talk about him. Saint Augustine said “If you comprehend, it is not God. If you are able to comprehend, It is because you mistake something else for God. Vla Negatlva allows us to compare God to things within our Universe that we understand, allowing s a sense of recognition with God, however not allowing us to reach a full understanding. This simple recognition Is meaningful enough for many, Including the like of Maimonides and Pseudo-Dionysius. Other philosophers believe that this negative way of speaking about God, is not the only meaningful way to talk of him. These will be discussed further within the essay. Moses Maimonides said that Via Negativa was the only true way to speak of God.
God is transcendent, so it is impossible to say what God is, we don’t know. He herefore decided the only way we could speak of him, Is to talk In negatives. He gave the example of ‘God is not a human being. This Is because he Is transcendent, so cannot have a body. ‘ Maimonides believes that by giving positive ideas to God, we are lowering God to our human level of understanding. Words like ‘good’ or ‘loving’, which are often used to describe God, are simply are interpretations of those words, God is transcendent so in no way is he confined to this basic understanding. sing Via Positiva is Improper and disrespectful. However, Maimonides agrees that one positive tatement can be made about God, and this is that he exists, this is because the whole principle of Vla Negativa is based on the Idea that God exists. Pseudo- Dionysius follows the same belief as Maimonides, also stating that God is beyond assertion and beyond denial, meaning that whatever you say about God, even if negative, doesnt ultimately tell us what God Is, It simply provides us with spiritual understanding of Him.
This way of negatively speaking still allows us to recognise God as ‘good’. Even If we say ‘God Is not good,’ this can made that God Is more than ust good, he may be wholly perfect So this account of speaking still allows for God being transcendent. It also accepts the fact that the finite cannot get a true grasp of the infinite. However, there are a few Issues with this view. This theory simple assumes that there is a God to talk about when there is no proof of this; some believe that the fact we cannot describe God, suggests there Is not anything to be descrlblng.

If we were to only ever talk about objects in a negative manner, we would never grasp truly what an object was, only what it was not. Finally, many religious people believe that it is important to view God as positive and good, so Via Negativa removes this idea for the religious followers. Other philosophers take the complete opposite view of religious language, saying there is absolutely no meaningful way to talk about God. This view was taken by the Vienna Circle who believed that only analytic propositions and synthetic propositions 1 OF3 are meanlngTul. Analytic Decause tne Knowledge comes tnrougn logical reasoning, eg. he man was dead, so was not alive; synthetic principles because they can b proven o be true or false, so there meaningfulness can easily be shown, eg. The water is 27 degrees. The Vienna Circle followed the Verification Principle; this suggested that only empirically verifiable statements are meaningful, one that can be verified by sense experience. Meaningful language involves discussing things that exist only in reality. Therefore God does not fit into this category since he exists outside of our reality. Simply put, the Vienna Circle believe that there is no meaningful way to discuss talk.
However, the principle allows historical facts to be meaningful, as they ould be verified at the time. Therefore, could not some of God’s existence be verified? For example, ‘Jesus was raised from the dead,’ is a historical fact and was verified by many at the time. There is room for God to exist within the principle, so their idea was weak. There are also issues with the fact that the principle itself is not verifiable, so therefore is a bunch of meaningless opinions. Hereby the Vienna Circle and their ideas are often overlooked. Paul Tillich is a philosopher of symbolism.
He believes that symbols open up ealms of understanding that we often cannot access. A symbols stands for something other than whatever is represented, he gives the example of the American Flag; not only does it represent America, but it shows the unity and the strength of the nation. These secondary meanings are often things that we would struggle to explain, but a symbols makes it easy for us to recognise them and then display them to others. Another example is a simple love heart; that heart can mean a lot of things too many different people, Justice, peace, love, safety… Symbols allow personal nderstanding.
Tillich therefore believes that symbols can be used to talk about God in a meaningful way. He suggests that religion and God are things of Ultimate Concern, things that we should strive to understand. God is a representation of many things like Justice, love and infinity. We struggle to understand these things normally, but religion symbolises these things and allows us to understand. Therefore, religious faith is a way of accepting these symbols, providing a great deal of meaning to God. Tillich then suggests that God can be spoken about in a meaningful way, by sing symbols to explain many of his known features.
However, people find issues with this idea, mainly that religion is symbolising other things and isn’t really in existence. It appears to lower God’s power by simply saying that he is used as an object of representation, rather than of his own great importance. Many religious people dislike this view, saying that God is the ultimate power and should not be lowered to such standards. There are many other theories on how to speak of God and whether it is meaningful or not; Aquinas’ view on analogy, Hare’s blik… but I find Tillich’s view on eligious language to be the best.

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