Via negativa

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‘The Negative Way’, of speaking of God. The proponents of this way believe that God is so beyond all human comprehension that it is only possible for humans to describe what He is not, never to attempt to speak of His true nature. Prominent among the medieval Jewish philosophers who prefer the way of negation are Bahya, Ibn Pakudah and Maimonides, both of whom develop the theory of negative attributes. For Maimonides the attributes which are of God's essence–existence, unity, and wisdom–have to be understood solely as negating their opposites. With regard to the attributes which refer to God's activity, these can be applied to God even in positive form but that is because they are not of God's nature but only of His actions. When, for example, God is spoken of as good this is meant in a positive sense but denotes only that such action would be attributed to goodness if a human being had carried it out. The Kabbalists go further in not permitting even negative attributes of God as He is in Himself. This aspect of God is called by the Kabbalists En Sof or Ayin (‘Nothing’) because nothing can be said or even thought of It. Only of God as manifest in the Sefirot is it permitted to speak, but then one can speak in a positive sense.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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