Moses God’s characteristics and essence. Negative theology states


Moses Maimonides is
a negative theologian who strongly believes in ‘The Negative Way’ which allows
us to our language to speak about God’s characteristics and essence. Negative
theology states the only way to make a true statement about the absolute divine
(God), is to only say what God is not instead of what God is. This is also
known as ‘negativa’ meaning negative way or from apophatic theology which comes
from the Greek apophasis which is defined as saying no or denying something.

Maimonides states
in his book ‘Guide for the Perplexed’ that he does “not merely declare that he
who affirms attributes of God has not sufficient knowledge concerning the
Creator … But I say that he unconsciously loses his belief in God”[1].
In saying that Maimonides is correct in what he is saying, does the language we
use in order to speak about God is successful enough to define something which
is outside of ourselves? Maimonides states that God does not have any essential
attributes “in any form or in any sense whatever, and that the rejection of
corporeality implies the rejection of essential attributes”[2]
. By stating as God as an absolute one, which Christians do, Maimonides
believes they are contradicting themselves. This is due to all the attributes
we have given to our idea of God being human attributes, putting God on the
same level as humans.  In order to
understand God, Maimonides states we have to believe that God is a simple substance
but there is nothing in which can be added to God’s essence, making it unable
to possibly define God. Maimonides states that God is also unable to have
qualities, as this would be calamities that do not belong to God’s essence, as “everything
superadded to the essence of an object joins it without forming part of its
essential properties, and that constitutes an accident”[3].
 Human beings have perfections, if a
person has a specific trait it distances them from other traits. On the other
hand, God is all traits in one; this is due to God being simple. The difference
between God and humans is that human beings are contingently and God is
necessarily. We are known as finite positive aspects in Maimonides theory, but
God’s goodness is a better version than human beings could ever understand. God
is no way similar to mankind.

Maimonides states
that the majority of accidents occur from humans literally reading of scriptures.
 He stated that the Torah was a rudiment
source for defining God, due to the attributes are carried out with our
language. If we attempted to understand God by using out language was seen as
anthropomorphic to Maimonides. Due to scriptures teaching readers, as what is
seen as a conclusion about who God and is seen as less intelligent for
accepting it. Maimonides does believe that religious language is essentially
equivocal. He describes when we come to understand God that it is impossible to
describe the characteristics of God.

who wrote ‘The Mystical Theology’ states that God is beyond all humans and the knowledge
in which we behold. “Is not soul or mind, nor does it possess
imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding… It cannot be spoken of and
it cannot be grasped by understanding. It is not number or order, greatness or
smallness, quality or inequality, similarity or dissimilarity.”[4]
Pseudo-Dionysius is a pseudonymous philosopher and theologian states that
scripture, is able to give us some understanding and knowledge of God’s characteristics
and nature, but like Maimonides, he states that we have a limit in the language
that we use in order to fully define what God is, this means that we are unable
to get a full understand of God. He states that God is unknowable and we do not
have the capacity in order to define God. Maimonides believes that God is not
comparable to anything, his oneness is unique and out of this universe. You are
unable to add anything to God’s essence. Similarly Pseudo-Dionysius describes
the idea of God’s oneness and the analogical language we use takes away God’s
nature and essence. Pseudo states that by saying what God is not, and that we
need to accept that we our knowledge has a limit, allows us to get closer to
God and understanding the divine’s essence. Both Pseudo and Maimonides agree on
negative theology.  

Maimonides states that you
can see things in themselves but not in themselves, but within God. All things
get their thingness from God. God is unable to be physical or mental; he is
seen as above all of those attributes. It does not let you limit God because
God is known as everything. We have separation and division but due God not
being present (not there) we should just believe the divine is. Maimonides states
that we should live in a none ‘not’ world. We should take away our distinction
of what we think God is and we should be left with oneness. He states that the
language we use can be used in order to describe the ways in which God works
with positive language but not who God is, as long as we remember that “all the
actions of God emanate from His essence”[5].
Creation within the universe is freely willed by God but does not add anything
to God due to God being everything. Maimonides states we praise God through an
indirect way and leave aside the divine’s essence a mystery allowing us to get
closer to God and gaining true knowledge of the unknown. Through Maimonides theory
allows us to understand the importance to theological language as it eliminates
mistakes and guides us in the right direction of understanding God’s transcendence.
By speaking about God, we could easily fall in to the trap of thinking God in a
corporeal form.

In comparison Thomas Aquinas
is the opposite of Maimonides, within his book ‘Summa Theologiae’ talks about
analogical language of how we speak about God in a positive instead of a
negative way. Aquinas does agree with Maimonides that God is simple but he
still argues that it is right to make positive statements about God. This is
because creaturely perfections do substantially reflect divine perfections,
without contradicting God’s simplicity. If they are perfections they should
reflect God. Aquinas states that there must be some idea of God in order to say
what God is or what God is not. In article two of Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, ‘Whether
any name can be applied to God substantially?’, and states that negative words are
able to be applied to God but what God creates does not always fully relate to
the substance that he creates.

Aquinas rejects the use of
univocal and equivocal language when speaking about God, so he uses analogy in
order to help get a comparison to understand the complex idea of God. He
focuses on two types of analogy; ‘Analogy of Attribution’ and ‘Analogy of
Proportion’. Analogy of Attribution is the language we use to describe God can
also be applied to ourselves. Aquinas gives the example of these words being “good”
and “wise”. Due to God creating the universe there is the ability of a
comparison as we have been shown the definition of these words through God as
he has revealed it to the world, allowing them to be used in order to describe
God’s essence. In stating that ‘God is good’ and descrbing others as ‘good’
also, due to ourselves seeing goodness in human beings, that God is the source
of goodness due to him being the creator but he says that even though these
words are given by us to describe the divine is seen to “use more to express
some remotion from God, rather than to express anything that exists positively
in Him”[6].
Analogy of Proportion, Aquinas describes God as seen as the perfect good, due
to God being eternal and unable to change. Aquinas does not state about a moral

Aquinas states that negative theology
gives us no reason to use some words about God rather than others. Aquinas
states that we have intellect and it can operate without the body meaning it
can exist on its own. Philosopher Alexander Broadie is a Scottish Philosopher
who strongly disagrees with Maimonides idea of negative theology. He states in
his article ‘Maimonides and Aquinas on the Names of God’.  He states that his “contention is that the
difference is one of formulation rather than of substance”[7].
He discusses in his article about the concept of God’s knowledge, and that both
philosophers state that they recognise that we have a problem with the
knowledge that we have and it is limited but in order for us to gain knowledge
and take the step forward in order to concept of God and God’s knowledge is to
accept our determined knowledge would be removed from ourselves. Broadie states
that Aquinas believes we represent God’s goodness and they are different but
they have a connection due to God being the creator of the universe. On the
other with the notion of God’s simplicity, Broadie states that the simplicity
undermines our true understanding of the definition of the positive and
negative words we use to describe God. He concludes that “the difference [between
negative thelogy and analogy] is one of formulation rather than of substance”[8].


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