(God) is not soul or mind, nor does it posses imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding. Nor is it speech per se, understanding per se. It cannot be spoken of and it cannot be grasped by understanding. It is not number or order, greatness or smallness, equality or unequality, similarity or dissimilarity. It is not immovable, moving, or at rest. It has no power, it is not power, nor is it light. It does not live nor is it life. It is not substance, nor is it eternity or time. It cannot be grasped by the understanding since it is neither knowledge nor truth. It is not kingship. It is not wisdom. It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness. Nor is it a spirit, in the sense in which we understand that term. It is not sonship or fatherhood and it is nothing known to us or to any other being. Existing beings beings do not know it as it actually is and it does not know them as they are. There is no speaking of it, nor name nor knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth — it is none of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation; it is also beyond every denial.

Dionysius the Areopagite (aka Pseudo-Dionysius), The Mystical Theology

Dionysius the Areopagite (aka Pseudo-Dionysius) was a Christian mystic who wrote these words sometime in the 6th or 7th century. As such, he can not have been the disciple of Paul of Tarsus (Saint Paul) as he posed to be. Even so, his words were taken very seriously and are the basis for a lot of Christian mystical thought since that time. It seems pretty clear that the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing was familiar with Dionysius’s work, as was Meister Ekhart.

Dionysious’s works are fundamental to what is called apophatic theology, which is when we approach God by stripping away everything that we have a name for. This is sometimes called negative theology, but it’s important that it not be misconstrued as somehow anti theology — this is not the case. At the core of apophatic theology is the understanding that God is beyond words. Words, as a human creation, are woefully underpowered to grasp the essence of God.

The Tao Te Ching uses the very same kind of language to describe the fundamental nature of the universe:

The Tao is forever undefined.
Small though it is in the unformed state, it cannot be grasped.

Once the whole is divided, the parts need names.
There are already enough names.
One must know when to stop.
(Chapter 32)


The Tao is elusive and intangible.
Oh, it is intangible and elusive, and yet within is image.
Oh, it is elusive and intangible, and yet within is form.
Oh, it is dim and dark, and yet within is essence.
This essence is very real, and therein lies faith.
(Chapter 21)


Those who know do not talk.
Those who talk do not know.
(Chapter 56)

From The Tao Te Ching, translated by Feng and English

If God is beyond words, God is also beyond the word “love” — therefore, saying “God is love” is as wrong as saying “God is an aardvark.”