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13. The Names of God

1. We can justifiably name anything in so far as we know it. Now, we can know God naturally by reason, and supernaturally by faith and revelation. Therefore we can name God. And indeed we have many names for God; they are justified by the fact that we know what we are naming.

2. The names we apply to God express God himself so far as we know him. Even though our natural knowledge of God's perfection is acquired by considering the perfections of creatures, it justifies our names for God. We realize that creatural perfections are all in God, for it is God who bestows perfections on creatures, and he must have them in himself to bestow. Hence when we use a name expressing a perfection as a name for God, we apply this name to God himself, in his essence and substance.

3. Therefore our real names for God are not figurative or metaphorical; they are literal. The perfections these names express are actually in God and of God. Of course, these names do not perfectly express the mode of eminence by which the perfections named are identified with God's essence.

4. The names we give to God apply to the undivided divine essence. Yet they are not all synonyms. These names are distinct from one another by a logical distinction. They express various aspects of what is not varied in itself. When we call God "the divine goodness", we express one true aspect of God; when we call him "the infinite", we express another; when we call God "the Almighty", we express still another. We do not thus imply that there are divisions in God; we only make various approaches to the one undivided divine essence.

5. Consider our use of names or terms, (a) When we apply a name or term to two or more things in exactly the same meaning, the term is, in that use, a univocal term. Thus the term being as applied to man, woman, and child, is a univocal term, (b) When, in the same context, we apply a term or name to two or more things in totally different meanings, the term is, in that use, an equivocal term. Thus the term bank used in the same context to indicate the side of a stream and also to indicate an institution for the care of money, is an equivocal term, (c) When, in the same context, we apply a term to two or more things in a different but related meaning, "a meaning partly the same, and partly different ", the term is, in that use, an analogous term (or an analogical term, or a term used by analogy). Thus the term "healthy" applied to a man and also to his complexion is an analogical term. It means that the man has health, and that his color shows health. In each use the term refers to health, and this is its sameness; in one use, it means possession of health, and, in the other use, it means manifestation of health, and this is its difference. Now, when we apply to God and also to creatures a name which means a perfection, we use the name or term by analogy. For example we call God wise, and we also speak of wise men. What we mean is that God is wisdom as identified with his essence, and that men have wisdom as a quality, an accidental not identified with the human essence. Therefore, when in the same context (expressed or understood) a term or name is applied to God and to creatures, commonly, to express perfection, that term is an analogous term.

6. Terms or names which express perfections, such as life, knowledge, wise, good, apply primarily to God, and secondarily to creatures. But in our human use of such terms, they refer primarily to creatures. For our knowledge of perfection, and indeed all our knowledge, begins with knowledge of creatures. We rise from the knowledge of creatural perfections to the knowledge of infinite perfection.

7. Some names of God, such as Creator, Preserver, Provider, involve a relation between creatures and God. On the part of creatures, this is a real relation, for creatures depend essentially upon God. But God in no way whatever depends on creatures. Hence, on God's part, no reality exists by reason of his relationship with creatures. God's relation to creatures is not a real, but a logical relation. If God did not create, preserve, and provide for creatures, they could not exist at all. But God would be God in complete and infinite perfection even if he never created anything to preserve and provide for; in which case, the names Creator, Preserver, and Provider would not actually apply to God. Therefore we say that the names or terms which express the relation of God to creatures do not apply to God eternally as indicating his essence, but temporally as expressing the time-marked dependence of creatures on God.

8. The name God means the supreme and infinite Being himself, in essence, substance, and nature.

9. Therefore, the name God is not accurately applied to any other being than God himself. It is an incommunicable name.

10. And when, as a fact, this name is used to indicate a creature, it is used by analogy only, inasmuch as creatures have limited perfection which is in God unlimitedly. As applied to an idol, the name God is simply misused.

11. The most perfect name for God is that which He applied to Himself. God said to Moses (Exod. 3:14), "Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: he who is hath sent me to you." The name he who is expresses the fact that it is God's very essence to exist, and it directly suggests God's infinity and eternity.

12. It has been said untruly that all our names for God are negative, and that we do not make affirmative statements about God. Some names for God are negative in form (such as infinite which is really nonfinite) but they negate negation, and are positive in meaning. Besides, we have many simply affirmative names for God, and we make true affirmative statements about him. Thus we say that God exists in unity and trinity; that God is all-good, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful,etc. We are careful to remember that various affirmative names for God, and various affirmative statements of truth about God, never indicate a division or a plurality of real elements in God, who is one undivided essence, one infinite and absolutely simple substance.

"O Lord, my God, who will seek you with simple and pure love, and not find that you are all one can desire, for you show yourself first and go out to meet those who seek you? "
St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come."
Thomas á Kempis

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"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."
St Alphonsus de Liguori

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