The Names of God. from Summa Theologiae (Part I, Questions 12-13) by Thomas Aquinas (~1265 AD) translated by Brian Shanley (2006)

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1 The Names of God from Summa Theologiae (Part I, Questions 12-13) by Thomas Aquinas (~1265 AD) translated by Brian Shanley (2006) For with respect to God, it is more apparent to us what God is not, rather than what God is. And so the likenesses drawn from things far removed from God lead us to a truer appreciation that God is beyond anything we can say or think about God. (Summa Theologiae, I.1.9) Question 12. How God is Known by Us Article 12. Can we know God through natural reason in this life? Reply. Our natural knowledge has its origins in the senses; hence our natural knowledge can extend as far as it can be led through sensible things. But from sensible things our intellects cannot attain a vision of the divine essence, since sensible creatures are effects of God inadequate relative to the power of their cause. Hence from the knowledge of sensible things the complete power of God cannot be known and consequently neither can God s essence be seen. But since they are God s effects and dependent on their cause, we can be led from them to knowing whether God exists, and further to knowing what necessarily belongs to God insofar as God is the first cause of all things who surpasses everything that he causes. Hence we know God s relationship to creatures: namely, that God is the cause of all. And we know the distinction of creatures from God: namely, that God is not any of the things that are caused by him; and we know that this is denied of God not on the basis of any defect in God, but because God far surpasses all things. Question 13. The Names of God Article 1. Is God nameable by us? It seems that no name is suitable to God: 1. Dionysius in the first chapter of On Divine Names says that Of God there is neither name nor opinion. Moreover, Proverbs 30:4 says, What is God s name, or the name of his son, if you know it? 2. Every name is said either abstractly or concretely. But names that signify concretely cannot belong to God since God is simple; neither can names that signify abstractly, since they do not signify a complete subsisting thing. Hence no name can be said of God. 1

2 On the contrary. Exodus 15:3 says: Like a warrior, Almighty is the name of the Lord. Reply. Now it was shown above [I ] that God cannot be seen by us in this life through the divine essence, but that God is known by us from creatures, inasmuch as God stands to them as their source, through the ways of both excellence and denial. Accordingly God can be named by us from creatures in this way, but not in such a way that a name signifying God expresses the divine essence as it is, as the name human being expresses by its signification the essence of human being as it is because it signifies its definition, which states its essence. For the concept that a name signifies is the definition. Response to 1. God is said not to have a name, or to be beyond naming, because God s essence is beyond what we can understand of God and beyond what we can signify through words. Response to 2. [S]ince God is both simple and subsisting, we attribute to God both abstract names, in order to signify God s simplicity, and concrete names, in order to signify God s subsistence and completeness. Both kinds of names, however, fall short of God s own mode [of being], just as our intellect in this life does not know God as God is. Article 2. Are any of the names said of God predicated substantially? It seems that no name is said of God substantially: 1. Damascene says: It must be that none of the things that are said of God signify what God is substantially, but rather show what God is not, or some relationship to something, or something of what follows from God s nature or action. 3. Something is named by us insofar as it is understood by us. But God is not understood by us in this life according to his substance. Therefore, no name imposed by us is said of God according to his substance. On the contrary. Augustine says in Book VI of On the Trinity: This is what it is to be God: to be strong, or to be wise, or whatever else you will say about that simplicity. By this, God s substance is signified. Therefore, every name of this kind signifies the divine substance. 2

3 Reply. The names that are said of God negatively or that signify God s relationship to a creature obviously in no way signify God s substance, but rather the denial that he has some characteristic or the relationship of God to something else or rather of something to God. But there have been many opinions regarding the names that are said of God absolutely or affirmatively such as good, wise, and predicates of this kind. Some have said that all these names, although they are said of God affirmatively, nevertheless are found to deny things of God rather than to impute things to God. Hence they claim that when we say that God is living, we mean that God is not like an inanimate thing, and that something similar is the case with other names. This was the view of Rabbi Moses [Maimonides]. There are others who say that these names are imposed to signify some relationship of God to what is created: so that when we say that God is good, the meaning is that God is the cause of goodness in things. And the same reasoning is applied to other names. Both of these views seem to be unacceptable for three reasons: First, on neither of these positions could one assign a reason whereby certain names are more appropriately said of God than others. For God is the cause of bodies just as God is the cause of good things. So if nothing else is meant when we say that God is good other than God is the cause of good things, then it can similarly be said that God is a body since God is the cause of bodies. Moreover, in saying that God is a body, it is denied that God is only a potential being, like prime matter. Second, it would follow that all the names said of God would be said derivatively of God, just as health is said derivatively of medicine because it signifies only that medicine is the cause of health in an animal, whereas health is said of the animal primarily. Third, this is contrary to the intention of those speaking of God. For when we say that God is living, we intend something other than that God is the cause of our life, or that God differs from inanimate bodies. Thus something else must be maintained: that names of this kind signify the divine substance and are predicated of God substantially, but that they fall short of a representation of God. This is made plain as follows. Names signify God insofar as our intellect knows God. But since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows God insofar as those creatures represent God. But it was shown above [I.4.2] that God, being universally and absolutely perfect, prepossesses in himself all the perfections of creatures. Thus any creature represents God and is like God to the degree to which it has any perfection. 3

4 It does not represent God as though they were of the same species or genus, however, but rather as an effect falling short of the form of its surpassing principle which yet, as an effect, has some likeness to its cause, just as the forms of terrestrial bodies represent the power of the sun. This was explained earlier [I.4.3] when we considered God s perfection. Accordingly, the aforesaid names signify the divine substance, but do so imperfectly, just as creatures imperfectly represent the divine substance. Hence when we say God is good, it does not mean that God is the cause of goodness or that God is not bad; rather, this means that what we call good in creatures preexists in God, albeit in a higher mode. From this it does not follow that it belongs to God to be good insofar as God is the cause of goodness, but rather just the opposite: that because God is good, God diffuses goodness to things, as Augustine says in On Christian Doctrine: Because God is good, we are. Response to 1. The reason Damascene says that these names do not signify what God is is that none of them perfectly expresses what God is. But each one does signify God imperfectly, just as creatures represent God imperfectly. Response to 3. We cannot in this life know the essence of God as it is in itself, but we do know it as it is represented in the perfections of creatures. Thus the names imposed by us do signify God s essence. Article 3. Are any names said properly of God, or are they all attributed to God metaphorically? It seems that no name is said of God properly: 1. Every name we say of God is taken from creatures, as was said earlier [art. 1 reply]. But creaturely names are said of God metaphorically, as when we say that God is a rock, or a lion, or something else of this kind. Therefore, all the names said of God are said metaphorically. 2. No name is said properly of something when it is truer to deny it than to predicate it. But all names of this kind good, wise, and the like are more truly denied of God than predicated of God, as Dionysius makes clear in Chapter 2 of On the Celestial Hierarchy. Therefore, none of those names are properly said of God. 3. The names of bodies are not said of God except metaphorically, since God is non-bodily. But every name of this kind implies certain bodily 4

5 conditions, since it signifies with time, composition, and other such things that are conditions of bodies. Therefore, all such names are said of God metaphorically. On the contrary. In Book II of On Faith, Ambrose says: There are some names that obviously express what is proper to divinity and some that express the clear truth about the divine majesty; there are others, however, that are said of God metaphorically through some likeness. Accordingly, not all names are said of God metaphorically; rather, some are said properly. Reply. As was already said [art. 2 reply], we know God from the perfections flowing to creatures from God, which perfections are in God according to a more eminent mode than in creatures. But our intellect apprehends these perfections according to the mode they have in creatures, and insofar as it apprehends so it signifies through names. Accordingly, in the names that we attribute to God there are two things that need to be distinguished: namely, the very perfections signified such as goodness, life, and the like and the mode of signifying. As regards what names of this kind signify, these names apply properly to God, indeed more properly to God than to God s creatures, and they are said primarily of God. As regards their mode of signifying, however, they are not properly said of God, for they have the mode of signifying that belongs to creatures. Response to 1. Some names signify perfections of this kind proceeding from God to created things in such a manner that the imperfect mode by which a creature participates in the divine perfection is itself included in the very signification of the name as rock signifies a material being. Names of this kind cannot be attributed to God except metaphorically. Other names signify the perfections themselves in an absolute way, without any mode of participation included in their signification such as being, good, life, and the like. Such names are said properly of God. Response to 2. Dionysius says that names of this kind are negated of God because what is signified by the name does not belong to God according to the same mode that the name signifies, but rather according to a more excellent mode. Hence in the same place Dionysius says that God is beyond every substance and life. Response to 3. The names that are said properly of God imply bodily conditions not in the very signification of the name, but in the mode of signifying. In contrast, those names that are said of God metaphorically imply bodily conditions in their very signification. 5

6 Article 5. Are any names said of God and creatures univocally, or are they said equivocally? It seems that the names said of God and creatures are said of them univocally: 1. Now some agents are found to be univocal, and these agree with their effects in name and in definition, as when a human generates a human. Other agents are equivocal, as when the sun causes heat, even though it is hot only equivocally. Accordingly, it seems that the first agent, to which all other agents are resolved, is a univocal agent. Thus what is said of God and creatures is predicated univocally. 2. No likeness follows from equivocals. Accordingly, since there is some kind of likeness between creatures and God according to Genesis 1:26: Let us make man in our image and likeness it seems that something is said univocally of God and creatures. 3. A measure is homogeneous with what it measures, as it says in Metaphysics X. But God is the first measure of every being, as it says in the same place. Therefore, God is homogeneous with creatures, and thus something can be said univocally of God and creatures. On the contrary. Whatever is predicated of various things according to the same name but not according to the same meaning is predicated of them equivocally. But no name belongs to God according to the meaning that it has when it is said of creatures, for wisdom in creatures is a quality, but not in God, and a change in genus is a change in meaning, since the genus is part of the definition. The same reasoning applies to other cases. Therefore, whatever is said of God and creatures is said equivocally. Furthermore, God is more distant from creatures than any creature is distant from another creature. But because of the distance between some creatures, it happens that nothing can be predicated of them univocally, as is the case with things that do not share any genus. Much less, therefore, is anything predicated of God and creatures univocally, but rather everything is predicated equivocally. Reply. It is impossible that anything be predicated of God and creatures univocally. For every effect that does not match the power of the agent cause receives from the agent a likeness that is not of the same nature; rather, it receives it in a lesser way, with the result that what exists in the 6

7 cause simply and in the same way exists in the effects in a divided and multiplied way. Thus the sun, in virtue of a single power, produces many and varied forms in terrestrial things. In the same way, as was said above [art. 4 reply], all the perfections of things, which are divided and multiplied in created things, preexist in God as a unity. Accordingly, when any name pertaining to perfection is said of a creature, it signifies that perfection as distinct from others in keeping with the account expressed by its definition; for example, when the term wise is said of a human being, we signify some perfection that is distinct from the essence of that person, as well as from the power, the existence, and everything else of that sort. But when we say that name of God, we do not intend to signify something distinct from the essence, power, or existence of God. Thus, when the term wise is said of a human being, it in some way describes and comprehends the thing signified; this is not true when it is said of God, however, for what is signified remains incomprehensible, exceeding the signification of the name. So it is clear that wise is not said of God and human beings according to the same meaning. Similar reasoning applies to other names. Thus no name is predicated of God and creatures univocally. But neither is all predication purely equivocal, as some have said, 1 since this would entail that nothing can be known or demonstrated about God, but rather would always be subject to the fallacy of equivocation. This would be contrary to the philosophers, who prove many things about God through demonstration, and contrary to the Apostle, who in Romans 1:20 says: The invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood through the things that are made. It therefore must be said that names of this kind are said of God and creatures according to analogy, that is, according to proportion. This can happen with names in two different ways: either when many have a proportion to one, as health is said of medicine and urine insofar as they both have an order and proportion to the health of an animal, one being the sign of health and the other being its cause; or when one has a proportion to another, as health is said of medicine and an animal insofar as medicine is the cause of health in the animal. It is in this latter way that something is said of God and creatures analogically, and not by pure equivocation or univocally. For we can name God only from creatures, as was said above [art. 1 reply]. And thus whatever is said of God and creatures is said according to some ordering of creatures to God as source and cause in which all the perfections of things preexist in a more excellent way. This kind of commonality lies in between pure equivocation and simple univocity. For when things are said analogically, there is not a single 1 Aquinas probably has in mind Moses Maimonides in his Guide of the Perplexed I.59 and Averroës, Commentary on the Metaphysics XII.51. 7

8 meaning in common, as there is in the case of univocal terms, nor is there a completely diverse meaning, as in the case of equivocal terms. For a name that is said analogically of many signifies diverse proportions to some one thing, as health when said of urine signifies the sign of an animal s health and health when said of medicine signifies the cause of the same health. Response to 1. A univocal agent, however, is not the universal agent cause of the entire species; otherwise it would be the cause of itself, since it is itself a member of the species. Accordingly, the universal cause of the entire species is not a univocal agent. However this universal agent, although it is not univocal, is also not completely equivocal, since then it would not make something like itself; rather, it can be said to be an analogical agent, just as in predication all univocal terms resolve into one first term which is not univocal, but analogical that is, being. Response to 2. A creature s likeness to God is imperfect, since it does not represent the same thing even in genus, as was said above [I.4.3 reply]. Response to 3. God is not a measure proportionate to what is measured. Therefore, it is not necessary that God and creatures be contained in one genus. Regarding the arguments made On the contrary, they conclude that names of this kind are not predicated of God and creatures univocally; they do not prove, however, that they are predicated equivocally. Article 10. Is the name God used univocally or equivocally? Reply. [T]he name God is taken neither univocally or equivocally, but analogically. This is clear from the fact that univocal terms have an entirely identical concept, equivocal terms have entirely diverse concepts, while in the case of analogical terms it is necessary that the term taken in one signification be placed in the definition of the same term when it is taken according to other significations. As an example is when being, as said of substance is placed in the definition of being as it is said of accidents, or when healthy, as said of an animal, is placed in the definition of healthy as said of urine and medicine for with respect to the health that is in an animal, urine is a sign and medicine a cause. The same is true in the matter at hand. 8

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