Can Names Be Substantially Applied To God?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters. I apologize for the lack of updates. I had a late late evening Thursday night so I didn’t blog. As for the rest of the time, I’ve been out of town. I hope no one was too worried. As it is, right now, there should be a feature available on the blog so that fans who like what is going on here and want to support the ministry can do so. Hopefully I will also be able to somehow pull together enough computer knowledge and enough computer imagination to find some ways to update the site from what I fear could be a bland look for the time being. However, tonight we are going to continue our look at the doctrine of God with the guide being the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. A copy is available to be read online at We will be looking at the second question on the name of God.

This is asking if names can be substantially applied to God. In other words, when we give a name to God, are we able to say something of God in describing the way he is. For instance, some had said that saying that God is good is saying that God is the cause of goodness in things.

However, Aquinas says that we could just as easily then say that God is a body because God is the cause of bodies. When we say God is good, we do affirm that God is the cause of Goodness in things, but we also claim to be knowing something about God.

This is also different from relational terms for God in names. For instance, to say that God is Lord is not describing the substance of God but rather an outworking of God’s relation to creation in light of the nature that he is. Since God is sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, etc., then he is Lord. However, if there is no creation, there are no beings for him to be Lord over.

Thus, when we are speaking of God substantially, it means that any term that we apply to him is one that could be applied of him if there was no creation. Each of them is saying “I am telling you something about God as he is in himself and with this name, this is what I am saying.”

However, Aquinas agrees that this is not saying entirely that this is what God is. Instead, it is saying that this is what God is like. We see a certain perfection in creatures called goodness. This is limited in them. However, when we come to God, this is unlimited. This does not mean that we understand entirely what this goodness is. We just know what it is like.

So Aquinas does agree that we can state something of what God is like, but it is always going to be limited. He does not however wish us to be agnostic about God and say we can know nothing about the divine nature, but like Paul would say, he does affirm that at this point in time, we see through a glass darkly.

We shall continue tomorrow.

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