Are Names Properly Applied To God?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters. I hope things are going well for you and you’re continuing to pray for me. We are going through the doctrine of God and we’re using the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas as our guide. A copy can be read online at We’ll be asking the question tonight of if names can be properly applied to God.

One concern with this is that there are several names that definitely cannot be applied to God. We do not speak of God literally when we say that he is a rock or that he is a lion. However, that does not mean that there is no truth to the statements that have been made. When we say God is a rock, we are not saying that he is a material substance that is hard and impenetrable. However, we are saying that he is strong and sturdy and unchanging and will not be moved.

However, there are names in which we do say something of God in his nature. We do such when we say that he is good or that he is wise. Aquinas does make a distinction here however. While we can say that these apply properly to God, they do not apply in the same way. The way that God possesses goodness is different from the way that we do. God is goodness by his eternal act of existing. We are good by our being as Aquinas says earlier, but we exist by grace. There could be no goodness in us unless there was goodness in God.

In other words, creatures do possess these attributes such as goodness and these are perfections insofar as they are possessed, but they are possessed imperfectly. God, on the other hand, possesses all perfections not imperfectly but perfectly. Heis perfect goodness, justice, wisdom, truth, etc.

This doesn’t present a problem either for the idea that many of the names we use of God tell more what he is not rather than what he is. The perfections that we have about him tell us that he is not like any of the creatures that he created. Creatures change, for instance, because they are imperfect. God on the other hand, does not change as he is already perfect and there is no basis for change in him.

What can we get out of this? We can learn that we truly can speak of God and know something about him. This would be important in Aquinas’s day when there was much debate against the Muslims of the time. In Islam, God is ultimately unknowable. This is not a problem for the Christian who believes God has revealed himself and especially in Christ.

We Christians are the ones who can go out and tell a world what God is like and what can be done to know him. In Aquinas’s thought, if you wanted to be God’s friend, you could be considered a Christian. Of course, that has to be the God who is there and not just any god. The only way you can choose to be his friend however is to know something about him. Thankfully, according to Aquinas, that can be done.

We shall continue tomorrow.

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