Are Names Applied To God Synonymously?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters. I’m glad you’ve either come back to this blog or are coming for the first time. If for the first time, feel free to check the archive. There’s plenty to keep you reading for awhile. We’re going through the doctrine of God now and our guide is the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. If you do not own a copy, I recommend you go to and you can read it online for free. Of course, I have no objections to your getting your own personal offline copy. Tonight, we’re going to ask if the names that we apply to God are applied synonymously.

What does that mean? Well when we say that God is good and we say that he is wise, are we really meaning the same thing? How could that be? We’ve stated earlier that simplicity is an important attribute of God in the thought of Aquinas. In fact, right after the existence of God, simplicity is the first one covered.

If that is the case, aren’t we speaking of simply one reality, namely God, and when we say anything, we’re simply speaking of that one reality. Can we really speak of that one reality in different ways? We are not going to be saying that goodness is wisdom after all are we?

Like any good thinker, Aquinas knows what you’re thinking is an objection to his system. In fact, he knows the objection better than you do. He’s also got his answers prepared to all of the objections. Aquinas’s answer is that the names are not synonymous but refer to different things.

While God is one, we see him presented in many diverse ways. It is because on our side we are limited and we cannot take in God all at once. When we use different names, we are speaking of different ways of describing him. When we say that he is good, we mean that he is the one that is supremely desirable. When we say that he is omnipotent, we mean that he is the one who possesses all power.

None of these names give a perfect description of God. They are all imperfect. Our understanding of goodness and wisdom and other attributes of God is imperfect. When we say God is good, for instance, we do not know entirely what that means, but we do know that we have an idea of what that means.

All of these names that we give then do apply to the one reality of God, but they apply differently to the way that one reality is understood by us. We speak of the one reality that is God but when we do so, we speak of him in ways that we can only grasp one idea of what he is like at a time.

We should be thankful we can understand God in so many ways and learn once again how seriously the medievals took the topic of God in that even in discussing the way that we speak of him, they saw that we have to be careful with our language. May we continue to do so.

We shall continue this tomorrow.

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