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Home > Summa Theologica > First Part > Question 13

Question 13. The names of God

  1. Can God be named by us?
  2. Are any names applied to God predicated of Him substantially?
  3. Are any names applied to God said of Him literally, or are all to be taken metaphorically?
  4. Are any names applied to God synonymous?
  5. Are some names applied to God and to creatures univocally or equivocally?
  6. Supposing they are applied analogically, are they applied first to God or to creatures?
  7. Are any names applicable to God from time?
  8. Is this name "God" a name of nature, or of the operation?
  9. Is this name "God" a communicable name?
  10. Is it taken univocally or equivocally as signifying God, by nature, by participation, and by opinion?
  11. Is this name, "Who is," the supremely appropriate name of God?
  12. Can affirmative propositions be formed about God?

Article 1. Whether a name can be given to God?

Objection 1. It seems that no name can be given to God. For Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i) that, "Of Him there is neither name, nor can one be found of Him;" and it is written: "What is His name, and what is the name of His Son, if thou knowest?" (Proverbs 30:4).

Objection 2. Further, every name is either abstract or concrete. But concrete names do not belong to God, since He is simple, nor do abstract names belong to Him, forasmuch as they do not signify any perfect subsisting thing. Therefore no name can be said of God.

Objection 3. Further, nouns are taken to signify substance with quality; verbs and participles signify substance with time; pronouns the same with demonstration or relation. But none of these can be applied to God, for He has no quality, nor accident, nor time; moreover, He cannot be felt, so as to be pointed out; nor can He be described by relation, inasmuch as relations serve to recall a thing mentioned before by nouns, participles, or demonstrative pronouns. Therefore God cannot in any way be named by us.

On the contrary, It is written (Exodus 15:3): "The Lord is a man of war, Almighty is His name."

I answer that, Since according to the Philosopher (Peri Herm. i), words are signs of ideas, and ideas the similitude of things, it is evident that words relate to the meaning of things signified through the medium of the intellectual conception. It follows therefore that we can give a name to anything in as far as we can understand it. Now it was shown above (12, 11, 12) that in this life we cannot see the essence of God; but we know God from creatures as their principle, and also by way of excellence and remotion. In this way therefore He can be named by us from creatures, yet not so that the name which signifies Him expresses the divine essence in itself. Thus the name "man" expresses the essence of man in himself, since it signifies the definition of man by manifesting his essence; for the idea expressed by the name is the definition.

Reply to Objection 1. The reason why God has no name, or is said to be above being named, is because His essence is above all that we understand about God, and signify in word.

Reply to Objection 2. Because we know and name God from creatures, the names we attribute to God signify what belongs to material creatures, of which the knowledge is natural to us. And because in creatures of this kind what is perfect and subsistent is compound; whereas their form is not a complete subsisting thing, but rather is that whereby a thing is; hence it follows that all names used by us to signify a complete subsisting thing must have a concrete meaning as applicable to compound things; whereas names given to signify simple forms, signify a thing not as subsisting, but as that whereby a thing is; as, for instance, whiteness signifies that whereby a thing is white. And as God is simple, and subsisting, we attribute to Him abstract names to signify His simplicity, and concrete names to signify His substance and perfection, although both these kinds of names fail to express His mode of being, forasmuch as our intellect does not know Him in this life as He is.

Reply to Objection 3. To signify substance with quality is to signify the "suppositum" with a nature or determined form in which it subsists. Hence, as some things are said of God in a concrete sense, to signify His subsistence and perfection, so likewise nouns are applied to God signifying substance with quality. Further, verbs and participles which signify time, are applied to Him because His eternity includes all time. For as we can apprehend and signify simple subsistences only by way of compound things, so we can understand and express simple eternity only by way of temporal things, because our intellect has a natural affinity to compound and temporal things. But demonstrative pronouns are applied to God as describing what is understood, not what is sensed. For we can only describe Him as far as we understand Him. Thus, according as nouns, participles and demonstrative pronouns are applicable to God, so far can He be signified by relative pronouns.

Article 2. Whether any name can be applied to God substantially?

Objection 1. It seems that no name can be applied to God substantially. For Damascene says (De Fide Orth. i, 9): "Everything said of God signifies not His substance, but rather shows forth what He is not; or expresses some relation, or something following from His nature or operation."

Objection 2. Further, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i): "You will find a chorus of holy doctors addressed to the end of distinguishing clearly and praiseworthily the divine processions in the denomination of God." Thus the names applied by the holy doctors in praising God are distinguished according to the divine processions themselves. But what expresses the procession of anything, does not signify its essence. Therefore the names applied to God are not said of Him substantially.

Objection 3. Further, a thing is named by us according as we understand it. But God is not understood by us in this life in His substance. Therefore neither is any name we can use applied substantially to God.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. vi): "The being of God is the being strong, or the being wise, or whatever else we may say of that simplicity whereby His substance is signified." Therefore all names of this kind signify the divine substance.

I answer that, Negative names applied to God, or signifying His relation to creatures manifestly do not at all signify His substance, but rather express the distance of the creature from Him, or His relation to something else, or rather, the relation of creatures to Himself.

But as regards absolute and affirmative names of God, as "good," "wise," and the like, various and many opinions have been given. For some have said that all such names, although they are applied to God affirmatively, nevertheless have been brought into use more to express some remotion from God, rather than to express anything that exists positively in Him. Hence they assert that when we say that God lives, we mean that God is not like an inanimate thing; and the same in like manner applies to other names; and this was taught by Rabbi Moses. Others say that these names applied to God signify His relationship towards creatures: thus in the words, "God is good," we mean, God is the cause of goodness in things; and the same rule applies to other names.

Both of these opinions, however, seem to be untrue for three reasons.

First because in neither of them can a reason be assigned why some names more than others are applied to God. For He is assuredly the cause of bodies in the same way as He is the cause of good things; therefore if the words "God is good," signified no more than, "God is the cause of good things," it might in like manner be said that God is a body, inasmuch as He is the cause of bodies. So also to say that He is a body implies that He is not a mere potentiality, as is primary matter.

Secondly, because it would follow that all names applied to God would be said of Him by way of being taken in a secondary sense, as healthy is secondarily said of medicine, forasmuch as it signifies only the cause of the health in the animal which primarily is called healthy.

Thirdly, because this is against the intention of those who speak of God. For in saying that God lives, they assuredly mean more than to say the He is the cause of our life, or that He differs from inanimate bodies.

Therefore we must hold a different doctrine--viz. that these names signify the divine substance, and are predicated substantially of God, although they fall short of a full representation of Him. Which is proved thus. For these names express God, so far as our intellects know Him. Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him. Now it is shown above (Question 4, Article 2) that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto, even as the forms of inferior bodies represent the power of the sun. This was explained above (Question 4, Article 3), in treating of the divine perfection. Therefore the aforesaid names signify the divine substance, but in an imperfect manner, even as creatures represent it imperfectly. So when we say, "God is good," the meaning is not, "God is the cause of goodness," or "God is not evil"; but the meaning is, "Whatever good we attribute to creatures, pre-exists in God," and in a more excellent and higher way. Hence it does not follow that God is good, because He causes goodness; but rather, on the contrary, He causes goodness in things because He is good; according to what Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 32), "Because He is good, we are."

Reply to Objection 1. Damascene says that these names do not signify what God is, forasmuch as by none of these names is perfectly expressed what He is; but each one signifies Him in an imperfect manner, even as creatures represent Him imperfectly.

Reply to Objection 2. In the significance of names, that from which the name is derived is different sometimes from what it is intended to signify, as for instance, this name "stone" [lapis] is imposed from the fact that it hurts the foot [loedit pedem], but it is not imposed to signify that which hurts the foot, but rather to signify a certain kind of body; otherwise everything that hurts the foot would be a stone [This refers to the Latin etymology of the word "lapis" which has no place in English]. So we must say that these kinds of divine names are imposed from the divine processions; for as according to the diverse processions of their perfections, creatures are the representations of God, although in an imperfect manner; so likewise our intellect knows and names God according to each kind of procession; but nevertheless these names are not imposed to signify the procession themselves, as if when we say "God lives," the sense were, "life proceeds from Him"; but to signify the principle itself of things, in so far as life pre-exists in Him, although it pre-exists in Him in a more eminent way than can be understood or signified.

Reply to Objection 3. We cannot know the essence of God in this life, as He really is in Himself; but we know Him accordingly as He is represented in the perfections of creatures; and thus the names imposed by us signify Him in that manner only.

Article 3. Whether any name can be applied to God in its literal sense?

Objection 1. It seems that no name is applied literally to God. For all names which we apply to God are taken from creatures; as was explained above (Article 1). But the names of creatures are applied to God metaphorically, as when we say, God is a stone, or a lion, or the like. Therefore names are applied to God in a metaphorical sense.

Objection 2. Further, no name can be applied literally to anything if it should be withheld from it rather than given to it. But all such names as "good," "wise," and the like are more truly withheld from God than given to Him; as appears from Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. ii). Therefore none of these names belong to God in their literal sense.

Objection 3. Further, corporeal names are applied to God in a metaphorical sense only; since He is incorporeal. But all such names imply some kind of corporeal condition; for their meaning is bound up with time and composition and like corporeal conditions. Therefore all these names are applied to God in a metaphorical sense.

On the contrary, Ambrose says (De Fide ii), "Some names there are which express evidently the property of the divinity, and some which express the clear truth of the divine majesty, but others there are which are applied to God metaphorically by way of similitude." Therefore not all names are applied to God in a metaphorical sense, but there are some which are said of Him in their literal sense.

I answer that, According to the preceding article, our knowledge of God is derived from the perfections which flow from Him to creatures, which perfections are in God in a more eminent way than in creatures. Now our intellect apprehends them as they are in creatures, and as it apprehends them it signifies them by names. Therefore as to the names applied to God--viz. the perfections which they signify, such as goodness, life and the like, and their mode of signification. As regards what is signified by these names, they belong properly to God, and more properly than they belong to creatures, and are applied primarily to Him. But as regards their mode of signification, they do not properly and strictly apply to God; for their mode of signification applies to creatures.

Reply to Objection 1. There are some names which signify these perfections flowing from God to creatures in such a way that the imperfect way in which creatures receive the divine perfection is part of the very signification of the name itself as "stone" signifies a material being, and names of this kind can be applied to God only in a metaphorical sense. Other names, however, express these perfections absolutely, without any such mode of participation being part of their signification as the words "being," "good," "living," and the like, and such names can be literally applied to God.

Reply to Objection 2. Such names as these, as Dionysius shows, are denied of God for the reason that what the name signifies does not belong to Him in the ordinary sense of its signification, but in a more eminent way. Hence Dionysius says also that God is above all substance and all life.

Reply to Objection 3. These names which are applied to God literally imply corporeal conditions not in the thing signified, but as regards their mode of signification; whereas those which are applied to God metaphorically imply and mean a corporeal condition in the thing signified.

Article 4. Whether names applied to God are synonymous?

Objection 1. It seems that these names applied to God are synonymous names. For synonymous names are those which mean exactly the same. But these names applied to God mean entirely the same thing in God; for the goodness of God is His essence, and likewise it is His wisdom. Therefore these names are entirely synonymous.

Objection 2. Further, if it be said these names signify one and the same thing in reality, but differ in idea, it can be objected that an idea to which no reality corresponds is a vain notion. Therefore if these ideas are many, and the thing is one, it seems also that all these ideas are vain notions.

Objection 3. Further, a thing which is one in reality and in idea, is more one than what is one in reality and many in idea. But God is supremely one. Therefore it seems that He is not one in reality and many in idea; and thus the names applied to God do not signify different ideas; and thus they are synonymous.

On the contrary, All synonyms united with each other are redundant, as when we say, "vesture clothing." Therefore if all names applied to God are synonymous, we cannot properly say "good God" or the like, and yet it is written, "O most mighty, great and powerful, the Lord of hosts is Thy name" (Jeremiah 32:18).

I answer that, These names spoken of God are not synonymous. This would be easy to understand, if we said that these names are used to remove, or to express the relation of cause to creatures; for thus it would follow that there are different ideas as regards the diverse things denied of God, or as regards diverse effects connoted. But even according to what was said above (Article 2), that these names signify the divine substance, although in an imperfect manner, it is also clear from what has been said (1,2) that they have diverse meanings. For the idea signified by the name is the conception in the intellect of the thing signified by the name. But our intellect, since it knows God from creatures, in order to understand God, forms conceptions proportional to the perfections flowing from God to creatures, which perfections pre-exist in God unitedly and simply, whereas in creatures they are received and divided and multiplied. As therefore, to the different perfections of creatures, there corresponds one simple principle represented by different perfections of creatures in a various and manifold manner, so also to the various and multiplied conceptions of our intellect, there corresponds one altogether simple principle, according to these conceptions, imperfectly understood. Therefore although the names applied to God signify one thing, still because they signify that under many and different aspects, they are not synonymous.

Thus appears the solution of the First Objection, since synonymous terms signify one thing under one aspect; for words which signify different aspects of one things, do not signify primarily and absolutely one thing; because the term only signifies the thing through the medium of the intellectual conception, as was said above.

Reply to Objection 2. The many aspects of these names are not empty and vain, for there corresponds to all of them one simple reality represented by them in a manifold and imperfect manner.

Reply to Objection 3. The perfect unity of God requires that what are manifold and divided in others should exist in Him simply and unitedly. Thus it comes about that He is one in reality, and yet multiple in idea, because our intellect apprehends Him in a manifold manner, as things represent Him.

Article 5. Whether what is said of God and of creatures is univocally predicated of them?

Objection 1. It seems that the things attributed to God and creatures are univocal. For every equivocal term is reduced to the univocal, as many are reduced to one; for if the name "dog" be said equivocally of the barking dog, and of the dogfish, it must be said of some univocally--viz. of all barking dogs; otherwise we proceed to infinitude. Now there are some univocal agents which agree with their effects in name and definition, as man generates man; and there are some agents which are equivocal, as the sun which causes heat, although the sun is hot only in an equivocal sense. Therefore it seems that the first agent to which all other agents are reduced, is an univocal agent: and thus what is said of God and creatures, is predicated univocally.

Objection 2. Further, there is no similitude among equivocal things. Therefore as creatures have a certain likeness to God, according to the word of Genesis (Genesis 1:26), "Let us make man to our image and likeness," it seems that something can be said of God and creatures univocally.

Objection 3. Further, measure is homogeneous with the thing measured. But God is the first measure of all beings. Therefore God is homogeneous with creatures; and thus a word may be applied univocally to God and to creatures.

On the contrary, whatever is predicated of various things under the same name but not in the same sense, is predicated equivocally. But no name belongs to God in the same sense that it belongs to creatures; for instance, wisdom in creatures is a quality, but not in God. Now a different genus changes an essence, since the genus is part of the definition; and the same applies to other things. Therefore whatever is said of God and of creatures is predicated equivocally.

Further, God is more distant from creatures than any creatures are from each other. But the distance of some creatures makes any univocal predication of them impossible, as in the case of those things which are not in the same genus. Therefore much less can anything be predicated univocally of God and creatures; and so only equivocal predication can be applied to them.

I answer that, Univocal predication is impossible between God and creatures. The reason of this is that every effect which is not an adequate result of the power of the efficient cause, receives the similitude of the agent not in its full degree, but in a measure that falls short, so that what is divided and multiplied in the effects resides in the agent simply, and in the same manner; as for example the sun by exercise of its one power produces manifold and various forms in all inferior things. In the same way, as said in the preceding article, all perfections existing in creatures divided and multiplied, pre-exist in God unitedly. Thus when any term expressing perfection is applied to a creature, it signifies that perfection distinct in idea from other perfections; as, for instance, by the term "wise" applied to man, we signify some perfection distinct from a man's essence, and distinct from his power and existence, and from all similar things; whereas when we apply to it God, we do not mean to signify anything distinct from His essence, or power, or existence. Thus also this term "wise" applied to man in some degree circumscribes and comprehends the thing signified; whereas this is not the case when it is applied to God; but it leaves the thing signified as incomprehended, and as exceeding the signification of the name. Hence it is evident that this term "wise" is not applied in the same way to God and to man. The same rule applies to other terms. Hence no name is predicated univocally of God and of creatures.

Neither, on the other hand, are names applied to God and creatures in a purely equivocal sense, as some have said. Because if that were so, it follows that from creatures nothing could be known or demonstrated about God at all; for the reasoning would always be exposed to the fallacy of equivocation. Such a view is against the philosophers, who proved many things about God, and also against what the Apostle says: "The invisible things of God are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made" (Romans 1:20). Therefore it must be said that these names are said of God and creatures in an analogous sense, i.e. according to proportion.

Now names are thus used in two ways: either according as many things are proportionate to one, thus for example "healthy" predicated of medicine and urine in relation and in proportion to health of a body, of which the former is the sign and the latter the cause: or according as one thing is proportionate to another, thus "healthy" is said of medicine and animal, since medicine is the cause of health in the animal body. And in this way some things are said of God and creatures analogically, and not in a purely equivocal nor in a purely univocal sense. For we can name God only from creatures (1). Thus whatever is said of God and creatures, is said according to the relation of a creature to God as its principle and cause, wherein all perfections of things pre-exist excellently. Now this mode of community of idea is a mean between pure equivocation and simple univocation. For in analogies the idea is not, as it is in univocals, one and the same, yet it is not totally diverse as in equivocals; but a term which is thus used in a multiple sense signifies various proportions to some one thing; thus "healthy" applied to urine signifies the sign of animal health, and applied to medicine signifies the cause of the same health.

Reply to Objection 1. Although equivocal predications must be reduced to univocal, still in actions, the non-univocal agent must precede the univocal agent. For the non-univocal agent is the universal cause of the whole species, as for instance the sun is the cause of the generation of all men; whereas the univocal agent is not the universal efficient cause of the whole species (otherwise it would be the cause of itself, since it is contained in the species), but is a particular cause of this individual which it places under the species by way of participation. Therefore the universal cause of the whole species is not an univocal agent; and the universal cause comes before the particular cause. But this universal agent, whilst it is not univocal, nevertheless is not altogether equivocal, otherwise it could not produce its own likeness, but rather it is to be called an analogical agent, as all univocal predications are reduced to one first non-univocal analogical predication, which is being.

Reply to Objection 2. The likeness of the creature to God is imperfect, for it does not represent one and the same generic thing (4, 3).

Reply to Objection 3. God is not the measure proportioned to things measured; hence it is not necessary that God and creatures should be in the same genus.

The arguments adduced in the contrary sense prove indeed that these names are not predicated univocally of God and creatures; yet they do not prove that they are predicated equivocally.

Article 6. Whether names predicated of God are predicated primarily of creatures?

Objection 1. It seems that names are predicated primarily of creatures rather than of God. For we name anything accordingly as we know it, since "names", as the Philosopher says, "are signs of ideas." But we know creatures before we know God. Therefore the names imposed by us are predicated primarily of creatures rather than of God.

Objection 2. Further, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i): "We name God from creatures." But names transferred from creatures to God, are said primarily of creatures rather than of God, as "lion," "stone," and the like. Therefore all names applied to God and creatures are applied primarily to creatures rather than to God.

Objection 3. Further, all names equally applied to God and creatures, are applied to God as the cause of all creatures, as Dionysius says (De Mystica Theol.). But what is applied to anything through its cause, is applied to it secondarily, for "healthy" is primarily predicated of animal rather than of medicine, which is the cause of health. Therefore these names are said primarily of creatures rather than of God.

On the contrary, It is written, "I bow my knees to the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14-15); and the same applies to the other names applied to God and creatures. Therefore these names are applied primarily to God rather than to creatures.

I answer that, In names predicated of many in an analogical sense, all are predicated because they have reference to some one thing; and this one thing must be placed in the definition of them all. And since that expressed by the name is the definition, as the Philosopher says (Metaph. iv), such a name must be applied primarily to that which is put in the definition of such other things, and secondarily to these others according as they approach more or less to that first. Thus, for instance, "healthy" applied to animals comes into the definition of "healthy" applied to medicine, which is called healthy as being the cause of health in the animal; and also into the definition of "healthy" which is applied to urine, which is called healthy in so far as it is the sign of the animal's health. Thus all names applied metaphorically to God, are applied to creatures primarily rather than to God, because when said of God they mean only similitudes to such creatures. For as "smiling" applied to a field means only that the field in the beauty of its flowering is like the beauty of the human smile by proportionate likeness, so the name of "lion" applied to God means only that God manifests strength in His works, as a lion in his. Thus it is clear that applied to God the signification of names can be defined only from what is said of creatures. But to other names not applied to God in a metaphorical sense, the same rule would apply if they were spoken of God as the cause only, as some have supposed. For when it is said, "God is good," it would then only mean "God is the cause of the creature's goodness"; thus the term good applied to God would included in its meaning the creature's goodness. Hence "good" would apply primarily to creatures rather than to God. But as was shown above (Article 2), these names are applied to God not as the cause only, but also essentially. For the words, "God is good," or "wise," signify not only that He is the cause of wisdom or goodness, but that these exist in Him in a more excellent way. Hence as regards what the name signifies, these names are applied primarily to God rather than to creatures, because these perfections flow from God to creatures; but as regards the imposition of the names, they are primarily applied by us to creatures which we know first. Hence they have a mode of signification which belongs to creatures, as said above (Article 3).

Reply to Objection 1. This objection refers to the imposition of the name.

Reply to Objection 2. The same rule does not apply to metaphorical and to other names, as said above.

Reply to Objection 3. This objection would be valid if these names were applied to God only as cause, and not also essentially, for instance as "healthy" is applied to medicine.

Article 7. Whether names which imply relation to creatures are predicated of God temporally?

Objection 1. It seems that names which imply relation to creatures are not predicated of God temporally. For all such names signify the divine substance, as is universally held. Hence also Ambrose (De Fide i) that this name "Lord" is the name of power, which is the divine substance; and "Creator" signifies the action of God, which is His essence. Now the divine substance is not temporal, but eternal. Therefore these names are not applied to God temporally, but eternally.

Objection 2. Further, that to which something applies temporally can be described as made; for what is white temporally is made white. But to make does no apply to God. Therefore nothing can be predicated of God temporally.

Objection 3. Further, if any names are applied to God temporally as implying relation to creatures, the same rule holds good of all things that imply relation to creatures. But some names are spoken of God implying relation of God to creatures from eternity; for from eternity He knew and loved the creature, according to the word: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3). Therefore also other names implying relation to creatures, as "Lord" and "Creator," are applied to God from eternity.

Objection 4. Further, names of this kind signify relation. Therefore that relation must be something in God, or in the creature only. But it cannot be that it is something in the creature only, for in that case God would be called "Lord" from the opposite relation which is in creatures; and nothing is named from its opposite. Therefore the relation must be something in God also. But nothing temporal can be in God, for He is above time. Therefore these names are not applied to God temporally.

Objection 5. Further, a thing is called relative from relation; for instance lord from lordship, as white from whiteness. Therefore if the relation of lordship is not really in God, but only in idea, it follows that God is not really Lord, which is plainly false.

Objection 6. Further, in relative things which are not simultaneous in nature, one can exist without the other; as a thing knowable can exist without the knowledge of it, as the Philosopher says (Praedic. v). But relative things which are said of God and creatures are not simultaneous in nature. Therefore a relation can be predicated of God to the creature even without the existence of the creature; and thus these names "Lord" and "Creator" are predicated of God from eternity, and not temporally.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. v) that this relative appellation "Lord" is applied to God temporally.

I answer that, The names which import relation to creatures are applied to God temporally, and not from eternity.

To see this we must learn that some have said that relation is not a reality, but only an idea. But this is plainly seen to be false from the very fact that things themselves have a mutual natural order and habitude. Nevertheless it is necessary to know that since relation has two extremes, it happens in three ways that a relation is real or logical. Sometimes from both extremes it is an idea only, as when mutual order or habitude can only go between things in the apprehension of reason; as when we say a thing "the same as itself." For reason apprehending one thing twice regards it as two; thus it apprehends a certain habitude of a thing to itself. And the same applies to relations between "being" and "non-being" formed by reason, apprehending "non-being" as an extreme. The same is true of relations that follow upon an act of reason, as genus and species, and the like.

Now there are other relations which are realities as regards both extremes, as when for instance a habitude exists between two things according to some reality that belongs to both; as is clear of all relations, consequent upon quantity; as great and small, double and half, and the like; for quantity exists in both extremes: and the same applies to relations consequent upon action and passion, as motive power and the movable thing, father and son, and the like.

Again, sometimes a relation in one extreme may be a reality, while in the other extreme it is an idea only; and this happens whenever two extremes are not of one order; as sense and science refer respectively to sensible things and to intellectual things; which, inasmuch as they are realities existing in nature, are outside the order of sensible and intellectual existence. Therefore in science and in sense a real relation exists, because they are ordered either to the knowledge or to the sensible perception of things; whereas the things looked at in themselves are outside this order, and hence in them there is no real relation to science and sense, but only in idea, inasmuch as the intellect apprehends them as terms of the relations of science and sense. Hence the Philosopher says (Metaph. v) that they are called relative, not forasmuch as they are related to other things, but as others are related to them. Likewise for instance, "on the right" is not applied to a column, unless it stands as regards an animal on the right side; which relation is not really in the column, but in the animal.

Since therefore God is outside the whole order of creation, and all creatures are ordered to Him, and not conversely, it is manifest that creatures are really related to God Himself; whereas in God there is no real relation to creatures, but a relation only in idea, inasmuch as creatures are referred to Him. Thus there is nothing to prevent these names which import relation to the creature from being predicated of God temporally, not by reason of any change in Him, but by reason of the change of the creature; as a column is on the right of an animal, without change in itself, but by change in the animal.

Reply to Objection 1. Some relative names are imposed to signify the relative habitudes themselves, as "master" and "servant," "father," and "son," and the like, and these relatives are called predicamental [secundum esse]. But others are imposed to signify the things from which ensue certain habitudes, as the mover and the thing moved, the head and the thing that has a head, and the like: and these relatives are called transcendental [secundum dici]. Thus, there is the same two-fold difference in divine names. For some signify the habitude itself to the creature, as "Lord," and these do not signify the divine substance directly, but indirectly, in so far as they presuppose the divine substance; as dominion presupposes power, which is the divine substance. Others signify the divine essence directly, and consequently the corresponding habitudes, as "Saviour," "Creator," and suchlike; and these signify the action of God, which is His essence. Yet both names are said of God temporarily so far as they imply a habitude either principally or consequently, but not as signifying the essence, either directly or indirectly.

Reply to Objection 2. As relations applied to God temporally are only in God in our idea, so, "to become" or "to be made" are applied to God only in idea, with no change in Him, as for instance when we say, "Lord, Thou art become [Douay: 'hast been'] our refuge" (Psalm 89:1).

Reply to Objection 3. The operation of the intellect and the will is in the operator, therefore names signifying relations following upon the action of the intellect or will, are applied to God from eternity; whereas those following upon the actions proceeding according to our mode of thinking to external effects are applied to God temporally, as "Saviour," "Creator," and the like.

Reply to Objection 4. Relations signified by these names which are applied to God temporally, are in God only in idea; but the opposite relations in creatures are real. Nor is it incongruous that God should be denominated from relations really existing in the thing, yet so that the opposite relations in God should also be understood by us at the same time; in the sense that God is spoken of relatively to the creature, inasmuch as the creature is related to Him: thus the Philosopher says (Metaph. v) that the object is said to be knowable relatively because knowledge relates to it.

Reply to Objection 5. Since God is related to the creature for the reason that the creature is related to Him: and since the relation of subjection is real in the creature, it follows that God is Lord not in idea only, but in reality; for He is called Lord according to the manner in which the creature is subject to Him.

Reply to Objection 6. To know whether relations are simultaneous by nature or otherwise, it is not necessary by nature or otherwise of things to which they belong but the meaning of the relations themselves. For if one in its idea includes another, and vice versa, then they are simultaneous by nature: as double and half, father and son, and the like. But if one in its idea includes another, and not vice versa, they are not simultaneous by nature. This applies to science and its object; for the object knowable is considered as a potentiality, and the science as a habit, or as an act. Hence the knowable object in its mode of signification exists before science, but if the same object is considered in act, then it is simultaneous with science in act; for the object known is nothing as such unless it is known. Thus, though God is prior to the creature, still because the signification of Lord includes the idea of a servant and vice versa, these two relative terms, "Lord" and "servant," are simultaneous by nature. Hence, God was not "Lord" until He had a creature subject to Himself.

Article 8. Whether this name "God" is a name of the nature?

Objection 1. It seems that this name, "God," is not a name of the nature. For Damascene says (De Fide Orth. 1) that "God Theos is so called from the theein [which means to care of] and to cherish all things; or from the aithein, that is to burn, for our God is a fire consuming all malice; or from theasthai, which means to consider all things." But all these names belong to operation. Therefore this name "God" signifies His operation and not His nature.

Objection 2. Further, a thing is named by us as we know it. But the divine nature is unknown to us. Therefore this name "God" does not signify the divine nature.

On the contrary, Ambrose says (De Fide i) that "God" is a name of the nature.

I answer that, Whence a name is imposed, and what the name signifies are not always the same thing. For as we know substance from its properties and operations, so we name substance sometimes for its operation, or its property; e.g. we name the substance of a stone from its act, as for instance that it hurts the foot [loedit pedem]; but still this name is not meant to signify the particular action, but the stone's substance. The things, on the other hand, known to us in themselves, such as heat, cold, whiteness and the like, are not named from other things. Hence as regards such things the meaning of the name and its source are the same.

Because therefore God is not known to us in His nature, but is made known to us from His operations or effects, we name Him from these, as said in 1; hence this name "God" is a name of operation so far as relates to the source of its meaning. For this name is imposed from His universal providence over all things; since all who speak of God intend to name God as exercising providence over all; hence Dionysius says (Div. Nom. ii), "The Deity watches over all with perfect providence and goodness." But taken from this operation, this name "God" is imposed to signify the divine nature.

Reply to Objection 1. All that Damascene says refers to providence; which is the source of the signification of the name "God."

Reply to Objection 2. We can name a thing according to the knowledge we have of its nature from its properties and effects. Hence because we can know what stone is in itself from its property, this name "stone" signifies the nature of the stone itself; for it signifies the definition of stone, by which we know what it is, for the idea which the name signifies is the definition, as is said in Metaph. iv. Now from the divine effects we cannot know the divine nature in itself, so as to know what it is; but only by way of eminence, and by way of causality, and of negation as stated above (Question 12, Article 12). Thus the name "God" signifies the divine nature, for this name was imposed to signify something existing above all things, the principle of all things and removed from all things; for those who name God intend to signify all this.

Article 9. Whether this name "God" is communicable?

Objection 1. It seems that this name "God" is communicable. For whosoever shares in the thing signified by a name shares in the name itself. But this name "God" signifies the divine nature, which is communicable to others, according to the words, "He hath given us great [Vulgate: 'most great'] and precious promises, that by these we [Vulgate: 'ye'] may be made partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). Therefore this name "God" can be communicated to others.

Objection 2. Further, only proper names are not communicable. Now this name "God" is not a proper, but an appellative noun; which appears from the fact that it has a plural, according to the text, "I have said, You are gods" (Psalm 81:6). Therefore this name "God" is communicable.

Objection 3. Further, this name "God" comes from operation, as explained. But other names given to God from His operations or effects are communicable; as "good," "wise," and the like. Therefore this name "God" is communicable.

On the contrary, It is written: "They gave the incommunicable name to wood and stones" (Wisdom 14:21), in reference to the divine name. Therefore this name "God" is incommunicable.

I answer that, A name is communicable in two ways: properly, and by similitude. It is properly communicable in the sense that its whole signification can be given to many; by similitude it is communicable according to some part of the signification of the name. For instance this name "lion" is properly communicable to all things of the same nature as "lion"; by similitude it is communicable to those who participate in the nature of a lion, as for instance by courage, or strength, and those who thus participate are called lions metaphorically. To know, however, what names are properly communicable, we must consider that every form existing in the singular subject, by which it is individualized, is common to many either in reality, or in idea; as human nature is common to many in reality, and in idea; whereas the nature of the sun is not common to many in reality, but only in idea; for the nature of the sun can be understood as existing in many subjects; and the reason is because the mind understands the nature of every species by abstraction from the singular. Hence to be in one singular subject or in many is outside the idea of the nature of the species. So, given the idea of a species, it can be understood as existing in many. But the singular, from the fact that it is singular, is divided off from all others. Hence every name imposed to signify any singular thing is incommunicable both in reality and idea; for the plurality of this individual thing cannot be; nor can it be conceived in idea. Hence no name signifying any individual thing is properly communicable to many, but only by way of similitude; as for instance a person can be called "Achilles" metaphorically, forasmuch as he may possess something of the properties of Achilles, such as strength. On the other hand, forms which are individualized not by any "suppositum," but by and of themselves, as being subsisting forms, if understood as they are in themselves, could not be communicable either in reality or in idea; but only perhaps by way of similitude, as was said of individuals. Forasmuch as we are unable to understand simple self-subsisting forms as they really are, we understand them as compound things having forms in matter; therefore, as was said in the first article, we give them concrete names signifying a nature existing in some "suppositum." Hence, so far as concerns images, the same rules apply to names we impose to signify the nature of compound things as to names given to us to signify simple subsisting natures.

Since, then, this name "God" is given to signify the divine nature as stated above (Article 8), and since the divine nature cannot be multiplied as shown above (Question 11, Article 3), it follows that this name "God" is incommunicable in reality, but communicable in opinion; just in the same way as this name "sun" would be communicable according to the opinion of those who say there are many suns. Therefore, it is written: "You served them who by nature are not gods," (Galatians 4:8), and a gloss adds, "Gods not in nature, but in human opinion." Nevertheless this name "God" is communicable, not in its whole signification, but in some part of it by way of similitude; so that those are called gods who share in divinity by likeness, according to the text, "I have said, You are gods" (Psalm 81:6).

But if any name were given to signify God not as to His nature but as to His "suppositum," accordingly as He is considered as "this something," that name would be absolutely incommunicable; as, for instance, perhaps the Tetragrammaton among the Hebrew; and this is like giving a name to the sun as signifying this individual thing.

Reply to Objection 1. The divine nature is only communicable according to the participation of some similitude.

Reply to Objection 2. This name "God" is an appellative name, and not a proper name, for it signifies the divine nature in the possessor; although God Himself in reality is neither universal nor particular. For names do not follow upon the mode of being in things, but upon the mode of being as it is in our mind. And yet it is incommunicable according to the truth of the thing, as was said above concerning the name "sun."

Reply to Objection 3. These names "good," "wise," and the like, are imposed from the perfections proceeding from God to creatures; but they do not signify the divine nature, but rather signify the perfections themselves absolutely; and therefore they are in truth communicable to many. But this name "God" is given to God from His own proper operation, which we experience continually, to signify the divine nature.

Article 10. Whether this name "God" is applied to God univocally by nature, by participation, and according to opinion?

Objection 1. It seems that this name "God" is applied to God univocally by nature, by participation, and according to opinion. For where a diverse signification exists, there is no contradiction of affirmation and negation; for equivocation prevents contradiction. But a Catholic who says: "An idol is not God," contradicts a pagan who says: "An idol is God." Therefore GOD in both senses is spoken of univocally.

Objection 2. Further, as an idol is God in opinion, and not in truth, so the enjoyment of carnal pleasures is called happiness in opinion, and not in truth. But this name "beatitude" is applied univocally to this supposed happiness, and also to true happiness. Therefore also this name "God" is applied univocally to the true God, and to God also in opinion.

Objection 3. Further, names are called univocal because they contain one idea. Now when a Catholic says: "There is one God," he understands by the name God an omnipotent being, and one venerated above all; while the heathen understands the same when he says: "An idol is God." Therefore this name "God" is applied univocally to both.

On the contrary, The idea in the intellect is the likeness of what is in the thing as is said in Peri Herm. i. But the word "animal" applied to a true animal, and to a picture of one, is equivocal. Therefore this name "God" applied to the true God and to God in opinion is applied equivocally.

Further, No one can signify what he does not know. But the heathen does not know the divine nature. So when he says an idol is God, he does not signify the true Deity. On the other hand, A Catholic signifies the true Deity when he says that there is one God. Therefore this name "God" is not applied univocally, but equivocally to the true God, and to God according to opinion.

I answer that, This name "God" in the three aforesaid significations is taken neither univocally nor equivocally, but analogically. This is apparent from this reason: Univocal terms mean absolutely the same thing, but equivocal terms absolutely different; whereas in analogical terms a word taken in one signification must be placed in the definition of the same word taken in other senses; as, for instance, "being" which is applied to "substance" is placed in the definition of being as applied to "accident"; and "healthy" applied to animal is placed in the definition of healthy as applied to urine and medicine. For urine is the sign of health in the animal, and medicine is the cause of health.

The same applies to the question at issue. For this name "God," as signifying the true God, includes the idea of God when it is used to denote God in opinion, or participation. For when we name anyone god by participation, we understand by the name of god some likeness of the true God. Likewise, when we call an idol god, by this name god we understand and signify something which men think is God; thus it is manifest that the name has different meanings, but that one of them is comprised in the other significations. Hence it is manifestly said analogically.

Reply to Objection 1. The multiplication of names does not depend on the predication of the name, but on the signification: for this name "man," of whomsoever it is predicated, whether truly or falsely, is predicated in one sense. But it would be multiplied if by the name "man" we meant to signify different things; for instance, if one meant to signify by this name "man" what man really is, and another meant to signify by the same name a stone, or something else. Hence it is evident that a Catholic saying that an idol is not God contradicts the pagan asserting that it is God; because each of them uses this name GOD to signify the true God. For when the pagan says an idol is God, he does not use this name as meaning God in opinion, for he would then speak the truth, as also Catholics sometimes use the name in the sense, as in the Psalm, "All the gods of the Gentiles are demons" (Psalm 95:5).

The same remark applies to the Second and Third Objections. For these reasons proceed from the different predication of the name, and not from its various significations.

Reply to Objection 4. The term "animal" applied to a true and a pictured animal is not purely equivocal; for the Philosopher takes equivocal names in a large sense, including analogous names; because also being, which is predicated analogically, is sometimes said to be predicated equivocally of different predicaments.

Reply to Objection 5. Neither a Catholic nor a pagan knows the very nature of God as it is in itself; but each one knows it according to some idea of causality, or excellence, or remotion (12, 12). So a pagan can take this name "God" in the same way when he says an idol is God, as the Catholic does in saying an idol is not God. But if anyone should be quite ignorant of God altogether, he could not even name Him, unless, perhaps, as we use names the meaning of which we know not.

Article 11. Whether this name, HE WHO IS, is the most proper name of God?

Objection 1. It seems that this name HE WHO IS is not the most proper name of God. For this name "God" is an incommunicable name. But this name HE WHO IS, is not an incommunicable name. Therefore this name HE WHO IS is not the most proper name of God.

Objection 2. Further, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iii) that "the name of good excellently manifests all the processions of God." But it especially belongs to God to be the universal principle of all things. Therefore this name "good" is supremely proper to God, and not this name HE WHO IS.

Objection 3. Further, every divine name seems to imply relation to creatures, for God is known to us only through creatures. But this name HE WHO IS imports no relation to creatures. Therefore this name HE WHO IS is not the most applicable to God.

On the contrary, It is written that when Moses asked, "If they should say to me, What is His name? what shall I say to them?" The Lord answered him, "Thus shalt thou say to them, HE WHO IS hath sent me to you" (Exodus 3:13-14). Therefore this name HE WHO IS most properly belongs to God.

I answer that, This name HE WHO IS is most properly applied to God, for three reasons:

First, because of its signification. For it does not signify form, but simply existence itself. Hence since the existence of God is His essence itself, which can be said of no other (3, 4), it is clear that among other names this one specially denominates God, for everything is denominated by its form.

Secondly, on account of its universality. For all other names are either less universal, or, if convertible with it, add something above it at least in idea; hence in a certain way they inform and determine it. Now our intellect cannot know the essence of God itself in this life, as it is in itself, but whatever mode it applies in determining what it understands about God, it falls short of the mode of what God is in Himself. Therefore the less determinate the names are, and the more universal and absolute they are, the more properly they are applied to God. Hence Damascene says (De Fide Orth. i) that, "HE WHO IS, is the principal of all names applied to God; for comprehending all in itself, it contains existence itself as an infinite and indeterminate sea of substance." Now by any other name some mode of substance is determined, whereas this name HE WHO IS, determines no mode of being, but is indeterminate to all; and therefore it denominates the "infinite ocean of substance."

Thirdly, from its consignification, for it signifies present existence; and this above all properly applies to God, whose existence knows not past or future, as Augustine says (De Trin. v).

Reply to Objection 1. This name HE WHO IS is the name of God more properly than this name "God," as regards its source, namely, existence; and as regards the mode of signification and consignification, as said above. But as regards the object intended by the name, this name "God" is more proper, as it is imposed to signify the divine nature; and still more proper is the Tetragrammaton, imposed to signify the substance of God itself, incommunicable and, if one may so speak, singular.

Reply to Objection 2. This name "good" is the principal name of God in so far as He is a cause, but not absolutely; for existence considered absolutely comes before the idea of cause.

Reply to Objection 3. It is not necessary that all the divine names should import relation to creatures, but it suffices that they be imposed from some perfections flowing from God to creatures. Among these the first is existence, from which comes this name, HE WHO IS.

Article 12. Whether affirmative propositions can be formed about God?

Objection 1. It seems that affirmative propositions cannot be formed about God. For Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. ii) that "negations about God are true; but affirmations are vague."

Objection 2. Further, Boethius says (De Trin. ii) that "a simple form cannot be a subject." But God is the most absolutely simple form, as shown (3): therefore He cannot be a subject. But everything about which an affirmative proposition is made is taken as a subject. Therefore an affirmative proposition cannot be formed about God.

Objection 3. Further, every intellect is false which understands a thing otherwise than as it is. But God has existence without any composition as shown above (Question 3, Article 7). Therefore since every affirmative intellect understands something as compound, it follows that a true affirmative proposition about God cannot be made.

On the contrary, What is of faith cannot be false. But some affirmative propositions are of faith; as that God is Three and One; and that He is omnipotent. Therefore true affirmative propositions can be formed about God.

I answer that, True affirmative propositions can be formed about God. To prove this we must know that in every true affirmative proposition the predicate and the subject signify in some way the same thing in reality, and different things in idea. And this appears to be the case both in propositions which have an accidental predicate, and in those which have an essential predicate. For it is manifest that "man" and "white" are the same in subject, and different in idea; for the idea of man is one thing, and that of whiteness is another. The same applies when I say, "man is an animal"; since the same thing which is man is truly animal; for in the same "suppositum" there is sensible nature by reason of which he is called animal, and the rational nature by reason of which he is called man; hence here again predicate and subject are the same as to "suppositum," but different as to idea. But in propositions where one same thing is predicated of itself, the same rule in some way applies, inasmuch as the intellect draws to the "suppositum" what it places in the subject; and what it places in the predicate it draws to the nature of the form existing in the "suppositum"; according to the saying that "predicates are to be taken formally, and subjects materially." To this diversity in idea corresponds the plurality of predicate and subject, while the intellect signifies the identity of the thing by the composition itself.

God, however, as considered in Himself, is altogether one and simple, yet our intellect knows Him by different conceptions because it cannot see Him as He is in Himself. Nevertheless, although it understands Him under different conceptions, it knows that one and the same simple object corresponds to its conceptions. Therefore the plurality of predicate and subject represents the plurality of idea; and the intellect represents the unity by composition.

Reply to Objection 1. Dionysius says that the affirmations about God are vague or, according to another translation, "incongruous," inasmuch as no name can be applied to God according to its mode of signification.

Reply to Objection 2. Our intellect cannot comprehend simple subsisting forms, as they really are in themselves; but it apprehends them as compound things in which there is something taken as subject and something that is inherent. Therefore it apprehends the simple form as a subject, and attributes something else to it.

Reply to Objection 3. This proposition, "The intellect understanding anything otherwise than it is, is false," can be taken in two senses, accordingly as this adverb "otherwise" determines the word "understanding" on the part of the thing understood, or on the part of the one who understands. Taken as referring to the thing understood, the proposition is true, and the meaning is: Any intellect which understands that the thing is otherwise than it is, is false. But this does not hold in the present case; because our intellect, when forming a proposition about God, does not affirm that He is composite, but that He is simple. But taken as referring to the one who understands, the proposition is false. For the mode of the intellect in understanding is different from the mode of the thing in its essence. Since it is clear that our intellect understands material things below itself in an immaterial manner; not that it understands them to be immaterial things; but its manner of understanding is immaterial. Likewise, when it understands simple things above itself, it understands them according to its own mode, which is in a composite manner; yet not so as to understand them to be composite things. And thus our intellect is not false in forming composition in its ideas concerning God.

The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas
Second and Revised Edition, 1920
Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province
Online Edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat. F. Innocentius Apap, O.P., S.T.M., Censor. Theol.
Imprimatur. Edus. Canonicus Surmont, Vicarius Generalis. Westmonasterii.
APPROBATIO ORDINIS
Nihil Obstat. F. Raphael Moss, O.P., S.T.L. and F. Leo Moore, O.P., S.T.L.
Imprimatur. F. Beda Jarrett, O.P., S.T.L., A.M., Prior Provincialis Angliæ

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