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CHAPTER XXXWhat Names can be predicated of God

WE may further consider what may be said or not said of God, or what may be said of Him only, what again may be said of God and at the same time also of other beings. Inasmuch as every perfection of the creature may be found in God, although in another and a more excellent way, it follows that whatever names absolutely denote perfection without defect, are predicated of God and of other beings, as for instance, ‘goodness,’ ‘wisdom,’ ‘being,’ and the like. But whatever names denote such perfection with the addition of a mode proper to creatures, cannot be predicated of God except by way of similitude and metaphor, whereby the attributes of one thing are wont to be adapted to another, as when a man is called a ‘block’ for the denseness of his understanding. Of this sort are all names imposed to denote the species of a created thing, as ‘man,’ and ’stone’: for to every species is due its own proper mode of perfection and being. In like manner also whatever names denote properties that are caused in things by their proper specific principles,6363e.g., space-enclosing as a property of triangles. cannot be predicated of God otherwise than metaphorically. But the names that express such perfections with that mode of supereminent excellence in which they appertain to God, are predicated of God alone, as for instance, ‘Sovereign Good,’ ‘First Being,’ and the like. I say that some of the aforesaid names imply perfection without defect, if we consider that which the name was imposed to signify. But if we consider the mode of signification, every name is attended with defect: for by a name we express things as we conceive them in our understanding: but our understanding, taking its beginning of knowledge from sensible objects, does not transcend that mode which it finds in such sensible objects. In them the form is one thing, and that which has the form another. The form, to be sure, is simple, but imperfect, as not subsisting by itself: while that which has the form subsists, but is not simple — nay, is concrete and composite.6464Concretionem habens. The concrete to St Thomas means the composite. Any existing created substance, as he teaches, is compounded of specific nature and individualising notes, of actuality and potentiality, of essence and existence. Thus, in creation, the abstract alone is simple, concrete being is compound. Hence whatever our understanding marks as subsisting, it marks in the concrete: what it marks as simple, it marks, not as something that is, but as that whereby something is.6565Thus the concrete man is something that is: the abstract humanity is that whereby man is man, not something that is by itself. And thus in every name that we utter, if we consider the mode of signification, there is found an imperfection that does not attach to God, although the thing signified may attach to God in some eminent way, as appears in the name ‘goodness’ and ‘good.’ ‘Goodness’ denotes something as not subsisting by itself: ‘good,’ something as concrete and composite. In this respect, then, no name befits God suitably except in respect of that which the name is imposed to signify. Such names therefore may be both affirmed and denied of God, affirmed on account of the 24meaning of the name, denied on account of the mode of signification. But the mode of supereminence, whereby the said perfections are found in God, cannot be signified by the names imposed by us, except either by negation, as when we call God ‘eternal’ or ‘infinite,’ or by reference or comparison of Him to other things, as when He is called the ‘First Cause’ or the ‘Sovereign Good.’ For we cannot take in (capere)6666Capere is χῶρεῖν, ‘find room for’ in our (limited) understanding.’ of God what He is, but what He is not, and how other beings stand related to Him.

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