How We Speak of God - Part 2

July 14, 2008 Length: 38:18

Fr. Tom continues his discussion, this time focusing on the Divine Attributes of God.





Thinking about how Christians speak about God, we said in our introduction that there are basically four ways, four distinct, to use some technical term, avenues of discourse, ways of speaking, about divinity and about God. We already reflected that the most important, and in some sense the first way for Christians, are the names. And we said that in the holy Scripture the God that Christians believe in and believe in because of Jesus—it all begins with Jesus—being convinced that God raised Jesus from the dead and he revealed him as Christ and Lord and that he connected him to the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, and to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the conviction that that is the only God that is, the only real, true, and living God. Then we speak about that God and we said already that in Scripture and in worship and in conciliar decrees, there is the one God and Father. The one God is the Father of Jesus, literally Jesus’ Father.

But then there is the Son of God and the Spirit of God, and we said that for Christians you can’t have the one God, you do not have the one God, without his Word, who is also called his Son—when the Word becomes flesh and becomes incarnate as a man, he is the only-begotten Son of God—also called God’s icon, God’s image, and many other names and titles, as we’ll see, as we continue to reflect. And then there’s the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. So we believe that the one God, the one, true, and living God, is God always and eternally and according to his very divinity, his very reality as God, is a God who begets the Son, who has his word and wisdom, who is made flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, and the Holy Spirit.

So the names that we speak for the three divine Persons or hypostases—and we’ll reflect a bit about that term, hypostasis, and the term person and nature and energy: we’ll do that in due time—but for now what we want to see is that the name of the one, true, and living God for Christians is Abba Father, because of Jesus, not because of patriarchal society and not metaphorically. We believe that God is literally the Father of Jesus. In fact, in the letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul said, “I bow my knee before the one God and Father from whom every patria, every fatherhood”—it says in some Bibles, every family, but every fatherhood, literally—“in heaven and on earth gets its name.”

And there’s a wonderful Catholic writer—he was a Jew, a secularized Jew, an atheist, and then he became a very deeply religious, devout Orthodox Jew under Hitler, and then ultimately he became a Christian, a Roman Catholic Christian; his name was Karl Stern—and he said that what he came to learn in reading holy Scripture… Actually, he was a psychiatrist and a medical doctor and a genius and a musician and one of those Renaissance men, wonderful man. His autobiography is called The Pillar of Fire; you might want to read it: The Pillar of Fire by Karl Stern. He said in that book and in another book that he wrote, a wonderful book called Flight from Woman, about women and femininity and the feminine in psychological and spiritual life. But he said it is not that Christians, Jews and Christians, do not think of God anthropomorphically. We rather think of human beings theomorphically. In other words, we’re made in God’s image; God is not made in ours. We call human fathers “father” because of God, not the other way around.

But we believe that God, the one God, is literally Father, and so the name for him, especially in prayer—“Our Father who art in the heavens,” “Abba Father”: that’s what we call out to him. So we have the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, or the Father with the Son and with the Holy Spirit, or the Father God acting through his Son by the power of the Holy Spirit or in the Holy Spirit, or in his Son by the Spirit, but we always have God, Son and Word, and Spirit, and those are the three divine Persons. And their names are the one God and Father; the Son who is also named Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth; and the Spirit. So Father, Son, and Spirit, or Father, Word, and Spirit, or God, Word, and Spirit—those are names for God, the God who in the Old Testament is Yahweh, the Lord, the El Shaddai, the Most High, the Holy One, the Kadosha. That is the name for that God, is Father, and his Son and his Holy Spirit.

What we want to think about now, however, is that there are other words that we use about God in addition to these names. Sometimes these other words are called also by people “names,” but technically they’re not names; certainly not in English they would not be names. And there is a little confusion there, because one very great important Christian document, probably of the sixth century, called On the Divine Names, was written by an unknown author who is called in Tradition Dionysius the Areopagite—sometimes he’s called the Pseudo-Dionysius or Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, because he took the name from the first bishop of Athens in the book of Acts, Dionysius, who became a Christian and according to Church Tradition is the first bishop of Athens—but this author who wrote this very important book…

It was really extremely influential in Christian theological history in the East and in the West… In the East it was Maximus the Confessor and Gregory Palamas and Symeon the New Theologian and others who used this corpus, this writing. He also wrote a treatise on the celestial hierarchies and on the ecclesiastical hierarchies, rather controversial works. In general, the work is controversial and the author is controversial. In the West, this corpus of writing was given by one Byzantine emperor to a civil leader in the West as a gift once and became very popular. Thomas Aquinas used it, and especially the Augustinian Franciscan writers like Bonaventure and Duns Scotus and others; they used this writing of Dionysius.

But Dionysius wrote a book called On the Divine Names, but it wasn’t about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it wasn’t about God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son and Word and the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. It was rather about what we would call more accurately—I believe we can say more accurately—the attributes or the qualities of God, the characteristics of God: what belongs to divinity as such when you’re speaking about God. In Greek the term would be idiomata, the qualities. Usually they say attributes or properties or characteristics.

This way of speaking about God is to speak about how, in human language, we can speak about God according to what God is like, how God is in his very reality, in his very being. Of course, we can make a whole list of what these properties are. First of all, existence: we would say God is being, God exists, God, it’s even said sometimes, is the supreme being. We’ll speak about that in a second, qualify it. But in any case, we would say God exists, God is, Ho On, the One who is. In other words, God really does exist; there is God.

And then we can speak about how God is known, what we can say about God, and we say all these things through his divine actions. We’ll speak about activities and actions also in a little bit, probably in our next meditation. But here what we want to see is this: is that we can say God is, and then we say God is good—God is not evil, God is not bad, God is good, he is the supreme good. As the supreme being, he is the supreme good. He is being itself; that’s how Dionysius would speak and others, that he is being itself, goodness itself.

And then every kind of quality or characteristic that we creatures would think is good we apply to God in the most supreme form, the most perfect form. God is good. God is true. God is beautiful. God is wise. God is pure. God is mighty. And then sometimes even in the classical dogmatics textbooks, they’ll use the term “omni-” like omnipotent, meaning all-mighty, totally mighty, totally strong: ischiros, strong: Holy God, holy Mighty. Then we would say God is immortal; he doesn’t die. We would say God is immutable; he’s not changing. He is what he is, always and ever the same, because if God could change, how could he change? Could he change for the better? If he could change for the better, then he’s not really God.

There’s all these kinds of conclusions [that] were drawn about God from his activity toward human beings, particularly in the holy Scriptures, and certainly as revealed in the teachings of Jesus. So we could say God is omnipotent and God is omniscient, as wise and all-knowing; it means he knows everything. He is not only truth itself, he is knowledge itself, he is wisdom itself. Then other qualifications: that God is peace; there’s no disharmony in God, there’s no confusion, there’s no abrasion, no hostility. So when we speak of peace or peacefulness, this would be applied to God.

And then, since there is creation, there are other kinds of qualities that apply to God, for example, omnipresence. We say God is everywhere. When we say, “Where is God?” the technical answer would be: He is nowhere, because where is a category of creation. But since there is creation, and there’s a hundred thousand billion galaxies with a hundred thousand billion stars, we would say that God is present to all of that reality. The Scripture says that God made it all and he sustains it all. If he would withdraw his power and his Spirit, it would all just collapse and turn into nothingness.

So there’s a lot of qualifications that actually apply to what we could call and what has come to be called the divine nature or the reality of divinity, or, to put it another way, what it is that makes God to be God; what are the characteristics that make God to be God, and that is that he is ever-existent, that he is, that is goodness. And sometimes even the philosophers and the thinkers and the mystical writers would say goodness must belong to God, because for a very thing to exist it has to be good, because evil is an absence of good; evil is a rejection of good, so goodness—and some Church Fathers, like Gregory of Nyssa, he said goodness is somehow even metaphysically prior even to being itself. If you are, then you are good, and everything that is is good to the extent that it exists.

So we have all these things that we can say about God, and we take them up from the Word of God, from the Scripture. So you would have sentences like—in the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets—that God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and mercy. Or you’d have a sentence in the New Testament, like, “God is love. Ho Theos agape estin,” that God is good: when someone called Jesus good, he said, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” So these are attributes.

Here this kind of language, we Christians would say several things about, very important things about. One of these things we would say that whatever belongs to divinity as such—boundlessness, incomprehensibility, absolute beauty and glory and splendor and so on, life: God is life, the living God—we would say, based on our experience of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is that these characteristics can be attributed to each of the three divine hypostases, because the Son and the Spirit have the very same divinity and divine being as God—or divine essence, divine nature, whatever you words you want to use—they have the same characteristics.

So if we would say God is holy, we would have to say the Son of God is holy and the Holy Spirit is holy. If we would say God is good, we would have to say the Son of God is perfectly good, because he’s the exact image of the Father; he is the expression of the Father. The Holy Spirit is good; we even call him the good Spirit, and it’s interesting that in Scripture goodness is one of the adjectives almost always applied to the Holy Spirit, and we even do it in the Church liturgically: the life-creating, good and life-creating Spirit. The Holy Spirit is agathon; it is good. Or beautiful: if God is really magnificently, marvelously beautiful, that harmonious, nothing ugly, nothing— then the Son of God is also the most beautiful. We even pray that in the liturgy, that even in his humanity Jesus is praised for how beautiful he is. Like in Holy Week, the Bridegroom: there is none more beautiful than God.

Power: we would say that God is powerful, but the Son is all-powerful; the Holy Spirit is all-powerful. God the Father is omnipresent; the Son is omnipresent; the Holy Spirit is omnipresent—because wherever God is, the Son is and the Spirit is. However God is, that’s how the Son and the Spirit are, because they have the very same characteristics and properties that belong to God and that belong to divinity. So that is one thing that we would claim.

When we speak this way, in technical theological language it’s called cataphatic. Cataphatic, or kataphasis or cataphatically, to speak cataphatically, it means to speak positively: to make positive assertions: God exists. God is good. God is wise. God is true. God is merciful. God is holy. God is beautiful. God is love. Those are assertions that we can make from our created experience of God, and we would even say—and certainly Dionysius would say, and the holy Church Fathers would say—when we apply these words to ourselves, it’s only because we believe that creation, to use the three words of Dionysius’ writing, resembles God, imitates God, and participates in God, communes in God. So when we say a man is good, or even a dog is good, or a mountain is beautiful, or a waterfall is sublime, or the thunder gives the impression of might and power, or a rushing stream and so on—all of these words that we have, we say that they belong in a divine manner, a strictly divine manner, to God himself.

But then that leads to another distinction that is made in the Bible and by the saints of our Church and by the liturgy, and that is this—St. Gregory Palamas probably put it the best when he said: Whatever I positively assert about God, whenever I speak apophatically about God—for example, if I say God exists—he said I have to immediately qualify that and say, yes, I believe that there is God, but I immediately have to say—and this is what Gregory said—if God exists, then I don’t really exist; if I say that I exist, then God doesn’t really exist, because God cannot exist the same way a creature exists. God exists in a divine manner that I cannot possibly grasp. But God reveals himself to me as the Existing One, as the One who is living and acting and powerful and speaking.

Therefore, I know that he is, but that isness of God has to be corrected. So it is corrected by doing two things, traditionally, and this is done consistently by the Christian saints and Church Fathers. They would say, the first thing that I have to say is whenever I assert anything about divinity: if I say, for example, God is, immediately I have to say but God is not like any concept of existence that I can imagine. I can’t imagine what it is for God to exist. I can’t even imagine for what it is to be divine in and of itself. It’s beyond human comprehension and imagination. But since God acts towards me—and we’ll speak about those actions later—that I can say that he exists.

But then I can say he more than exists. He is not just being; he is supra-being. And they use a prefix, hyper-, or supra- in Latin, hyper- in Greek. So, for example, the Dionysian book on mystical theology begins in a calling out to God; it says: O Hyperousie, O Hyperagathe, O Hyperthee, and then it says, the holy Triados the holy Trinity. But Hyperousia means more than being, beyond being, transcending being. O thou who transcends existence and being, and then hyperagathe means O supra-good, transcending goodness, beyond what I can conceive as goodness. And then it even says Hyperthee, [which] means O beyond divinity. Whatever I can conceive as God, you are even beyond divinity. I don’t know what that is, but I know that you are God when you reveal yourself to me, but I know in that experience of your presence that you are beyond anything that I can imagine.

So the three Persons of the Trinity we would say are good, are wise, are true, are beautiful, but they are beyond goodness, beyond wisdom, beyond truth, beyond anything we can imagine. And then, the Holy Fathers would even go a step further and say not only do we put the prefix “beyond” or “above” or “transcending” or “more than,” we even negate. We say: you are even not-good, not-true, not-beautiful; if we think that our concept is adequate, if we think that our concept, our idea of goodness and truth is so good, so perfect, it’s not perfect for God. And God is so perfectly beyond it that you can even negate it. In fact, there’s a Western great writer and Christian person whose name is Cardinal Newman, and he said that all language about God’s nature is to say and to un-say to a positive effect; to assert something and then to deny it, to negate it, because you have to do it in order to be in reality.

So if we say God exists, we would say he’s beyond existence; he is supra-existing, and even supra-existing to the point where you could say he’s non-existing if you think existing is how we imagine things that exist that we know, like you or I or this pencil in my hand or the whole hundred thousand billion galaxies with the hundred thousand billion stars. If you can say they exist, then in some sense God does not exist.

Then, many centuries before Gregory Palamas, the first writer to make a kind of synthesis of biblical and patristic theology—his name was John of Damascus; he also defended the holy icons, and he lived, I believe, in the eighth, ninth century, at that period; he was a monk in Mar Sabbas Monastery; he was not a bishop; he may have been a priest—but he wrote the first kind of compendium or synthesis of Christian doctrine, Christian theology. It’s called On the Orthodox Faith. In that, he said the sweetest words about God’s being, about the nature of God, about divinity, is a combination of assertions and negations. You assert and you negate at the same time, because you have to.

This negating, it’s called apophatism or apophatic theology. All apophatic theology is to negate what you assert cataphatically. So if you say God is good, then you negate it by saying, but if it’s good the way we think of good, then God is not good; he’s beyond goodness; he’s more than anything we can imagine. And St. John of Damascus said that’s the only proper way you can speak about divinity. It’s the only proper way that you can speak about the qualities of God. You affirm and you transcend and you negate. And then John of Damascus even went a step further and said if you’re really going to be accurate about the characteristics and the properties of God, then you negate even the negations. You say God exists, God is more than existence, God in fact does not exist, and God even does not not-exist, because not-exist as an idea, as a concept, is contingent on existence, which does not apply to God; it only applies to created reality. So being, technically, only applies to created reality.

Here I think we would have to say, point blank, absolutely forthrightly, that technically speaking, God is not the Supreme Being. God is not being at all; God is beyond being. And that’s what the biblical Hebrew word kadosha or holy means. The term holy, agios, sanctus, it means technically, literally, not like anything else, incomparable to anything. Whatever you have that you assert, God is different. Now, you can use certain words because they apply, like to say God exists in everyday language, or God is good, God is not evil, God is merciful, he’s not condemning, he’s not harming, God is beautiful, he’s not ugly, God is peace, he is not irritation and hostility and disharmony, God is powerful, he’s not weak, he’s magnificent, splendid—you can say all these things, but you have to qualify them, and the qualification is called the apophatic principle. You affirm, you transcend, and you deny, and you even deny the denials. That’s the most perfect way of speaking about God.

And that’s why the holy Fathers would say, especially the mystical writers, that when it comes to what God is, even though we can know God through his actions and affirm that he exists and that he is good and that he is true and wise and beautiful and powerful, the more accurate is just to be silent, just to be silent. Silence is the most perfect expression about the nature of divinity, about the characteristics of God. They even say it’s the most adequate. Gregory of Nyssa, he says, not only silence, but wonder, amazement, marveling. In some of the Church akathists, they speak about “like a voiceless fish,” whose mouth is just going but is kind of struck dumb. In fact, there’s a line in Psalm 116 that says in the Hebrew, translation in English, it says men are all a vain hope, but in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, it says every man is a liar. Gregory of Nyssa, he said when it comes to speaking about divinity, what in themselves the one God and Father and the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are, what divinity is, what the divine nature is that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit share absolutely perfectly—the Son and the Spirit being exactly what the Father is—we can only be in amazement and wonder and silence, like voiceless fish.

But we’ve got to speak. I’ve got to speak on the radio; I’ve got to speak to you now. So if I’m speaking about God, or, for example, I’m walking down the street, let’s say, and I’m wearing a cross; maybe I’m wearing a cassock, too, like a priest, and somebody sees me and says, “Hey, you! You believe in God?” I say, “Yes, I believe in God.” They say, “Do you think God exists?” I say, “Yeah, God exists.” “What’s God like?” I say, “Well, God is good and God is beautiful and true and marvelous and merciful.” He’d say, “Really? You think that? Why do you think that?” I say, “Because that’s my experience of God through Jesus. That’s what I come to know when I come to know the Abba Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit.” “You really do that?” “Yeah, and all the saints and the holy Bible, it all makes this affirmation.” But then I would say to the fellow, “But once I say to you, yeah, I believe God exists and I believe that God is good and true and beautiful and wise and lovely and merciful, but if you have a little more time I’d like to tell you that all those words are true on one level, but they’re really not true on another level, because when it comes to what God is in God’s own self, within the divinity, then God is really—and we even pray this in our Church,” I would tell the guy.

We would even say that God is ineffable: there’s no words you can say about him—inconceivable, no concepts apply. God is ineffable, inconceivable, invisible: no images that you can possibly make that would be adequate to God. Ineffable, invisible, incomprehensible: he cannot be grasped; he cannot be comprehended, unknowable. But it is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who are unknowable, whose nature, whose divinity, is beyond anything that can say, who are holy. So when we speak about the attributes or the properties of the one God and Father, and therefore also of the only-begotten Son and therefore also of the Holy Spirit, we affirm certain things, and then we qualify what we assert by saying it’s more than than, transcending, and then we even qualify that by negating, by this apophatic theology, and then we even negate the negations and we come to just silent wonder. That’s how we speak about and relate to the attributes and the properties of God.

One more word, though, about this apophatic theology, this negating of theology. It’s very important to know that apophatic corrective, it doesn’t negate everything that we say about God, and it certainly would not negate the names of God. For example, we would not say God is Father but he’s more than Father; he is supra-Father, he is beyond even fatherhood, and so on. Well, we could say that in a certain sense, because God is Father not like human beings are father. St. Paul said it in the letter to the Ephesians. We call our earthly fathers “father” in imitation and resemblance of God in created form. All these words that we use are applied to creatures, but when they’re applied to God, they’re transcendent. But we would not say that we don’t know anything about the Father. No, we know God as Father through Jesus, and we know what Father is and we take it literally.

And we don’t say that God is beyond Trinity, for example. We wouldn’t say that the Godhead is not only tri-hypostatic but beyond hypostases and Persons. We don’t say that God is supra-personal, even non-personal. No, no, no, we would never do that. The only corrections that we would make apply to the attributes of God.

The other thing that we would say about the attributes of God is that they are applied equally to the three Persons. If something is divine and is a characteristic of God, then it applies equally to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit with no difference whatsoever. The Son is holy with the exact holiness as God the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is true with the exact truth of the Son and the Father. It’s the same, identical, for each one, because the Son of God is of identical divinity with the Father. Homoousios, the Nicene Creed says, not homoiousios, not similar, but identical. Because if the Son would be similar to God, then you’d have to say: In what is the Son different? And here we would say the Son is different from the Father only in his Person, in his hypostasis, in that he is the Son and not the Father. But everything that belongs to divinity belongs exactly to the Son and the Holy Spirit.

But another thing that we Christians would say, however, is this: that all these characteristics of divinity belong first and foremost to the one God and Father, and they belong to the Son and the Holy Spirit because the Son is begotten of the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father, and that the Son and the Spirit have exactly the same divinity as the Father. But we also would say—and our holy Fathers do this, following the Bible—they would say that one of the personal characteristics of the Son of God, who is also called the Logos, the Word, is that he, and then in his humanity as Jesus Christ, personifies each of the divine attributes. Whatever attribute and characteristic that you could apply to God, like existence, for example, we would say that the Son of God reveals to us being in its totally personal expressed form. The Son of God is he who is. He is Yahweh from Yahweh. He is Lord from Lord, God from God.

But then if you take these others, like goodness or truth or wisdom, we would say the Son is the truth, and Jesus even said, “I am the truth.” We would say that the Son is the wisdom of God, and it’s spoken that way in Scripture. We would say that the Son is the divine peace personified. So it would be just like an axiom of Orthodox doctrine, Orthodox Christian doctrine, that the Son of God, and that would be the incarnate Jesus Christ, is for us the personification of every divine attribute. The holy Fathers write this way. Athanasius wrote this way in the letter to Serapion; St. Basil; St. Gregory; all the Gregories write this way. They would say, for example, God is one; there is one God, but the unity of the one God is revealed to us in his one Son, who is incarnate on earth as Jesus Christ. So Jesus reveals to us the unity of God. He shows us who the one God is. And the Holy Spirit is one. St. Paul insists on this: there is one Holy Spirit. But the one Holy Spirit is kind of the spirit of unity. So you could say: God is one. His unity is personified in the Person of Christ, and the Spirit is the spirit of unity, bringing all things into unity without destroying their distinction.

Then we could say God is the living God, but then in Scripture Jesus says, “I am the life.” So the life of the living God is personified and given to us and shown to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. And then the Holy Spirit is called the life-creating spirit, the life-creating spirit, or the spirit of life. Or take for example wisdom. In the Scripture it says God is wise, he is the wise God, but the wisdom of the wise God, personified and revealed to us in personal form, in personal human form in the Incarnation, is Jesus. St. Paul said, “He is the wisdom of God.” And in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Wisdom of God is Jesus Christ. And the same thing with peace. God is the peaceful God. St. Paul said: Christ is our peace. Christ is the peace of God given to us, and the Holy Spirit is the spirit of peace. Where the Holy Spirit is, there is peace, there is harmony. Or power: God is the mighty God. The power of God is Christ, is the Word, the second Person of the Trinity. St. Paul said it again: Christ is the power of God. But that power is communicated by the Holy Spirit.

So you could do that with practically every attribute. You could say whatever adjective can modify divinity, the personification of that particular quality is revealed to us in the Person of Christ, the incarnate Word of God. And the spirit of that particular quality, in God and given to us, is shown and revealed and empowered and inspired and made alive by the Person of the Holy Spirit. So this is how we think about the divine attributes.

One last thing, though. We could pray to God and say: O Being, O Supreme Being, O Beyond-Being—and we do pray that way in Church. We could say to God: O Good One, O transcending all goodness, O beyond all comprehension. We could pray to God: O beautiful One, O transcending all beauty. We could say to God: O wise One, beyond all wisdom that we could possibly imagine or comprehend. So we could pray to God: O good One, O existing One, O wise One, O One. It’s possible to pray that way, and it’s very appropriate; we do it. But those are not names.

So for example, we would never pray: In the name of the good, the true, and the beautiful. We pray in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Those are the names of the divine Persons. The good One, the true One, the beautiful One, they’re not names; they’re not hypostatic names. They are words that are appropriate to the divine attributes, qualities. So you would not baptize, for example, in the name of the good, the true, and the beautiful, or in the name of the strong, the wise, and the pure. No, because those are not names. So we distinguish radically between addressing the one God as Father, addressing Jesus Christ as Jesus Christ the Son, addressing the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit, but those are names. We distinguish radically when we do that from calling God the good One or the mighty One or even the holy One, because the holy One could be the Father, the holy One could be the Son, the holy One could be—and is!—the Holy Spirit. The good One is the Father, but the Son is the good One, too, and so is the Holy Spirit. The mighty One is the Father; the Son is the mighty One; so is the Holy Spirit.

So be careful. We must be careful. We must make the proper distinction. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are names, but good, true, beautiful, wise, and any other attribute that we could speak about and [which is] relative to God—O omnipotent One, O omnipresent One, O omniscient One, O all-knowing One—well, that all-knowing One is definitely the Father, but it is also the Son, and it is the Holy Spirit, and those are not names of the Persons; those are qualities of the reality of divinity, what we would call the divine nature or the divine being.

And this really is important because there are people who think that to call God Father is just virtually the same as calling him the good One or calling him the Supreme Being; to say Supreme Being or to call God the Father are more or less the same; they’re not different—but that’s not true. Certainly, all that belongs to divinity belongs identically and equally to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. It is first of all the divinity of the one God and Father, and it is that divinity that belongs to the only-begotten Son as begotten of the Father before all ages, and belongs to the Spirit of God who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son.

So, in addition to names, we have attributes, and we have to be careful to distinguish between what is a name and the names of the three Persons, and what are attributes that belong equally to each of the three Persons because each of the three Persons is divine. We have to be very careful.

Now, how do we know what those attributes are? Here the answer of the holy Scripture, and certainly of our Church Fathers who interpret the Scripture, is: because God acts, because God speaks, because God reveals himself, because God has made himself known. And, therefore, we make these conclusions, that God is good, true, mighty, beautiful, powerful, loving, merciful, because of his activities. So we have the language about God. When we speak about God, we have language that refers not to his names and his personal names, of Father, Son, and Spirit, not to his attributes, but to his activities and to his actions, and we’ll speak about that the next time.