Being as Iconic Concept: Aquinas on 'He Who Is' as Name for God

International Journal of Systematic Theology 19 (2):163-174 (2017)
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Aquinas claims that ‘He Who Is’ is the most proper of the names we have for God. But this attempt to ‘describe’ God with a philosophical concept like ‘being’ can seem dangerously close to creating a false conception based on our limited understanding – an idol. A dominant criticism of Aquinas’ use of this term is that any attempt to use ‘being’ to describe God will inevitably make him merely some object in our ontology alongside other beings, unacceptably mitigating God's radical transcendence and otherness. I will argue that Aquinas has a very creative response to this charge: ‘being’ stands in a unique relationship as the only concept that can ensure we do not draw God under some particular creaturely limit and thus use divine names to create an ‘idol’. In other words, ‘being’ is a special paradigm concept/term which ensures that we preserve humility in our attempts to name God.

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James Dominic Rooney
Hong Kong Baptist University


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