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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IX:
John of Damascus: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.: Concerning what is affirmed about God.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 12b Chapter IX.—Concerning what is affirmed about God.

The Deity is simple and uncompound. But that which is composed of many and different elements is compound. If, then, we should speak of the qualities of being uncreate and without beginning and incorporeal and immortal and everlasting and good and creative and so forth as essential differences in the case of God, that which is composed of so many qualities will not be simple but must be compound. But this is impious in the extreme. Each then of the affirmations about God should be thought of as signifying not what He is in essence, but either something that it is impossible to make plain, or some relation to some of those things which are contrasts or some of those things that follow the nature, or an energy 1579 .

It appears then 1580 that the most proper of all the names given to God is “He that is,” as He Himself said in answer to Moses on the mountain, Say to the sons of Israel, He that is hath sent Me 1581 . For He keeps all being in His own embrace 1582 , like a sea of essence infinite and unseen. Or as the holy Dionysius says, “He that is good 1583 .” For one cannot say of God that He has being in the first place and goodness in the second.

The second name of God is Θεός, derived from θέειν 1584 , to run, because He courses through all things, or from αἴθειν, to burn: For God is a fire consuming all evil 1585 : or from θεᾶσθαι, because He is all-seeing 1586 : for nothing can escape Him, and over all He keepeth watch. For He saw all things before they were, holding them timelessly in His thoughts; and each one conformably to His voluntary and timeless thought 1587 , which constitutes predetermination and image and pattern, comes into existence at the predetermined time 1588 .

The first name then conveys the notion of His existence and of the nature of His existence: while the second contains the idea of energy. Further, the terms ‘without beginning,’ ‘incorruptible,’ ‘unbegotten,’ as also ‘uncreate,’ ‘incorporeal,’ ‘unseen,’ and so forth, explain what He is not: that is to say, they tell us that His being had no beginning, that He is not corruptible, nor created, nor corporeal, nor visible 1589 . Again, goodness and justice and piety and such like names belong to the nature 1590 , but do not explain His actual essence. Finally, Lord and King and names of that class indicate a relationship with their contrasts: for the name Lord has reference to those over whom the lord rules, and the name King to those under kingly authority, and the name Creator to the creatures, and the name Shepherd to the sheep he tends.



The Greek runs:— σχέσιν τινὰ πρὸς τὶ των ἀντιδιαστελλομένων, ἢ τὶ τῶν παρεπομένων τῃ φύσει, ἢ ἐνέργειαν.


Rendered in the Septuagint Version, ᾽Εγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν. Some of the Fathers made much of the fact that it is not the neuter form τὸ ὄν.


Exod. iii. 14.


Greg. Naz., Orat. 36.


Dionys., De div. nom. c. 2, 3 and 4. This sentence and the next are absent in some mss., and are rather more obscurely stated than is usual with John of Damascus.


In his Cratylus Plato gives this etymology, and Eusebius quotes it in his Prep. Evangel. i. Clement of Alexandria refers to it more than once in his Strom., bk. iv., and in his Protrept., where he says—Sidera θέους ἐκ τοῦ θέειν, deos a currendo nominarunt.


Deut. iv. 24.


2 Mac. x. 5.


κατὰ τὴν θελητικὴν αὐτοῦ ἄχρονον ἔννοιαν. See Thomas Aquin., I., II. Quæst. 17, Art. 1, where he says, est actus rationis, præsupposito tamen actu voluntatis.


This sentence is absent in some mss., being added at the end of the chapter with the mark σχόλ.


Dionys., De div. nom., c. 5.


παρέπονται τῇ φύσει; follow the nature, are consequents of the nature, or accompany it.

Next: Concerning divine union and separation.

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