God’s two names
To Moses, who had asked his name, the Lord said: “I am who I am. Tell the children of Israel: ‘Who-am has sent me to you.” “To be” is a name for unchangeability. All things that change cease to be what they were and begin to be what they were not. Real being, genuine being, authentic being belongs only to one who does not change. He has being to whom it was said, “You change those things, and they are changed, but you yourself are the same” Ps 101:27-28). What does “I am who I am” mean but “I am eternal”? What does it mean but “I cannot change”? No creature, not heaven, not earth, not an angel, not a power, not a throne, not the dominations, not the powers.
This, then, is the name for eternity; but, even more, he has deigned to have a name of mercy: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He has the one name in himself, the other towards us. If he wished to be only what he is in himself, what would we be? If Moses understood, indeed because he understood when he was told, “I am who I am. Who-am sent me,” he believed this was important for human beings but he saw that it was very far from them. For if, struck by some flash of the light of truest being, he properly understands what is and what truly is, he also sees how far below, how utterly distant, how utterly unlike he is…. When Moses saw how far unequal he was to what was being said,…how incapable of it he was, he became inflamed by a desire to see that which is, he said to God with whom he was speaking: “Show me yourself” (Ex 33:18). When Moses begam tp despair because of the excellence of that utterly unlike being, God raised the despairing, frightened man. It’s as if he were saying, “Because I said, ‘I am who I am’ and “Who-am sent me,’ you have understood what it means to be, and despaired of ever grasping it. Take courage: I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am what I am in such a way, I am be-ing itself in such a way, I am with be-ing itself in such a way, that I do not wish not-to-be [deesse] for human beings.”
If in some way we are able to seek the Lord and to search after him who is–and indeed he is not far from any of us, for in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:27-28)–beyond all words let us praise his being, and let us love his mercy. Amen.
(Augustine, Sermon 7, 7; PL 38, 66-67)