What Can and Can’t Be Said About God
“For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we shall see light” (Ps 35:10). Here on earth, a fountain is one thing and light is another. When you’re thirsty, you look for a fountain, and to reach the fountain you look for a light; and if it’s not daytime, you light a lamp to get to the fountain. But that fountain is light itself; to the thirsty it’s a fountain, to the blind it’s a light. Open your eyes to see the light; open your heart’s mouth to drink from the fountain. What you drink is what you see, is what you hear. God becomes the whole of it for you, for he is the whole of all the things you love.
If you’re thinking about visible things, God is not bread, God is not water, God is not this light, nor is he a garment or a house. All these things are visible and separate things. What’s bread is not water; what’s a garment is not a house; and what they are God is not: they’re visible. God is all these things to you. If you’re hungry, he’s bread for you; if you’re thirsty, he’s water for you; if you’re in the dark, he’s light for you for he abides incorruptibly; if you’re naked, he’s your garment since this corruptible body will don incorruption and this mortal body immortality (1 Cor 15:53).
All these things can be said of God, and not one of them is said worthily of God. Nothing is wider than this poverty of words. You look for a fitting name for God, and you can’t find any. You look for some way at all of speaking of him, and you find everything. What do a lamb and a lion have in common? Yet both of them are said of Christ. “Behold the lamb of God” (Jn 1:29). “The lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed” (Rev 5:5). (In Ioannem Tr. 13, 5; PL 35, 1495)
“There is none like you among the gods, O Lord” (Ps 85:8). Whatever it may be that a person thinks about, what is made is not similar to the one who made it. Apart from God, everything in nature was made by God. How great the difference is between the one who made it and the thing he made who can properly conceive? That’s why the Psalm says, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord.” Pay attention, beloved: God is beyond our ability to speak him: it is easier to say what he is not than what he is. Think of the earth: God is not the earth; think of the sea: God is not the sea; all the things on earth, human beings and animals: God is not all that; all the things in the sea or flying through the air: God is not that; whatever shines in the sky, stars, sun and moon: God is not that; heaven: God is not that; think of the angels, the virtues, powers, archangels, thrones, principalities, dominations: God is not that.
Well, then, what is he? All I’ve been able to say is what he is not. You ask what he is. “What eye has not seen nor ear heard nor has entered into the heart of man” (1 Cor 2:9). If it can’t enter into your heart, why do you think that it can enter into your tongue? (EnPs 85, 8; PL 37, 1090)
About the Author
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.