Pope Benedict XVI on the name of God

“What, then, does “the name of God” mean? Perhaps it is easiest to grasp what this entails if we look at its opposite. The Revelation of John speaks of the adversary of God, the “beast”. This beast, the power opposed to God, has no name, but a number. The seer tells us: “Its number is six hundred and sixty-six” (13:18). It is a number, and it makes men numbers. We who lived through the world of the concentration camps know what that means. The terror of that world is rooted in the fact that it obliterates men’s faces. It obliterates their history. It makes man a number, an exchangeable cog in one big machine. He is his function – nothing more. Today, we must fear that the concentration camp was only a prelude and that the universal law of the machine may impose the structure of the concentration camp on the world as a whole. For when functions are all that exist, man, too, is nothing more than a function. The machines that he himself has constructed now impose their own law on him: he must be made readable for the computer, and this can be achieved only when he is translated into numbers. Everything else in man becomes irrelevant. Whatever is not a function is–nothing…But God has a name, and calls us by our name. He is a person, and seeks the person. He has a face, and he seeks our face. He has a heart, and he seeks our heart. For him, we are not some function in a “world machinery”. On the contrary, it is precisely those who have no function that are his own. A name allows me to be addressed. A name denotes community. This is why Christ is the true Moses, the fulfillment of the revelation of God’s name. He does not bring some new word as God’s name; he does more than this, since he himself is the face of God. He himself is the name of God. In him, we can address God as “you”, as person, as heart” (Ratzinger, Joseph. The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 2008) p. 23-24)


7 Responses to “Pope Benedict XVI on the name of God”

  1. 1 Marco Monti April 5, 2008 at 8:09 am

    If you read the passage from Exodus 33:19 to 34:7, you will see in a special way what the name of the Lord is. It is His character, and it is also His Law, in fact, the Law is a transcript of His character. The moment anybody abrogates the Divine Law of God, he defaces His character, and becomes an ally with the adversary.
    The name of the Lord is His character.

  2. 2 ericroorback April 5, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Thanks for the comment Marco. I’m not sure, however, if your comment is intended to be a correction or simply a supplement. Perhaps you can clarify this for me so I can know how to best respond. Thanks

  3. 3 Marco Monti April 6, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Hi, I would be happy to clarify, and thank you for giving me the opportunity. My response was not supposed to be a correction or a supplement, but an alternative to the relationship between God’s name and the number of the beast. We are told in Revelations 12:17 that Satan makes war on those who keep God’s commandments and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, can. xix) condemns those who deny that the Ten Commandments are binding on Christians. And it is this “beast”, who causes the world to disregard God’s commandments (which is synonymous with His Name or Character).
    I always try to be brief, so if you want more clarification I can give it. Thanks

  4. 4 ericroorback April 6, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Hey Marco,

    Thanks for your clarification and interaction on this post. I value the opportunity to continue thinking through these things. I’m still a bit unclear on exactly what the alternative is that you are offering. I think I hear what you are saying but I may need some more clarification. Tell me if I am understanding your position correctly: God’s name is equated with his character, which is demonstrated in his commandments (particularly the Decalogue), and the “beast” stands in opposition to those who would keep God’s commandments (which are his name). Is this correct? As I said, I think I’m hearing what you are saying, so I will go ahead and make a few comments. You can disregard them if I’m misunderstanding you.

    I’ve definitely read the Exodus passage you referred to earlier, and its true that YHWH does tell Moses that he is going to pass before him and declare his name. In Exodus 34:6-7 YHWH is shown to pass by Moses and proclaim to him:

    “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

    Now, this description is obviously of great significance, a fact that can be seen easily in its repeated use throughout the OT in describing how God acts (cf. Neh. 9:17; Ps 86: 15; 103:8-10; 145:8; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:12-14). However, I’m a bit reluctant to equate the commandments of God with his name, even though I would agree that they do give us a window into his character. I would rather give primacy to the passages that specifically reference his name being told (specifically Exod. 3,33-34). However, I would refer back to Ch. 3 of Exodus before I went to Ch. 33-34 because it seems to have primacy in the narrative, given that ch. 33-34 use and build on the divine name – YHWH. So, let me try and give a brief description of how I’m reading ch 3 and 33-34 so that you can know where I’m coming from, and, therefore, where we might differ in our understanding of God’s name.

    In ch. 3 Moses is keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, when the angel of the Lord appears to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. As he turns aside to see this strange occurrence, God calls to him. As the conversation ensues, YHWH tells Moses that “the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.” He then tells Moses that he is going to send him to Pharaoh “that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” After Moses questions YHWH’s calling of him and YHWH promises his presence, Moses asks what he is supposed to tell the Israelites when they ask what the name of this God is. To this YHWH answers, “ ‘I am who I am’…Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

    While often the tendency has been to understand the divine name YHWH (from the Heb. root “to be”) as referencing the eternality of God’s being (more of a static characteristic trait), I understand the name YHWH, in the context of Exod. 3, as having more to do with the idea of “presence,” of God’s eternal action. Interestingly enough, I stumbled across an article by Wayne Roosa titled “A Meditation on the Joint and Its Holy Ornaments” in the Jan/Feb 2008 Books and Culture this morning while in my bathroom, and it was pretty helpful in its articulation of this very point. Roosa, in building off of Martin Buber, refers to the name as “a linguistic act.” He says, “It is a word that, so to speak, is an action, a word as close to “Being”– creative dynamic, burning, being–as words can take us. “I AM that I AM” thus suggests “I am and shall be present with you,” or “I am present and it is not necessary or possible for you to conjure me.” It is about a “presence among you wherever you go”” (pg. 23). Going back Exod. 3, YHWH, therefore, declares active presence, which makes sense in context: YHWH calling Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let Israel go; Moses telling Israel that YHWH – with the idea of his active presence – has heard their groans of suffering and is presently active to do something about it – a comforting word for a people who are in bondage in Egypt.

    Therefore, when I get to Exod. 33-34, having already read ch 3, and I read about YHWH passing by proclaiming his name to Moses in the cleft of the rock, I read this with the ideas of presence in ch 3 in mind. This is not to impose something foreign onto ch 33-34, because I think similar ideas are present here as well. However, I would give primacy of place to the description of God’s name stated in ch. 3 as a hermeneutical key for better understanding ch. 33-34. In this light, we see God’s name associated with action, “pronounced as a string of actions and dynamic conditions of existence” (Roosa, 23). Therefore, I read the proclamation of the name in terms of “active movements”, rather than a static idea of attributes.
    All that to say, I’m reluctant to equate God’s commandment with God’s name. The progression of thought I’m reading in your comment seems to move from Exod.33-34 (where YHWH’s character is seen) to God’s commandments (where his character is also seen) to equating the two with the name of God. Therefore, as you stated, “…it is this “beast”, who causes the world to disregard God’s commandments (which is synonymous with His Name or Character).” It seems we just diverge in the equating of the name of God with his commandments.

    Man, sorry that was so long. I appreciate your desire to be brief in your response, and now I feel kinda bad for not reciprocating that in my “few comments.” Anyway, let me know if I’m understanding you correctly.

  5. 5 Marco Monti April 7, 2008 at 10:03 am

    That is a very good observation, and thank you for it. Please don’t apologise for the length of it. I have recorded your viewpoint for further consideration. Perhaps my claim that the Law of God being synonymous with His name or character is an overstatement. I came to that conclusion by doing a search on all the attributes of the ten commandments, and have found that they describe God’s own character, i.e. Perfect, Holy, Love, Light, Spirit, True, Righteous, Righteousness, Just, Pure, Good, Faithful, Wisdom Great and Eternal. And Ps 119:165 tells us that the law brings great Peace.
    Considering all of that, when we go back to the workings of the ‘beast’ in these last days, there must be some sort of attack or subtle manipulation of the law because Revelation 22:14 announces only those who have kept the commandments are able to enter into the heavenly city.

  6. 6 ericroorback April 7, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Yeah, I would agree with you that there is a connection between the character of God and the Law of God, and I think you are right to see those. His values are definitely shown through the various commandments (care for the alien, orphan, and widow; establishing cities of refuge; love of God and neighbor; purity in worship and interpersonal relations; care for the land and animals seen in sabbaths, etc.), and in this sense offer a window through which we can know him.
    With regard to the beast and commandment keeping, I don’t think Pope Benedict XVI would necessarily object. His quote isn’t so much of a definitive, all-encompassing statement on the nature of the beast and his workings, but more so just highlighting an aspect of him so as to make a contrast with the personhood of God – i.e he has a “name,” “face,” “heart,” etc.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion. I look forward to future blogalogues with you. Feel free to keep the discussion going if you feel something wasn’t addressed that needed to be.

  7. 7 Lirybka May 26, 2009 at 8:13 pm


    I read your article and would like to share the following link because I feel very important about it: http://barnabasnagy.com/2009/05/26/pope-benedict-the-second-beast-16-666/

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