Friday, March 24, 2006

Justin Martyr and God's Namelessness

Nevertheless, in order to apprehend Justin’s doctrine of innominability, it is necessary to make a distinction between names (onomata) and forms of address (prosresis). Expressions such as patjr or kuriov, according to Justin Martyr, are not onomata but prosreseis.[1] They do not designate what God is, but simply permit finite rational existents to invoke God with reverential awe. Justin indicates that God is a person to whom one may speak “but of whom one may not speak.” God is known as “thou” but never as “he.”[2] For the Martyr, consequently, not even the lexeme “God” is a name since it has neither a known nor an unknown meaning.[3] Osborn also maintains that Justin’s use of the word prosreseis is “much more perceptive” than Clement of Alexandria’s theory which suggests that the human mind utilizes divine titles as a form of support.[4] In the final analysis, the Martyr’s God is strictly innominable since he thinks that not even theos is his name.

Elsewhere, Justin writes: “And we have been taught, and are convinced, and do believe, that He accepts those only who imitate the excellences which reside in Him, temperance, and justice, and philanthropy, and as many virtues as are peculiar to a God who is called by no proper name.”[5] Affirmations such as these move Eric Osborn to observe: “The similarity of these statements with those of contemporary Platonism is clear. Albinus speaks in similar terms of the inapplicability of names to the One. God is ineffable and to be grasped by mind alone because he is neither genus, species nor differentia.”[6] It thus appears evident that Middle Platonism shaped Justin’s doctrine of innominability. He too conceived of God in a particular cultural milieu and a specific Christian matrix informed by contemporary Platonic thought. God has no name, according to Justin: he is anonymous. It is not difficult to perceive a conceptual nexus between Justinian innominability and Lactantian apophaticism. Both writers forged their individual theistic notions in the same milieu.

[1] E. Osborn, Justin, 22

[2] Osborn, ibid.

[3] Osborn, Justin, 22-23.

[4] Osborn, ibid.

[5] Apology 1.10.

[6] Osborn, Justin Martyr, 22. Cf. R.M. Grant’s Gods and the One God; Erwin Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr (Jena: Frommannische Buchhandlung, 1923).

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