Redoublement in natural theology

One of the most wonderful, essential, and intellectually purgative doctrines of natural theology is St. Thomas’s teaching on the divine names. St. Thomas considers the possibility that we cannot name God at all- and since we can name whatever we know, our inability to name would imply an inability to know. St. Thomas answers that we can name God inadequately. One fundamental way in which this inadequacy manifests itself is in our inability to give a single kind of name to God. The simplest and most natural way to speak to God is as to someone that exists. We can speak to him as “God” or “you” or “Lord” or “Father”. This is all true and necessary, but we also have to speak to him as an abstract being “justice”, “mercy”, “truth”. To pray to “sacred truth” or “pure justice” seems extremely wacky or even heretical, but it’s just good Thomism (and Scriptural fidelity). Now everyone  knows the shortcoming is in praying to mercy or goodness: We feel as if we are praying to an ideal, and not to something that exists. The orthodox mind wants to switch back to speaking to someone who exists. As soon as it does so, however, we switch to something finite and more limited. Running away from praying to mercy to praying to the merciful one feels like a move in the right direction, but we lose something in doing so- every now and again we must turn away from the Father to turn towards the fatherhood. Note that when we call God “goodness” we do not mean this as a superlative: e.g. “God is goodness itself” as meaning “God is the greatest possible good”. No- we have to see “goodness” in its complete abstraction. We have to see it in its aetherial not-here-or-thereness. When we pray to justice or goodness the concrete individual- God- must vanish.

Gilles Emery calls this (in a different context) redoublement. We cannot see God in one look- we need at least two. Understanding the divine mercy, for example, requires at one time seeing as the merciful one and at another time as mercy (abstract mercy). We must leap back and forth.


  1. January 30, 2010 at 7:57 am

    It would seem, then, that such devotions as the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which concretizes God’s divine Love apart from his other attributes, are a way of bringing redoublement to the level of a popular devotion.

  2. PatrickH said,

    January 30, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    “Understanding the divine mercy, for example, requires at one time seeing as the merciful one…”.

    At first reading, I thought this meant that one of the ways to understand the divine mercy was to be merciful oneself, to look at the world with eyes of mercy. But it seems I need to take a second look, so to speak.

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