How to Speak of an Unspeakable God

Here is a great little passage from Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine in which he reflects on how a person can say anything about a God who transcends anything we could possible say.

“Have I spoken of God, or uttered His praise, in any worthy way? Nay, I feel that I have done nothing more than desire to speak; and if I have said anything, it is not what I desired to say. How do I know this, except from the fact that God is unspeakable? But what I have said, if it had been unspeakable, could not have been spoken. And so God is not even to be called “unspeakable,” because to say even this is to speak of Him. Thus there arises a curious contradiction of words, because if the unspeakable is what cannot be spoken of, it is not unspeakable if it can be called unspeakable. And this opposition of words is rather to be avoided by silence than to be explained away by speech. And yet God, although nothing worthy of His greatness can be said of Him, has condescended to accept the worship of men’s mouths, and has desired us through the medium of our own words to rejoice in His praise. For on this principle it is that He is called Dues (God). For the sound of those two syllables in itself conveys no true knowledge of His nature; but yet all who know the Latin tongue are led, when that sound reaches their ears, to think of a nature supreme in excellence and eternal in existence.” (On Christian Doctrine 1.6)

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on December 7, 2011, in Early Church. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. “First Listen” St. Benedict 😉

  2. I often wonder just how much Barth read and got from Augustine? Note not “Augustinianism”, but Augustine, himself. Note Barth said near the end of his life: ‘I am a child of the 19th century.’ (Letters of..)

  3. I find Augustine always thoughtful – this quote shows how different his age and perceptions are different from us Evangelicals with our own nuances in English and hermeneutical accretions.

  1. Pingback: Trevin’s Seven : Kingdom People

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