The Incomprehensible Name of God: YHWH
The next word in this series we will explore is, without doubt, the most ponderous we shall ever address in this series Tres Linguae Sacrae. In fact, it is not really a word; it is a name, but not any ordinary name. It is the very name of God: YHWH (יהוה), which translated means something along the lines of "He who is," Eis qui est.
It is the nomen ineffabile, the ineffable name.
It is the nomen incommunicabile, the incommunicable name.
It is the nomen terribile, the terrible name. (Ps. 99:3)
It is the nomen sanctum, the holy name. (Ps. 111:9)
It is the very name of God: YHWH (יהוה), which translated means something along the lines of "He who is," Eis qui est.
The Jews call it "the Name," or Hashem (Lev. 24:11, 16; Deut. 28:58), and indeed the unutterable name, Shem Hameforash.
St. Thomas Aquinas agrees with the traditional Jew. In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas says this name is the most suitable name for God--more suitable than its translation "He who is," and more suitable than the word God itself--since it signifies "the substance of God itself," and is "incommunicable, and, if one make so speak, singular," incommunicabilem, et, ut sic liceat loqui, singularem. (ST Ia q. 13 a. 11, ad. 1).
It is a wonderful patrimony that Christians have inherited from the revelation of God to Moses and for which we ought to be forever grateful: "The God of our faith has revealed himself as HE WHO IS," YHWH, the One with the ineffable, incommunicable, terrible, and holy name. CCC ž 231.
The word YHWH comes to us from Hebrew, and is composed of four Hebrew letters. Yod, He, Waw, and He. For this reason, it is called the Tetragrammaton, a word that comes from Greek meaning "four letters." In his Stromata (V.6), St. Clement of Alexandria calls it the "mystic name of four letters," to tetragrammon honoma to mystikon.
Because Hebrew originally did not have vowels, there is some uncertainty and therefore dispute among scholars as to how the name is actually pronounced: Yahweh or Yawveh are the most likely possible alternatives. It is exceedingly unlikely that the popular Jehovah is the correct pronunciation.
The name of God--YHWH--is found over 6,800 times in the Old Testament. It appears approximately 650 times in the Psalms alone. It first appears in Genesis 2:4. The only books of the Old Testament in which the unutterable name does not appear are Ecclesiastes, the Book of Esther, and Song of Songs.
God revealed Himself in this manner when He revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Horeb in the theophany of the Burning Bush (Ex. 3:1-22). In response to Moses' question as to what he should tell the oppressed Israelites when they ask him the name of the God who had appeared to Him, God responded.
"I am who am."
Ehyeh asher Ehyeh
Ego sum qui sum (Vulgate)
Εγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (LXX)
"This is what you shall tell the Israelites," God continues. "I AM sent me to you. . . . this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations." (Ex. 3:14-15) "I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," God tells Moses, "but my name, YHWH, I did not make known to them." (Ex. 6:3)
So it is that the first person "I am," EHYEH (אֶהְיֶה) becomes the third person YHWH (יהוה), which translated means something along the lines of "HE WHO IS," Eis qui est.
What is the significance of God having a name?
In his book Introduction to Christianity, before he was Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger broached the issue of the revelation of the name of God, Yahweh, and what "specifically new element was expressed" by that name. The various answers that might be given to this question Ratzinger said are many. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts forth the most common:
God reveals his name to Moses to show that he is a personal God that wishes to make Himself known to mankind. "God has a name; he is not an anonymous force. To disclose one's name is to make oneself known to others." CCC ž 203.
God's name is an expression of his faithfulness. "The divine name, 'I Am' or 'He is,' expresses God's faithfulness." CCC ž 211.
God's name suggests that he is unchangeable and unchanging, is subject to "no variation or shadow due to ...
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