An Excerpt from Benedict XVI on the Granting of the Divine Name

I wanted to post this earlier but was unable. I hope that it will still prove useful for some. This is an excerpt from Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI’s Introduction to Christianity in which he deals with today’s Old Testament lectionary reading from Exodus 3. It is one of my favorite passages in the book:

Since YHWH, as we have seen, is explained as the “God of our fathers”, the YHWH-faith automatically absorbs the whole context of the faith of Israel’s fathers, though this context at the same time acquires a new coherence and a new look. But what is the specifically new element expressed by the name “YHWH”? The answers to this question are numerous; the precise meanings of the formulas in Exodus 3 can no longer be ascertained with certainty. Nevertheless, two aspects emerge clearly. We have already established that to our way of thinking the mere fact that God bears a name, and thereby appears as a kind of individual is a scandal. But if we look more closely at the text we are considering the question arises: Is it, properly speaking, really a name? … God replied: “I am who I am”. The words could also be translated, “I am what I am”. This looks like a rebuff; it seems much more like a refusal to give a name than the announcement of a name. In the whole scene there is a sense of displeasure at such importunity: I am just who I am ….

I think the present pope captures here something very important about the divine name in Exodus 3. On the one hand, by giving Moses his name, YHWH appears somewhat like an individual and a personal God. On the other hand, by having the name come in the form of rebuff, it displays that, though YHWH is a personal God, he is still transcendent.