Latin in-, "not", passibilis, "able to suffer,
experience emotion") describes the theological doctrine that
not experience pain or pleasure from the actions of another being. It
has often been seen as a consequence of divine aseity , the idea that
God is absolutely independent of any other being, i.e., in no way
causally dependent. Being affected (literally made to have a certain
emotion, affect ) by the state or actions of another would seem to
imply causal dependence.
Some theological systems portray
God as a being expressive of many
(or all) emotions . Other systems, mainly in Judaism and Islam,
God as a being that does not experience suffering or any other
emotion at all. However, in Christianity there is an ancient dispute
about the impassibility of
Nestorianism ). Still, it is
understood in all
Abrahamic religions , including Christianity, that
God is not subject to temptation or sin at all, since sin is defined
as rebellion against God's loving authority and holiness. Or one could
see sin as rebellion to God's will in general, and while it is
conceivable that an ordinary being could "rebel" against his own
God arguably cannot since he is all-powerful and
all-wise and is therefore compelled by his own nature to follow his
* 1 Christianity
* 1.2 Main theologians
* 1.3 Views in Scripture
* 2 Judaism
* 3 Islam
* 4 Greek mythology
* 5 Bibliography
* 6 References
Catholic Church teaches dogmatically that
God is impassible. The
divine nature accordingly has no emotions, changes, alterations,
height, width, depth, or any other temporal attributes. While Jesus
Christ's human nature was complete, and thus Christ possessed a human
body, human mind and human soul, and thus human emotions, this human
nature was hypostatically united with the timeless, immutable,
impassible divine nature, which retained all of its divine attributes
without alteration, just as his human nature retained all of its human
attributes. In Catholic doctrine, it would be erroneous and
blasphemous to attribute changes or emotional states to God, except by
analogy. Thus scriptural expressions which indicate "anger" or
"sadness" on God's part are considered anthropomorphisms, mere
analogies to explain mankind's relationship to God, who is impassible
in his own nature. Some objecting to this claim assert that if God
cannot have emotions, then
God cannot love, which is a central tenet
of Christianity. However, Catholics would point out that love is not
an emotion except in a secondary sense, and is far more than simply a
changeable emotion. Furthermore, the human nature of Christ expressed
emotional love as well as possessing the timeless, unconditioned
"agape " of God.
Part of a series on the
ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
Theodoret , an early Christian bishop and theologian, wrote, "wild
and blasphemous are they who ascribe passion to the divine nature," in
his Demonstrations by Syllogism.
Augustinism , one of the chief Christian schools of thought
associated most often with
Roman Catholicism and Calvinist
Protestantism , strongly asserts the impassibility of God, as well as
his impeccability . It also defends the notion of acts of
divine intercession , such as the miracles of the
Martin Luther and especially
John Calvin were heavily influenced by
Augustine, and their theologies are similar in many respects in regard
to divine impassibility.
Generally, scholars do not take anthropomorphic phrases in the Bible
like "the finger of God" or "the hand of God" to mean that God
literally has a hand or finger. Rather, it is interpreted as an
allegory for the
Holy Spirit and an expression of God's sovereignty
over and intervention into the material world.
Thomas Jay Oord offers a scathing criticism of divine impassibility
in his various theological works. Oord argues that God's nature as
God to be relational, which means
God is not impassible.
Anastasia Philippa Scrutton argues for passibilism on the basis of
divine omniscience: if
God is all knowing,
God must have experiential
as well as propositional knowledge, and in order to have experiential
knowledge of emotions,
God must experience emotions. Scrutton uses
Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to distinguish between different kinds of
emotions (passions and affections), arguing against the view employed
by some impassibilists that all emotions are irrational, involuntary
and require a body, and therefore inappropriate to a rational,
all-powerful and incorporeal God.
VIEWS IN SCRIPTURE
Other Christian views portray a
God who does have emotions and
emotional reactions to creation, but these emotions should not
necessarily be viewed as altogether similar to human emotions. Genesis
1 says that humans were made in God's image, but human emotions,
originally a reflection of God's emotional capacity, have been marred
by the fall of man .
Human emotions are subject to time, space, and circumstance. God's
emotions are always in keeping with His character as described by the
scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ, according to Christian
scholars and the Bible. A few examples are found in Genesis, chapter
8, in the account of the Flood.
God is "grieved" at the pervasive evil of mankind, yet "pleased" with
Noah's faithfulness. After the flood,
God is "pleased" by Noah's burnt
offering. Traditional Christian interpretation understood such
depictions of changing emotion in
God to be simply an anthropomorphic
way of expressing changes in his dealings with humans. They believed
God's eternal will for mankind and love for mankind in Christ does not
undergo alteration; He is immutable.
Although there are differing opinions in Christian circles about the
impassibility of God, Christian scholars consent that Jesus was
completely human and completely God, and so expressed sanctified
emotions and was subject to the same physical limitations as humanity,
such as hunger or exhaustion. Most Christians traditionally believed
these experiences to be proper only to Jesus' human nature.
The New Testament says in Hebrews , "For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who
has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin."
For this reason,
God accepted Christ's sacrifice on man's behalf and
so is able to offer atonement through His Son.
Some early adepts of gnosticism held that Jesus did not have a living
body and was not able to suffer the Passion. This debate occupied a
great deal of early Church Fathers, who took labours to prove that
Jesus really did have a Body.
A rival doctrine is called theopaschism , which highly insists on the
suffering of the Lord Jesus at the Passion. However, theopaschism,
along with patripassionism , has often been rejected by theologians as
a form of modalism .
Jews generally hold to the impassibility of
God and do not believe
Messiah is divine or spiritual, but rather that he is
political. The belief in divine simplicity is at the heart of Judaism,
and the gender of
God the Father) is not specified.
The Islamic religion is based on the notion of the absolute
impassibility of God, an impassibility which is only matched by
transcendence. Again, Islam does not believe in incarnation , passion
Trinity and resurrection and
God the Father because it is seen
as an attack on divine impassibility.
Although love and mercy are attributed to God, it is emphasised that
God is completely dissimilar to created things. Al-Raheem , the
Merciful, is one of the primary names of
God in Islam , but meant in
God being beneficent towards creation rather than in terms of
softening of the heart. The latter implies a psychological change, and
contradicts God's absolute transcendence.
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Many polytheistic traditions portray their gods as feeling a wide
range of emotions. For example,
Zeus is famous for his lustfulness ,
Susano-o for his intemperance, and
Balder for his joyousness and calm.
Impassibility in the Western tradition traces back to ancient Greek
Plato , who first proposed the idea of
God as a perfect, omniscient , timeless, and unchanging being not
subject to human emotion (which represents change and imperfection).
The concept of impassibility was developed by medieval theologians
like Anselm and continues to be in tension with more emotional
concepts of God.
* Helm, Paul. "The Impossibility of Divine Passibility". In The
Power and Weakness of God. Ed. Nigel M. de Cameron. Edinburgh:
Rutherford House Books, 1990.
* Johnson, Phillip R.
God Without Mood Swings: Recovering the
Doctrine of Divine Impassibility
* Keating, James F., Thomas Joseph White. Divine
the Mystery of Human Suffering. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
* Gavrilyuk, Paul L. The Suffering of the Impassible God: The
Dialectics of Patristic Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
* Lister, Rob.
God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology
of Divine Emotion. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
* Weinandy, Thomas G. Does
God Suffer? Notre Dame: University of
Notre Dame Press, 2000.
* Creel, Richard E. Divine Impassibility. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 1986.
* The Nature of Love: A Theology,
Thomas Jay Oord (2010) ISBN
* Sasser, Nathan. "
God is Impassible and Impassioned".
* Scrutton, Anastasia Philippa. Thinking through Feeling: God,
Emotion and Passibility. New York: Continuum, 2011.
* ^ Demonstrations by Syllogism, at
* ^ , The Bible, New International Version
* ^ , The Bible, Contemporary English Version
* ^ A representative Sunni view is expressed in "Can Allah feel
emotions like happiness and sadness?", Seeker's Guidance, Oct 26 2010.
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