>The Church Fathers on Divine Impassibility

>One of my readers left a comment on my post The Passibility of God: A Response to Doug Chaplin. In his comment, Andy called my attention to an article by John Sanders titled “The Early Church Fathers on Hellenism and Impassibility.”

In his article, Sanders deals with the issue of how the church fathers dealt with the issue of divine impassibility. Below is an excerpt from Sander’s article:

From the second through fourth centuries there was no standard definition of divine “impassibility.” For Christian writers it did not mean that God was apathetic, distant, or lacked compassion. God did experience mercy and love. Christians disagreed with one another whether God experienced anger depending on whether or not they thought this emotion “fitting” for God. The word functioned in a couple of ways. First, it was a way of qualifying the distinction between creator and creatures. God is incorruptible while we are not. But we will be made impassible (incorruptible) in the eschaton. Also, we are prone to be overwhelmed by emotions, particularly negative ones, but God is not. Hence, it was used to safeguard divine transcendence (aseity) rather than deny psychological emotions to God. Second, it functioned to distance the Christian God from the gods of polytheism. They were passible in the sense that acted capriciously and lost control of themselves. In contrast, the Christian God faithfully loved, was patient, and acted consistently. Hence, it is clear that when the fathers said God was impassible they did not intend to rule out that he has emotions or that he is affected by and responds to us.

In his article, Sanders discusses divine impassibility in relation to the full divinity of the Son and the Christological controversies facing the early church. You can read the article in its entirety here.

I want to thank Andy for calling my attention to this article.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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