The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought

By Paul L. Gavrilyuk | Go to book overview

2: The Christian God v. Passionate Pagan Deities:Impassibility as an Apophatic Qualifier of Divine Emotions

This chapter offers a preliminary analysis of the function of the divine impassibility in select patristic sources without special reference to the christological debates on the incarnation. The first point to be observed about the divine impassibility in the ante-Nicene theology is that the early Fathers did not make much of this concept. The description of God as impassible fades in importance before the emotionally coloured divine characteristics of mercy, love, goodness, and compassion. One finds nothing amounting to a doctrine, or to a universally endorsed body of teaching. 1 Instead, one discovers scattered remarks here and there. Bearing this in mind one must beware of overinterpretation and of inflating the issue to undue proportions. As I noted in the introduction, much of contemporary criticism of the divine impassibility suffers precisely from superficial philological overinterpretation.

Our guiding question is this: what is the function of the concept of the divine impassibility in patristic accounts of divine emotions and involvement? The proponents of the Theory of Theology's Fall into Hellenistic Philosophy uncritically identify divine impassibility with apathy and

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