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

By Paul L. Gavrilyuk | Go to book overview

Conclusion

There is a remarkable logical elegance to the gradual development of the doctrine of the incarnation in the patristic period. We will be in a better position to appreciate the intellectual beauty of this development if we free our historical sensibilities from the main presuppositions of the Theory of Theology's Fall into Hellenistic Philosophy. As I have shown in the present study, with respect to the patristic theology of God's involvement in suffering this interpretative angle is especially misleading. Contrary to a widespread misconception, there was nothing in the Hellenistic world amounting to a universally endorsed 'axiom of divine impassibility'. The pagan schools of philosophy advanced several conflicting accounts of divine nature, emotions, and involvement in the world. At the same time, the biblical picture of God is far from unrestrictedly passibilist. The tension between the divine transcendence and the divine participation in history is constitutive of the biblical canon. Patristic theology did not face a choice between the apathetic deity of the philosophers and the suffering God of the Bible, because these views of God represent questionable scholarly constructs, rather than the actual theological options available to the theologians of late antiquity. The mind of the church carved out an account of the incarnation that was distinct from anything that Hellenistic thought had to offer.

I have argued in this book that the church's rejection of the major christological heresies followed a series of dialectical turns, all taken to safeguard an account of divine involvement worthy of God. 'Dialectical' is not an empty word in this description: the mind of the church rejected, step by step, the three inadequate strategies that aimed at eliminating the tension between Christ's divine status and the human experiences of his earthly ministry, most poignantly expressed in a paradoxical statement: 'the Impassible suffered'.

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