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Thy Compassions, They Fail Not: Trends in the Modern Literature on Divine Impassibility

Nathan Alden Barczi 1 June, 2011

Module V84327: Research Methods and Resources

Introduction In recent years, debate has intensified concerning the suffering of God. This essay will argue that in challenging the twentieth-century new orthodoxy of a passible God, the recent impassibilist literature has recovered Patristic doctrines of theology in a way that responds to modern concerns of theodicy. I argue that passibilism gained currency due to both tragic events and philosophical currents in the twentieth century, and that it relied on a misconception of the Patristic doctrine of God as captive to Hellenistic, rather than biblical, notions of deity. This assumption has largely been refuted in the past ten years, as a modern impassibilist response has not only reasserted the traditional doctrine of divine impassibility, but argued that it is only a God free from suffering who can save humanity from its own. Background: The Literature Prior to Moltmann Having stood as an accepted article of the faith for nearly two thousand years, the doctrine of impassibility - that God, in his divine being, does not suffer - was challenged in England in the late 19th century,1 developing against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution and given enhanced impetus by the First World War. Early developments were summarized in two reports from the 1920s: B.R. Brasnetts The Suffering of the Impassible God2 and J.K. Mozleys The Impassibility of God: A Survey of Christian Thought,3 the latter a work commissioned by the Anglican Archbishops Doctrine Commission which summarizes but also sympathizes with the development of passibilist doctrine. As the twentieth century continued, the suffering of God found expression in the work of theologians from additional nations.4 By 1986, Ronald Goetz wrote that the ancient theopaschite

Thomas Weinandy, for instance, cites an 1893 statement by A.M. Fairbarn that [t]heology has no falser idea than that of the impassiblity of God. Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap., Does God Suffer? (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), 1. Richard Bauckham exclaims, [f]or once, English theology can claim to have pioneered a major theological development: from 1890 onwards, a steady stream of English theologians, whose theological approaches differ considerably in other respects, have agreed in advocating, with more or less emphasis, a doctrine of divine suffering. Richard Bauckham, Only the Suffering God Can Help: Divine Passibility in Modern Theology. Themelios 9 (1984), 6.
1 2 3 4

B.R. Brasnett, The Suffering of the Impassible God (London: SPCK, 1928). J.K. Mozley, The Impassibility of God: A Survey of Christian Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926).

Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life (London: Constable, 1954), published in Spanish in 1912; Nicolas Berdyaev, The Meaning of History (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1939), which originated as lectures in Moscow in 1919-1920; Kazoh Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God (London: SCM Press, 1966), originally published in Japan in 1946.

heresy that God suffers has... become the new orthodoxy.5 point, as delineated in Jrgen Moltmanns The Crucified God.6 Late Twentieth-Century Passibilism

I take this situation as my starting

Two primary forces drove the passibilist literature of the twentieth century. First, it is undeniably the case that meditation on the suffering of God was catalyzed by human suffering of an unprecedented scale. Second, it was undergirded by a rejection of classical notions of God, deemed to be Hellenistic contaminations of biblical theology. Both aspects were firmly ensconced in the literature prior to Moltmann, and both remain in modified form to the present day. The Suffering of God after the Holocaust The basic problem of traditional theism, with its purely active, impassible God, is the problem of theodicy: how can an all-powerful and invulnerable creator and ruler of the world be justified in the face of the enormity of human suffering?7 Thus Richard Bauckham explicitly links the study of divine impassibility with theodicy. As he states in his preface to The Crucified God: ...Moltman significantly expands the question of salvation from the traditional concern with sin to encompass also the characteristically contemporary concern with innocent and meaningless suffering.8 What is at stake here is not merely whether God may be described as loving, but whether love spurs God to suffer in his divine being in order to save humanity. Repeatedly in the passibilist literature, an episode from holocaust survivor Elie Wiesels Night illustrates the problem: The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. Where is God? Where is he? someone asked behind me. ... And I heard a voice in myself answer: Where is he?

5 6 7

Ronald Goetz, The Suffering God: The Rise of a New Orthodoxy. Christian Century 103 (1986), 385. Jrgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (London: SCM Press, 1974).

Richard Bauckham, In Defence of The Crucified God, in The Power and Weakness of God, ed. N.M. de S. Cameron (Edinburgh: Rutherford House Books, 1990), 96.
8

Bauckham, preface to Moltmann, The Crucified God, x-xi.

He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows...9 Having quoted this episode, Moltmann, who spent time himself as a prisoner of war, 10 immediately comments: Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. ... To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness.11 Eberhard Jngel is clearer still on the importance of Gods suffering not only for his character, but for his capacity to save: God is that one who can bear and does bear, can suffer and does suffer, in his being the annihiliating power of nothingness, even the negation of death, without being annihilated by it.12 On this reading, God takes into his very being suffering and death, and it must be so for Christianity meaningfully to speak of a saving God who is love: Were God incapable of suffering in any respect, and therefore in an absolute sense, then he would also be incapable of love.13 In the wake of the massive suffering witnessed in the twentieth century, then, passibilist theologians argue that it is inconceivable that one could affirm that God is impassible and deny that God is love, yet remain a Christian.14 This dilemma marks the passibilist literature; as we will see, an important element of the recent impassibilist response is to challenge its legitimacy. The Plausibly Passible God Merely to explain the rise of passibilism in the last century and a half with reference to suffering is incomplete. Though the twentieth century witnessed tragedy on an unprecedented scale, suffering is hardly a new phenomenon and, indeed, the classical doctrine of divine impassibility flourished

Cited in Moltmann, The Crucified God, 283. Weinandy notes the prevalence of Wiesels anecdote in the literature on impassibility, citing J. Vanhoutte and Marcel Sarot as listing over thirty examples. He also points out Sarots argument that the anecdote is generally misused by passibilists, in the sense that Wiesels point was that it was his faith in a loving and just God, and not God himself, that died on the gallows that day. Weinandy, Does God Suffer, 3, n. 10, citing to Marcel Sarot, Auschwitz, Morality, and the Suffering of God, Modern Theology 7 (1991): 137-8.
9 10 11

Moltmann, The Crucified God, xvii.

Moltmann, The Crucified God, 283. See also Paul S. Fiddes, The Creative Suffering of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 17. Eberhard Jngel, God as the Mystery of the World: On the Foundation of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute Between Theism and Atheism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), 219.
12 13 14

Moltmann, The Crucified God, 230.

Richard Creel, Divine Impassibility: An Essay in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 2.

during the heights of Christian martyrdom.15 But crucially, the twentieth century was suffused not only with suffering, but with a novel philosophical atmosphere in which the passibilist challenge was made newly plausible.16 In the wake of Kants critique of classical metaphysics, first, any theologian attempting to promote a pre-modern, classical understanding of God was certain to face a harsh opposite current. Through much of the twentieth century, theologians who dealt with impassibility were united not only in rejecting the doctrine but in tracing its genesis within Christianity to Hellenistic notions of deity prevalent during the early years of the Church.17 Richard Bauckham, for instance, argues that the idea of divine impassibility (apatheia) was a Greek philosophical inheritance in early Christian Theology.18 It is, he argues, an inheritance incompatible with biblical revelation, adopted without the necessary critical effect of the central Christian insight into the divine nature: the love of God revealed in the cross of Christ.19 To many passibilists, the trajectory of the twentieth century study of divine impassibility has been one of emancipating God from the shackles of Greek metaphysics, restoring the conception of the God of the prophets - of Abraham and Isaac, not of the philosophers. 20

See the discussion in Paul L. Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), Ch 3.
15

See Weinandy, Does God Suffer? and James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P., Divine Impassibility in Contemporary Theology. In Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, edited by James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P., 150-186 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009).
16

A particularly influential version of this thesis was promulgated in Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma (New York: Dover, 1961).
17

Bauckham, Only the Suffering God Can Help, 7. See also Kenneth Surin, The Impassibility of God and the Problem of Evil. The Scottish Journal of Theology 35 (1982), 97, 101, 113. Paul Gavrilyuk has provided a comprehensive summary of examples of the Theory of Theologys Fall into Hellenistic Philosophy in the appendix to The Suffering of the Impassible God.
18 19 20

Bauckham, Only the Suffering God Can Help, 12.

See also Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1998). An important strand of the literature has been influenced by the work of the Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, particularly his major work The Prophets (New York/Evanston: Harper and Row, 1962). Heschel contrasts the God of Judaism to the Hellenistic concept of deity, arguing that far from being immovable, the God of Israel was supremely sympathetic to His creation. Those drawing on Heschel include Moltmann (The Crucified God, 279-284), Fiddes (The Creative Suffering of God, 111-112), and Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 6ff. and n. 7 to Ch. 1. For an alternative view of the God of the Old Testament, consistent with classical theology, see L. Roger Owens, Free, Present, and Faithful: A Theological Reading of the Character of God in Exodus. New Blackfriars 85 (2004): 614-627.

Beyond a post-Kantian rejection of classical metaphysics, the influence of Hegelian metaphysics upon Christian (especially Protestant) theology has made room for a shift toward a conception of a dynamic and dialectical process as being constitutive not only of reality, but of God Himself as its ground. Frequently such theologies - most prominently those of Karl Barth, 21 Eberhard Jngel, 22 and Jrgen Moltmann23 - explicitly collapse the immanent and economic Trinity, reading the history of Jesus Christ as not only revelatory, but as constitutive of Gods identity. 24 David Bentley Hart writes that [f]or Moltmann, the event of Christ - in particular, the event of the cross - is that crucial moment in which Gods identity is achieved: on the cross, Moltmann says, God constitutes himself as suffering love.25 More recently, Jenson has been explicit in his view that grounding talk of God in Hegelian metaphysics entails a rejection of Hellenistic conceptions: ...God is an event; history occurs not only in him but as his being. Rejection of Mediterranean antiquitys contrary construal is endemic in postmodern theology.26 The rejection of classical metaphysics and the substitution of a Hegelian framework, then, provided the necessary philosophical groundwork for the marshaling of divine passibility in the context of
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1, trans. G.W. Bromiley (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 59, The Obedience of the Son of God, 186.
21 22 23

Jngel, God as the Mystery of the World, 217-219

Emery argues that Moltmann pushes the passion of Christ back into the divine Trinity. Gilles Emery, O.P., The Immutability of the God of Love and the Problem of Language Concerning the Suffering of God. In Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, edited by James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P., 150-186 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009). McCormack has argued for the same dynamic in Barths Christology - see Bruce McCormack, Karl Barths Historicized Christology: Just How Chalcedonian Is it? In Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth, Bruce L. McCormack, 201-234 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008), 213. See David Bentley Hart, No Shadow of Turning: On Divine Impassibility. Pro Ecclesia 11 (2002), 188-190, for a critique of the philosophical shortcomings of the passibilist attempt to appropriate the Hegelian framework. See also David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 155-167.
24

Hart, No Shadow of Turning, 189. See also Bauckham, Only the Suffering God Can Help, 11. It is worth noting that in addition to general currents in philosophy, the particular Lutheran background of many passibilist theologians undoubtedly provided them with resources for developing their position. For a review of Moltmanns appropriation of Luthers theology of the cross, see Dennis Ngien, Chalcedonian Christology and Beyond: Luthers Understanding of the Communicatio Idiomatum. The Heythrop Journal 45 (2004): 54-68; for a critique of the same, see Daniel Castelo, Moltmanns Dismissal of Divine Impassibility: Warranted? The Scottish Journal of Theology 61 (2008): 396-407.
25

Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology, vol. 1: The Triune God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 221. See also Bruce McCormack, Karl Barths Christology as a Resource for a Reformed Version of Kenoticism. International Journal of Systematic Theology 8 (2006): 243-251, arguing for a similar view in the Christology of Karl Barth.
26

theodicy. By the late twentieth century, the dominant view was that theology had to select between a Hellenized God, removed from the suffering of humanity in his impassibility, and the God of the bible, whose divine suffering rendered him plausible and relevant. The Impassibilist Response Nevertheless, by the end of the twentieth century Harnacks theory was beginning to come under criticism, as it was shown that Hellenistic influences were prevalent within Second Temple Judaism and the Septuagint (and, indeed, the Pauline corpus).27 But it was not until the last years of the twentieth century that a robust, specifically impassibilist response was mounted to the new orthodoxy of the suffering God. It is characterized by a reassertion of the classical attributes of God as expressed by the Fathers, and a firm rejection of the idea that these conflict with biblical theology. It has notably not brushed aside concerns for theodicy, but even in addressing apologetic concerns it has sought to reposition the debate on its original ground of soteriology and the doctrine of God. The Impassibilist Recovery of Patristic Thought Paul Gavrilyuk has made the most thorough case against the Theory of Theologys Fall into Hellenistic Philosophy, a term which he coined.28 Gavrilyuk has shown, first, that there was no single Hellenism speaking univocally of the impassibility of God.29 He further demonstrates that in Christian theology of the Patristic period, on the other hand, divine impassibility functioned alongside other negative qualities of God as an apophatic qualifier; it did not rule out Gods involvement in his creation, his self-disclosure or his self-emptying. The Incarnation was central to the Fathers understanding of the biblical God; divine impassibility served as a reminder that talk of Gods wrath or love should not be interpreted as identical to their earthly analogies in human passions. Impassibilists have asserted that a choice between Gods love and his transcendence is a false dichotomy, and that the orthodoxy-defining controversies of the early church were aimed precisely

27 28

See the summary in Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God, Ch. 1.

See Castelo, Moltmanns Dismissal of Divine Impassibility, for an argument specifically refuting Moltmanns affirmation of the Theory.
29

Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God, 21-63.

at maintaining both Gods perfections and the biblical revelation of the crucified God. 30 Hellenistic categories were employed, but never adopted uncritically; the idea that the God of the early church would be at home in Platonic or Aristotelian metaphysics is vigorously denied. Passions and Emotions in Premodern Christianity An example of the impassibilists rejection of this idea is their presentation of classical Christian teaching on passions and emotions. The passibilist literature is marked by an equation of the two; neither, on this reading, can be predicated of an impassible being.31 It has been pointed out, Anastasia Scrutton however, that the identification of emotions with passions is a modern construct, finding a home in the premodern period with Stoicism but frequently rejected by Christianity. notes that Augustine drew a distinction between the affections, which, though emotions in our sense, are movements of the will and can thus be directed by reason, and passions, which are purely appetitive. 32 Augustine was clear that ...if [apatheia] is taken to mean... a freedom from those affects that are contrary to rationality and that perturb the mind, then it is plainly a good thing and most desirable... But if by apatheia is meant a state in which no feeling can touch the mind, who would not adjudge such insensibility to be worse than all vices?33 Hart notes that Christians adopted apatheia as an ethical term, imbuing it with meaning divergent from its Stoic connotations - an excess of understanding and charity, according to Clement of Alexandria; the progenitor of agape for Evagrius of Pontus; a spiritual vision clear of sin and able to love without restraint for Maximus the Confessor. And this state of mind is, for Maximus, properly called apatheia. Obviously, at this
Gavrilyuks The Suffering of the Impassible God provides a useful summary of the role of both divine impassibility and the communicatio idiomatum during the major controversies of the early church.
30

To be moved by desire or fear or anger is to be affected by something outside the self, instead of being selfdetermining. Again this is weakness and so God must be devoid of emotion. To suffer or to feel is to be subject to pain or emotion and the things that cause them. God cannot be subject to anything. Bauckham, Only the Suffering God Can Help, 7. Similarly, Creel includes lacking all emotion among his definitions of impassibility. Richard E. Creel, Divine Impassibility: An Essay in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), and Sarot defines the word as immutability with regard to ones feelings, or the quality of ones inner life. Marcel Sarot, God, Passibility and Corporeality (Kampen, The Netherlands: Kok Pharos Publishing House, 1992), 30. See also Marcel Sarot, Patripassianism, Theopaschitism and the Suffering of God: Some Historical and Systematic Considerations. Religious Studies 26 (1990): 363-375, 368.
31

Anastasia Scrutton, "Emotion in Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas: A Way Forward for the Im/ passibility Debate?" International Journal of Systematic Theology 7 (2005): 169-177.
32

33

Cited by Hart, No Shadow of Turning, 197.

point, one is not talking about the sort of austere impassivity or want of feeling one would ascribe to Aristotles or Plotinus God, or of some sort of pure and dispirited indifference.34 over how to speak of the transcendent God of the bible. Impassibility and the Communication of Idioms in Chalcedon A critical element in the Patristic corpus to which the modern impassibilist literature has turned is the Chalcedonian definition, which provides it with the resources to reassert theological dogma without brushing theodicy aside. It maintains that, fully human and fully divine, the Second Person of the Trinity suffers as man, but not as God.36 Chalcedon is a key element for the passibilists as well, who have criticized it as the apex of Patristic Christianitys captivity to Hellenistic metaphysics. Robert Jenson, for instance, argues that it forces Nicene trinitarianism into a position of conceptual dissonance.37 Depending on ones point of view, Cyril of Alexandria was either the supreme embodiment of Chalcedonian dissonance or a genius of maintaining tension in apophatic theology. The kenotic hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:5-11 was the entry point for Cyrils Christology,38 but he nevertheless maintained that the Word suffered through the human nature that he had made truly His own, while remaining in his divine nature immune from suffering change or harm.39 Weinandy, in his defense of divine impassibility, makes central Cyrils understanding of the doctrine of the communication of It was, however, a state that Christians ascribed to their God,35 drawing on a tradition that had labored long

34 35

Hart, No Shadow of Turning, 194.

Scrutton notes that Thomas Aquinas, following Augustine in distinguishing between affections that are movements of the will and passions that are not, is not averse to attributing the former to angels and even to God. Scrutton, "Emotion in Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, 176. On Thomas Aquinas and passions, see also Robert Miner, Thomas Aquinas on the Passions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), Leonard D.G. Ferry, Passionalist or Rationalist? The Emotions in Aquinas Moral Theology. New Blackfriars 92 (2011): forthcoming, and Gilles Emery, The Immutability of the God of Love.
36 37 38

See especially Weinandy, Does God Suffer? Jenson, Systematic Theology vol. 1, 125.

Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God, 150. See also John J. OKeefe, Kenosis or Impassibility: Cyril of Alexandria and Theodoret of Cyrus on the Problem of Divine Pathos. Studia Patristica 32 (1997), 359. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (London and New York: A&C Black, 1977), 322; see also Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God, 171.
39

idioms. 40 He argues against the form of the doctrine adopted by passibilism: namely, the attribution of human attributes such as suffering and death directly to the divine nature. 41 Jesus Christ, without confusion or mixture. 42 Against this, he supports Cyrils view that the attributes of each nature are communicated to the single person of The point is not merely philosophical: Weinandy argues that with a proper understanding of the communication of idioms, it can be said that the divine Son of God truly experiences authentic human suffering as man. [T]he foundational mystery of all biblical revelation is that God is present to the world and active within history, in all his wholly otherness, without losing his wholly otherness in so doing. ... It is precisely the communication of idioms that intensifies these truths. He who is truly God actually lives an authentic human life without ceasing to be truly God.43 A Theological Theodicy At this point, apologetic and soteriological concerns come together for Weinandy. He argues that if God suffers as God then He knows nothing of the suffering of man. The passibilists, ironically, blunt the impact of the scandal of the Incarnation: in their attempt to attribute suffering to the divine nature they have evacuated God of human suffering.44
40

The passibilist literature of the

Weinandys argument in Does God Suffer? is too far-ranging to be fully reviewed here. On the whole, he stands most firmly in a Thomistic tradition, but it is his use of Cyril that is most relevant to the trajectory of the literature discussed in this essay. See also Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap., God and Human Suffering: His Act of Creation and His Acts in History and Robert W. Jenson, Ipse Pater Non Est Impassibilis, both in Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, edited by James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P., 150-186 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), and The Suffering of the Impassible God, Ch. 6. For an earlier affirmation of Thomistic teachings on divine impassibility, see Michael J. Dodds, O.P., St. Thomas Aquinas and the Motion of the Motionless God, New Blackfriars 68 (1987): 233-242, as well as Michael J. Dodds, O.P., The Unchanging God of Love: Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Theology on Divine Immutability (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008), originally published as a monograph in 1986. Bruce McCormacks notion of a historicized Chalcedonian Christology in Karl Barth is an example of this: he holds that for Barth, it is of the self-determined essence of the divine to receive humanity, even its suffering, into its eternal being. See Bruce L. McCormack, Divine Impassibility or Simply Divine Constancy? Implications of Karl Barths Later Christology for Debates over Impassibility. In Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, edited by James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009) and Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barths Historicized Christology: Just How Chalcedonian Is it? In Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008).
41 42 43 44

Weinandy, Does God Suffer?, 200. Weinandy, Does God Suffer?, 199.

Weinandy, Does God Suffer, 204-206. See also Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God, 159: The presupposition that the divine nature could itself suffer renders the assumption of humanity superfluous. If God could suffer as humans do without assuming humanity, the incarnation would be unnecessary.

twentieth century was motivated by the tragic events of that century; the impassibilist response has not ignored these events, but has argued that a return to the classical understanding of God offers a more robust hope in light of them. Weinandy acknowledges writing of the suffering of God under the specter of Auschwitz, 45 but maintains that a passible God is actually less personal, loving, dynamic and active than an impassible God.46 The argument that only a God who transcends evil and suffering can assure us of his victory over them runs throughout the impassibilist response: the impassibilists do not merely assert the classical doctrine of God, but are eager to demonstrate how it responds more effectively to concerns of theodicy than does the doctrine of a suffering God. Hart has rejected particularly forcefully the collapse of the immanent and economic Trinity, arguing that to do so is to abandon the transcendence of the Creator with respect to his creation. 47 It is, in short, to posit a God who is conditioned by and dependent upon his creation, and worse: As many of the fathers would have argued... if the nature of Gods love can be in any sense positively shaped by sin, suffering, and death, then sin, suffering, and death will always be in some sense features of who he is. ... Gods love must... be inherently deficient, and in itself a fundamentally reactive reality. Goodness then requires evil to be good; love must be goaded into being by pain.48 In other words, this view implicates God in evil or renders him a product of it, even as it tries to save his compassion.49 Hart joins Weinandy in affirming the classical and particularly Thomistic doctrine of God as love as pure act: No: love is not primordially a reaction... it is purely positive, sufficient in itself, without the need of any galvanism of the negative to be fully active, vital, and creative. ... And this is why love, when it is seen in its truly divine depth, is called apatheia... it does not require our sin and death to show us mercy: God loved us when we were not, and by this very mercy called us into being. And this is the ground of all our hope.50
45 46 47 48 49

Weinandy, Does God Suffer?, viii. Weinandy, Does God Suffer?, 26. Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 165. Hart, No Shadow of Turning, 191.

See David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), in which Hart responds to the challenges of theodicy by means of the Augustinian privatio boni. Hart, No Shadow of Turning, 195, 200. Gavrilyuk argues that for the Fathers, in addition to serving as an apophatic qualifier, divine impassibility also served as the positive ground for Gods capacity to forgive, free from uncontrollable vengeance. See The Suffering of the Impassible God, 62.
50

Conclusion Over the course of the past thirty years, two misunderstandings have been corrected in the literature on divine impassibility. First, the notion that impassibility belongs to an imported Hellenistic concept of deity has been exposed as a failed reading of pagan, Patristic, and biblical sources. The Fathers use of impassibility has been shown to belong to a premodern world that differs at crucial points from that which Kant and more recent philosophers have rejected. Second, the distinction between a God of love and one that transcends his creation has been called out as a false dichotomy. Indeed, whereas for passibilists of the late twentieth century divine suffering was a necessary element of an affirmation of Gods love and capacity to save, the modern impassibilist response has asserted just the opposite, that only a God who does not suffer eternally as God can deliver final victory over sin, suffering, and death by taking to himself, enduring, and ultimately defeating suffering as man. The debate continues, the disagreement so wide that it has prompted one commentator to lament that the disputants might almost be worshiping another God.51 Divine passibility enjoyed a short life as an unquestioned new orthodoxy; though the question is divisive, it draws welcome scrutiny to what Christians believe about the creator who was made man, for us and for our salvation.

Fergus Kerr, Review of Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, edited by James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P., Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009. Modern Theology 27 (2011): 186-188.
51

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