impassibility (Was Re: Vienna cardinal draws lines in Intelligent Design row)

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Nov 22 2005 - 07:58:56 EST

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: D. F. Siemens, Jr.
  Cc: ; ;
  Sent: Monday, November 21, 2005 11:28 PM
  Subject: Re: Vienna cardinal draws lines in Intelligent Design row

  Ted Davis wrote, in small part:

  Finally, for Denyse: we both know some folks, Denyse, who think that the classical doctrine of divine impassibility just won't wash, that a God who loves must also be a God who suffers and who is genuinely moved by suffering. Even some YECs I know believe that. It isn't "classical" but it's biblical and very likely true. Some of the questions about "omniscience" in the classical sense are similar to those about impassibility. One might or might not be sympathetic with approaches that challenge impassibility, such as Moltmann's theology of the cross (to identify just one example that has been discussed here), but surely it is hard not to be at least sympathetic with the kinds of questions that motivate the formulations of such theologies. We agree that Fr Coyne takes this too far, but IMO there are others who don't take this far enough.

  The main problem with the impassibility of the deity is that the notion is misunderstood. If a human is impassible, he is not emotional, totally unmoved by that which excites a clear reaction in most persons. This is not the philosophical notion. Matter is passive, for it receives action and may pass it along, but it starts nothing truly new. The human intellect is active, for it initiates. God is /actus purus/, the ultimate source. As such he is impassive. This does not mean that he is without feelings, but that he can't be pushed around, very different notions.

  Now, if we don't go for process theology, which ties god to the world necessarily, we recognize God as the Creator of the space-time universe. But this means that he is outside of the universe, and therefore outside of time. In the incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity entered time as a human infant, but the Father did not enter time. So for God the Father to feel things when they occur is to place him in time. So I contend that he eternally feels on the basis of being aware of all time from without. It may be described as a sort of eternal empathy. This is possible because knowing is not causing, though many philosophers and others equate the two, at least in connection with the deity. The denial of omniscience also springs from placing God in time.

  This is a brief restatement of a discussion with George Murphy, Don Winterstein and others a while back. George still wants the Father to feel the crucifixion when it happened, which I hold to be incompatible with his eternity.

  I hesitate to say what Dave "wants" but a clear implication of his claim is that the Son does not feel the crucifixion. I.e., the Second Person of the Trinity does not suffer & only the assumed human nature (which by itself is non-personal, anhypoststic) feels the crucifixion. Once we take seriously the belief that the Son of God suffered, it's not so surprising to say that the Father actually suffered the loss of the Son in the event of the cross. The Son and the Father are, as the creed says, of the same nature. (Of course this doesn't mean that the Father was crucified.)

  Impassibility in the sense that Dave describes it means that nothing that happens in the world affects God - i.e., makes any difference to God. There are far more texts in scripture that indicate that things do affect God than there are that say that God is actus purus. (In fact the number of verses of the latter type is zero.)


Received on Tue Nov 22 08:01:02 2005

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