Divine Passibility: Seven Theses

Travis, of Gaunilo's Island, has posted six theses on divine impassibility, arguing essentially that God is impassible because a passible God would be incapable of rescuing the world because God would then be at the mercy of creaturely forces. Unfortunately, Travis has been too much influenced by David Bentley Hart. In fact, his theses seem to come almost directly from the pages of The Beauty of the Infinite. I appreciate his theological vitality, but I must reject his conclusions. Here are my theses in response.

1. The proper context for considering divine impassibility is not (in reaction to) Greek philosophy but instead the evangelical logic of the church's discourse about God in light of the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the self-revelation of God. I have adopted and modified Travis's first thesis to emphasize the point that speech about God is a possibility only in light of God's gracious self-revelation in which God commandeers human language to bear witness to Godself. We are not capable of deriving the truth about the being of God by any metaphysical path of reasoning but only as a faithful and humble response to the self-communicative God who revealed Godself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

2. The concepts of impassibility (or passibility) and immutability (or mutability) must not be derived apophatically (via negativa) in relation to human creatures but rather apophantically (via affirmativa) only in relation to God's self-revelation. Discussion of God's attributes cannot be arrived at by any of the three primary metaphysical paths of knowledge of God: (1) via negativa — negating human attributes to reach divine attributes, in which God is simply what creatures are not; (2) via eminentiae — infinitely expanding human attributes to reach divine attributes, in which God is simply the infinite projection of what we ourselves are (cf. Feuerbach's damning critique of this logic); or (3) via causalitatis — attributing the cause of all creaturely things to God as the First Mover, in which God becomes the predicate of our knowledge (this is God) rather than the subject of knowledge of Godself (God is this). What all three paths have in common is the placement of human creatures or creation itself at the center of knowledge about God. God is compared to creation and known only in relation to what is created and finite. Such analogous predication depends upon a natural theology in which we philosophically reason from the creation to the Creator. Analogy, however, is only available when God establishes an analogy, such as when God makes sinful humans into creatures who analogously correspond to the being of God. But this is entirely a divine act of grace. What we must understand is that the "infinite qualitative difference" between God and humanity, and the fact that our whole selves (minds included) are enslaved to sin apart from divine grace which commandeers our thought and speech, requires that God reveal Godself to us in order for knowledge of God to be truthfully related to its object. However, because God reveals Godself as the God hidden in Jesus Christ, we are not given a self-evident picture of the triune Creator. We cannot look upon Jesus and see God clearly. God is veiled in human flesh, and thus God is available to us only through the eyes of faith opened by God out of God's abundant mercy and grace (cf. the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah). We can only speak of God by way of faith's affirmation of who God has revealed Godself to be in the person of Jesus.

3. God is a being-in-act who is known via God's economic activity in time and space; God's being-in-act ad intra is revealed in God's being-in-act ad extra. In this thesis we simply emphasize the only appropriate method of theological knowledge. Theology, as thinking-after the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ, always works "from below." In other words, we start with what God does in God's self-revelation in human history, since this is the only available starting-point for theology. We do not have natural access to the being of God ad intra. Apart from the fact that God has condescended to be Deus pro nobis in Jesus, we would have no concrete knowledge of God that could be verified against the object of our knowledge. We are incapable, sinful and finite creatures that we are, of reaching God through our own natural reasoning. God, who encounters us as the God of the covenant of grace, must interrupt us with the truth made incarnate in Jesus; God must disrupt us with the Son's revelation of the triune God in the bounds of our history. The fact that God has done this means that all knowledge of God must be checked against this sovereignly free act of God. However, because God is one God in three ways of being, what God does in time and space must correspond with who God is for all eternity. The God whom we encounter in Christ must be the same God who created the worlds. The God who acts ad extra must be the same God ad intra. Consequently, theology cannot allow any division between God's essence or being and God's acts in history. God is what God does; God is a being-in-act. Thus, the question of God's passibility depends upon the relation between the human and divine in Jesus Christ, because if the divine nature of Christ suffers, then God suffers, since we cannot allow the Son to be an expression of God's acts but not of God's own essence or nature.

4. Jesus the Christ suffered as a human, and therefore God truly suffered. The question of passibility clearly rests on the incarnation and the being of Christ. Two subtheses are required:

4.1. In Jesus, God assumes human nature fully, and in that assumption, God takes human suffering into Godself while remaining the sovereign Lord over all creation. The incarnation takes us back to the doctrine of divine kenosis, what has traditionally been called God's "self-emptying" in taking on human flesh. Following Bruce McCormack, I assert that kenosis is improperly understood when viewed as God relinquishing divinity in becoming human. Such a mentality, proposed most prominently by the Christologies of Lutheran orthodoxy, views human nature as competitive with God's own nature. Two classically Lutheran versions of kenotic Christology have been proposed. The first (Formula of Concord) depends upon the Lutheran communicatio idiomatum, meaning that the human nature participates fully in the divine attributes, and thus Jesus (in time and space) wills to not use some of the divine attributes. The second later version (Gottfried Thomasius) argued that the pre-incarnate Logos divested itself of divine attributes prior to the incarnation, only to take them up again in the exaltation. The first model fails because a human nature that participates fully in the divine nature is not the human nature of us sinful creatures, and thus our natures our not truly assumed by God in Jesus. The second model fails (as shown by D. M. Baillie) because if the Son had to lose divine attributes while in the 'state of humiliation,' then it was not really an incarnation but merely a theophany. We must instead follow Barth in asserting a kenosis that is "by addition and not by subtraction" (McCormack). By not grasping after the form of God (Phil. 2), the second person of the Trinity takes on the form of a servant. God assumes what we are, finite creatures, in the incarnation. God does not give up anything proper to Godself, because the divinity is able to assume what is other to it without losing its true nature. God is not in competition with humanity, because the two are qualitatively different in essence. Instead, God assumes our humanity and remains God, hence our creedal affirmation that Jesus is fully God and fully human.

4.2. In that the human nature of Christ suffered, the divine nature suffered as well. Clearly, this is the central thesis, the one on which the question of divine passibility rests. Both of the classic kenotic Christologies above, particularly that of the Formula of Concord, fail on another count: They may allow a communication of divine attributes to the human nature, but they never allow a communication of the human attributes to the divine nature (the genus tapeinoticum, or "genus of humility"). How, one may ask, could there be a communication of the human attributes to the divine nature without a communicatio idiomatum? The answer follows quite simply from the Chalcedonian definition. I will quote McCormack on this point and then offer some thoughts of my own.
If, with Chalcedon, we say that the unity of the two natures in Christ consists in the singularity of the Subject (or ‘person’) in which both natures subsist and if, secondly, again with Chalcedon, we identify this Subject with the eternal Logos, then the only Subject available for living this human life, suffering and dying, etc. is the Logos. One cannot treat the human nature as a Subject in its own right – which is what inevitably happens as soon as we begin to assign activities or experiences to the human nature alone. That even Alexandrian Christianity tended to do precisely this – that it tended, in spite of its best insights, to constantly tilt in the direction of Nestorianism – was the result of its commitment to the Greek understanding of divine impassibility. It was unthinkable to the Eastern Fathers, especially, that God should suffer, unthinkable that God should experience death. And because this was so, suffering and death had to be assigned to the human nature alone. What was true in this position was that suffering and death are indeed human experiences. What the Fathers refused to consider, however, was the possibility that God could act humanly and that God could experience suffering and death humanly. But such conclusions will be unavoidable once it is recognized that the attempt to treat the human nature as a Subject in its own right is a violation of the logic of the Chalcedonian formula and that the only conceivable reason for such a violation was the commitment to an abstract conception of divine impassibility. (IJST 8:3, p. 248)
In other words, by separating the divine and human natures such that suffering is only predicated of the human nature results in the heresy of Nestorianism. The Chalcedonian definition requires that we either (1) posit the unity-in-distinction of Christ's two natures without confusion and without division, or (2) posit a tripartite Christ. What I mean by the latter is that the positing of the human and divine natures as the subjects of their own acts not only violates the anhypostasis-enhypostasis formula, but it also requires that we establish a third abstract entity, "Christ," as the third subject who contains the two natures without being directly identified with either one. If we identity "Christ" with the human Jesus, then we have adoptionism or at least some kind of tritheism. If we identity "Christ" with the divine nature, then we either have to affirm the genus tapeinoticum (and the assumption of humanity by God in the incarnation) or we end up with a Nestorian Christ in which two subjects are placed in competition—a human subject and a divine subject—within a larger third subject, which is simply an abstract concept that functions like a blank canvas colored with two pigments that never touch. We would thus be left with a divine nature, the "Logos," (that which performs miracles), a human nature (that which suffers and dies), and the encompassing entity, "Christ," which holds the natures together.

According to the creedal traditions, we must reject any Nestorian model of Christ's two natures. In that the human nature experienced suffering and death, the divine nature also experienced suffering and death; the Logos is the acting subject of both the passive experiences of suffering and the active engagement in the world. We can thus go beyond the creeds while still following their logic and affirm theopaschitism. As already mentioned above, the divine and human natures are not in competition with each other. Such a view is derived from the mistaken assumption that divinity is simply not-humanity (via negativa). We should rather allow God's being-in-act to determine the meaning of divinity, and in the incarnation we see that divinity is not opposed to humanity but is rather capable of assuming, redeeming, and perfecting humanity. Divinity can only be defined concretely in relation to the person of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God; divinity must never be defined in abstraction from the gospel of God's incarnation. Because of the actuality of God's entering time and space as a human person, we are free to conclude that the possibility of incarnation was already present in God before the creation of the world.

In conclusion, we must affirm that God freely assumed human nature into Godself, and furthermore that this assumption brought the experience of suffering and death into the life of God without changing God or the human nature that was assumed in any essential way. To clarify this point, the experience of suffering and death was not something which subjected God to forces beyond God's own sovereignty; rather, we must affirm that God's being from all eternity is capable of experiencing human suffering and death while remaining the sovereign God over creation. Consequently, we must understand theopaschitism alongside the doctrines of God's sovereignty, freedom, and love—God is the "one who loves in freedom" (Barth). God is pro se as God pro nobis.

The rejection of theopaschitism is thus the result of one of the following four heresies: (1) a tritheistic doctrine of God, in which Christ may suffer as a subject who has no ontological connection to the Father and the Spirit; (2) a Nestorian doctrine of Christ, in which the human and divine natures are placed in competitive relation to each other, generally resulting in an abstract tripartite Christ; (3) a modalistic doctrine of God, in which the person of Jesus was merely a mask worn by God and not ontologically related to God's actual being ad intra; or (4) some version of Docetic Gnosticism, in which Christ only appeared in human form. In other words, if we wish to affirm truly orthodox doctrines of God (one subject in three ways of being) and of Christ (as one person with two natures), we must affirm that not only does the divine nature of Christ suffer but that God suffers as well.

5. Divine passibility alone is an inadequate response to the problem of evil. Here I mostly agree with the argument that God's passibility does nothing to explain how death and evil are overcome in Jesus Christ, and any person who feels like they need a God who 'feels their pain' is simply psychologizing God, turning the Creator into an infinitely great shrink. But D. B. Hart and those who agree with him fail when they decide that only an impassible God is capable of overcoming the brokenness of this world. The idea that a passible God is incapable of defeating evil is like saying a merciful God is incapable of exercising justice. The problem is that such a theology depends on viewing all of these attributes in relation to their human counterparts. A weak, suffering human is clearly incapable of defeating the force that causes such suffering, and a merciful judge is one who relents from passing the judgments that a more impartial person would clearly give. But we cannot reach knowledge of God based on this kind of analogical predication. God is known by God's acts of self-revelation. God is one who exercises justice in being merciful, and exercises mercy in passing judgment. Similarly, God suffers on the road to victory over the powers of death, i.e., God is victorious in suffering. In other words, in Jesus the Christ, the incarnate second person of the Trinity, God entered into the abyss of suffering as the triune God who is not at the mercy of nothingness but defeats it in the event of the cross and resurrection. The gospel proclaims a God who does not suffer simply to empathize with us, but who suffers and dies in order to bring new life out of death.

6. Redemption occurs in Jesus Christ, as the sole mediator between God and humanity in whom reconciliation is accomplished in the event of the cross. The mystery of the world is that the triune God unites life and death in Jesus for the sake of new life for all humanity. Redemption is not limited to either God's condenscension or humanity's elevation; both are part of a single divine event in the triune economy of salvation ad extra. The event of reconciliation in Jesus Christ encompasses his life, death, descent into hell, and resurrection, all of which were accomplished 'for us and for our salvation.' The shalom of God's trinitarian life is a peace that encounters and overcomes death, not just in one nature or in one person but in the triune God. The peace of God is not protected from the sufferings of Christ in the flesh; rather these sufferings are assumed and defeated in the repleteness of God's overflowing being. Humanity thus receives new being in that it participates in God's being as it overflows to those creatures who encounter and respond to the life-giving 'word of the cross.' Such redemption is not a theosis but a becoming 'truly human.' We are not brought into God's essence—depending as this does upon a metaphysical-substantival rather than historical-actualized ontology—but set free to become the creatures who relate analogously to God in Jesus Christ. We participate in the concrete history of Jesus Christ, not in some metaphysical divine substance. God's mortification in Christ is the proleptic transfiguration of the world, and in that we participate in Christ, it is our transfiguration as well—a transfiguration that awaits the consummation of all things in the eschatological realization of God's cosmic purposes.

7. The church is the creaturely witness to God's being in the world, the communio sanctorum constituted by the power of the Holy Spirit which testifies to God's being-in-becoming through its own pathic embodiment of the life of the kingdom. The church does not constitute the body of Christ in any way, nor is there a divine incarnatio continua in the world. The incarnation of God is an event in Jesus Christ, a singular instance in human history that serves as the turning-point of all time and space—"the still point of the turning world" (Eliot). Christ is still the Incarnate One who intercedes for humanity at the right hand of the Father. The church is not the continuation of Christ's incarnation on earth, because the incarnation is an event that cannot be liquified or dissolved. Christ is not resolvable into the church, nor is the church anything more than a creaturely community constituted by the Word to be God's faithful witnesses. The church participates in the life of God only insofar as it participates in the concrete history of Jesus Christ as the creaturely community sanctified by the Spirit for the purpose of corresponding to God. God does not suffer through the community, because the church and God are not ontologically united but at best ontologically analogous; and even then the communio sanctorum is never established as God's analogue but remains dependent upon God's grace through the agency of the Spirit who alone constitutes a gathering as the people of God. God remains a being-in-becoming who is also sovereignly free as the Lord over creation. As this Lord who enters the abyss of nothingness—who freely and eternally is a God going-out-of-Godself for the purpose of bringing life out of death—the triune Creator graciously moves the creation toward its proper telos: eternal shalom.


Shane said…
i'm not sure what to make of this post.

but, a question occurs to me with regard to your rejection of greek philosophical influences on christian theology. Suppose there were a purely rational argument which showed that the concept of a passible God were inherently contradictory. Would this mean that Christian theologians could acceptably call God 'impassible'? (we have bracketed the question of the existence of such an argument for the moment).

If you answer affirmatively, then your first thesis is false (unless you want to make reason itself part of God's self-disclosure, perish the thought). On the other hand, if your answer is no, because God is not constrained to the limits of human logic . . . and so forth, then how can you legitimately make the disjunction that starts: "The rejection of theopaschitism is thus the result of one of the following four heresies . . . "? It seems to me that you want it both way. You want to deny the validity of logic to tell you about a property of God, i.e. whether he suffers or not, and then you end up reaffirming the validity of good old 2-valued propositional logic. You are claiming, (are you not?) that the proposition 'God does not suffer' logically contradicts (and is therefore theologically false) with other propositions which we know to be true (i.e. 'there is one God eternally subsisting in three persons' and 'the two natures of Christ cannot be separated', etc.).

Of course, you could always simply deny that there were any such a proof of God's impassability. Maybe you would be right. But, at the very least what you could not do would be to say that human reason could never speak about such issues since you yourself have already invoked ordinary human reason to disqualify anti-theopaschitism.

Since I do believe in divine impassibility, I need to do at least one of two things. Either, (1) formulate a good philosophical defense of divine impassibility, or (2) show how impassibility coheres within the broader trinitarian framework of orthodox Christian theology. It would be quite nice if there were good exegetical work done on this subject, but considering that information would probably take us way far afield.


I realize we have had this discussion before, but perhaps we can understand each other a little better this time around. I think you misunderstood the first thesis. First, you need to look at Gaunilo's first thesis to see how I am differing with him. He (following Hart) is making the claim that theologians like Moltmann are simplying rejecting impassibility because it is a carryover from Greek philosophy -- and thus their argument is shallow. What I am saying, following McCormack, is that my rejection of divine impassibility has nothing to do with a disdain for Greek philosophy. Far from it! I would not have the Nicene creed without such a philosophical environment shaping the early church. I am not rejecting Greek philosophy, as if it has nothing to offer us. What I am affirming instead is that the question of passibility or impassibility cannot have as its starting point anything other than God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Theology begins there, and if that means jettisoning aspects of philosophy which crept into the early church's writings, then so be it. As I hope thesis 4 made clear, by jettisoning divine impassibility, I am actually remaining true to the ecumenical creeds.

Thus, I am not placing theology over against philosophical reason. I am simply locating philosophy and reason as aids for thinking through what God's self-revelation makes known to us. Philosophy provides methodological aids, but it cannot offer us our starting-point.

Is this helpful for you?
J said…
Your fifth Thesis stood out to me more than the others. The holiness, or "otherness", of God is an important thing to remember when contemplating His ways. Where it may be a contradiction for a mere human to be a merciful judge who is also impartial in judgment, God can be (and is) both merciful and just all at once. What a beautiful example of Truth and Paradox in unity.
Shane said…
David, I take it from your response that you agree with me in saying that if there is a valid argument for divine impassibility, then it is true. (Whether this is the starting point or some other point has nothing to do with whether it is true or false.)

You claim, "We are not capable of deriving the truth about the being of God by any metaphysical path of reasoning but only as a faithful and humble response to the self-communicative God who revealed Godself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth."

Where is the proof of this claim? As far as I can see you are simply asserting that all philosophical claims about God are false, or at least uncertain, without ever really refuting or even explicitly examining them. I'll grant that this is a theology blog and not a philosophy blog, but still, it seems to me that you are moving too quickly.

I would like you to be a bit more explicit about how divine impassibility contradicts trinitarian orthodoxy. Please help me, I don't see how the contradiction arises.

Another question: I am not quite clear about what you are putting forward here: are you saying that all three persons of the trinity suffer physical human pain? The early church condemned patripassianism as a modalistic heresy because it fails to maintain the difference between the persons. The implication seems to be that Christ suffers and the father and the spirit do not.

With respect to the hypostatic union of Christ are you saying that the divine nature as well as the human nature suffers? Or is it only the human nature that suffers?
Anonymous said…
shane for arguments about divine passability, the Trinity, and modern (hegalian influenced) Triniarian thought, you should see the writings of my prof. Lewis Ayers. he is a strong nicene trinitarian Augustian who hates hegel and moltmann with complete english zeal (something about the war). his scholarship is top of the class, even where i disagree i find myself reformulating my own position more cogently. The book is Nicea and its legacy and the last chapter address these issue in length. Cheers
Shane said…
joshua, thanks for the tip. I love it when british profs get something under their skin. Something about being utterly polite about something they clearly utterly despise tickles me in my secret places.

byron smith said…
Thanks for this post and subsequent discussion. This is an issue I've been thinking about on and off recently and have found this post to be one of the clearest things I've read upon it.

I begin from the assumption that knowledge of God is only possible when God makes it possible — i.e., by the grace of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ as the incarnate self-revelation of God. Outside of the bounds of faith in Christ, in the self-disclosing triune God, knowledge of God is an impossibility. But by the power and grace of God, it becomes an impossible possibility.

The question of divine (im)passibility rests on whether or not Christ's divine nature suffers. We need to be honest with ourselves here regarding the history of doctrine. If you read Gregory of Nazianzus — and I strongly suggest that you do — you will clearly see what dominates the early church's theology: (1) a solid conviction that divinity cannot suffer, feel, or experience creaturely reality in any way; and (2) a similarly strong conviction that saved humanity is divinized and taken up into the divine life (theosis). Now these two trajectories conflict with each other, and it is plain in Gregory (as just one example) that he runs into a contradiction. The first concern leads the fathers toward Nestorianism; they separate the two natures of Christ as far as possible so that they in essence become two subjects in one person. However, the second concern leads them to assert the closest possible connection between the two natures, so that the human nature is filled with the qualities of the divine nature, namely, immortality. The first concern is philosophical, and the second is soteriological.

D. B. Hart is attempting to rehabilitate this theology in our "postmodern" time. But the problem remains: either the two natures are utterly separate or they are utterly related and connected. There is no theological reason why the divine nature cannot experience creaturely realities. If one wishes to preserve divine transcendence, I have two major responses: (1) a truly transcendent God is capable of being immanent in creation, just as eternity cannot be opposed to time but rather encompasses it; and (2) the doctrine of the Trinity preserves God's ability to enter into time and space without collapsing into a wholly immanent reality. God as the triune Lord is one God, but still one God in three distinct modes of being. That God fully and truly enters into the state of humanity in Jesus Christ does not exhaust God's being. God's being-in-becoming is capable of experiencing suffering and death while remaining God. The doctrine of the Trinity is what preserves this divine transcendence-in-immanence.

But this does not mean we can locate suffering only in the second person of the Trinity (assuming that we allow the divine nature to suffer). Obviously, if the second person of the Trinity suffers, the whole Trinity experiences suffering. This is because we reject tritheism, and because we affirm the doctrine of divine perichoresis, which asserts that what any person of the Godhead does, the other two persons do as well (albeit in their own divine way). This is substantiated by the Augustinian rule: opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa — the external works of the Trinity are indivisible. What God does economically in human history is a triune event, and not limited to just one of the persons.

So the whole Godhead suffers, but not in the same way. All of this rests upon the argument that Christ's divine nature did indeed suffer. I refer you again to McCormack's essay in IJST from which I quoted in thesis 4.2.
Shane said…
"Obviously, if the second person of the Trinity suffers, the whole Trinity experiences suffering."

I don't think it is obvious. How can you maintain the separation of the persons if everything that occurs to one person happens to the others? The son is filiated, but, via perichoresis does this imply that the father is filiated as well? Absolutely not. Thus, the son might suffer (in a sense) and yet the father and the spirit not.

It doesn't do any good to quote the latin to me either: opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa, but we aren't talking about the ad extra right now, we are talking about the ad intra, i.e. about the relation among the persons.

I think you are right to say that the lynchpin of the whole discussion turn on whether the divine nature also suffers, but for a strong argument against the idea that it does, I would direct you to Book III of John Damascene's de Fide Orthodoxa, sections of which I have published on my blog.

I would be happy to read the mccormack piece to. Do you happen to have a pdf that you could send me?

always yours,
Filiation, spiration, etc. are appropriations, i.e., part of the doctrine of appropriation in which specific roles are assigned to each of the three persons. That doctrine cannot be asserted without its partner, the doctrine of perichoresis, which properly asserts that what any one of the three persons does or experiences, the other two do as well. This is not modalism, but simply a protection against tritheism. God is a single subject, not three subjects (as Moltmann thinks), and we protect the singularity of God's subjecthood by not allowing the triune appropriations to override the perichoretic unity of the persons. So while the Father is not filiated, the Father is indeed present in all that the Son does and experiences. There is a unity in the midst of their diversity. This is what we confess in the creed when we say that the Son is "of one substance with the Father."

The Latin is important, because we are talking about the external works of the Trinity when we talk about the incarnate Christ. All of the early church fathers agreed that the experiences of the Son fell under the considerations of the Augustinian rule, but in order to make sure the divine nature of Christ remained entirely free from human experiences, they adopted an essentially Nestorian Christology. The question you and all other supporters of impassibility must answer is this: Why is divinity incapable of experiencing and entering into creaturely realities? Why are divinity and humanity mutually exclusive? Such a distinction works from the human side, which cannot ascend into divinity. But if God is truly the free and sovereign Lord, then there is no reason whatsoever that God cannot enter into the human experiences of the creation and not remain this sovereign Lord.

John of Damascus may be an important theologian, but it seems rather plain that he is committed to an abstract notion of divine impassibility without any sufficient reason for this notion except for the fact that he knows no other option. He grew up in the midst of Islamic theology as well, and so in addition to the Greek influences in Christian theology he was influenced by the non-trinitarian theology of Islam that also asserts an abstractly transcendent God who could never become incarnate in a human being. I think it's safe to say that this context prevented him from even thinking of passibility as an option.

I'll send you the McCormack essay, but it is not about divine passibility. It's actually about a Reformed kenoticism, so it forms the basis for theses 4.1 and 4.2.
David (and Shane between the lines), if you would allow me to nitpick a bit. :-)

“But the problem remains: either the two natures are utterly separate or they are utterly related and connected.”

This is a false dichotomy, and one that the Chalcedonian definition explicitly avoids when it speaks of the hypostatic union “in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” Yes, the hypostatic union is a union that cannot be pulled apart (without division / separation) but there is also a distinction that must be preserved (without confusion / change). I think you are moving too quickly over the distinction. But, it’s not your fault except that you persist in reading Lutherans… :-P Just remember, one person – two natures. Never more, never less.

“Filiation, spiration, etc. are appropriations, i.e., part of the doctrine of appropriation in which specific roles are assigned to each of the three persons.”

Close, but no. Filiation and spiration are processions and therefore not appropriations. Appropriations are thinks like saying that the Father does creation, the Son does redemption, and the Spirit does ecclesiology, i.e. the creedal structure, because we all know that they are all involved in all of them. Missions, on the other hand, have to do with the Spirit and the Son interacting with the created order, and Augustine’s great contribution was helping us to see that these missions in history reveal the processions of the divine life.

“the doctrine of perichoresis, which properly asserts that what any one of the three persons does or experiences, the other two do as well.”

Really close, but not quite there. The notion of perichoresis is a Greek term that developed rather late in Trinitarian discussion but the notion, even among the Latins, goes back quite a ways (the Latin term ‘circuminsessio’ is roughly the equivalent of the Greek ‘perichoresis’, and people have only latched onto ‘perichoresis’ because they think it derives from the word for ‘dance,’ but TFT debunks this etymology in The Christian Doctrine of God). Furthermore, the notion of the inseparability of the divine activity doesn’t hang on this point, rather, thee concepts describe the mechanics that make this possible, namely, a (‘radical,’ as I have elsewhere said) and completely coextensive mutual indwelling among the divine persons. I’ve resituated your comment here as opposed to overturning it, I think.

Finally, I want to add my own two cents. This whole thing hinges on whether you can get Christ’s suffering into the divine life / being. You can, but I think you need a few caveats. Suffering does not reach God in an unmediated fashion. In the hypostatic union, God takes particular human form and experiences all the human life has to offer. He suffers and dies. Fine. What we must remember is this: it is only in the person of Jesus Christ, the hypostatic union, that God suffers because the faculty for suffering is resident within the human nature of Christ. This nature is inseparably joined to God but is not in itself God (communion as opposed to union). Also, saying that God experienced human suffering, and saying that God suffered (that is, experienced ‘divine’ suffering) are two completely different things. I don’t quite understand how human suffering could effect God to such a degree that God would cease to be impassible.
All right, Travis, I accept your nit-picking regarding appropriations. I don't think you really said anything different regarding perichoresis, except to supplement what I was getting at -- which I appreciate.

I don't think you quite understood what I was trying to get at with the two natures issue. I saw when I was writing that statement that someone could point out a false dichotomy, and I should have made myself more clear. What I mean is that either one accepts the Chalcedonian definition, in which the unity and difference between the natures is held in proper tension, or one will go towards Nestorianism. The Chalcedonian defintion — in connection with the ideas of anhypostasis-enhypostasis — makes the unity of the natures necessary, in order for the Logos to be the subject of the assumption of humanity in the incarnation, and thus the subject of the human actions and experiences while on earth. So that means the two natures are utterly connected and related, which is not the same as mixed or confused. In other words, I was not putting forward a communicatio idiomatum, which you perhaps assume I am since I do read Lutheran theology.

Now your one substantial point is that saying God experiences human suffering does not mean God actually suffers. This is a fascinating argument. If I read you rightly, it sounds like you are saying God may experience what we experience but remain impassible, immutable, etc. I have a few questions:

(1) Why preserve divine impassibility if you accept the fact that God experienced suffering and death in Jesus Christ?

(2) It sounds like you are using the language of terminology of impassibility, et al., as code-words for "God and not human." In other words, we identify the ontological separation between Creator and created by asserting God's utter difference from human creatures. The question then becomes: Is the thought of God's passibility an illegitimate anthropomorphizing of God, or does it properly get at the heart of the gospel that God is not abstractly transcendent but a God who is truly pro nobis, who is truly Immanuel, God with us?

(3) Why do you assume that the "faculty for suffering" is only in the human nature of Christ? Does this not make a prior assumption that divinity is incapable of suffering, that is, incapable of experiencing human emotions realities without joining itself to human flesh? Does not the Scriptural witness to God (particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures) affirm that while God is indeed the transcendent Creator, speaking of God's anger and love and dynamism are not illegitimate statements but actually reveal that as the transcendent Creator, God is also the loving and gracious covenant partner of Israel and the church?
Shane said…
Travis, thank you for your helpful comment. You said pretty close to what I am trying to say.

"God suffers" ok, if by that we mean that the human nature of Christ suffers. If we mean that the father son and holy spirit make themselves no longer to be God (i.e., reject their impassible divine nature) in order that they can suffer this isn't ok. In the first place, I can't see why they would do such a thing. In the second place I still don't see how we can maintain the separation of the persons if everything one of them does or experiences is done or experienced by the others. The processions of the divine persons remains the counterexample I would like to use.

"John of Damascus may be an important theologian, but it seems rather plain that he is committed to an abstract notion of divine impassibility without any sufficient reason for this notion except for the fact that he knows no other option."

I don't think this is correct, in fact most of the early fathers did know of a way to concieve of the divine nature as passible, i.e. through the heresy of patripassianism, which is a species of modalism, as you know.

I think the Damascene's arguments are stronger than you do. In fact, if anything, I think Damascene's criticism of what you have presented here is that you have veered strongly toward monophysitism when, for example, you talk about the 'unity' of the divine and human persons. There is no 'unity' since unity implies oneness. ('union' and 'unity' are not quite the same). Christ has two wills, two operations, two natures, and so forth. If you say that Christ is a unity, you mean that he has one will, one operation, etc.

Thomas Aquinas clarifies what John Damascene says a bit. Thomas's opinion is that the two natures always act in tandem, yet each only acts according to its own proper nature. Thomas's example of this is when Christ heals someone by touching them. It pertained to the divine nature to be the miraculous healer, but it pertained to the human nature to touch and feel the person who was healed. Both natures act together, but without confusion. I cannot find any specific reference to this question in the Summa Theologiae, but I would suppose that Thomas would say that Christ dies on the cross and it pertained to his physical human nature to experience pain, (exactly what the experience of the divine nature would be for Thomas I don't know.)

for further contemporary arguments in favor of impassibility, I recommend the work of Tom Weinandy. If you go to my blog, my latest post has a link to an article of his that is fantastic.
Shane, you wrote:

If we mean that the father son and holy spirit make themselves no longer to be God (i.e., reject their impassible divine nature) in order that they can suffer this isn't ok.

Where do you get the idea that being "passible" must mean "not-God"? Do you outright reject my argument that God can be passible and remain the transcendent Lord?

The problem with monophysitism is that it wants to resolve the human nature entirely into the divine nature, so that Jesus is simply the divine Logos. What I am saying is that the divine nature assumes the human nature, and thus there is a communication of the human attributes to the divine (which does NOT mean that the divine nature ceases to be divine; that would be thinking non-theologically).

Now in all of this I do not think we can sustain belief in Christ's "two wills." This doctrine is derived from the realization that if the divine nature is the sole subject, passibility is inevitable. In other words, the doctrine of the two wills is derived from the assumption that divinity is impassible. But I believe we are actually more faithful to the Chalcedonian definition and the Nicene Creed if we assert that Christ has one will. Here the anhypostasia-enhypostasia doctrines are necessary. The former states that the human nature is not a subject of its own but is a generic human nature. The latter states that the divine nature preserves the full humanity of Christ while joining the human nature to the divine, forming one complete whole. This one person in two natures has one will; two wills would mean two subjects, and thus two persons.

Read the quote from McCormack again in thesis 4.2. If you insist on two wills, two operations, etc., you have Nestorianism, not orthodox Christianity (regardless of who espoused such ideas).
Shane said…
Catholic Encyclopedia article on monothelitism, condemned by the Third Council of Constantinople.
Unfortunately, I have to side with Nicea and Chalcedon over the sixth council. The theology of the council as with most theology of that time is so overly platonic, with its hierarchy of reason over passion — reason finding its highest and perfect reification in God, and passion finding its expression in carnal human feelings and desires.

In this case, I see no reason to reject one will except to preserve the divine nature from receiving anything from the human nature. There is no 'genus of humility' because such an idea was inconceivable. But why? That is always the question. Why insist on a divine nature free from anything human? In order to protect God's transcendence? Check. In order to preserve God's sovereignty? Check. In order to protect God's power over evil and death? Check. In order to preserve Christ's two natures? Check. In order to preserve a God who is passionless and simply the abstract, metaphysical negation of humankind? No check.

Thesis: God is immutably the one who both potentially and actually is the triune God who enters into human history — into suffering and death — in order to conquer over nothingness for the sake of bringing all creation to its proper telos in the reality of God.
“But I believe we are actually more faithful to the Chalcedonian definition and the Nicene Creed if we assert that Christ has one will.”

David, you just became a heretic (as Shane pointed out - it should also be noted that the reformation accepted the 7 ecumenical counsels, so you're treading a new path if you throw out the 6th). (This sentiment of yours also goes a long way in revealing that perhaps your Christology is far more Lutheran than you are aware of, but I don’t want to tease that out here.) And I recall McCormack making an in-class comment during the Justification seminar that two-wills is a necessary conclusion of Chalcedonian orthodoxy, one which he was happy to maintain and apply to other areas of Christology as well. You have to have 2 wills because you have to have completely God and completely human. You’re radicalizing of the assumptio carnis pushes in an Apollinarian direction, and that is out of bounds. I also think that you are slightly off in how you parse anhypostasis and enhypostasis. Anhypostasis affirms that there was not a human subject “Jesus” prior to hypostatic union with the Logos. This is intended to ward off the possibility of adoptionism. Enhypostasis you do better with, but this notion of a “complete whole” is confusing, as if you took ½ cup of the logos and ½ cup of human nature and put the two together to get Jesus (I know that you aren’t doing this, but I think your language is doing you a disservice here).

The full humanity of Christ must involve everything that a human subject has, including a will. This entirety is joined to the other entirety (the Logos, complete with volitional capacity) in hypostatic union. The two exist together as one subject, without being able to be pulled apart but without bleeding into each other, as it were. When we talk about Christ, we talk about one subject, not two. Two wills does not undermine this, but heightens the notion that the union is beyond a simple singularity in anything that we can name (like the ‘will’).

Now, I’ll try to respond to the questions you raised to me:

“(1) Why preserve divine impassibility if you accept the fact that God experienced suffering and death in Jesus Christ?”

Because the point of God’s transcendence is that things like human suffering, death, and all the other horrific stuff that happens on this planet does not overwhelm God. Besides, the notion of impassibility is closely tied to that of immutability and if you have a God who is mutable you do not have a perfect God.

“(2) It sounds like you are using the language of terminology of impassibility, et al., as code-words for "God and not human." In other words, we identify the ontological separation between Creator and created by asserting God's utter difference from human creatures. The question then becomes: Is the thought of God's passibility an illegitimate anthropomorphizing of God, or does it properly get at the heart of the gospel that God is not abstractly transcendent but a God who is truly pro nobis, who is truly Immanuel, God with us?”

God the Father is not Immanuel. God the Spirit is not Immanuel. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, is Immanuel. Jesus Christ is a unique as fully God and fully human. In this novum we see the miracle of God being so transcendent that God can become immanent and participate in human experience. But, this is not an instance of a general condition, i.e. God’s transcendence does not function in this way at all times but only in the particularity of the incarnation. Sure, this tells us that God is fundamentally pro nobis, but this does not imply that God is fundamentally immanent.

Not: transcendence in the midst of overwhelming immanence (communicatio idiomatum)

But: immanence in the midst of overwhelming transcendence (extra calvinisticum)

In Christ, God is pro nobis, and all the affection of God toward humanity serves and is on the basis of Christ. Creation might create the possibility for covenant, but covenant is the goal, end-point, and purpose of creation. (Christ, of course, is to covenant what covenant is to creation.) But these are all particulars that, as particulars, are distinct for the general if only to reveal the truth that is for all humanity, namely, the Trinitarian God’s resounding YES of election to all humanity. But, I digress…

“(3) Why do you assume that the "faculty for suffering" is only in the human nature of Christ? Does this not make a prior assumption that divinity is incapable of suffering, that is, incapable of experiencing human emotions realities without joining itself to human flesh? Does not the Scriptural witness to God (particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures) affirm that while God is indeed the transcendent Creator, speaking of God's anger and love and dynamism are not illegitimate statements but actually reveal that as the transcendent Creator, God is also the loving and gracious covenant partner of Israel and the church?”

The divine nature has no faculty for human suffering, death etc. Why? Because God is not human and these things are, ipso facto, human and not divine experiences. This does make a prior assumption, but I think that this assumption is properly grounded in an exegetical understanding of God’s transcendence. And, curse at Greek philosophy all you want, but I think that much of what is written off as Greek philosophy is actually the father’s trying to think through the logic of the Gospel. Of course, God ‘could’ do anything (but this logic is based as much on Greek philosophy as on anything else that is charged as Greek philosophy), so I suppose he could experience these things. But, God did not do so except in Christ. This is not to rule out that a perfect, immutable, impassible being such as God is not equipped with faculties analogous to human emotion. We certainly want to affirm that God “loves” us, etc. But to let our language get the best of us and run around talking about God “suffering” (in the context of attempting to overturn impassibility, which, as I have said, would imply overturning immutability) seems to me to be a bit premature.

And now I must ask you a question: Why the hell does it matter if God suffers / is passible (these two should not be too quickly equated b/c of the connection to immutability I have mentioned, although I use them here as roughly equivalent)? Does it make any difference to how we understand the atonement, justification, etc? That is, except to undermine them by calling God’s perfection, etc. into question? Jesus Christ experienced everything and therefore redeemed everything, but this was a human work accomplished by a divine agent, that is, the work that Christ accomplished could only be accomplished by a human being. If God tried to redeem us without the incarnation, as per the logic of the gospel as revealed to us, it wouldn’t have worked. We required a perfect human to reconcile and redeem us. And, the fact that God supplied said human does not undermine this fact. The work that Jesus accomplished was human work accomplished as a human by a human, who also happened to be God. And it had to also be God because we could only have reconciliation if God came to us for we could not come to God (and there are other concerns connected to this). Jesus Christ had to suffer as a human being to redeem suffering, Jesus Christ had also to be God to bring about reconciliation, hence, fully God and fully human. But, it is beyond me as to why God must be thought of as having suffered. God came to us in our need to pull us out of our need and to do away with that need and to empower us to live as though that need no longer existed. God did not come to hold our hand and suffer our need along with us – there is no salvation in that.

Some people frequently ask me to do more constructive work, as opposed simply to critical work. I think you are starting to get it. Recognizing that, I’ve treaded the margins more in this comment than I ever have in any academic work. As such, there are bound to be things to pick at. But, I am convinced of my position, even if I might have to abandon some of the expression at a latter date. In any case, I hope this is helpful to someone.
I'm taking off for a three-day weekend of camping. I'll respond when I get back.
guanilo said…
Right back at you: rejoinder at my blog. Thanks for the excellent critique.
Shane said…
David said:

'Where do you get the idea that being "passible" must mean "not-God"? Do you outright reject my argument that God can be passible and remain the transcendent Lord?'

My objection is this. Suppose that there are certain properties or attributes that God has. Suppose he is all-knowing or something. Now let's ask whether God's properties are something essential to him or something that he just happens to have accidentally?

Suppose that the property of omniscience is just something accidental. Well, then, where how did God come to possess omniscience, in virtue of his own essence or because something else gave it to him? Ex hypothesi, God's own essence cannot be the source of his omniscience (since then it would not be an accident). But, it also seems impossible to say that something else outside of God is making God to be omniscient. If neither alternative is tenable, then, it must be the case that omniscience is not a mere accident but an essential property of the divine. In fact, if anything is a property of God, then it is a necessary property of God.(I stole this argument from Thomas, of course.)

Now if omniscience (or any other property of God) is a necessary and not accidental property, then God cannot stop having that property without becoming God. For example, it is an essential property of a plane triangle to have 180 degrees. If a closed plane figure changes and suddenly has interior angles of more than a 180 degrees, it isn't a triangle any more. Thus, if God suddenly quit being immutable or omniscient or omnipotent etc. he would no longer be God.

We might be able to say of God, "The Impassible Suffers", but what we mean is that the human nature suffers physical pain, not that the divine nature does.

The divine nature, being eternal and unchangeable doesn't experience e-motion either (i.e. a change of state from angry to happy). (Claiming that God has emotions is just a crude anthropomorphism akin to claiming that God has fingers, because the Bible talks about the finger of God.) Nor does the divine nature suffer physical pain. In the case of the Father and the Spirit at least this should be perfectly clear. How can something experience physical pain if one is not a physical thing? Our pains and passions are in our bodies. God the Father has not body, so God cannot suffer our pains and passions. (This does not limit God's omnipotence any more than the fact that God can't make a circle square does.)
I'm back. I'll get right into it:

(1) I am no heretic. This is clear because my statements on the two wills of Christ was an attempt to remain faithful to conciliar definitions of Christ. If the two wills is a necessary doctrine in light of Chalcedon, then I can accept that. I was initially rather concerned, however, that the addition of the doctrine of two operations (human and divine) leaned so close to Nestorianism as to make it almost imperceptibly different from positing two Subjects in Christ. Until I read more of the Catholic Encyclopedia article linked to by Shane above ...

(2) In the article, on the subject of the two operations, it makes it very clear that everything the human nature does has its origin in the divine nature (per the anhypostasia-enhypostasia doctrines). What I appreciate about this article is that the only time it separates the two operations is in reference to pre-incarnate actions, such as the creation of the universe. In light of this, I can accept the two wills and two operations doctrines if they are understood as a necessary means of properly differentiating the divine and human. Those doctrines become unacceptable if they are used to define what the divine nature can do or experience and what the human nature can do or experience. We understand what the human nature can do from our own empirical reality. We know what the divine nature can do (possibility) because of what God did (actuality) in Jesus Christ. Consequently, employing the two natures-wills-operations argument as a way of saying the divine does not experience human suffering fails, because the two are only two because God and humanity are different; the two are one in that there is always one subject and one action being accomplished by God through the person of Jesus.

(3) Travis, your comment about my "radicalizaing" of the assumptio carnis makes little sense to me. Apollinarian I am not. And many of your other comments were overly petty and unhelpful. Telling me that a couple sentences on anhypostasia-enhypostasia were a little off is rather silly, since of course I was not offering a treatise on those doctrines. And telling me later that the Father and the Spirit are not "Immanuel" was also a condescending comment without merit. I am simply following Barth in IV.1. But even beyond that, the simple fact is that if Jesus reveals who God truly is, then God truly and essentially is a God who condescends to be "God with us," which is the meaning of Immanuel.

(4) Travis, your arguments against divine passibility displayed all of the problems that I have been criticizing repeatedly. For example, in response to (1), you asserted that divine transcendence demands that we posit a God who is not overwhelmed by creaturely realities. My initial response is this: Where have I ever given the impression that I think God is overwhelmed by suffering and death? Clearly, because of my gospel convictions, the cross and the resurrection are at the heart of my theology. And time and again I asserted that God's experience of human suffering was an experience in the process of overcoming suffering and death. God entered the abyss of nothingness in order to defeat it, but in that God enterted the abyss, God experienced the abyss to the very depths — to the point of death itself and the descent into hell (however we understand that confession). I will post separately on this soon, but you and Shane threaten to create an abstractly transcendent god. I have no intention of creating a god is abstractly immanent and no longer the God of the Bible. What the 'word of the cross' demands of me, though, is that I hold fast to the God who is transcendent but never at the expense of being immanent. God is equally, fully, and simultaneously both. In your comment, you apparently claim we can limit God's immanence to the second person of the Trinity. Perhaps you mean to say that God's immanence is revealed and actualized in the person of Christ alone. In that case, I agree. God does not suffer in general, like some counselor who feels the pain of her patient. But, honestly, have I ever made the claim anywhere that God is passible in general? No. I have only ever stated that God is revealed as passible in the event of Jesus Christ. I have never argued that this divine passibility means that God is suffering with every tragedy on the planet (though I see no substantial argument against this, other than that it is rather speculative). I have always insisted that God's passibility means that, based on the Christ-event, we must infer that God is not incapable of suffering but more than capable of suffering. With the comparative, I wish to make clear that God is not at overpowered by anything but remains the transcendent God who overcomes what opposes the divine will to bring life out of death.

(5) Your distinction between the communicatio idiomatum and the extra calvinisiticum is interesting, but overly caricatured. I would clearly support the latter, based on the statement you provide. But I think you are both unfair to the Lutheran position and making an overly simplistic dichotomy where there is none. God's self-revelation is more complex than just a simple "greater transcendence, less immanence." I think we need to allow the two sides, transcendence and immanence, to remain in a balanced tension. At times this tension appears to lean toward immanence, such as the dereliction on the cross and the death of Christ, but then in the resurrection we lean toward transcendence. Now of course revelation points to a transcendent God, and I am predisposed to agree with your second statement (between the two), but I am wary of accepting such an easy formula which gives the impression that God's immanence is of less seriousness than God's transcendence. I wish to accept nothing of the sort. We must take the death that God experienced in Jesus Christ with the utmost seriousness as an event in the triune life of God.

(6) The only way we can affirm God's experience of human realities is through the doctrine of the Trinity. The affirmation of this doctrine is what protect us against resolving God toward transcendence or toward immanence. God the Father is indeed transcendent and powerful, but God the Son, in obedience, became immanent and lowly and assumed all that is in opposition to God — including sin, suffering, and death. Finally, however, it is God the Holy Spirit who unites the two together so that life (Father) and death (Son) are brought back into a unity for the purpose of establishing new life (Holy Spirit). The Son goes to the very depths of hell, but because of the repleteness of God's triune life, such an abyss cannot contain God and God bursts the bounds of suffering and death so that nothingness is defeated once and for all. The doctrine of the Trinity is what protects me from a God trapped by the immanent forces of creation, and it is what should protect others from a God who is incapable of experiencing the life of a creature.

(7) Travis, you wrote: "The divine nature has no faculty for human suffering, death etc. Why? Because God is not human and these things are, ipso facto, human and not divine experiences. This does make a prior assumption, but I think that this assumption is properly grounded in an exegetical understanding of God’s transcendence."

No. You have Barth solidly against you here. You have erred in that you have identified divinity with what is not-humanity. Humanity suffers and dies; God is not human; ergo, God cannot suffer and die. But the lesson Barth teaches is that we can only determine what God is able to do (possibility) in light of what God did (actuality). God is pure actuality as a being-in-act, and thus whatever God did in the self-revelation in Jesus Christ — God can do.

Thus, your statement, "God did not do so except in Christ," is self-indicting. Because God did so in Christ, God is able to do so eternally.

(8) Travis, your final comment I choose not to answer. I do not "need" a passible God, just like I do not "need" God at all. God is "more than necessary," to use Jüngel's great thesis. God is beyond what I want or need. The issue of God's passibility has everything to do with thinking through the logic of the gospel faithfully, in the freedom of theology to think-after God's self-revelation. God's passibility is not about finding some therapeutic God who suffers by my side; it is about clarifying the nature of God who came to the world in Jesus of Nazareth, lived a human life, suffered, died, was buried, and on the third day was raised to new life. The question of passibility begins and ends there. If we disagree on what the gospel demands of us, so be it, but let it be known that I wish to do nothing other than to think through God's self-revelation appropriately and freely. I confess divine passibility because I think the Scriptures demand it.
Shane said…
This issue has gone beyond my theological ken. I'll think more about it and might come back later, but i'm bowing out at this point.


Well done. :-) This is not to say that I accept all of your criticisms, and it is even less to say that I feel myself defeated by your arguments. Here is what it is meant to say:

(1) That I think that you have expressed yourself far better in this most recent post than previously and that, therefore, I think you on must safer ground.

(2) That I think it is best that we carry on this conversation in person sometime in the near future so as to help us both overcome the temptations (that this kind of print media presents) to become overly rhetorical.

I do hope that you're being plagued by a desire to respond didn't prevent you from enjoying your weekend.

Maybe you can enlighten me as to how I have failed to account for Gaunilo's claim. I fail to understand your question. The question posed to me is: "If we are to speak meaninfully of God's suffering, especiall insofar as we declare that suffering to be redemptive, what must we account for in order for that assertion to be cogent?"

The problem with this question is that I do not need to "account" for anything, because I begin with the assumption that God is Lord, and as the Lord, God is capable of entering into human suffering fully and remain this Lord. God is ontologically located in the experience of humanity in Jesus Christ. So once again, I fail to see the point of the question. The question only requires an answer if we are starting with a purely immanent God and trying to work our way toward transcendence. But that is not my position. I have always started with the transcendent God who is at the same time a God capable of being immanent in time and space, capable of suffering as a human person, and capable of conquering over the grave because our God is triune and thus never resolvable into any one of the three persons. God is replete with life, but the life of God is a life capable of encompassing death. But in that God encompasses death, God swallows it forever.

I do plan on responding to Gaunilo's rebuttal on his blog. For the most part, he expresses himself along much better lines. Granted, we differ significantly on ecclesiology, but at least it seems we have similar starting-points. With that being the case, the problem seems to be that he is unable to hold in tension God's transcendence and God's immanence. Impassibility and passibility are not presented as an either-or in God, but as a both-and. God is "impassible" if by that word one means that God is never at the mercy of creaturely realities. God is always free, because God is always the Lord. But God is "passible" if by that we assert that God truly entered into the life of the creature in Jesus Christ. God is revealed in Jesus to be a God who is ontologically capable of experiencing suffering and death. We discover in the resurrection that God is not overcome by the grave but triumphs over it. We understand this by thinking through the doctrine of the Trinity.

Hegelian? I take that as a compliment. I am also a lot of other things: Barthian, Jüngelian, biblical, Christocentric, etc. If Hegel helps to explicate the Scriptures, then so be it.

Have you read my post or my comments? If so, then I ask you: What is your theological problem with what I have said? Where is your challenge to me? All I see is a bunch of empty words. The reason I do not need to give another account is that I have already given my account for why God is passible. If you don't like it, I'm sorry. But I challenge you to show me how Gaunilo's account is more theologically secure than my own. I have yet to see any substantial challenge in your comments. Are you simply trying to "stand up for Gaunilo" on my blog? I think he is capable of doing that himself. Once again, what is your argument? What theological critique are you presenting me?

Let me put things in simple terms for you: Jesus Christ suffered, therefore God suffered. Does this mean God is at the mercy of creation and suffering? No, because God is the Lord who willingly and obediently entered the world of suffering and death. Is God incapable of conquering over suffering and death? No, because the triune God is the "union of life and death for the sake of life." God enters death but God is greater than death. God is overflowing life, but the life of God is one that can encompass death and experience it to the full. God is ontologically located in the being of Jesus Christ, but God is not resolvable into the second person of the Trinity. God is triune. God is the Lord. God is free. God is transcendent. As the free, transcendent Lord, God chooses to become the obedient, immanent servant in Jesus Christ 'for us and our salvation.' God suffers, but God defeats suffering. That is the paradox of the gospel.

You're right, I do agree with Gaunilo that God is greater than human suffering. What I do not agree with is that this necessarily entails the definition of God as impassible. The tradition was right insofar as it thought through the gospel message by asserting God's power over the grave. It was wrong when it, through external commitments, felt it necessary to keep anything divine as far as possible from things human and creaturely. The tradition ran into many contradictions when it wanted to affirm God's full incarnation in Jesus Christ yet prevent God having any part in human experiences. I have already, I believe, adequately shown why such a position is untenable. If knowledge of God is found in and through Jesus Christ alone, we can only make ontological definitions of God's being on the basis of what God has done in Jesus — and that is suffer and die. Did God die on the cross? Yes. Did God die on the cross? No. In the former I assert God's unity with the man Jesus, but in the latter I assert God's triune repleteness as a being-in-becoming, never a being that is static in life or in death. God is a being-in-movement. Not a changing God, but a God who is immutably the God for us, who is immutably the God capable of entering human experiences without being overcome by them.

I have never sacralized death, only affirmed that God has taken death into Godself and defeated it. God is greater than death, but God is not alien to death. In other words, God is transcendent, but God is also immanent. Or, to use our key words, God is impassible, but God is also passible. As I said before, the two concepts must be viewed as both-and, not as either-or. A post on that will come in time.

I have said the same things over and over. I agree with Gaunilo on God's power over death, but that does not necessitate the definiton, "God is impassible." What you should say is, "God is transcendent and alive." That would actually be theological correct. As it is, you are not doing careful theology but think you have the tradition on your side.
For those who are interested, Gaunilo responded to my seven theses with this rejoinder. Here is the response that I posted on his site:

Thanks, Gaunilo, for the response. I will do my best to respond to the various points.

First, regarding my mention of D.B. Hart, I simply assumed you had already read the section on impassibility in his book. I also assumed that you are familiar with his discussion of theodicy and impassibility in his most recent book on the tsunami. I should not have made those assumptions. However, that does not change the fact that virtually everything you wrote in your original theses is found in Hart's theology. I did not mean to engage in a kind of "whose theologians are better?" kind of debate.

I believe you missed what I was trying to say regarding the starting-point of theology and apophatic theology. Regardless of which of the three metaphysical paths toward knowledge of God you use — all of which you say are involved in apophatic theology — the point is that each path works from general created reality toward God. Metaphysical thinking begins "from below," but it begins with generic human reality. The via negativa sees that we are mortal, therefore God is immortal. The via eminentiae sees that we love, therefore God loves perfectly. The via causalitatis sees that there is movement, therefore God is the cause of this movement. My argument, along with Barth and others, is that these are insufficient paths toward knowlegde of God. In fact, they are paths to be rejected. The only path we have is through God's Word in faith, through the self-revelation of God as the only source of knowledge of God. So in essence, all apophatic theology is in some way deriving its knowledge of God from the created realm and positing God as the converse, the perfection, or the cause of what we see in this world.

You are on very shaky and rather questionable ground in your discussion of "natural theology" and the self-revelation of God. God did not become generic "creation" in Jesus; God became a concrete, particular human person, and the second person of the Trinity remains that human person today and for all eternity. Furthermore, God does not become self-evident in Jesus. God is hidden in God's self-revelation, hidden behind the veil of human flesh. Peter's confession of faith was simply that, a confession of faith. Jesus proclaimed that it was by the Father that Peter was able to see Jesus for who he really is. Consequently, our knowledge of God, deriving as it must from the person of Jesus Christ, is only possible through faith in God. And it is only accessible through the Word of God — the Word incarnate, primarily, and the Word written, the Scriptures. The incarnation does not make Christ naturally accessible to the metaphysical paths of reasoning, nor does it make God possessible by any person, even by the church. God always remains the free Lord over all creatures, including the creaturely body of the community of saints.

The problem with your account of analogy is that this creation is not a perfect reflection of God, nor are we untainted reasoners of God. This creation is not yet consummated; it remains caught in the matrix of sin and nothingness that awaits God's transforming presence. The fact that God created the world does not mean that the world is God's self-revelation. We only have that assurance in the biblical witness to the incarnate Son of God.

Your account of the Trinity is simply incoherent to me. If God ad extra corresponds to God ad intra, and if the perichoretic unity of God is affirmed, then the suffering of the divine nature of the Son must be an act which is part of the divine life itself, or else you have tritheism or a rupture in the life of God between the immanent Son and the transcendent Father and the Spirit who unites them. In any case, I would need to see you flesh out your position further for it to make any sense to me. You grant me all of my major arguments, but then say that I am wrong. I do not see how it follows.

Thanks for the response. I appreciate a good discussion.

To be honest, I am not sure what you have been trying to say, other than to suggest that divine passibility as I have presented is not soteriologically sufficient. I definitely do not agree with you that I have some Barthian axe to grind. That's just silly. I simply think the logic of the gospel demands that we allow God to be passible while confess that God is eternally the free and sovereign Lord. I believe WTM and Shane have already criticized every possible hole in my position, so if you have some new angle to offer, I would be happy to hear it.

Your entire argument rests on a faulty doctrine of the Trinity. You are right insofar as you assert that passibility = passivity. You are wrong when you assert that passivity and activity are mutually exclusive, which your positions demands. If you read Jüngel's section on "God's passion" you will see that he too focuses on God's passivity — BUT only in Jesus Christ. God as the triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a being-in-act, and as a being-in-act, God chose to become the passive, passible being in the incarnate Christ. We can affirm God's passibility/passivity in Christ without losing God's essential being-in-act, because we affirm beforehand that God is triune. God is not resolved into the second person of the Trinity, as I have said repeatedly. God's passibility is not at the expense of God's active, sovereign freedom as the being-in-becoming who not only enters the grave but conquers it.

In other words, the reason God's passibility is also salvific is because we confess the doctrine of the Trinity. God's triunity preserves God's ability to be passive in Christ in the midst of God's greater activity and sovereignty. You misunderstand what I mean when I say that we understand God's ontological nature in God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. This does not mean that God is only what we see in Jesus. That would be modalism. What it means is that everything we see in Jesus is part of God's nature. Nothing Jesus experiences or does is alien to the being of God. God is a being-in-becoming who is capable of encountering what is opposed to God (sin, death, nothingness) without ceasing to be God. In other words, what is not-God is not foreign to God. God's ontological repleteness is not in opposition to creation but encompasses creation. I do not mean to suggest any kind of panentheism, but only that God's being should never be placed over against creation. God's being is one that stands over against the world at the same time that it stands in and with the world. God is Lord, and as the Lord, God can suffer and remain the active, electing, choosing, willing, commanding, creating, re-creating, transforming triune God.

Once you establish the doctrine of the Trinity, then the 'death of God' in Jesus no longer results in God becoming not-God. Death, as I have said repeatedly, is swallowed by God, encompassed by God, suffered by God but also defeated by God. In other words, God remains the being-in-act, the one who chooses death for Godself and life for us. But in that God elects the grave, God is never reduced to the grave. God is greater than death, even as God experiences human death fully.

Basically, I think you have taken a rather crude reading of Hegel and simply replaced my actual position with this position. I forgive you for doing this, but you need to realize that not everyone who espouses divine passibility is a Moltmannian-Hegelian. (I also do not think you have Hegel quite right.) You are actually speaking to someone else, and I happen to the be your closest target. For the most part, I agree with what you have said. I too wish to hold up a strong soteriology, but a solid soteriology only arises in the midst of a solid doctrine of God. As it is, I affirm your concerns, but you need to have a more robust doctrine of the Trinity to see how our positions can be reconciled.

Finally, you think that Jüngel's position actually radically upholds divine impassibility, which leads me to suspect that you are using impassibility and passibility as stop-gaps for other concepts: transcendence and immanennce, activity and passivity, power and weakness, infinite and finite. I am going to post on this soon, but here is my answer: Not either-or, but both-and. That's it. The doctrine of the Trinity allows you to hold up both sides fully. We can see this most clearly in the conciliar definitions of Christ: Not God or human, but God and human, equally and fully. This mystery is only possible because God is triune, but it is possible because we know that it is actual — i.e., was actualized in Jesus Christ. In closing, the actual question has to do with Christology, with the being of Jesus Christ and the relation between Jesus and human suffering. Once you address that issue, then the being of God is no longer the problem (assuming, as I do, that you have a doctrine of the Trinity to back it all up). And all the issues relating to Christology were already addressed before this. If you are unconvinced, please let me know where you are confused. I submit that it all rests on whether you are able to hold the paradoxes of God's being in tension, without resolving God's being on one side over the other.

Finally, your sarcasm is immature and worthy only of an pre-adolescent snobbery. Everything in me told me to ignore you as a nuisance, but I went ahead and answered you. In the future, though, try to act like an adult.

Unless you have anything new to say, this will be my final comment to you. I can reason out your faulty doctrine of the Trinity based entirely on your comments, so I have every right to critize your doctrine of God. In your most recent comment, you confirmed my criticism. You said that Jüngel only speaks of divine passibility in Jesus Christ. Now if you can isolate Christ from the Father and the Son, then you are perfectly within your right to insist on impassibility. But if you are orthodox in your doctrine, then you will have to affirm that God is only God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You will also recognize and affirm the trinitarian rule that all the external works of the Trinity are indivisible. And with perichoresis, you will affirm that in each person of the Trinity there exists the other two persons in radical unity. All that accepted, you cannot get around the fact that if God suffered in Jesus Christ, God suffered, and if God suffered, God is capable of suffering. Do you have an argument against this? If not, then thanks for the conversation. If you do, then I am happy to hear it. As it is, you persist in defining impassibility as the power to overcome suffering. That is an insufficient definition, and God's self-revelation is far more complex.

Congratulations! It took you several tries, but you finally made an argument. As a result, I can actually answer your complaint.

As I understand it, you believe impassibility = God's being-in-act, such that for God to be pure actuality, God must also be impassible. Passibility, in your estimation, means that God is acted upon from without and thus is no longer the being-in-act who is fully actual and capable of defeating death. Actually, to be more precise, passibility as you understand it is the actualization of one's potentiality by some external force or object. Thus, divine passibility and divine actuality are mutually exclusive. Correct?

I see a number of problems with this position:

(1) The discussion of potentiality and actuality is a metaphysical argument that works from creaturely reality toward divine reality. In other words, a passible object (say, a rock that is not in motion) must be acted upon by a subject of activity (say, a hand). In that I pick up and throw the rock, I am the active agent that moves the rock, which has the potential to move but not cannot actualize this potentiality on its own. The problem is that you cannot reason from this rock to the being of God. God's being is not analogous with this rock. God is the Lord, and as the Lord, God can be self-actualizing being who also becomes the passible being in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, God's passibility is never to the exclusion of God's actuality, so Jesus Christ is the active agent of his own existence, even while he wills to be obedient unto death (and thus acted upon by others). How is this possible? The doctrine of the Trinity, and God's perfections which are able to hold creaturely opposites together in the divine life.

(2) You have confused potentiality with passibility. The state of being passible cannot simply be equated with a state of potentiality in which some external reality is necessary to actualize this potentiality. Passibility refers to the possibility of being moved by another; it does not imply that this other somehow realizes a potentiality latent in the object. However, I will read you sympathetically and apply this to the biblical narrative. Jesus had the potential to die. This death was, in a sense, effected by the Gentile and Jewish leaders of his time. In a sense, you could say that these people actualized the states of suffering and death which were only potential prior to their actualization. However, such a reading fails to account for the way in which divine activity precedes and guides all creaturely activity. The incarnation of God was the primal divine act which set into motion the journey to the cross. God chose, as the being-in-act, to become incarnate, and this act of incarnation exhibited God's full actuality in that God became passible and vulnerable in the person of Jesus. God did not give up the nature of being God in the incarnation, but God took on the nature of being human. This assumptio carnis means that God assumed the state of passibility, in which creatures are acted upon by others. But all of this derives from God's act of election and obedience. Jesus is the electing, active God and the elected, passive subject. God is both the being who acts and the being acted upon in Jesus Christ. God is not limited to the state of passivity, however, because of the triune nature of God.

(3) You do not get Jüngel right. He is far more radical that you realize. In God as the Mystery of the World, he goes so far as to reject the metaphysical doctrines of divine impassibility and immutability. So you cannot claim that he is upholding divine impassibility in his discussion of possibility and actuality. In fact, Jüngel views the possibility of experiencing suffering as the argument from divine passibility.

Finally, capitalization is very poor online etiquette. You are the first to stoop that low on this blog. If you choose to comment again, do not use caps. It's as simple as that.
What my immature interlocutor argued in the deleted post is that my position demands that I uphold divine impassibility, because this means that God acts as God via God -- whereas divine passibility means that God acts as God via not-God.

First, to be passible has everything to do with possibility, contra my interlocutor. The OED entry on "passible" states: "Capable of suffering or feeling; susceptible to sensation or emotion." The first use of the word in English is: "If Crist passible [v.r. is passyble], or able to suffre, [etc.]."

It comes from the Latin passibilis. The OED etymology states: "post-classical Latin passibilis capable of feeling or suffering (Vetus Latina, Tertullian), capable of being suffered (5th cent.), subject to injury, easily hurt (1363 in Chauliac)."

In other words, passibility = the possibility of suffering. If my interlocutor wishes to speak of being moved toward actualization, then he should stick to language of potentiality and actuality. The question of suffering is a question for the doctrine of God and Christology. My interlocutor refuses to address the triune nature of God and the ability for God to be moved by what is not-God and yet remain the self-actualizing, self-positing, self-communicating God.

God act as God via both God and not-God. The former because God is pure actuality. The latter because creaturely forces can act upon God (i.e., God can experience human suffering in Christ) without God failing to be the Lord who is the being-in-act over the world. Impassibility does not protect God's sovereign freedom as the active God; impassibility creates an abstract God who is no longer the concrete, triune God of Jesus Christ.
Anonymous said…
I'm not sure it's the interlocutors that are immature here, but rather you in your deleting of comments and then continuing to argue with them (apparently you need the last word). I also think it rather arrogant that you throw out (your blog or not) accusations and proclamations that people don't have it right and are wrong. Who died and made you God?
I reserve the right to delete comments that are written entirely in caps as a way of being an online prick. I would have left the comment had the writer been mature enough to write it normally. I will continue to write as long as my interlocuters make arguments that I feel need to be refuted.

That was quite a good post. You make a substantial argument, and I definitely appreciate that. For what it's worth, we are espousing the same position, but you simply think the only way to affirm it properly is through the doctrine of divine impassibility. Now if I disagree, it has nothing to do with the content of your position. Here is why I still think divine passibility is a satisfactory position:

1. A theological argument: I think the doctrine of the Trinity allows me to affirm God's passivity in the second person of the Trinity without losing God's pure actuality. In other words, I think God can assume a state of passivity and passibility and remain the God who acts as God via God — because via God does not exclude the christological activity via other human beings, in which other people are involved in the history and fate of the Son of God. God can be both passive and active. God is active as the God who elects to become a human person, but in that God assumes the state of humanity, God in Christ becomes as we are, and exists in the incarnation in a mode of passivity (if we confess that Jesus is fully human and fully God).

2. A theological-philosophical argument: It seems that the only way to separate suffering and passivity is to deny that the sufferings of Jesus were effected by anyone other than God, that is, by the Father. If you can explain how God does not become passive in Jesus and yet submits himself to the authorities of his day, I would be happy to hear it. As it is, I think we have to affirm that God in Jesus Christ is active as the Passive One, the one who suffers and dies. You might say, God is passible as the Impassible One. My entire position is that the two sides are not mutually exclusive, but only in God. Also, I should point out that Jüngel specifically affirms God's passivity in Jesus Christ. See the passage I quoted.

3. An historical argument: You are stating, from what I can tell, an entirely unique position. The church fathers denied God's passibility, by which they meant, the possibility of God's suffering. By affirming suffering but denying passivity, you are espousing a new position, as far as I can tell, and thus you do not really have church tradition to back you up. All the arguments I faced from those defending impassibility attacked the Christological argument that the divine nature can experience human suffering. Your position is surprising and mostly acceptable to me, though I still think you could affirm passivity with a better doctrine of God.

4. A linguistic argument: As the entire history of the term "passible" indicates, there is nothing in the term itself to suggest that one can be impassible and yet suffer. I realize you are speaking of God here, but why not insist on God's activity and concede God's passibility? The word passible simply has no linguistic connotations to imply your position. Philosophically, your target is not divine passibility but divine passivity.

5. A suggestion: Restate your position as divine activity or divine non-passivity. I would still disagree with you, but at least we would understand each other. As it is, arguing for impassibility and yet allowing God to suffer is like arguing for God's immutability and allowing God to change.

All in all, thanks for the post. Now we're getting somewhere.
I just didn't find it humorous. Sorry for my lack of humor. I'll try to work on that.