Adolf Harnack advanced the thesis that early Christians used Greek thought rather than Jewish or Biblical categories to define God. Following him (and others), many commonly make the accusation that: “Early Christians were beguiled by Greek thought. So they imported Greek thinking into their conception of God instead of using the Bible.”
This accusation does not make sense of the evidence. It is a weak argument that we should leave behind and forget about entirely. Here is the reality.
Of all the church fathers, Origen might be considered the most Greek of all early Christian thinkers (again, not a helpful description). But even he does not meet the stereotype of propagating a static God of the Greeks. For example, he once wrote of Christ:
“He came down to earth out of compassion for the human race. Having experienced our sufferings even before he suffered on the cross, he condescended to assume our flesh. For if he had not suffered, he would not have come to live on the level of human life.
First, he suffered; then he came down and was seen [cf. 1 Tim 3:16]. What is this suffering that he suffered for us? It is the suffering of love. The Father, too, himself, the God of the universe, “patient and abounding in mercy” [Ps 103:8] and compassionate, does he not in some way suffer? Or do you not know that when he directs human affairs he suffers human suffering? For “the Lord your God bore your ways, as a man bears his son” [Deut 1:31]. Therefore God bears our ways, just as the Son of God bears our sufferings.
The Father himself is not without suffering. When he is prayed to, he has pity and compassion; he suffers something of love and comes into those in whom he cannot be, in view of the greatness of his nature, and on account of us he endures human sufferings” (Orig., Hom. Eze. 6.6.3).
While his language may be more pointed than others, he is not alone in strongly affirming the compassion and dynamicy of the impassible God. Pointedly, the reason why Origen and others affirmed impassibility was to counter Greek thought—since Greek gods had bodies in which they raped, murdered, and did malfeasance. This is improper to God who is Spirit (John 4:24).
Passibility means having a body and so being affected by various needs (hunger, pain, and so on). God has no body. He cannot be passible. But this by no means that God has no affective life. God loves without any privation, any limit. He has compassion. He grieves over sin. Yet he does so without a body like ours, and so according to a different manner of being.
The impassibility claim, therefore, primarily recognizes the creator and creature distinction. God has no body, neurons, hormones, hunger, and so on. Hence, he cannot be passible like us. But according to his being (immaterial, etc.), he loves, grieves, and so on. He does so without ever deviating from the course. He always actualizes his love for us without any selfishness or self-preservation (he has it all and nothing to lose, such as a mortal body might).
Mark Matthias says
Perfect — “God loves without any privation, any limit. He has compassion. He grieves over sin. Yet he does so without a body like ours, and so according to a different manner of being.”
Yes, and it was necessary for the Son to be both Son of Man and Son of God since He possessed the passibility of the Father yet felt intimately the full impact of mankind; thus Jesus was able to feel pain but be unemotionally clear in His mission. God designed pain into life just as He feels pain and grieves. However, the devil couldn’t throw The Son of God off course as easily as he does us at times.
Jerry Brodie says
“has” in paragraph 7 might be better rendered “had”
I found this post quite helpful by the way 🙂
Trinity are impassible not because they are devoid of passion, but because they are entirely constituted as who they are in their passionate and dynamic fully actualized relationship of love.
Right, something close to that. Webster makes a similar case.