Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Divine Simplicity and God's Emotions

A great number of the early fathers maintained that God
has no emotions whatsoever. Not only the ancients,
but especially medieval theologians reasoned this way.
For instance, Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas
both state that God does not instantiate any emotions.
But even Bishop Augustine of Hippo believed that God
is emotionless--in fact, I believe Jurgen Moltmann
(The Trinity and the Kingdom of God)
writes that only one ancient theologian
believed God is passible. That was Origen.

Augustine of Hippo writes:

"God's repentance is not because of error; his anger
has no ardor of a perturbed mind; his mercy does not
have the compassionate misery suggested by the Latin
term; the jealously of God has no spite of mind. But
the repentance of God refers to things ruled by his
power which change unexpectedly for us; the anger of
God is the punishment of sin; the mercy of God is the
goodness of helping; the jealously of God is
providence, which does not allow those which it has
subdued to love with impunity what it prohibits"
(Contra Advers. Legis et Prophet 1.20.40 quoted in
J. Hallman's Descent of God).

But some Fathers in antiquity think God has emotions
while others insist that He is totally devoid of them.
Yet it is probably more accurate to say that their ideas
subsist in a dialectical tension along a
continuum between impassibility and passibility.
Moreover, we also have to keep in mind the theological
development of certain patristic thinkers. Arnobius of
Sicca certainly thought that God is emotionless and
so did Clement of Alexandria, although there is a
passage in Clement's writings that suggests he may have
thought God can possibly show emotion by means of condescension.

An example of someone believing in divine emotions that are
qualitiative different from ours is Tertullian. He reckons that
God has emotions that befit the divine nature:

"And this, therefore, is to be deemed the likeness of God in man, that the human soul have the same emotions and sensations as God, although they are not of the same kind; differing as they do both in their conditions and their issues according to their nature. Then, again, with respect to the opposite sensations—I mean meekness, patience, mercy, and the very parent of them all, goodness,— why do you form your opinion of the divine displays of these (from the human qualities)? For we indeed do not possess them in perfection, because it is God alone who is perfect. So also in regard to those others—namely, anger and irritation, we are not affected by them in so happy a manner, because God alone is truly happy, by reason of His property of incorruptibility. Angry He will possibly be, but not irritated, nor dangerously tempted; He will be moved, but not subverted. All appliances He must needs use, because of all contingencies; as many sensations as there are causes: anger because of the wicked, and indignation because of the ungrateful, and jealousy because of the proud, and whatsoever else is a hinderance to the evil" (Adversus Marcionem 2.16.6).

Novatian also writes:

"For that God is angry, arises from no vice in Him.
But He is so for our advantage; for He is merciful
even then when He threatens, because by these threats
men are recalled to rectitude. For fear is necessary
for those who want the motive to a virtuous life, that
they who have forsaken reason may at least be moved by
terror. And thus all those, either angers of God or
hatreds, or whatever they are of this kind, being
displayed for our medicine,-as the case teaches,-have
arisen of wisdom, not from vice, nor do they originate
from frailty; wherefore also they cannot avail for the
corruption of God. For the diversity in us of the
materials of which we consist, is accustomed to arouse
the discord of anger which corrupts us; but this,
whether of nature or of defect, cannot subsist in God,
seeing that He is known to be constructed assuredly of
no associations of bodily parts. For He is simple and
without any corporeal commixture, being wholly of that
essence, which, whatever it be,-He alone
knows,-constitutes His being, since He is called
Spirit. And thus those things which in men are faulty
and corrupting, since they arise from the
corruptibility of the body, and matter itself, in God
cannot exert the force of corruptibility, since, as we
have said, they have come, not of vice, but of


Philip Fletcher said...

I don't know how they can read the bible and say God has no emotion. Perhaps they think that his reaction is not understood by we humans. They are wrong. Are we not made in his image? We have emotion because we are like him. They truly have mislead themselves and others.

Edgar Foster said...

Philip, those who argue that God is emotionless usually interpret biblical passages that depict God feeling sad or happy as anthropomorphisms or as metaphors.

Nice picture BTW.

Sean Killackey said...

We must suppose that angels have emotions, for the demons most clearly express hatred and are full of various states of mind, lust, envy, etc. However, Jehovah most clearly has humility ("which makes me great," sang David) and pleasure, but these were not in humans first so as to be a lens to understand God. But rather they subsisted in the angelic realm, so I reason, also they are in God, that is, the good ones.

Jehovah, says of himself, "Jehovah is gracious," - that is "pleasantly condesending, "slow to anger, abundant in loyal love" - which is admidtedly not as warm as we usually think of love, yet we are assured by the scripture, "You know the case of Job and the outcome that was given, that Jehovah is tender in compassion." Certainly, Jehovah speaks of himself this way, saying, "A mother can forget her child, but I cannot forget you."

Are those metaphors, of what? Certainly not emotionless, perhaps of divine emotions, but those are still emotions. If the salvation effected through Christ was not a metaphor (his name meaning, "Jehovah is salvation") then the graciousness shown through John ("Jehovah is gracious") was not a metaphor. Was the graciousness just the "turning of the hearts of father toward sons before the great day of Jehovah?" No, for that is what showed Jehovah's graciousness.

He could not send John unless he was gracious, but why is he gracious? Is it not that he is just? Yes. Now, what is he hoping for when he acts in this manner? Simply this, that sinner will repent. If he does, well then there is great "joy in heaven." We need not conclude that such joy is limited to the angels, but if it is we see it is of the same sort that God has.

Jehovah asked Job, "where were you when all the morning starts broke out joyfully and all the sons of God applauded me?" And of Him, Moses writes, "God saw his works and look! they were good."

Was Jehovah's word in Isaiah 58 spoken without emotion? Did Jesus act without emotion when he cried out, "You have made the house of my father, a place of prayer, a cave of robbers." Did the prophets who spoke in Jehovah's name say without emotion, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," or "They pained even the Holy one of Israel?" How can one soften the face of One without emotion?

If Augustine could comprehend a God without emotion, or the rest, then why not say, "I cannot be moved?" Instead we are told, "I am moved by your plea for help." Or, "He could not tolerate it." And, "You look on and take matters into your hand."

What is the point of impassioned pleas if the One listening has no emotions? Really, though, who are we to say that God is without emotion? Are we not told, "We do not have the mind of God, but we do have the mind of Christ." That one said, "He who sees me, sees my father who sent me." So, was the mercy and compassion he felt real? Certainly it was. He, in great anguish prayed to God, but he was not frozen by his emotions, but he carried himself perfectly.

Now, was this just Jesus' state as a man? No, or why else would he say, "we have the mind of Christ." Where, other than the experiences of Jesus on earth, would Paul get the mind of Christ?

Edgar Foster said...

Divine emotioins is a difficult topic, but I tend to prefer the view advocated by Tertullian and presumably by Novatian, that God has emotions, but his emotions are not exactly like ours. Either we understand Jehovah God to be a God, who has emotions or else we have to understand pretty much all of the Hebrew Bible as one long anthropomorphism or one long string of metaphors.