Church Fathers on God & Emotions, & Anthropomorphism

Church Fathers on God & Emotions, & Anthropomorphism April 17, 2018
St. Ignatius of Antioch (50 – c. 110)


Look for Him who is . . . impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes . . . (Epistle to Polycarp, 3, 2; ANF, vol. 1; cf. Epistle to the Ephesians, 7, 2)

Aristides of Athens (fl. c. 140)

. . . God . . is without beginning and eternal, immortal and lacking nothing, and who is above all passions and failings such as anger and forgetfulness and ignorance and the rest. (Apology, 1; in JUR-1, 48)

Athenagoras (fl. 180)

. . . God is uncreated, and, impassible . . .

. . . we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, . . . (A Plea For the Christians, 8 and 10; in ANF, vol. 2)

St. Irenaeus (130-202)

For inasmuch as He is superior to the rest, He ought not to be numbered with them, and that so that He who is impassible and not in error should be reckoned with an Æon subject to passion, and actually in error. (Against Heresies, 2, 12, 1; in ANF, vol. 1)

By their manner of speaking, they ascribe those things which apply to men to the Father of all, whom they also declare to be unknown to all; and they deny that He himself made the world, to guard against attributing want of power to Him; while, at the same time, they endow Him with human affections and passions. But if they had known the Scriptures, and been taught by the truth, they would have known, beyond doubt, that God is not as men are; and that His thoughts are not like the thoughts of men. For the Father of all is at a vast distance from those affections and passions which operate among men. (Against Heresies, 2, 13, 3; in ANF, vol. 1)

. . . He took up man into Himself, the invisible becoming visible, the incomprehensible being made comprehensible, the impassible becoming capable of suffering, and the Word being made man, thus summing up all things in Himself . . . (Against Heresies, 3, 16, 6; in ANF, vol. 1)

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215)

Here again arise the cavillers, who say that joy and pain are passions of the soul: for they define joy as a rational elevation and exultation, as rejoicing on account of what is good; and pity as pain for one who suffers undeservedly; and that such affections are moods and passions of the soul. But we, as would appear, do not cease in such matters to understand the Scriptures carnally; and starting from our own affections, interpret the will of the impassible Deity similarly to our perturbations; and as we are capable of hearing; so, supposing the same to be the case with the Omnipotent, err impiously. For the Divine Being cannot be declared as it exists: but as we who are fettered in the flesh were able to listen, so the prophets spake to us; the Lord savingly accommodating Himself to the weakness of men. (Miscellanies [Stromateis], 2, 16; in ANF, Vol. 2; footnote from translator: “This anthropopathy is a figure by which God is interpreted to us after the intelligible forms of humanity. Language framed by human usage makes this figure necessary to revelation”)

But God is impassible, free of anger, destitute of desire. (Miscellanies [Stromateis], 4, 23; ANF, Vol. 2)

On this account did Moses also say, “Show yourself to me,” indicating most clearly that God cannot be taught to men nor expressed in words, but can be known only by an ability which He Himself gives. (Miscellanies [Stromateis], 5, 11, 71, 3; in JUR-1, 183)

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225)

Nay, but you do blaspheme; because you allege not only that the Father died, but that He died the death of the cross. For cursed are they which are hanged on a tree, Galatians 3:13 — a curse which, after the law, is compatible to the Son (inasmuch as Christ has been made a cursefor us, but certainly not the Father); since, however, you convert Christ into the Father, you are chargeable with blasphemy against the Father. But when we assert that Christ was crucified, we do not malign Him with a curse; we only re-affirm the curse pronounced by the law: Deuteronomy 21:23 nor indeed did the apostle utter blasphemy when he said the same thing as we. Galatians 3:13 Besides, as there is no blasphemy in predicating of the subject that which is fairly applicable to it; so, on the other hand, it is blasphemy when that is alleged concerning the subject which is unsuitable to it. On this principle, too, the Father was not associated in suffering with the Son. The heretics, indeed, fearing to incur direct blasphemy against the Father, hope to diminish it by this expedient: they grant us so far that the Father and the Sonare Two; adding that, since it is the Son indeed who suffers, the Father is only His fellow-sufferer. But how absurd are they even in this conceit! For what is the meaning of fellow-suffering, but the endurance of suffering along with another? Now if the Father is incapable of suffering, He. is incapable of suffering in company with another; otherwise, if He can suffer with another, He is of course capable of suffering. You, in fact, yield Him nothing by this subterfuge of your fears. You are afraid to say that He is capable of suffering whom you make to be capable of fellow-suffering. Then, again, the Father is as incapable of fellow-suffering as the Son even is of suffering under the conditions of His existence as God. Well, but how could the Son suffer, if the Father did not suffer with Him? My answer is, The Father is separate from the Son, though not from Him as God. For even if a river be soiled with mire and mud, although it flows from the fountain identical in nature with it, and is not separated from the fountain, yet the injury which affects the stream reaches not to the fountain; and although it is the water of the fountain which suffers down the stream, still, since it is not affected at the fountain, but only in the river, the fountain suffers nothing, but only the river which issues from the fountain. So likewise the Spirit of God, whatever suffering it might be capable of in the Son, yet, inasmuch as it could not suffer in the Father, the fountain of the Godhead, but only in the Son, it evidently could not have suffered, as the Father. But it is enough for me that the Spirit of God suffered nothing as the Spirit of God, since all that It suffered It suffered in the Son. It was quite another matter for the Father to suffer with the Son in the flesh. This likewise has been treated by us. Nor will any one deny this, since even we are ourselves unable to suffer for God, unless the Spirit of God be in us, who also utters by our instrumentality whatever pertains to our own conduct and suffering; not, however, that He Himself suffers in our suffering, only He bestows on us the power and capacity of suffering. (Against Praxeas [Montanist period], 29; ANF, vol. 3)

Hippolytus (d. c. 236)

For the divine is just the same after the incarnation that it was before the incarnation; in its essence infinite, illimitable, impassible, incomparable, unchangeable, inconvertable, self-potent, and, in short, subsisting in essence alone the infinitely worthy good.  (Against Beron and Helix, Fragment 1; in ANF, Vol. 5)

For there is one God in whom we must believe, but unoriginated, impassible, immortal, doing all things as He wills, in the way He wills, and when He wills. (Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 8; in ANF, Vol. 5)

Origen (c. 185 – c. 254)

And now, if, on account of those expressions which occur in the Old Testament, as when God is said to be angry or to repent, or when any other human affection or passion is described, (our opponents) think that they are furnished with grounds for refuting us, who maintain that God is altogether impassible, and is to be regarded as wholly free from all affections of that kind, we have to show them that similar statements are found even in the parables of the Gospel; as when it is said, that he who planted a vineyard, and let it out to husbandmen, who slew the servants that were sent to them, and at last put to death even the son, is said in anger to have taken away the vineyard from them, and to have delivered over the wicked husbandmen to destruction, and to have handed over the vineyard to others, who would yield him the fruit in its season. And so also with regard to those citizens who, when the head of the household had set out to receive for himself a kingdom, sent messengers after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us; for the head of the household having obtained the kingdom, returned, and in anger commanded them to be put to death before him, and burned their city with fire. But when we read either in the Old Testament or in the New of the anger of God, we do not take such expressions literally, but seek in them a spiritual meaning, that we may think of God as He deserves to be thought of. And on these points, when expounding the verse in the second Psalm, Then shall He speak to them in His anger, and trouble them in His fury, we showed, to the best of our poor ability, how such an expression ought to be understood. (De Principiis, 2, 4, 4; ANF, vol. 4)

He charges us, moreover, with introducing a man formed by the hands of God, although the book of Genesis has made no mention of the hands of God, either when relating the creation or the fashioning of the man; while it is Job and David who have used the expression, Your hands have made me and fashioned me; with reference to which it would need a lengthened discourse to point out the sense in which these words were understood by those who used them, both as regards the difference between making and fashioning, and also the hands of God. For those who do not understand these and similar expressions in the sacred Scriptures, imagine that we attribute to the God who is over all things a form such as that of man; and according to their conceptions, it follows that we consider the body of God to be furnished with wings, since the Scriptures, literally understood, attribute such appendages to God. The subject before us, however, does not require us to interpret these expressions; for, in our explanatoryremarks upon the book of Genesis, these matters have been made, to the best of our ability, a special subject of investigation.

We speak, indeed, of the wrath of God. We do not, however, assert that it indicates any passion on His part, but that it is something which is assumed in order to discipline by stern means those sinners who have committed many and grievous sins. For that which is called God’s wrath, and anger, is a means of discipline; and that such a view is agreeable to Scripture, is evident from what is said in the sixth Psalm, O Lord, rebuke me not in Your anger, neither chasten me in Your hot displeasure; and also in Jeremiah. O Lord, correct me, but with judgment: not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing. Any one, moreover, who reads in the second book of Kings of the wrath of God, inducing David to number the people, and finds from the first book of Chronicles that it was the devil who suggested this measure, will, on comparing together the two statements, easily see for what purpose the wrath is mentioned, of which wrath, as the Apostle Paul declares, all men are children: We were by naturechildren of wrath, even as others. Moreover, that wrath is no passion on the part of God, but that each one brings it upon himself by his sins, will be clear from the further statement of Paul: Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But after your hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto yourself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. How, then, can any one treasure up for himself wrath against a day of wrath, if wrath be understood in the sense of passion? or how can the passion of wrath be a help to discipline? Besides, the Scripture, which tells us not to be angry at all, and which says in the thirty-seventh Psalm, Cease from anger, and forsake wrath, and which commands us by the mouth of Paul to put off all these, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication, would not involve God in the same passion from which it would have us to be altogether free. It is manifest, further, that the language used regarding the wrath of God is to be understood figuratively from what is related of His sleep, from which, as if awaking Him, the prophet says: Awake, why do You sleep, Lord? and again: Then the Lord awoke as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouts by reason of wine. If, then, sleep must mean something else, and not what the first acceptation of the word conveys, why should not wrathalso be understood in a similar way? The threatenings, again, are intimations of the (punishments) which are to befall the wicked: for it is as if one were to call the words of a physician threats, when he tells his patients, I will have to use the knife, and apply cauteries, if you do not obey my prescriptions, and regulate your diet and mode of life in such a way as I direct you. It is no human passions, then, which we ascribe to God, nor impious opinions which we entertain of Him; nor do we err when we present the various narratives concerning Him, drawn from the Scriptures themselves, after careful comparison one with another. For those who are wise ambassadors of the word have no other object in view than to free as far as they can their hearers from weak opinions, and to endue them with intelligence. (Contra Celsus, 4, 37 and 4, 72; in ANF, vol. 4)

But as, in what follows, Celsus, not understanding that the language of Scripture regarding God is adapted to an anthropopathic point of view, ridicules those passages which speak of words of anger addressed to the ungodly, and of threatenings directed against sinners, we have to say that, as we ourselves, when talking with very young children, do not aim at exerting our own power of eloquence, but, adapting ourselves to the weakness of our charge, both say and do those things which may appear to us useful for the correction and improvement of the children as children, so the word of God appears to have dealt with the history, making the capacity of the hearers, and the benefit which they were to receive, the standard of the appropriateness of its announcements (regarding Him). And, generally, with regard to such a style of speaking about God, we find in the book of Deuteronomy the following: “The Lord thy God bare with your manners, as a man would bear with the manners of his son.” It is, as it were, assuming the manners of a man in order to secure the advantage of men that the Scripture makes use of such expressions; for it would not have been suitable to the condition of the multitude, that what God had to say to them should be spoken by Him in a manner more befitting the majesty of His own person. And yet he who is anxious to attain a true understanding of holy Scripture, will discover the spiritual truths which are spoken by it to those who are called “spiritual,” by comparing the meaning of what is addressed to those of weaker mind with what is announced to such as are of acuter understanding, both meanings being frequently found in the same passage by him who is capable of comprehending it. (Contra Celsus, 4, 71; in ANF, Vol. 4)

Novatian (c. 200 – 258)

For who cannot understand that the divinity is impassible, although the human weakness is liable to suffering? (A Treatise Concerning the Trinity, 25; ANF, Vol. 5)

Arnobius (d. c. 327)

Whatever you would say of God, whatever thought you might conceive about Him in the silence of your mind, it misses the mark and is corrupted in expression; nor can it have the note of proper signification, since it is expressed in our terms, which are adapted to human transactions. (Against the Pagans, 3, 19; in JUR-1, 263)

Marius Victorinus (fl. 355)

. . . from our own actions, we give a name to the actions of God, considering them as being His in a supereminent way; not such as He really is, but as an approach to what He really is. (The Generation of the Divine Word, 28; in JUR-1, 396)

St. Gregory Nazianzen (c. 330 – c. 390)

Only His shadow falls across the mind, and even that but dimly and obscurely, as shadow produced not by what He truly is, but only by the things around Him, partial images gathered from here and there and assembled into one, some sort of presentation of the truth, but which flees before it is grasped and escapes before it is conceived. (Second Oration on Easter, 45, 3; in JUR-2, 38)

Do not let the men deceive themselves and others with the assertion that the “Man of the Lord,” as they call Him, Who is rather our Lord and God, is without human mind. For we do not sever the Man from the Godhead, but we lay down as a dogma the Unity and Identity of Person, Who of old was not Man but God, and the Only Son before all ages, unmingled with body or anything corporeal; but Who in these last days has assumed Manhood also for our salvation; passible in His Flesh, impassible in His Godhead; circumscript in the body, uncircumscript in the Spirit; at once earthly and heavenly, tangible and intangible, comprehensible and incomprehensible; that by One and the Same Person, Who was perfect Man and also God, the entire humanity fallen through sin might be created anew. (Ep. CI: To Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinarius; in NPNF 2, Vol. 7)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 394)

A certain strength and life and wisdom is observed in what is human; yet no one would suppose, because of the similarity of terms, that with God, life or strength or wisdom are to be understood as being the same. Rather, the meaning of all such terms is lowered in accord with the standard of our nature. Our nature is weak and subject to corruption because our life is short, our strength is not lasting, and our word is unstable. In the Supreme Nature, however, everything that is said about it is at the same time elevated to the greatness of that which is contemplated. (The Great Catechism, 1; in JUR-2, 47)

We, then, neither attribute our own salvation to a man, nor admit that the incorruptible and Divine Nature is capable of suffering and mortality: but since we must assuredly believe the Divine utterances which declare to us that the Word that was in the beginning was God , and that afterward the Word made flesh was seen upon the earth and conversed with men , we admit in our creed those conceptions which are consonant with the Divine utterance. For when we hear that He is Light, and Power, and Righteousness, and Life, and Truth, and that by Him all things were made, we account all these and such-like statements as things to be believed, referring them to God the Word: but when we hear of pain, of slumber, of need, of trouble, of bonds, of nails, of the spear, of blood, of wounds, of burial, of the sepulchre, and all else of this kind, even if they are somewhat opposed to what has previously been stated, we none the less admit them to be things to be believed, and true, having regard to the flesh; which we receive by faith as conjoined with the Word. For as it is not possible to contemplate the peculiar attributes of the flesh as existing in the Word that was in the beginning, so also on the other hand we may not conceive those which are proper to the Godhead as existing in the nature of the flesh. As, therefore, the teaching of the Gospel concerning our Lord is mingled, partly of lofty and Divine ideas, partly of those which are lowly and human, we assign every particular phrase accordingly to one or other of these Natures which we conceive in the mystery, that which is human to the Humanity, that which is lofty to the Godhead, and say that, as God, the Son is certainly impassible and incapable of corruption: and whatever suffering is asserted concerning Him in the Gospel, He assuredly wrought by means of His Human Nature which admitted of such suffering. (Against Eunomius, 6, 1; in NPNF 2, Vol. 5)

St. Athanasius (c. 297 – 373)

He is not composed of parts, but being impassible and simple, He is impassibly and indivisibly Father of the Son. (Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1, 8, 28; in NPNF 2, Vol. 4)

For they are given to see, how He who did the works is the same as He who shewed that His body was passible by His permitting it to weep and hunger, and to shew other properties of a body. For while by means of such He made it known that, though God impassible, He had taken a passible flesh . . . (Four Discourses Against the Arians, 3, 29, 55; in NPNF 2, Vol. 4)

But in the Body which was circumcised, and carried, and ate and drank, and was weary, and was nailed on the tree and suffered, there was the impassible and incorporeal Word of God. . . . And verily it is strange that He it was Who suffered and yet suffered not. Suffered, because His own Body suffered, and He was in it, which thus suffered; suffered not, because the Word, being by Nature God, is impassible. And while He, the incorporeal, was in the passible Body, the Body had in it the impassible Word, which was destroying the infirmities inherent in the Body.  (Letter LIX to Epictetus, 5-6; in NPNF 2, Vol. 4)

St. John Chrysostom (c. 345 – 407)

Why does John say, “No one has ever seen God?” So that you might learn that He is speaking about the perfect comprehension of God and about the precise knowledge of Him. For that all those incidents were condescensions and that none of those persons saw the pure essence of God is clear enough from the differences of what each did see . . . they all saw different shapes . . . no one can know God in an utterly perfect manner, as to His essence . . . they were not able to have a clear knowledge and an accurate comprehension of Him, nor did they dare to gaze intently upon His pure and perfect essence, nor even upon this condescension. For to gaze intently is to know. (Against the Anomoians, 4, 3; in JUR-2, 92)

St. Augustine (354-430)

For the holy angels feel no anger while they punish those whom the eternal law of God consigns to punishment, no fellow-feeling with misery while they relieve the miserable, no fear while they aid those who are in danger; and yet ordinary language ascribes to them also these mental emotions, because, though they have none of our weakness, their acts resemble the actions to which these emotions move us; and thus even God Himself is said in Scripture to be angry, and yet without any perturbation. For this word is used of the effect of His vengeance, not of the disturbing mental affection. (City of God, 9, 5; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

He can act while He reposes, and repose while He acts. He can begin a new work with (not a new, but) an eternal design; and what He has not made before, He does not now begin to make because He repents of His former repose. But when one speaks of His former repose and subsequent operation (and I know not how men can understand these things), this former and subsequent are applied only to the things created, which formerly did not exist, and subsequently came into existence. But in God the former purpose is not altered and obliterated by the subsequent and different purpose, but by one and the same eternal and unchangeable will He effected regarding the things He created, both that formerly, so long as they were not, they should not be, and that subsequently, when they began to be, they should come into existence. And thus, perhaps, He would show, in a very striking way, to those who have eyes for such things, how independent He is of what He makes, and how it is of His own gratuitous goodness He creates, since from eternity He dwelt without creatures in no less perfect a blessedness. (City of God, 12, 17; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

Wherefore even the Lord Himself, when He condescended to lead a human life in the form of a slave, had no sin whatever, and yet exercised these emotions where He judged they should be exercised. For as there was in Him a true human body and a true human soul, so was there also a true human emotion. When, therefore, we read in the Gospel that the hard-heartedness of the Jews moved Him to sorrowful indignation, [Mark 3:5] that He said, I am glad for your sakes, to the intent ye may believe, [John 11:15] that when about to raise Lazarus He even shed tears, [John 11:35] that He earnestly desired to eat the passover with His disciples, [Luke 22:15] that as His passion drew near His soul was sorrowful, [Matthew 26:38] these emotions are certainly not falsely ascribed to Him. But as He became man when it pleased Him, so, in the grace of His definite purpose, when it pleased Him He experienced those emotions in His human soul. (City of God, 14, 9; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

It is true that wicked men do many things contrary to God’s will; but so great is His wisdom and power, that all things which seem adverse to His purpose do still tend towards those just and good ends and issues which He Himself has foreknown. And consequently, when God is said to change His will, as when, e.g., He becomes angry with those to whom He was gentle, it is rather they than He who are changed, and they find Him changed in so far as their experience of suffering at His hand is new, as the sun is changed to injured eyes, and becomes as it were fierce from being mild, and hurtful from being delightful, though in itself it remains the same as it was. (City of God, 22, 2; in NPNF 1, Vol. 2)

In order, therefore, that the human mind might be purged from falsities of this kind, Holy Scripture, which suits itself to babes has not avoided words drawn from any class of things really existing, through which, as by nourishment, our understanding might rise gradually to things divine and transcendent. For, in speaking of God, it has both used words taken from things corporeal, as when it says, Hide me under the shadow of Your wings; and it has borrowed many things from the spiritual creature, whereby to signify that which indeed is not so, but must needs so be said: as, for instance, I the Lord your God am a jealous God; and, It repents me that I have made man. But it has drawn no words whatever, whereby to frame either figures of speech or enigmatic sayings, from things which do not exist at all. And hence it is that they who are shut out from the truth by that third kind of error are more mischievously and emptily vain than their fellows; in that they surmise respecting God, what can neither be found in Himself nor in any creature. For divine Scripture is wont to frame, as it were, allurements for children from the things which are found in the creature; whereby, according to their measure, and as it were by steps, the affections of the weak may be moved to seek those things that are above, and to leave those things that are below. But the same Scripture rarely employs those things which are spoken properly of God, and are not found in any creature; as, for instance, that which was said to Moses, I am that I am; and, I Am has sent me to you. ”  (On the Trinity, 1, 1, 2; in NPNF 1, Vol. 3)

Whatever God begins to be called temporally, and which He was not previously called, is manifestly said of Him in a relative way; such things, however, are not said of God according to accident, as if something new had acceded to Him, but plainly according to an accident of the creature with whom, in a manner of speaking, God has entered into a relationship. And when a righteous man begins to be a friend of God, it is the man himself who is changed . . . (On the Trinity, 5, 16, 17; in JUR-3, 76)

Therefore He loved all His saints before the foundation of the world, as He predestinated them; but when they are converted and find them; then they are said to begin to be loved by Him, that what is said may be said in that way in which it can be comprehended by human affections. So also, when He is said to be angry with the unrighteous, and gentle with the good, they are changed, not He: just as the light is troublesome to weak eyes, pleasant to those that are strong; namely, by their change, not its own. (On the Trinity, 5, 16, 17; in NPNF 1, Vol. 3)

Nevertheless, God, full of mercy, forsook them not. And He saw when they were in adversity, when He heard their complaint [Psalm 105:44]And He thought upon His covenant, and repented, according to the multitude of His mercies [Psalm 105:45]. He says, He repented,because He changed that wherewith He seemed about to destroy them. With God indeed all things are arranged and fixed; and when He seems to act upon sudden motive, He does nothing but what He foreknew that He should do from eternity; but in the temporal changes of creation, which He rules wonderfully, He, without any temporal change in Himself, is said to do by a sudden act of will what in the ordained causes of events He has arranged in the unchangeableness of His most secret counsel, according to which He does everything according to defined seasons, doing the present, and having already done the future. And who is capable of comprehending these things? (Commentary on the Psalms, 106, 31; in NPNF 1, Vol. 8)

The Lord has made a faithful oath unto David, and He shall not repent Psalm 131:11. What means, has made an oath? Hath confirmed a promise through Himself. What means, He shall not repent? He will not change. For God suffers not the pain of repentance, nor is He deceived in any matter, so that He would wish to correct that wherein He has erred. But as when a man repents of anything, he wishes to change what he has done; thus where you hear that God repents, look for an actual change. God does it differently from you, although He calls it by the name of repentance; for thou dost it, because you had erred; while He does it, because He avenges, or frees. He changed Saul’s kingdom, when He repented, as it is said: and in the very passage where the Scripture says, It repented Him; it is said a little after, for He is not a man that He should repent. When therefore He changes His works through His immutablecounsel, He is said to repent on account of this very change, not of His counsel, but of His work. But He promised this so as not to change it. Just as this passage also says: The Lord sware, and will not repent, You are a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec; so also since this was promised so that it should not be changed, because it must needs happen and be permanent; he says, The Lord has made a faithful oath unto David, and He shall not repent; Of the fruit of your body shall I set upon your seat. He might have said, of the fruit of your loins, wherefore did He choose to say, Of the fruit of your body? Had He said that also, it would have been true; but He chose to say with a further meaning, Ex fructu ventris, because Christ was born of a woman without the man. (Commentary on the Psalms, 132, 11; in NPNF 1, Vol. 8)

St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 – 444)

When the divine Scripture presents sayings about God and remarks on corporeal parts, do not let the mind of those hearing it harbor thoughts of tangible things, but from those tangible things as if from things said figuratively let it ascend to the beauty of things intellectual, and rather than figures and quantity and circumscription and shapes and everything else that pertains to bodies, let it think on God, although He is above all understanding. We were speaking of Him in a human way; for there was no other way in which we could think about the things that are above us. (Commentary on the Psalms, On Ps. 11[12]:3; in JUR-3, 217-218)

Pope St. Gregory the Great (c. 540 – 604)

God is called jealous, angered, repentant, merciful, and foreknowing. These simply mean that, because He guards the chastity of every soul, He can, in human fashion, be called jealous, although He is not subject to any mental torment. Because He moves against faults, He is said to be angered, although He is moved by no disturbance of equanimity. And because He that is immutable changes what He willed, He is said to repent, although what changes is a thing and not His counsel. (Moral Teachings From Job, 20, 32, 63; in JUR-3, 317)

St. John of Damascus (c. 645 – c. 749)

The Word of God then itself endured all in the flesh, while His divine nature which alone was passionless remained void of passion. For since the one Christ, Who is a compound of divinity and humanity, and exists in divinity and humanity, truly suffered, that part which is capable of passion suffered as it was natural it should, but that part which was void of passion did not share in the suffering. For the soul, indeed, since it is capable of passion shares in the pain and suffering of a bodily cut, though it is not cut itself but only the body: but the divine part which is void of passion does not share in the suffering of the body. (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 26; in NPNF 2, Vol. 9)

St. Anselm (c. 1033-1109)

How he is compassionate and passionless. God is compassionate, in terms of our experience, because we experience the effect of compassion. God is not compassionate, in terms of his own being, because he does not experience the feeling (affectus) of compassion.

But how are you compassionate, and, at the same time, passionless? For, if you are passionless, you do not feel sympathy; and if you do not feel sympathy, your heart is not wretched from sympathy for the wretched ; but this it is to be compassionate. But if you are not compassionate, whence comes so great consolation to the wretched? How, then, are you compassionate and not compassionate, O Lord, unless because you are compassionate in terms of our experience, and not compassionate in terms of your being.

Truly, you are so in terms of our experience, but you are not so in terms of your own. For, when you behold us in our wretchedness, we experience the effect of compassion, but you do not experience the feeling. Therefore, you are both compassionate, because you do save the wretched, and spare those who sin against you; and not compassionate because you are affected by no sympathy for wretchedness. (Proslogium, 8)

Patristic Sources

William A. Jurgens (translator and editor), The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, three volumes, 1970 (I), and 1979 (II, III). Abbreviated as “JUR-1”, “JUR-2,” and “JUR-3.”

J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [“ECD”], San Francisco: Harper Collins, revised 1978 edition.

Alexander Roberts & Sir James Donaldson, editors, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (“ANF”), ten volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1867, available online.

Philip Schaff, editor, Early Church Fathers: Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers Series 1 (“NPNF 1”), 14 volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1889, available online.

Philip Schaff & Henry Wace, editors, Early Church Fathers: Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2 (“NPNF 2”), 14 volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1900, available online.


(originally from 1-18-09)

Photo credit: Image by geralt (8-5-16) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons license]


Browse Our Archives