Wednesday, 13 February 2008
Question 42 - God's Evolving Emotion?
I have one comment and one question. I promise not to continually inundate you with questions in the future, you must receive hundreds of inquires and you have been very kind in addressing my past questions.
I was listening to Ave Maria Radio this morning on the drive to work. Rosalyn Moss was taking questions from listeners. A caller phoned in and recounted her story of her conversion from Judaism. The caller was feeling conflicted on some issues, but relayed a touching story of her conversion and the cross she bears as a Jewish convert. At the very end of the discussion, the conversation went approximately so:
Caller: And I have some problems with replacement theology.
Ms. Moss: Don’t you believe it! The Catechism clearly says there is a special place for Israel in salvation.
You can be sure that this is not a transcription, but it was I remember.
I understand Ms. Moss’s need to be kind to a struggling individual, but her response was inapposite to kindness as it was fostering untruth.
Almost as if she recognized her overstatement, she went on to quote Alice Von Hildebrand’s recent article in Wanderer related to the “greatest prejudice” being the denial of Christ as savior of all, which article I have not read.
You were absolutely correct, this false teaching keeps spreading.
Now for my question(s).
Is God’s emotion evidenced in the Old Testament resultant from the hypostatic union or is the emotive characteristic assumed by Christ’s hypostatic union given to man as part of creation in God’s image?
Is there a difference between God’s emotion before and after Christ? How can this be if God is immutable?
Numerous Old Testament passages describe God’s emotion. We see described God’s grief, love, hate, compassion, understanding, patience, etc. I am having difficulty reconciling this with certain statements in the encyclical Haurietis Aquas, including quotes by St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose which state respectively: "For if He had not shared our nature He would not have repeatedly been seized with grief." and “for God, precisely because He is God, could not have been disturbed . . .”.
The below sections make a clear distinction between God’s love and emotion before and after Christ. This distinction is clearly used in the below Encyclical to evidence the typology of Old Covenant to the New Covenant, but it begs the questions I posed above. What emotive quality was assumed by Christ in the incarnation if it was not already given to man from God in creation?
I understand there are different theological and philosophical theories on this, such as “open “and “process” theists and that this “quality” has import on the dynamic nature of God’s relationship with man, which thoroughly interests me.
In addition to my questions, I would be appreciative if you could recommend a specific Church Father or book which addresses this topic.
His Holiness Pope Pius XII
Encyclical on Devotion to the Sacred Heart
31. That this most wondrous effect would come to pass as a result of the merciful and everlasting love of God the prophet Jeremias seems to foretell in a manner in these words: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore I have drawn thee taking pity on thee. . .Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord, and I shall make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Juda. . .this will be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord; I will give My law in their bowels, and will write it in their heart, and I will be their God and they shall be My people. . .for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more."
32. But it is only in the Gospels that we find definitely and clearly set out the new covenant between God and man; for that covenant which Moses had made between the people of Israel and God was a mere symbol and a sign of the covenant foretold by the prophet Jeremias. We say that this new covenant is that very thing which was established and effected by the work of the Incarnate Word Who is the source of divine grace. This covenant is therefore to be considered incomparably more excellent and more solid because it was ratified, not as in the past by the blood of goats and calves, but by the most precious Blood of Him Whom these same innocent animals, devoid of reason, had already prefigured: "The Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world."
33. The Christian covenant, much more than that of the old, clearly appears as an agreement based not on slavery or on fear, but as one ratified by that friendship which ought to exist between a father and his children, as one nourished and strengthened by a more generous outpouring of divine grace and truth according to the saying of St. John the Evangelist: "And of his fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
38. But in order that we really may be able, so far as it is permitted to mortal men, "to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth" of the hidden love of the Incarnate Word for His heavenly Father and for men infected by the taint of sins, we must note well that His love was not entirely the spiritual love proper to God inasmuch as "God is a spirit." Undoubtedly the love with which God loved our forefathers and the Hebrew people was of this nature. For this reason the expressions of human, intimate, and paternal love which we find in the Psalms, the writings of the prophets, and in the Canticle of Canticles are tokens and symbols of the true but entirely spiritual love with which God continued to sustain the human race. On the other hand, the love which breathes from the Gospel, from the letters of the Apostles and the pages of the Apocalypse, all of which portray the love of the Heart of Jesus Christ, expresses not only divine love but also human sentiments of love. All who profess themselves Catholics accept this without question.
46. St. Basil, the first of the three Cappadocian Fathers declares that the feelings of the senses in Christ were at once true and holy: "It is clear that the Lord did indeed put on natural affections as a proof of His real and not imaginary Incarnation, and that He rejected as unworthy of the Godhead those corrupt affections which defile the purity of our life."
47. Similarly that light of the Church of Antioch , St. John Chrysostom, admits that the emotion of the senses to which the divine Redeemer was subject made obvious the fact that He assumed a human nature complete in all respects: "For if He had not shared our nature He would not have repeatedly been seized with grief."
45. "In loann.", Homil. 63, 2: P.G. LIX, 350
48. Among the Latin Fathers one may cite those whom the Church today honors as the greatest doctors. Thus St. Ambrose bears witness that the movements and dispositions of the senses, from which the Incarnate Word of God was not exempt, flow from the hypostatic union as from their natural source: "And therefore He put on a soul and the passions of the soul; for God, precisely because He is God, could not have been disturbed nor could He have died."
51. More briefly, but no less effectively, do the following passages from St. John Damascene set out the teaching of the Church: "Complete God assumed me completely and complete man is united to complete God so that He might bring salvation to complete man. For what was not assumed could not be healed." "He therefore assumed all that He might sanctify all."
Thanks for your question. Let me see if I can help.
As for emotion in Christ, just as he has both a divine nature and a human nature; a divine will and a human will; and a divine spirit and a human soul, it stands to reason that he has both divine emotion and human emotion, as well as divine intellect and human intellect. Which one comes out depends on the situation at hand in the Gospels. In any case, the divine side of his emotion would be the same as God’s divine emotion in the Old Testament. The human side of his emotion is unique to Christ. What the precise distinctions would be between Christ’s human emotion and his divine emotion (since his human emotion is not tainted by any sin), I really don’t know at this point, although I would say that they are very similar, even as my emotion of joy or compassion is very similar to God’s, although God’s is infinitely superior.
Let me also make some other remarks on the whole notion of divine emotion. The Church Fathers were divided on the issue of God’s emotion, and there has been no dogmatic statement by the Church concerning God’s emotion, so we are entering an open area. The Father who spoke the most on the issue is Lactantius in his Divine Institutes. The truth is, very few, if any, have really done their homework on this topic. The best we see our one-line statements, many of which assume certain things that haven’t been proven or dogmatized. Of course, all of the above also means that what I am presenting is my opinion.
Second, I think the mistake many make before they start out on this road is that they assume God can’t have emotion because he is “immutable,” hence they don’t pursue their thinking any further. But there is a logical inconsistency in that stance. “Immutability” only means that God cannot change from what He already is. But, if God already has emotion, he is not mutable if he displays it. In other words, if he already has emotion, then in expressing his emotion He remains immutable. If he did not have emotion and then displayed emotion, he would be mutable. All of this, as you will see below, gets back to the basic question of whether God is determined or free.
Third, it would be illogical for someone to argue the position that God can’t have emotion because he “cannot be disturbed” for the same reason that they could not argue that God does not have “divine will” because his will cannot be disturbed. Did Adam and Eve “disturb” the will of God when they sinned? Yes, on one level they did, otherwise, we would be forced to say that God wanted them to sin. On another level, of course, God knew they would sin, and had a greater plan to replace the former plan, so in that sense his will was “not disturbed.”
In the same way, 1Timothy 2:4 says “God desires that all men be saved.” Hence, we take this at face value that it is God’s will that all men be saved. But, of course, all men are not saved, and it is also God’s will that unrepentant sinners not be saved. So, on which side of that dichotomy was God’s will complete or “disturbed”? Interestingly enough, it is precisely here that Calvin made his mistake, since his premise was that God’s will “cannot be disturbed” and thus he concluded that the “saved” in 1 Timothy 2:4 can only apply to the elect, and hence, God wills only certain people to be saved and wills that everyone else be damned, even before they are born. Calvin could defend his position, somewhat, because, in the end, God only saves the elect, since the elect are the only ones who will repent, and the rest will not repent, and therefore one could say that God wills their damnation. But then, of course, Calvin can’t read the Bible at face value, but always has to inject his theology into the verse.
So you see, all the talk about “cannot be disturbed” and “immutability” is conditioned by the subject matter. The real truth is, we don’t understand God. Is God a determined being or is he free. Is he determined to be free or freely decide to be determined, or somewhere between the two? How is it that God can have, on the one hand, what appears to be an immutable will (i.e., all the elect will be saved), and, on the other hand, what appears to be a mutable will (i.e., not all those God desires to be saved will be saved)? If we set out to take a passage like 1 Timothy 2:4 at face value and not add or delete words (e.g., lessen the meaning of the word “desire,”; or take out the word “all” or lessen the meaning of the word “all” or insert “the elect” for “all”), then we have a real conundrum. No one in history has been able to answer that conundrum, and the Church refused to answer it when it was presented to them. Augustine himself had four different answers to 1Timothy 2:4 in his career. The best the Church has been able to do is say that both dimensions of God are true, and one is not stronger than the other.
By the same token, the subject of God’s emotion is in the same difficult category, and unfortunately, throughout our Christian history, only glib answers have been given, including the ones that you quoted from Pius XII’s encyclical. As a result, people have been conditioned to dismiss passages of Scripture that speak of God’s emotion and as a result, I believe many people have a distorted view of God, as if he were just some ubiquitous intellect that only makes logical decisions and doesn’t really have any feeling (e.g., pity and compassion). It was my desire to open up this area of theology and think it through a bit more than what has been done in the past, which is why I was at one time doing my dissertation at Maryvale on this very subject, but then the geocentrism issue came up and I dropped it. Someday I’m going to go back to Maryvale and pick it up again.
I think it is essential to maintain, however, that whatever emotion we assign to God, although it is similar to human emotion, it is far above human emotion, for divine emotion can never be tainted by sin. In the same way, we must also protect God’s intellect and will from being tainted by sin. Someone could argue, for example, that if God knew Adam was going to fall and most of the human race would end up in hell, then why did he bother creating Adam in the first place? This question takes advantage of the dilemma above (1Tim 2:4) and uses it to put the blame on God, and essentially accuses him of intellectual sin. That can never be, of course, because in the hierarchy of truths, God cannot sin (Titus 1:2).
In the same way, someone could argue that, if God knew Israel was going to sin in the Sinai desert by making a golden calf, then why did he bother calling Moses up to the mountain to receive the ten commandments; why did he bother displaying such great anger when he saw the calf; and why did he bother telling us that he changed his mind when Moses pleaded with him not to destroy the people? You can see what problems you are going to have if you try to answer this passage strictly from the “God cannot be disturbed” angle. You end up making God look like an actor merely playing out a part, but with no real substance behind it. In other words, if one takes the position that “God cannot be disturbed,” then God is merely making it look like he is disturbed and makes it look like he didn’t know that Israel was going to sin. Someone else could argue that God is duplicitous, that is, in his being he is one way (e.g., doesn’t really get angry at Israel) but he displays himself in the very opposite (e.g., he does get angry, so much so that he decide not to travel with Israel through the desert until Moses changes his mind again – Ex 33:1-5).
I believe that unless real contingency is placed in this narrative, and real emotion is ascribed to God (although perfect and untainted with sin), then we do run the risk of making God duplicitous. I further believe that to try to answer the dilemma by saying that God displays these characteristics merely to appeal to our human sensibilities can never really answer the question, since one is then admitting that God, indeed, does play-act instead of being himself. God is very real, and never play-acts to accommodate our sensibilities. Play-acting would be akin to a lie, because you are presenting yourself as one thing but you are not really that way in your own person. I would much prefer to rest in the dilemma of 1 Tim 2:4 than to say that God play-acts for our human sensibilities. In the former I leave the problem with God, in the latter I answer the question for him with the result that I make him duplicitous.
Hence, the usual answer, “God cannot have emotion because he is immutable” isn’t going to work, and actually gets us into more theological trouble than what we tried to avoid. What also will not work is saying, for example, that God’s “anger” refers only to the punishment he gives to men, as Ott does in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. The fact is, there are various places in the OT in which God displays anger yet there is no punishment following. Such is the case, for example, in Exodus 4:14, in which God was angry with Moses for complaining about his inability to speak, but the only thing God does afterward is tell Moses to get Aaron as his spokesman. The anger of God is just laying there, all by itself, and, as it were, is ontologically screaming to be attached to something real. There is no harm in attaching it directly to God as part of his nature, for then we don’t make him into an actor. In regards to human sensibilities, nothing is gained for us by adding “anger” to Exodus 4:14 if it isn’t put there because it describes a real emotion of God.
In fact, this situation just becomes fodder for those who deny biblical inspiration, for they would claim that, if God has no real emotion, then a human author merely inserted emotion in Ex 4:14 to make the narrative appeal to human sensibilities. He might also claim that, if we as biblical scholars insist that the anger was inspired by the Holy Spirit, yet, in fact, God really had no anger toward Moses, then we make the Holy Spirit guilty of fabricating an attribute of God that isn’t real. Hence, I believe it is very important to read the passage at face value, which is what Catholicism has always done with Scripture. We read the passage at face value, and THEN we form our theology around it, not vice-versa. You can imagine what would have happened if we decided not to read Matthew 26:26 (“This is my body”) at face value and instead formed our theology before we interpreted the verse, as Calvin did with 1Tim 2:4. I believe the same hermeneutic should be applied to passages concerning God’s emotion, provided all the conditions I described above are carefully considered; otherwise, we create more problems than we bargained for.
Moreover, reading the Bible at face value is the way it was meant to be read. By taking the descriptions of God’s emotion at face value we get a better picture of who God really is, and why he does the things he does. In this way, man can really come close to God, for now he discovers just what it means to be made in the image of God. We have joy, compassion, etc., because God has joy, compassion, etc. Scripture comes alive, and so does our relationship with God. We can get out of the “well, it doesn’t really mean that” syndrome when we read the Bible, something many liberals have succumbed when they read Scripture.
I hope I have been of some help. If I have missed anything you have asked, please let me know.
God be with you.