Jesus Creed

Heresies.jpgThe next heresy in B. Quash and M. Ward, Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why It Matters What Christians Believe  concerns “theopaschitism.” The chp is by Michael Ward, an Anglican priest and an expert on C.S. Lewis.

What is this heresy? Some believed that, due to the union of the natures in Christ, God suffered as God when Christ was crucified. Those who propounded theopaschitism included Peter the Fuller (patriarch of Antioch) and John Maxentius (Scythian monk). Ward observes that many theologians today hold to this view. He says it has become, paradoxically, a new orthodoxy.

The Church, our collective faith, has held to the “impassibility” of God: “God can’t be changed from without and that he can’t change himself from within” (61). God can’t change from a better to a worse state — that’s impassibility — and if he did that would be suffering.

Ward sees a rise of theopaschitism in the contention that impassibility was a Greek philosophical idea, not a biblical idea. His argument is simple: all ideas are influenced by culture. Thus, those who argue for passibility are influenced by such things as process thinking — so the contention that the idea is from Greek philosophy isn’t proof or denial. It levels the playing field. The early church, Ward argues, engaged the current trends of Stoicism and Gnosticism critically and found the idea wanting.

Second element at work in the modern theopaschitism: the stormily emotional God of the Old Testament (62). That same Bible, Ward argues, depicts an immutable God. E.g., Mal 3:6 which asserts that God does not change. See also James 1:17 and Heb 13:8 and 2 Tim 2:13. His point is that God’s emotional changeability is a human perspective at work.

Third element: the two world wars and pondering how God could not but suffer in the horrible tragedy of human existence. He mentions both Elie Wiesel and Jurgen Moltmann. The cross, Moltmann argued, saves God from being a demon. Is, Ward asks, the Holocaust the first instance of human suffering? Surely not. Has not impassibility always had to explain human suffering. Surely.

Ward contends we do best by avoiding theopaschitism. God is loving because he is impassible. “The impassible God can’t be acted upon from without and can’t change himself.” If God is love, then God’s impassible love is good news. The eternal love of the Trinity — between persons — is the essence of God and apart from that love God would not exist. This love is not static or emotionally dead but so full of pure direction in love that they must exist. It is not a monstrous fixity but an eternal relationship. God’s love is an action and not a reaction.

The miracle of the Incarnation is that the Impassible suffers in the humanity of Christ. Thus: “Out of his own freedom the impassible and loving God chose to suffer in our humanity and to take upon himself our sin” (69).

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