This essay draws attention to Novatian’s view of divine impassibility and God’s emotions. Many modern theologians have abnegated this attribute because of the alleged paradox with scriptural depictions of God’s affections. After a brief genetic study of the term impassibility, followed by a compendious survey of select modern theologians, I offer Novatian as a way forward beyond this theological impasse. The church can profit from the early polemics against Marcion who posited that the one God was unable to bear all the emotional ascriptions scripture predicates to God. To Novatian, God was impassible yet possessed a manifold of emotions.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Could God Not Sorrow If We Do?,” in The Papers of the Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology, ed. Christopher I. Wilkins, Series in Theological Scholarship and Research (Pittsburgh: Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, 2002), 141.
John B. Cobb and David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 47. Alfred North Whitehead maintains that God is the great fellow sufferer. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne, Corrected Ed. (New York: Free Press, 1978), 351.
Robert W. Jenson, “Ipse Pater Non Est Impassibilis,” in Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, ed. James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009), 117.
Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle to the Ephesians,” in Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, trans. Maxwell Staniforth and Andrew Louth (London: Penguin Books, 1987), 63. Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle to Polycarp,” in Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, trans. Maxwell Staniforth and Andrew Louth (London: Penguin Books, 1987), 110.
Novatian, “The Trinity,” in The Trinity: The Spectacles: Jewish Foods: In Praise of Purity: Letters, trans. Russell J. DeSimone, vol. 67, Fathers of the Church (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1974), 2.
Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, “To Theopompus,” in St. Gregory Thaumaturgus: Life and Works, trans. Michael Slusser, vol. 98, Fathers of the Church (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1998), 156.
Novatian, “The Trinity,”85. Novatian writes—“He had to be with man. The Word had to become flesh that He might unite in Himself the alliance between earthly and heavenly things by incorporating the pledges of both parties in Himself, thus uniting God with man and man with God. Accordingly, the Son of God could become the Son of Man by taking flesh, and the Son of Man could become the Son of God by the reception of the Word of God. (8) This most profound and recondite mystery, destined for the salvation of the human race before the ages had its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God and Man, so that the human race might be brought through Him to the enjoyment of eternal salvation.”