Antipassianism in Tertullian

A little more than a Scripture Study here. What is Perfection?
A little more than a Scripture Study here. What is Perfection?

In a quest to examine the apparent incongruity of antipatripassianism in later Christianity with the idea of divine perfection found prior to it in Ireneus and other writers in the subapostolic age, I have noted that Tertullian is the first the historical record offers us in terms of a detailed exposition of the orthodox view. I have promised to survey his work with an eye to uncovering a certain possible shift in thought among the early church fathers. At some point the notion of divine perfection flattened out and reduced it to immutability and a perfection of purpose, will and divine character. A notion of divine perfection was maintained but reduced to that of character, mind and will rather than maintaining any thought to an unsurpassable list of attributes comprising its fullness. Divinity became morally perfect but it was robbed of any good thing that pertained to the created order. It was perfect in itself not because it possessed all good things in itself but because it is just right as it is. It turned into a minimalist perfection.

As such, the divine side of Jesus came to be seen in His miracles and in His resurrection and in His prophetic ability. Examples of the prenacent Son in Biblical revelation expressed the good will of the Father but not as the Father. The unity of the Divine Essence were like the rays of the sun known through the energies of the Spirit to man, manifest to Abraham and Moses and Jacob, not as Father but as Son, who alone was sent into the world, and later the Spirit, who of course, also is invisible yet the agent by which men are united with the Lord. The humanity of Jesus experiences birth, growth in wisdom, suffering and death, but the divinity of Jesus remains impassible by nature, because that which pertains to the created world does not pertain to the uncreated divinity. As such, God does not suffer on the cross except in the Person of the Son and only in his humanity, a humanity which belongs to the Son but not to the Father or to the Holy Spirit. God only dies as Son, and only as Son in his humanity, not His Divinity.

I must first state that I am not here to argue against the unique role of the Son in the economy of salvation, either as eternal Logos or as incarnate Son. My thought is entirely Trinitarian and orthodox, as far as I can tell and if you find you disagree that this is so, I simply ask that you be kind to a poor struggling heretic who is seeking to understand the hearts and minds of the fathers of the church and share what I have discovered.

I always begin inventories like this from the beginning because the subapostolic age bears witness to an oral tradition I find valuable in discovering how the apostles were informed by the Holy Spirit and by Christ, as they remembered His words. This is why I always rely very heavily on Ireneus, particularly, as he is the only early prolific writer who seems to be directly connected to John. We might also look to Papias, if we can find his works. The letter of Polycarp is too short for a theological discussion. Ignatius of Antioch might offer some tidbits if we can discern which are his original words. Justin offers an early witness but not necessarily connected to John, who was the only disciple who seems to have lived to a long age. As I see it, this gave him more time to reflect and the Holy Spirit more time to speak and bring to remembrance. Hippolytus seems to have been the disciple of Ireneus. I find a connection to John through him because I find Ireneus that important a witness but I am not convinced of his authorship of early portions of the Apostolic Constitutions and this leaves us only with the fragments of his Biblical commentaries and lengthier antiheretical works.

The first time patripassianism seems to have been addressed is in Tertullian, Against Praxeas. The influences of Tertullian are hard to figure squarely. He was a Roman lawyer who was born shortly before the martyrdom of Justin. Since Justin left letters as a witness to Rome, which have been preserved and Tertullian was learned in Greek and Latin, not just the surviving works of Justin, but probably other works of his would likely have influenced him.  Justin himself was from Caesarea. The other great influence on Tertullian was Montanus, an undoubtedly very charismatic man. Orthodox officialdom does not look highly on this man or on the “new prophets” he associated with, as he was clearly a critic of it. Just how much Montanus’ influence there was on Tertullian is hard to say. He saw himself as the Paraclete Himself, some accounts say. And he was accused of seeking to move the center of Christianity to Phrygia and receive financial contributions there – a sucker born every minute, as PT Barnum would say, your basic modern televangelist type, and there was speaking in tongues and all manner of miraculous and pseudomiraculous carryings on we are told. Tertullian was apparently quite open to such Pentecostal-like display, which makes him a bit of an oddity in a Christian world that was becoming increasingly structured. He was critical of the control of the Holy Spirit the bishops sought on the matter of binding and loosing and what seem to have been certain very new claims to the “keys of Peter.” The key theological distinctive seems to be between “psychic” (soulish) and “spiritual” (born from above) Christians. Sorry Tertullian. No sainthood for you.

If we can ignore his Montanism, his writings are entirely orthodox, so much so that they were invaluable to the church, which had found no greater expositor of the faith in their day, certainly not any Latin ones. And this is probably why Cyprian of Carthiage considered him his “master.” He would read his works every day. There are very few other early apostolic witnesses but Cyprian testifies to the catholicity of the one faith and of Tertullian’s faith by holding him in such high regard. A possible addition to this short list of early writers might be PseudoDionysius, but I haven’t drawn any conclusions as to whether Dionysius, the convert of Paul, is actually the book’s writer. I’ll save it for another day as we continue to explore the Divine relations. I must now get to the subject for today, which is a survey of the antipatripassianism in Tertullian, which as I said, is found in his treatise Against Praxeas.

Praxeas was a Monarchist. Let me be clear that in no way would I ever defend Monarchianism or  Sabellian modalism. What I am looking for here is hints as to another side of the discussion – the orthodox view of the unity of the Divine Essence (ousia and homoousia) that is one in God and one God in Trinity. My goal is to uncover the notion of perfection in the earliest fathers as it pertains to divinity. And my reason, as I stated in my last blog, which was the introduction to this study, is that I find that the theology of perfection is critical for countering the problem of theodicy, suffering and sin in the world, which is a stumbling block to many to belief in God. If God is real, how can God allow evil? I have proposed that foundational cosmostrophy answers this problem but in order to do that I need to draw us back to the theology of perfection that these questioners demand of a perfect God. Is God really perfect? If so, then how?

Now on to the survey of Tertullian’s treatise, Against Praxeas, which treats of the divine perfection in a sort of flattened out way, limiting it to immutabiity, as I will show. My survey will be an ordered synopsis of chapters. In the first chapter we find that Tertullian was bothered by the rejection of Montanus, who had been cleared by the last Roman bishop as in good standing with the church but Praxeas had come and spoiled that by appealing to his predecessors, and this was Tertullian’s first concern. This identifies the work as post-Montanist, but having said that, I think Tertullianism was unique and Tertullian probably just thought better of Montanus than he deserved. I also think he was always a Montanist. There is no such thing as a “Pre-Montanist” work of Tertullian, in my opinion, for what its worth.

As Terullian puts it in this first chapter, by putting away Montanus and then bringing in the Patripassian heresy, Praxeus did a “twofold service for the devil at Rome; he drove away prophecy, and he brought in heresy; he put to flight the Paraclete, and he crucified the Father.”

From a statement like this we might expect to see that Tertullian’s theology concerning the Paraclete may be somewhat scewed but that doesn’t happen, as we shall see. But just to begin, in chapter two he summarises the problem as he says that Praxeas makes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be “the very selfsame Person.” Then in chapter three he argues from the point of economy that the Monarchy belongs to all three Persons, each in their time. Apparently Praxeas had argued that if the Father was a Monarchy and the second and third persons were also Monarchs, that this would represent an ovethrow. Tertullian refutes the point, pointing to the unity of substance.

This is where I want to pause and take a moment to highlight a thought. Tertullian finds that the principal of unity in the Godhead is in the substance. Substance, is the Latin term for the Greek Essence, or ousia. The unity of the Trinity is in the divine essence – homoousia. I have pointed out elsewhere that the will of God is also found in the essence. The humanity of Jesus has its human will while the divinity of Jesus has its divine will. There is not one will for the Son and another for the Father and another for the Spirit – three wills of God, or a fourth in the human will of Jesus. Jesus Himself had two wills, one divine and one human because of His own dual essence. The unity of wills in the divine essence is not three cooperative wills. It is one will. It is one will because there is unity in the substance of the one Divinity. There is unity in the one substance of divinity despite three distinct Persons constituting the one Divinity because the Divinity is perfect. Each Person of the Trinity derives its will from this one Essence. The One Perfect Essence is not divided. Such is orthodox theology

Orthodox theology becomes problematic here because early emphasis among simple people, like Praxeas, on the Oneness of God had them stumped as to the reality of three Persons in the Godhead. It was thought by such as these that God’s Oneness must extend to his Personhood as a single Person, who revealed Himself as Son, and not as three actual Persons. The three were Personalities or faces of God, rather than distinct Persons. The sentiment had a broad appeal, but Tertullian and the orthodox who had considered the matter in the tradition of the apostles would show by the Scriptures that there were indeed three distinct Persons in the Godhead.  If anyone reading this wants to see all of these texts, they will find them invaluable in clarifying the matter. I will only be focusing on texts that relate to the matter of perfection and the source of unity in Divinity as I do this survey. I will then take a step back, and offer up a similar study of Ireneus and demonstrate how the notion of perfection shifted between the two and flattened itself out over time among the fathers. In doing so, my goal is to restore the foundation of the founding fathers of the church through Ireneus.

Continuing the survey, Tertullian opens chapter four with, “But as for me, who derive the Son from no other source but from the substance of the Father, and as doing nothing without the Father’s will, and as having received all power from the Father, how can I possibly be destroying the Monarchy?” The Monarchy thus belongs to all three and the source of unity, as Tertullian points out, is in the substance (ousia). He proceeds to quote from 1 Cor 15:27-28 regarding reigning until all is placed under His feet and He is all in all and death is conquered and he hands the kingdom over to the Father. Thus in terms of kingdom, the Three express one will through the agency of different Persons. This fact, he represents as belonging to two separate relations, not just in name only, indicating that Praxeas was a modalist – something I most assuredly am not, if what my simple goal is is to show that it is not impossible that there can be holy passion in any but the Son.

I need to repeat here why this is my goal. It seems easy to understand and believe to me that the perfection of Divinity is violated if it lacks any good attribute. Two possibilities exist. Either passion is never good or passion can be good. Either human traits of any sort can never be good, or they can be good in various ways. I don’t want to get into the total depravity thing here. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about  the goodness of God Himself as including traits that are good that are found in the created order prior to the fall or subsequent to redemption and the restoration of all things. This has to do with the theology of perfection as I understand it, and find it in Ireneus, which I will get to next blog.

To put it simply, if human traits can be good, and perfection is the inclusion of all that is good in itself, lacking nothing that is good, then human traits are included in perfection. Therefore, divinity, though not human itself,, inherently includes all good human traits. Words cause problems sometimes. The Greek word for perfection is teleos, and this also is the word meaning “will.” I suspect this may well be due to the long history of flattening out the concept of perfection as the performance of God’s perfect will by Greek philosophers. In this way, the end of a thing is perfect because it has a perfect ending as God wills it. When I use the word “perfect” I mean it very differently. Sure the will of God is perfect but the will is just one of many traits God has always and immutably possessed. Otherwise, God is not perfect even if His will is perfect. It seems to me blasphemous to think otherwise and this is a thought in the earliest fathers I think we need to restore to patristics as a whole. That is why I am scanning for it in Tertullian.

In chapter 5 Tertullian proceeds to examine the Scriptures and there is not room here to cover it all but he starts by demonstrating the pre-incarnate Word as separate from the Father in chapters 6. In ch.7 I should note a passage where in arguing for this he speaks of God’s visibility unto Himself bodily, which may well be invisible to us but not to God. By ch.10 he is arguing that if the Word proceeded from Him as Son that it is not Himself that is proceeding, not that He could not have made Himself His own Son, he says. He continues arguing for the distinct relations through the Scriptures and then in ch. 13 also shows this is not Tritheism and argues against polytheism. Then in ch. 14 he speaks more of the Father’s invisibility in Old Testament times and the Son’s visibility. Here we have the analogy of the rays of the Sun, where the Son is compared to a ray and the Father, impossible to be seen otherwise in His fullness, is invisible to the naked eye without destroying it, as with one looking directly into the sun. Hence the two are one, yet distinct as Father and Son, like the ray of the same. The Son, then he says, was also invisible, but appeared at times and this explains how it is both true that noboby can see God and no one has seen God at any time, and yet Moses saw his face.

He continues such reasoning in ch. 15 with New Testament examples of the Father’s invisibility and the Son’s visibility and this goes on and then in ch.19 he examines the co-creative work of the Father and Son as cooperation that is not opposed to unity. In none of this does he point to any earlier church father beyond “the new prophets” to demonstrate the invisibility of the Father and the visibility of the Son. It is thus demonstrated that it is Montanus that is his primary influence. The apostolic succession for Tertullian is not so much a physical and clerical one, though some think he was a priest, as a spiritual one. Now this is a point I need to make not to dismiss the validity of Tertullian’s theology so much as offer some kudos to Montanus, who has otherwise been made out to be quite a monster, and I often wonder whether the reports I’ve heard concerning him aren’t a little one sided, perhaps spun a bit over time as was the case of a number of other heretics whose works did not survive.

Then in ch. 22, in covering John 8:28-29, Tertullian notes that in saying the Father who sent Him is with Him, that this indicates the unity between Father and Son, since they are undivided, rather than a singleness of Persons, as if there was just one. He means this unity in a spiritual rather than physical sense. It is a matter of work, will and purpose, which constitutes this mutual abiding of the Son in the Father and Father in the Son as He says the Father is “with” Him. But it is also in this same sense of being “with” Him that we may make exception when we suppose that only the Son could feel pain. Does the Father lack knowledge of the pain as Uncreated being? Is that knowledge not perceptive enough to feel? What after all is a feeling? Is it a set of neurological responses that channel to the intellect through the brain? Suffering is ultimately a state of mind, which has the assistance of the body for gathering information. The Father had no need of a body to gather such information but what information did the Father lack at any point? Does He thus not feel the pain only in a way that is even more accurate than the man?

Now the church fathers subsequent to Tertullian stated repeatedly that the Trinity did not suffer on the cross. My understanding of this is that they teach that the Essence does not descend bodily except in the Person of the Son and even so, the Divinity of the Son does not experience the pain, while the humanity of the Son very much does so. But if I apply the perfect knowledge of Divinity to this same Divine and human union in Christ then the result is a Divine mind that is one in all Three, knowing all this pain from all eternity, and far more accurately than it would have been known by the body becoming numb of Jesus in His suffering.  And similarly known by God the Father and Spirit is the feeling of anguish in the man Jesus and even the sense of abandonment in dying as a man. He does not have to become man to know these feelings. He already fully possesses the knowledge of them from all eternity as perfect Divinity. The Scriptures confirm this type of knowledge concerning the thoughts of all men. Naturally they also apply to Jesus.

1You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.”

(Psalm 139)

The Father was in this way with the Son though the Son was sent. It takes place through the unity of their Essence as Divinity. Here this is what Tertullian affirms. How He was with Him is not explained and neither can I explain how. It is not enough that I should say that it is in the perfect knowledge of Divinity. Who can know the mind of God? It is simply because they are united as One Divine Essence, an unfathomable Mystery to anyone except, the Trinity. And His knowledge is Perfect.

Here then He continues by comparing this unity with a river from a fountain, the rays from the sun and the trees from a seed, and then later in this same chapter makes the distinction in the saying “I and the Father are One” by the plural for “are” and the distinction between “Unum” and “Unus”, showing there are still two in the subject (thank you inflective languages). He is, of course, not speaking in the East here but has stated previously he has fluency in the Greek and bears early witness to both Greek and Latin translations. He ends the chapter reminding us of some aspect of this unity by pointing out that it is by the works, not the Person, that this oneness with the Father exists.

Ch. 23 posts more glorious arguments concerning the distinction of Persons and then Tertullian touches again on the divine unity when he covers John 13:31, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him,” pointing here to the divine essence in the Son, rather than the Father, who possesses within Himself the divine unity as Son of God. This affirms the economy of hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ but he does not end this thought there. He adds that the “Word of the Father” it is who is in Him in the flesh. And then that God the Father also “will glorify Him in Himself” as he moves to verse 32. “That is to say,” he says, “the Father shall glorify the Son, because He has Him within Himself.” Here then again, we see the unity in Divinity shared between the Father and the Son in the true glory of orthodoxy. To this last statement he adds, “and even though prostrated to the earth, and put to death, He would soon glorify Him by His resurrection, and making Him conqueror over death.” He thus states this as a continuation on the thought on the glory shared in the unity of Divinity but not as Persons.

So we see here, that the most famous of early expositors against patripassianism did not deny that the Father was with the Son on the cross in the unity of divinity, as he states, “because He has Him within Himself.” Since his dialog is against, Praxeas, however, who fails to make the distinction between Persons he places much greater weight in his arguments on the unconfused division of The Three than on the unity of the One, yet here does mention it almost in passing yet once more, and here this specifically relates to the cross. Therefore, it can indeed be said that the early fathers taught that the Trinity was crucified and died, as is found in this passage here, but only in this limited sense of divine unity, and not specifically as Persons proper to the economy of each.

To put this into easier to understand English. It is not the Father or the Spirit WHO are crucified, but it is true THAT they are crucified in as much as the work of the cross, including the perfect knowledge of it, is shared by all Three. Their mind is One, because the Divine mind is not in the Person but where the will is, in the Essence or Substance of Undivided Divinity itself. The axiom, then, that the Trinity did not suffer on the cross, has this exception through the unity of divine knowledge at the least, if not through other still higher forms of unity that the human mind cannot fathom.

This same subject he then continues with in ch. 24 in covering John 14:5-8, where Jesus says to Philip “inasmuch as you have seen Me you have seen the Father.” For this is one of but a few passage Praxeas clings to, ignoring the whole. This forces Tertullian to say in what sense the passage is true since he has been arguing for the invisibility of the Father. It does not mean that the Father is incarnate or sent Himself. So the Lord says in response to Philip’s request to show him the Father, “have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” Here he shows through a series of passages that the sense is as the works of the Father, as His Commissioner, as was the expectation of the Jews in the Messiah. He thus points to the clarification of Christ’s own meaning in response, “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” (John 14:10) in the verses that followed.

Again then we see that it is in the unity of divinity that the Father shares with the Son, not of Person, that the Father is seen in Jesus the Son. It is the works of the Father, he says, that constitute that unity. He does not ask that we believe He is the Father, but that the Father is in Him and He is in the Father through the works sent by the Father, not to the sight of man, “but to the intelligence,” Tertullian states. And this is precisely what I have been advocating, as I have appealed to the knowledge of God as the source of this unity, which I say abides in the shared Essence of the Father and the Son as One God, not Three.

In the following chapter he then covers the role of the Paraclete, a point most interesting from the perspective of examining his Montanist sympathy, but lo, there is nothing in them that is heterodox here regarding the Spirit. He merely shows the distinction of the third Person as sent in a fashion similar to the Son from the Father, but here he also provides more information of unity than in terms of the works alone as he specifically says, “Thus the Father in the Son, and the Son in the Paracleete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are one Essence, not one Person, as it is said, ‘I and my Father are One,’ in respect of unity OF SUBSTANCE (Greek ousia), not singularity of number.” So the unity is in the works, but it is more than in the works; it is in the ousia, reflecting the belief of the ancient fathers over 100 years before the Nicean formulation.

Now in the next chapter he covers the same from other Gospels and in ch. 27 he turns to the distinction of two natures in Christ. Here he treats of some of the adoptionism in the heresies that distinguished between Jesus and Christ and the Valentinians. Here is actually where he first speaks of the energies of God as proceeding from the Father by the Spirit as the Power from on high. He points to the fact that it is by the Holy Spirit that Jesus was conceived and not of the flesh so that no distinction can be made between the flesh as Jesus and the Father as Christ. Further, he confronts the docetists in saying that He really clothed Himself in the flesh, not by mere transfiguration. And after this, a sweet gem as he states, “For the rest, we must needs believe  God to be unchangeable, and incapable of form, as being eternal. But transfiguration,” he says, “is the destruction of that which previously existed. For whatever is transfigured into some other thing ceases to be that which it had been, and begins to be that which it previously was not. God, however, neither ceases to be what He was, nor can He be any other thing than what He is. The Word is God, and ‘the Word of the Lord remaineth forever,’ – even by holding on unchangeably in His own proper form.”

I love in particular, this last part. He sees Jesus changing form and yet, by economy, that the changing form of Jesus, which is proper, is unchanging in His Divinity. The Divinity and humanity of Jesus are thus united and though He is born of the flesh as man, He is yet born of the Spirit and conceived by the Holy Spirt thus unchanging as to Divine Essence, as Tertullian had previously said. Yet in this chapter he also points to the two distinct substances, one human and the other divine, as he speaks of Romans 1:3 – “who was made of the seed of David.” He thus declares the “twofold state, which is not confounded, but conjoined in One Person.” He continues explaining the prodigy here most helpfully, explaining that it was the Spirit who performed the miracles and the flesh which displayed the affections. And in this the passianism of the immutable God is denied while in the true Person of the Son it is preserved as true man. Here hunger, thirst, temptation come into play, which Tertullian says are distinct from the divine properties. And that essentially is where certain Greek assumptions might have had an influence that require an adjustment. Still, if it is in the perfect knowledge of the divine that such things are experienced, rather than by the experience themselves, certainly in this created Universe if not God’s, then Tertullian’s points are valid. It is not the divine incapacity to feel. It is the divine place of whole otherness as a Universe that renders it the humanity that does the feeling. It feels as divine rather than human, feeling even more accurately than the humanity itself does. And here Tertullian reminds us of what the Lord said to Nicodemus – “that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.”

In chapters 28-29 he then attacks Praxeas on the claim that Jesus was in the flesh and Christ is the Father. It’s not much pertinent to what I’m searching for here until we get to his point that the term “Christ” refers to the anointing by another of the flesh, so that which is anointed is indeed the flesh. So he says when Paul says “Christ died” that it was the flesh that died, not the Spirit. So we see here Tertullian repeating that the flesh dies and not the divinity of Christ. It is here that the specific statement comes up that Praxeas has made: “you allege not only that the Father died, but that He died the death of the cross.” Tertullian points to the blasphemy of such a notion, in that it is only expedient for man to die for his sin, not God, pointing to Gal. 3:13, that he became a curse for us who were cursed by the Law, thus fulfilling the requirement of the Law. The Law surely did not require the death of divinity but of man for his sin. As such he became curse for us by hanging on the tree. The divinity of the Son here, must also not die, nor does it suffer for the same reason. Yet I would maintain that His knowledge of this pain is not foreign to His divinity, not just because He is one and the same Person but because His Essence shares the same knowledge as One and this is certainly not the same thing as saying that the Father was crucified.

But here Tertullian becomes very explicit about the Father’s inability to suffer, coming against the response of those heretics who acknowledge that it is only the Son who suffers and saying that he is a “fellow-sufferer.”  He states unequivocally, “the Father is incapable of fellow-suffering as the Son even is of suffering under the conditions of His existence as God.” Here again, he states his belief that the Son as God does not suffer but that the Son as man does suffer. And then he ends the ch. 29 with some thoughts on the Spirit, comparing it to a stream of muddy water.

“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 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. He then extends this theology concerning the incapability of the Spirit’s suffering to all of us. “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.”

In the second to last chapter, he then explains in what manner God forsook Jesus. He forsook Him, he explains, by giving him up. He at no point abandoned him, as He notes that to the end the Father was with Him, for which reason His last words were directed at Him, saying “into Your hands I commend my Spirit.” It was after the manner of Isaiah 53:5-6 that he forsook Him. “The Lord hath delivered Him up for our offences.”

“In all other respects,” Tertullian states, “the Father did not forsake the Son.” He then closes with the declaration of the Son and the Spirit as what makes Christianity distinct from Judaism.

Tertullian, thus, states his belief that the Father is impassible, cannot feel. He even denies it as fellow suffering. I do not see that this follows from being uncreated or from immutability given His perfect knowledge, at the least. The Christian tradition of Divine impassibility then continues through the remainder of the church fathers.  So what we need to examine is what the basis of this thinking is. Tertullian does not explain WHY the divine is incapable of suffering. He simply states it like it’s a fact. In the context of the cross, suffering is seen as a curse. That may be one reason.  But the divinity cannot die. And this is may be a second reason.

As it pertains to immutability, which is derived from the notion of perfection, one cannot die one minute and then come alive without changing. It was the changing from state to state that Ireneus had rejected  when it came to divine perfection.  It may be some time before I can cover Ireneus on perfection, but that is what’s up next, then on to Justin.

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