The word impassibility has reference to the London Baptist Confession’s statement that God is “without. . . passions” (LBC 2:1). Does God have passions (passio/pati)? When we hear the word passion, we might think of the ‘passion of Christ,’ which refers to the suffering of Christ. Therefore, to say that God is impassible, or without passions, is to say that God, as God, cannot suffer. But merely to equate passion with the passive suffering victim, or impassibility with the inability to suffer, would be an oversimplification.
The theological tradition, from which our confessional statement arose, recognized at least three nuances to the word passio (noun) or pati (infinitive) depending upon the context and subject to which it is applied. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica, raises the question whether man’s intellect is a passive power (potentia passiva) of the soul, or in what sense “to understand is to undergo (pati)” change. In seeking to discover in what sense the intellect undergoes passion when someone begins to understand something, Aquinas explains that something may be said to undergo passion (pati) in three ways.
Update March 13, 2014:
- Divine Impassibility Under Attack: Does God have Passions? (Part 2) [20 min. readout]
- Richard Barcellos also posted his thoughts on these post (and the comments)
- Edward Drapes, a Particular Baptist, chimes in (1649) via Particular Voices as does John Preston