Universitas Number 11 (May 2005)

The Immutability of God

G Deegan

It has nowadays almost become the fashion to point out that the Bible does not know the term 'immutable' except in the sense that God is always faithful. Inspired by some texts of Luther, certain Protestant theologians developed a theology centred on 'kenosis': in the Incarnation, God deprived himself of his divinity and ceased to be God. This way of thinking influenced Hegel who reformulated this 'kenosis' as a stage in a process of evolutionistic monism. God is negated and becomes the Spirit, conscious of itself in the mind of the philosopher. The thesis of God's mutability found strong supporters in the partisans of the so-called process theology. God is infinitely actual but nevertheless can be enriched.

Given the wide response these views have found it is perhaps useful to consider the question of God's immutability in the history of philosophy. While the Ionians considered ceaseless change of one underlying principle, Parmenides asserted a total immutability of Being since being is already being it cannot acquire anything real. Plato called goodness and immutability the main characteristics of God. Aristotle's First Unmoved Mover is likewise an eternal and indivisible substance. The earlier Christian authors and the Church Fathers affirm God's immutability with great vigour. The Fourth Lateran Council defined God's immutability as an article of faith, as did the First Vatican Council. It is not a Greek idea alien to Christian revelation but is a consequence implied by God's perfection and transcendence.

St. Thomas demonstrates God's immutability by three arguments:

-What changes is in some way in potentiality. But God is pure act without the admixture of any potentiality.

-Everything which changes remains partly as it was, and partly passes away. But in God there is no composition and hence he cannot change.

-Change seeks to acquire something. But God is infinite, comprehending in himself the plenitude of the perfection of all things. Hence he cannot acquire anything new.

In his reply to the first objection in the Summa St. Thomas intimates that this immutability is not the immutability of a crystal: God is full of intellectual life and love. His immutability transcends our capacity for understanding. God is life in an infinitely eminent way. The question of God's immutability belongs to the Way of Eminence.

The second article examines whether immutability belongs to God alone. It is a masterful survey of the way in which created things are changeable.

- All things outside God share in God's being as the Third Way has shown. Their continued existence depends on God and so they are mutable by the power of another.

- All things are mutable by a power in themselves which is active or passive. Passive mutability can be with regard to being and with regard to accidental perfections. Furthermore, some creatures can apply their active powers to diverse objects. God is in none of these ways mutable and so he alone is immutable.

G Deegan

G Deegan, M.A. Ph. D. is a former lecturer of the CTS.

This article posted May 2005. It was published in Universitas Number 11 (May 2005)
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