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EMOTION AND GOD: A REPLY TO MARCEL SAROT* DANIEL WESTBERG University of Virginia Charlottesville, Virginia M ARCEL SAROT has helpfully drawn attention to the question of St. Thomas's treatment of divine emotion; and in my view he rightly protests against the widely fashionable approach of rejecting the classical doctrine of impassibility in favor of a suffering and passible God. Nevertheless, I disagree sharply with his contentions (1) that emotion is restricted to corporeal creatures,' and therefore (2) that emotion cannot be ascribed to God. What kind of moral agent would God be without emotion? Sarot is not helpful here, and in this respect the critics of impassibility have a legitimate point; for, if we eliminate emotion from God, then we have to treat the Scriptures as "embodying primitive anthropomorphic conceptions of God," so that God's love, wrath, mercy, justice, and even his "serious concern for the welfare of His people are meaningless."2 To dismiss the biblical picture of God as anthropomorphic, maintaining not only that "anger" and "joy" are symbolic, but that even the notions of care and concern are not applicable to the divine being, seems unfaithful to revelation. It also calls into question the nature of God's personality and agency.' *See Marcel Sarot, "God, Emotion, and Corporeality," The Thomist 58 (1994): 61-92. Much of this paper was prepared for a theological discussion group at the University of Virginia, before the appearance of Sarot's article. I am grateful for the points raised by Robert Wilken, Jamie Ferreira, Eugene Rogers, David Hart, and others in the discussion , and for the helpful comments of Jeff Greenman on this version. 1 Sarot, 82: "without corporeality, no emotion." 2 T. E. Pollard, "The Impassibility of God," Scottish Journal ofTheology 8 (1955): 360. .1 R. E. Creel thinks that emotional impassibility is compatible with caring about and acting for the welfare of another person, but that such a being could not be "rejoiced by the good fortunes of its beloved and distressed by its misfortunes" (Divine Impassibility: An Essay in Philosophical Theology [Cambridge: Cambridge, University Press, 1986], 117). I do not think this is close enough to the biblical presentation. 109 110 DANIEL WESTBERG The burden of my response, and what I explain below, is this: Being a rational agent implies emotion of a kind. If we can speak of God having intellect and will, which St. Thomas does (STh I, qq. 14 & 19), so that God is an intelligent being with powers to act, then we should be able to speak (with similar qualifications) about emotion in God. In other words, agency by intellect and will implies emotion, which means that emotion should be ascribed to God, as the Bible does, but in a way that does not attribute passibility. The two basic mistakes I see in Sarot's account are these: (1) to rely on physicalist definitions of the nature of emotion; (2) to assume that the Latin passio is the same as the contemporary English term "emotion." Thus I agree that Aquinas understood the relevant meaning of passio to refer to a person undergoing some bodily change (a transmutatio corporalis), but deny that this extended in Aquinas's account over the entire range of even human emotion. Much of the recent work in the field of emotion, amongst both philosophers and psychologists, suggests that bodily sensation is only sometimes an aspect of emotion, and not essential in its definition . I shall attempt to show the parallels between the distinctions made by Aquinas and the framework of some of this contemporary research. I. EMOTION AND MORAL AGENCY The essence of emotion has to do with being a moral agent, not with bodily existence. Any moral being (including angels and other spirits, God and human beings) has emotion. This is the implication of any moral psychology (especially, though not necessarily , Aristotelian) that analyzes moral action as a result of choice combining reason and desire in reference to an end to be obtained. Beings that have intellect and will (or rational appetite) have emotion; that is, they are capable of being "moved" towards (or away from) an object by appetite. For human beings, the paradigm experience of emotion is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 109-121
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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