Monday, November 08, 2010

Does the Church Support Robert Sungenis' Novel Theories? (Jonathan Field)


St. Thomas Aquinas


I retrieved this 2004 paper (with the above title) from Internet Archive. It used to be hosted at Catholic "traditionalist" and former Sungenis associate Jacob Michael's now-defunct Lumen Gentleman website. I have edited out the observations about the tempest-in-a-teapot controversies regarding Scott Hahn's teaching on the Holy Spirit. I have also added Robert Sungenis' 11-19-04 reply from his website (his words are in blue throughout): from a paper that has since been removed. It is entitled "Mr. Field Goes Far Afield in Defending Scott Hahn."

On another web page I have continued the exchange with Jonathan Field's counter-reply and Robert Sungenis' now-removed reply to that ("Is Mr. Field Out in Left Field? A Continuing Dialogue about Scott Hahn and Robert Sungenis"): again minus the Scott Hahn pseudo-controversy material. Since one site is removed and Sungenis no longer posts this, my site is now the only place where the entirety of both dialogues (regarding God's attributes) can be conveniently read. Let the reader decide what the Church teaches and who is in the wrong here: serious, heretical error.

* * * * *

Mr. Sungenis teaches a highly novel theory in his books which is not only not found in the Fathers, but is in fact contrary to the consensus of Fathers, Doctors and theologians of the Church in every age. He boldly claims, in flat contradiction to 2,000 years of Church history, that it is meaningless to say that there is "no time in eternity." Mr. Sungenis attributes to God all kinds of real change and not merely metaphorical change as all sound teachers have taught.

Below are a few samples of his errors:

"God is an intensely personal being. He loves, He hates, He has joy, He has sorrow, He sings, He laughs, He is jealous, He is kind, He has pity, He has anger ... God's personality is not anthropomorphic. God really has these personal qualities ..." (Not by Faith Alone, pp. 13-14)

"We maintain with Aquinas that God's immutability includes non-potentiality, non newness, and non-movement as long as it is understood that it is God's character that does not constitute potentiality, newness of movement ... Other passages [in Scripture] which indicate that God 'does not change' ... refer only to God's inability to lie, take back an oath He made, tempt one to sin, or reverse decisions based on a capricious whim ... God's immutability does not negate a justifiable change of mind." (Not by Bread Alone, p. 352)

"There is no significance to postulating that God is an 'Eternal Now,' or there is no 'time in eternity.' All that we can conclude is that in eternity time is not calibrated in the same way it is on earth. In the existence of each eternal being, none of them can go back to the previous moment or ahead to the next moment while in the present moment. Whether we say God sees all things in their immediacy, or that all things are known to him simultaneously, does not negate that the Father, Son or Holy Spirit cannot exist in and/or go back to the past or ahead to the future, even though they thoroughly know the past and the future." (ibid., pp. 392-393)

Anyone who has learned even the rudiments of a Catholic education will immediately see the absurdity of predicating potency, time or change to the Godhead. This truly is, in spite of Mr. Sungenis' intentions, an attack on the very essence of God. Mr. Sungenis tries to save himself from condemnation by claiming that the biblical passages that speak of God as "unchanging" only applies to unchangeable character, not in His activities or dispositions. If by this he meant God's causal activity ad extra, he would be on solid ground. But the examples he gives clearly pertain, not to activity, but to passivity - not to the cause, but to the caused.

And so, when he posits time or anger or a change of mind, Mr. Sungenis predicates potency in God. To avoid this very real danger, the scholastics distinguished perfections which can truly be predicated of God by analogy with creatures (e.g. goodness, truth, beauty, paternity) from imperfect notions which can only be predicated of God metaphorically (anger, repentance, change of mind, maternity). Yet Mr. Sungenis tells us that "change of mind" and "time" really exist in God.

Compare the above with a few samples from St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, two of the Church's most prominent theologians. The views below represent the common thought of Catholic theologians, no matter what philosophical school they may belong to. It can be found in countless catechisms, textbooks, sermons and lectures over the centuries. As far as I am aware, there is not even one teacher in our whole Tradition who has denied the critical truth that God is absolutely immutable.

I have not denied that God is absolutely immutable. I only add that His immutability includes the fact that He can act in ways He has not acted previously (e.g., God created the world; God destroyed the world in Noah’s day; God sent His Son in the ‘fullness of time’). If so, immutability cannot be defined in reference to God’s temporal actions, but only in reference to His character and attributes. In that sense, God’s immutability means that He will always act in accordance with His righteous divine character. But if God’s immutability includes the fact that He can act in various ways depending on how man responds with his free will, then immutability includes the fact that God can change His course of action, in the temporal sphere, based on man’s free will decisions (cf., the three choices God gave to David as a punishment for his sin in 2 Samuel 24:13).

By the same token, God knows the end from the beginning, so in that sense, whatever changes He manifests in the temporal realm have already been taken into account in the eternal mysteries of God (e.g., the future possibilities God gave David regarding the actions of Saul in 1 Samuel 23:1-18).

I do not have an explanation as to how both can be true, and neither did Augustine or Aquinas or the Church. The one attempt to figure it out was stalled (e.g., as is noted in the arguments presented by the Thomists and the Molinists, and to which Pius V deferred a judgment).

Still, the temporal changes are real (that is, God really did say that he wanted to destroy all of Israel in Exodus 32:9; yet He really did change His mind and decide not to destroy them in Exodus 32:14 based on the free will decision of Moses to appease His wrath with supplication). Otherwise, if the temporal changes are not real (not based on the contingency of human free will) then we make God a liar, for in saying that He would destroy all of Israel in Exodus 32:9, He in fact would be lying because He already knew He would not destroy them. We do not find Scripture giving any such “play acting” explanations to God’s actions.

Of course, someone might argue that God said He would destroy all of Israel only to test Moses, but then again, why would God test Moses’ free will if He already knew what Moses was going to do? We don’t have answers for these kinds of questions, but that neither gives anyone the right to make God’s temporal decisions into mere play acting, nor does it allow anyone to say that God does not know the future about us or Himself. If we are not careful holding these two truths in balance, we make man the puppet of God, the very error into which the Calvinists and Jansenists fell, of as Zwingli said: “God is the sinless author of sin.”


It is written, I am the Lord, and change not. (Mal. 3,6) I answer that, From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable. First, there is some being, whom we call God, and that this first being must be pure act, without any admixture of potency, for the reason that, absolutely, potency is posterior to act (Q.III, A. 3). Now everything which is in any way changed is in some way in potency. Hence it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable. (Summa Theologica, First Part, Q.9, art.1)

I have no argument with this analysis, since, in respect of God’s divinity, I am not arguing that God changes. He is who He is and that will not change. Accordingly, in that regard, there is no distinction between act and potency. But Thomas is discussing the divine nature of the attributes themselves not temporal contingencies. Concerning temporal contingencies Thomas has a wholly different explanation than what he presents in the Summa Theologica.

In fact, regarding the contingencies presented to God by man’s free will, Thomas stated that, if necessity is that which is unable to be or that which is immutably determined to one end only, then a will moved by necessity is a heretical theology (as noted in Thomas’ De Veritate, Q. 24, A. 1c and De Malo Q. 6, q.un.c).

This being the case (that free will is a fact), according to Thomas, God knows some things contingently (as stated in De Veritate Q. 2, A. 12c).

These are the issues I am confronting when I speak of God not “play acting” in Exodus 32. I am not speaking about the ontological issues regarding God’s divine nature, which do not change.

God's anger implies no perturbation of the divine mind. It is simply the divine judgment passing sentence on sin. And when God "thinks and then has second thoughts" this merely means that changeable realities come into relation with his immutable reason. For God cannot "repent" as human beings repent, of what he has done, since in regard to everything his judgment is fixed as his foreknowledge is clear ... But it is only by the use of such human expressions that Scripture can make its many kinds of readers whom it wants to help to feel, as it were, at home. Only thus can Scripture frighten the proud and arouse the slothful, provoke inquiries and provide food for the convinced. This is possible only when Scripture gets right down to the level of the lowliest readers. (St. Augustine, City of God, 15:25)

I never said God’s anger was a “perturbation of the divine mind.” But, in any case, here is a question for Mr. Fields: If he defines God’s anger as only the “divine judgment passing sentence on sin,” then why in Exodus 4:14 does not the “anger of the Lord” result in God punishing Moses for doubting Him, but instead Moses receives the very thing he requested, and with God’s eventual blessing? Why didn’t the anger of God in Exodus 32:9 result in the destruction of Israel as God stated? The fact is that not every mention of God’s “anger” in Scripture results in divine punishment.

This is confirmed in the manner the Fathers, and even Aquinas, speak of these issues. The Fathers, for example (and contrary to Ott’s assertion that “anger” merely means “punishment”) speak of “appeasing God’s anger” prior to Him releasing punishment, for the express purpose of not becoming a victim of God’s punishment:

Gregory, Epistle, Book 9, Epistle 1, To Janarius: “If therefore you know of any that are violent, if of any that are adulterers, if of any that are thieves, or bent on other wicked deeds, make haste to appease God by their correction, that He may not bring upon you the scourge due to unfaithful races, which, so far as we see, is already lifted up for the punishment of many nations.”

Jerome, Letters, 60, To Heliodorus: “We have long felt that God is angry, yet we do not try to appease Him. It is our sins which make the barbarians strong, it is our vices which vanquish Rome's soldiers: and, as if there were here too little material for carnage, civil wars have made almost greater havoc among us than the swords of foreign foes.”

Jerome, Against Jovinius, Book 2: “So also the city of Nineveh by fasting excited compassion and turned aside the threatening wrath of the Lord. And Sodom and Gomorrha might have appeased it, had they been willing to repent, and through the aid of fasting gain for themselves tears of repentance. Ahab, the most impious of kings, by fasting and wearing sackcloth, succeeded in escaping the sentence of God, and in deferring the overthrow of his house to the days of his posterity. Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, by fasting won the gift of a son.”

Augustine, City of God, Book 22, Ch 8: “Now it was about fifteen days before Easter when they came, and they came daily to church, and specially to the relics of the most glorious Stephen, praying that God might now be appeased, and restore their former health.”

John Cassian, Twelve Books, Book 11, Ch 10: “So that all his good deeds would have been forgotten as if they had never been, and he would at once have been subject to the wrath of the Lord unless he had appeased Him by recovering his humility.”

John Cassian, The Conferences, Part 2, XX, Conference on Abbot Pinufius, Chapter 4: “...so that when God is offended by our past sins, and on the point of inflicting a most just punishment for such offences, it somehow, if it is not wrong to say so, stops Him, and, if I may so say, stays the right hand of the Avenger even against His will.”

Cyprian, On the Lapsed 16: “All these warnings being scorned and contemned, before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest, before the offence of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord.”

On Works and Alms, 4: “...should they be able to make atonement for their sins; nor, if they were clothed in sackcloth and ashes, be able to soften God's anger, yet in the last part showing that God can be appeased by almsgiving alone, he added, saying, "Break thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are without a home into thy house.”

Gregory Nanzianzus, Orations, 16: “Let us anticipate His anger by confession; let us desire to see Him appeased, after He was wroth. Who knows, he says, if He will turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him? This I know certainly, I the sponsor of the loving-kindness of God. And when He has laid aside that which is unnatural to Him, His anger, He will betake Himself to that which is natural, His mercy.” [NB: Yet Gregory insisted that God was impassible].

Gregory the Great, Epistles, Book 11, Epistle 1: (Exod. xxxiii. seq.). “When the Lord was wrath with the people, he appeased Him by the intervention of his prayer; those who rose in pride and dissented in discord he engulfed in the jaws of the gaping earth; he bore down his enemies with victories, and showed signs to his own people.”

Leo The Great, Letter 156, To Leo Augustus: “...of the rights of others and reinstating the ancient Faith in the See of Alexandria, that by your reforms GOD's wrath may be appeased, and so He take not vengeance for their doings on a people hitherto religious, but forgive them.” [Obviously, Leo separates God’s anger from His vengeance]

Origin [sic], Against Celsus, Book 4, Ch 72: “For that which is called God’s ‘wrath,’ and ‘anger,’ is a means of discipline; and that such a view is agreeable to Scripture, is evident from what is said in the sixth Psalm, ‘O LORD, rebuke me not in Thine anger, neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure;’ and also in Jeremiah. ‘O LORD, correct me, but with judgment: not in Thine anger, lest Thou bring me to nothing.’”

First, I don’t think Mr. Fields wants to interpret Augustine to be in contradiction of Thomas on the fact that in some things, God’s knowledge and decisions are contingent (De Veritate Q. 2, A. 12c). Second, Pius XI in Ad salutem stated that Augustine was not to be set above the teaching authority of the Church, and Augustine himself said he was not to be followed on all points (Gift of Perseverance PL 45, 21, 55). Augustine wrote of his alternate views and changes in Retractationes. The fact is that Augustine did not address the areas of contingencies in any sufficient manner, except to say in his latter career that both God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will were both realities. It was left for Aquinas to explain it further, and as we saw, Thomas left room for contingencies in the knowledge of God. To Thomas, if there are no contingencies and man acts of necessity, and then all basis for reward and punishment and all principles of moral philosophy are overthrown (De Potentia, Q. 3, A. 7, as noted in Not By Faith Alone, pp. 446).

Past, present and future do not exist in eternity, which, as we have said, is an instantaneous whole. But the Scriptures use verbs in the past, present and future to apply to God. (Summa, First Part, Q. 9, art. 1, obj. 3)

I understand what Mr. Field is trying to say, and I agree with him partially. On the other hand, if there is no past, present and future in eternity, yet mutable beings such as ourselves will inhabit eternity and will experience movement and change (since Thomas insists that only God is immutable), and time is defined, according to the Thomist, as the process of change, then how can eternity not have time if it is inhabited by mutable creatures?

God is said in turn to repent; not in the sense that his eternal disposition has changed, but some effect of his is changed. Hence Gregory says: "God does not change his plan, though at times he may change his judgment", not, I say, the judgment which expresses his eternal disposition, but the judgment which expresses the order of inferior causes, in accord which Ezechias was to have died, or certain people were to have been punished for their sins. Now such a change of judgment is called God's repentance, using a metaphorical way of speaking, in the sense that God is disposed like one who repents, for whom it is proper to change what he had been doing. In the same way, he is also said, metaphorically, to become angry, in the same sense that, by punishing, He produces the same effect of an angry person. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. 3, Pt. 2, q.96:15)

I have no problem with the way Gregory explains it, because it is the same way I have explained it. Gregory uses the words “eternal disposition” in opposition to “some effect of his is changed.” Or he uses “plan” as opposed to “change his judgment.” We can use whatever terms are appropriate. The fact is that we have two dimensions of this issue to explain and hold together. Thomas held them together by saying that God knows some things contingently. That is the best we have been able to do. And there is little problem for someone to say that God’s “repentance” is “metaphorical,” since the normal connotation of “repentance” is that one has made a mistake and wishes to rectify it. God makes no mistakes, and therefore he does not repent, in that sense of the term. Rather, God makes decisions based on the contingencies presented to him by man’s free will, which, according to Thomas, must remain uncoerced and not be acted out of divine necessity.

I have no problem, in certain senses, calling the anger of God “metaphorical,” since the usual connotation of anger in human terms is someone who is out of control and irrational. God’s anger is neither. His anger is perfectly suited to his divinity, and is without whim, irrationality or frivolousness. In this sense, he was perfectly justified in becoming angry at Moses in Exodus 4:14, but also perfectly just in not following His anger with punishment. In that sense it is easy to agree with Augustine: “Now when God is said to be angry, we do not attribute to Him such a disturbed feeling as exists in the mind of an angry man; but we call His just displeasure against sin by the name ‘anger,’ a word transferred by analogy from human emotions” (Enchiridion, Ch. 33).

It is ironic that he accuses Dr. Hahn of raising up feminine metaphors to the ontological level, and then himself raises up mere metaphors of God's "anger" and "change of mind" to the ontological level when it suits his own theories. He may not use these precise words when explaining his theories, but they are clearly implied. Mr. Sungenis says that "God's anger is not metaphorical but real." This is precisely raising it to the ontological level. . . .

In addition to the above explanation (that is, in a certain sense, God’s anger is metaphorical), it is precisely the ontological dimension of this discussion that Mr. Fields has not given much thought. First of all, there is no magisterial statement that immutability cannot include a “change of mind” in God, as long as we understand that “change of mind” does not mean that God Himself changes but only that God is reacting to the contingencies brought before Him by man’s free will decisions. One can examine all the references to “immutability” in Denzinger, as I have, for example, and he will not find one statement by the Church the immutability means that God cannot change his mind, rather, he will find that immutability means that God Himself cannot change. But as I said before, if immutability already incorporates the fact that God can change his mind based on the contingencies presented by human free will, then immutability allows that God can change His mind. That is precisely why Thomas said that God knows some things contingently.

Mr. Sungenis . . . is not on solid ground, since theologians at all times have excluded "time" and "change" from the Godhead. The consensus of Fathers and Doctors is contrary to what Mr. Sungenis is teaching.

I also exclude time and change, in the proper theological perspective. Mr. Field’s attempt to set me apart from the Fathers and Doctors only shows that he has not studied this issue as thoroughly as he purports.

In regard to the "Anger" of God, he can find only one lone Father who supports his view - Lactantius, who is not even a Doctor or Saint, and who is clearly opposed by the prominent Fathers and Doctors, Ss. Thomas and Augustine, as well as the common thought of theologians in East and West. Not only does he violate the teachings of the Church, he violates his very own "rule" which claims that the authoritative and prominent Fathers must offer support.

As noted earlier, I am in no disagreement with Thomas or Augustine. Thomas’ and Augustine’s views on these issues were far more complex than what Mr. Field realizes.

As for using Lactantius in my book, he is not the only Father who spoke in more vivid terms about the anger of God. I chose Lantantius as the example in my book only because he had the most thought-out writing on the subject. In addition to the Fathers I mentioned above who spoke about appeasing the anger of God so that punishment would not follow, below are additional Fathers that speak to the issue of God’s anger, and most of them in the same manner as Lactantius.

Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy, Chapter 7-8: “This latter David did, so that the divine anger might be turned against himself, when he offered himself to the destroying angel and said: "Lo I have sinned: I the shepherd have done wickedly, but this flock, what hath it done? Let Thy hand be against me. The anger of the Lord burst forth, so that He would kill all, but at the prayer of Moses He softened His judgment and put off His vengeance, knowing that He had already sufficiently punished those who were faithless...”

Ambrose, Concerning Repentance, Book I, chapter 5: “What mark of His mercy have we more ready at hand than that He Himself, through the prophet Moses, is at once merciful as though reconciled to those whom in His anger He had threatened? For He says: ‘O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee, or what shall I do unto thee, O Judah? Your kindness...’”

He adds, ‘My heart is turned against Me, My compassion is aroused, I will not do according to the fierceness of Mine anger.’ Is it not evident that the Lord Jesus is angry with us when we sin in order that He may convert us through fear of His indignation? His indignation, then, is not the carrying out of vengeance, but rather the working out of forgiveness, for these are His words: "If thou shalt turn and lament, thou shall be saved.

Basil, Orthodox Faith, Book 1, Chap 11: “His anger and fury are His hatred of and aversion to all wickedness, for we, too, hate that which is contrary to our mind and become enraged thereat.”

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the heathen, Ch 10: “For they believe not God, nor understand His power, whose love to man is ineffable; and His hatred of evil is inconceivable. His anger augments punishment against sin; His love bestows bless-rags on repentance.”

Clement, The Instructor, Book 1, Ch 8: “For the one is not without testimony, when the other has been testified to; and the grace which proceeds from the testimony is very great. Besides, the feeling of anger (if it is proper to call His admonition anger) is full of love to man, God condescending to emotion on man's account; for whose sake also the Word of God became man.”

Cyprian, Address to Dimetrianus, 5: “For since He is Lord and Ruler of the world, and all things are carried on by His will and direction, nor can anything be done save what He Himself has done or allowed to be done, certainly when those things occur which show the anger of an offended God, they happen not on account of us by whom God is worshiped, but they are called down by your sins and deservings.”

Cyprian, On the Lapsed, 36: “Or if any one move Him still more by his own atonement, if he appease His anger, if he appease the wrath of an indignant God by righteous entreaty...”

On Unity of the Church, 18: “Nor did the anger of the indignant God strike only those who had been the movers (of the sedition); but two hundred and fifty sharers and associates of that madness besides...”

On Works and Alms, 4: “be able to soften God's anger, yet in the last part showing that God can be appeased by almsgiving alone, he added, saying...”

Gregory Nanzianzus, Orations, 16: “Let us anticipate His anger by confession;(g) let us desire to see Him appeased, after He was wroth. Who knoweth, he says, if He will turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him?(d) This I know certainly, I the sponsor of the loving-kindness of God. And when He has laid aside that which is unnatural to Him, His anger, He will betake Himself to that which is natural, His mercy. To the one He is forced by us, to the other He is inclined.”

Shepherd of Hermas, Book First, Vision, Ch 6: “Wherefore they have been cut off and cast far away on account of the anger of the Lord, for they have roused Him to anger.”

Jerome, To Pammachius Against John of Jerusalem, 33: “Then shall be fulfilled what God says by the prophet, ‘Go, my people, into thy closets for a little while, until mine anger pass.’”

Jerome, Letters, 68, To Castrutius: “And yet you fancy those blessed who enjoy in this world happiness and pleasure? God's hottest anger against sinners is when he shows no anger. Wherefore in Ezekiel he says to Jerusalem: ‘My jealousy will depart from thee and i will be quiet and will be no more angry.’ For ‘whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ The father does not instruct his son unless he loves him.”

Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians, 13-14: and Homily 16: “And in this way, again, we should more entirely propitiate God; just as by our present conduct we provoke Him to anger. For tell me, if thou hast a servant, and he, after suffering much evil at the hands of his fellow-servants, takes no account of any one of the rest, but is only anxious not to provoke his master; is he not able by this alone to do away thine anger?”

Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians, Homily 10: “Nothing so provokes God's anger as the division of the Church. Yea, though we have achieved ten thousand glorious acts, yet shall we, if we cut to pieces the fullness of the Church, suffer punishment no less sore than they who m. angled His body.”

Chrysostom, Homily to People of Antioch, Homily 7: “God forbid! Among men this may probably happen, when they inflict punishments in anger and passion; but God being free from passion, whether He exercise kindness, or whether He punish, He is alike good. Nor less does the threat of hell serve to show His goodness, than the promise of the kingdom. But how? I answer.”

John Damascene, Exposition of Orthodox Faith, Bk 1, Ch 11: “His anger and fury are His hatred of and aversion to all wickedness, for we, too, hate that which is contrary to our mind and become enraged thereat.”

Methodius, Orations on Simon, 12: “Now smoke is a sign and sure evidence of wrath; as it is written, "There went up a smoke in His anger, and fire from His countenance devoured.”

Novation, (On the Trinity, Ch 5): “For that God is angry, arises from no vice in Him. But He is so for our advantage; for He is merciful even then when He threatens, because by these threats men are recalled to rectitude. For fear is necessary for those who want the motive to a virtuous life, that they who have forsaken reason may at least be moved by terror. And thus all those, either angers of God or hatreds, or whatever they are of this kind, being displayed for our medicine,--as the case teaches,--have arisen of wisdom, not from vice, nor do they originate from frailty; wherefore also they cannot avail for the corruption of God. For the diversity in us of the materials of which we consist, is accustomed to arouse the discord of anger which corrupts us; but this, whether of nature or of defect, cannot subsist in God, seeing that He is known to be constructed assuredly of no associations of bodily parts.”

Tertullian, Five Books Against Marcion, Bk 2, Ch 16: “And this, therefore, is to be deemed the likeness of God in man, that the human soul have the same emotions and sensations as God, although they are not of the same kind; differing as they do both in their conditions and their issues according to their nature. Then, again, with respect to the opposite sensations,--I mean meekness, patience, mercy, and the very parent of them all, goodness,--why do you form your opinion of the divine displays of these (from the human qualities)? For we indeed do not possess them in perfection, because it is God alone who is perfect. So also in regard to those others,--namely, anger and irritation. we are not affected by them in so happy a manner, because God alone is truly happy, by reason of His property of incorruptibility. Angry He will possibly be, but not irritated, nor dangerously tempted; He will be moved, but not subverted. All appliances He must needs use, because of all contingencies; as many sensations as there are causes: anger because of the wicked, and indignation because of the ungrateful, and jealousy because of the proud, and whatsoever else is a hindrance to the evil...All these affections He is moved by in that peculiar manner of His own, in which it is profoundly fit that He should be affected; and it is owing to Him that man is also similarly affected in a way which is equally his own.”

Tertullian, The Soul’s Testimony, Ch 2: “There are some who, though they do not deny the existence of God, hold withal that He is neither Searcher, nor Ruler, nor Judge; treating with especial disdain those of us who go over to Christ out of fear of a coming judgment, as they think, honouring God in freeing Him from the cares of keeping watch, and the trouble of taking note, not even regarding Him as capable of anger. For if God, they say, gets angry, then He is susceptible of corruption and passion; but that of which passion and corruption can be affirmed may also perish, which God cannot do. But these very persons elsewhere, confessing that the soul is divine, and bestowed on us by God, stumble against a testimony of the soul itself, which affords an answer to these views. For if either divine or God-given, it doubtless knows its giver; and if it knows Him, it undoubtedly fears Him too, and especially as having been by Him endowed so amply. Has it no fear of Him whose favor it is so desirous to possess, and whose anger it is so anxious to avoid? Whence, then, the soul's natural fear of God, if God cannot be angry? How is there any dread of Him whom nothing offends? What is feared but anger? Whence comes anger, but from observing what is done? What leads to watchful oversight, but judgment in prospect? Whence is judgment, but from power? To whom does supreme authority and power belong, but to God alone?”

Tertullian, The Shows (De Spectaculis), Ch 15: “Having done enough, then, as we have said, in regard to that principal argument, that there is in them all the taint of idolatry – having sufficiently dealt with that, let us now contrast the other characteristics of the show with the things of God. God has enjoined us to deal calmly, gently, quietly, and peacefully with the Holy Spirit, because these things are alone in keeping with the goodness of His nature, with His tenderness and sensitiveness, and not to vex Him with rage, ill-nature, anger, or grief.”

Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, 18: “I entreat your Excellency to reflect on these things, and to overcome the pain of your grief; and all the more because the children of your common love are with you, and give you every ground of comfort. Let us then praise Him who governs our lives wisely, nor rouse His anger by immoderate lamentation, for in His wisdom He knows what is good for us, and in His mercy He gives it.”

Theodoret, EH, 40: “Who is so stony-hearted as not to be shocked and affrighted at the anger and grief of the Lord?”

Theophilus, To Autolycus, Bk 1, Ch 3: “The Nature of God: if I call Him Lord, I mention His being judge; if I call Him Judge, I speak of Him as being just; if I call Him Father, I speak of all things as being from Him; if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. You will say, then, to me, ‘Is God angry?’ Yes; He is angry with those who act wickedly, but He is good, and kind, and merciful, to those who love and fear Him; for He is a chastener of the godly, and father of the righteous; but he is a judge and punisher of the impious.”

Lactantius: “I have often observed, Donatus, that many persons hold this opinion, which some philosophers also have maintained, that God is not subject to anger; since the divine nature is either altogether beneficent, and that it is inconsistent with His surpassing and excellent power to do injury to anyone...But the error of these men, because it is very great, tends to overthrow the condition of human life, must be refuted by us...we follow the teaching of God, who alone is able to know and to reveal secret things” (The Anger of God, Ch 1)

“Now, if there is neither anger nor kindness in Him, it is manifest that there is neither fear, nor joy, nor grief, nor pity. For all the affections have one system, one motion, which cannot be the case with God. But if there is no affection in God, because whatever is subject to affection is weak, it follows that there is in Him neither the care of anything, nor providence” (The Anger of God, Ch 4).

“For they say that anger is a commotion and perturbation of the mind, which is inconsistent with God....Those things are spoken speciously and in a popular manner, and they allure many to believe them; but they who entertain these sentiments approach nearer indeed to the truth, but they partly fail, not sufficiently considering the nature of the case. For if God is not angry with the impious and the unrighteous, it is clear that He does not love the pious and the righteous. Therefore the error of those is more consistent who take away at once both anger and kindness. For in opposite matters it is necessary to be moved to both sides or to neither. Thus, he who loves the good also hates the wicked, and he who does not hate the wicked does not love the good; because the loving of the good arises from the hatred of the wicked, and the hating of the wicked has its rise from the love of the good” (The Anger of God, Ch 6).

“....that it follows that God is angry, since He is moved by kindness. This opinion is to be maintained and asserted by us; for this is the sum and turning-point on which the whole of piety and religion depend: and no honor can be due to God, if He affords nothing to His worshipers; and no fear, if He is not angry with him who does not worship Him” (The Anger of God, Ch 6).

“....Anger, therefore, has a befitting occasion in God....For it is not right that, when He sees such things, He should not be moved, and arise to take vengeance upon the wicked...so as to promote the interests of all good men. Thus even in anger itself there is also contained a showing of kindness. Therefore the arguments are found to be empty and false, either of those who, when they will not admit that God is angry, will have it that He shows kindness, because this, indeed, cannot take place without anger; or of those who think that there is no emotion of the mind in God. And because there are some affections to which God is not liable, as desire, fear, avarice, grief, and envy, they have said that He is entirely free from all affection. For He is not liable to these, because they are vicious affections; but as to those which belong to virtue, — that is, anger towards the wicked, regard towards the good, pity towards the afflicted, — inasmuch as they are worthy of the divine power, He has affections of His own, both just and true” (The Anger of God, Ch 16).

As the Fathers and the Church are careful not to ascribe to God any taint of irrationality or unbridled temper, still, they speak of appeasing God’s “anger” so that God will not inflict punishment upon us. Here are more passages on that theme.

Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 30: “it was by His blood shed on the Cross that God's anger was averted and that all the heavenly gifts, especially the spiritual graces of the New and Eternal Testament...”

Chrysostom: Homily on Ephesians, Homily 6, Ch 2: “The wrath He appeased by His death, and hath made us meet for the Father's love through the Spirit.”

Chrysostom, To Antioch, Homily 6: “So that if we have kindled God's wrath, we have appeased Him in the endurance of such a punishment. For if we have not paid the satisfaction due to our sins, yet it hath been enough to satisfy the mercy of God.”

Cyprian, Epistle to the Clergy, 1: “still I myself remind your religious anxiety, that in order to appease and entreat the Lord, we must lament not only in words, but also with fastings and with tears, and with every kind of urgency.”

To the People: “They intercept your prayers, which you pour forth with us to God day and night, to appease Him with a righteous satisfaction.”

On the Lapsed, 19: “O Lord, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin, forgive it; but if not, blot me out of the book which Thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book." He, the friend of God; he who had often spoken face to face with the Lord, could not obtain what he asked, nor could appease the wrath of an indignant God by his entreaty.”

On the Lapsed, 29: “Let us return to the Lord with our whole heart. Let us appease His wrath and indignation with fastings, with weeping, with mourning, as He Himself admonishes us.”

On the Lapsed, 36: “Or if any one move Him still more by his own atonement, if he appease His anger, if he appease the wrath of an indignant God by righteous entreaty...”

Gregory, Epistle 17: “...these their children who have been baptized in Arian heresy to the catholic faith, and so appease the wrath of the Almighty Lord which hangs over them.”

Gregory, Epistle, Book 9, Epistle 1, To Janarius: “If therefore you know of any that are violent, if of any that are adulterers, if of any that are thieves, or bent on other wicked deeds, make haste to appease God by their correction, that He may not bring upon you the scourge due to unfaithful races, which, so far as we see, is already lifted up for the punishment of many nations.”

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Ch 17, 2:. “For it was not because He was angry, like a man, as many venture to say, that He rejected their sacrifices; but out of compassion to their blindness, and with the view of suggesting to them the true sacrifice, by offering which they shall appease God, that they may receive life from Him. As He elsewhere declares: "The sacrifice to God is an afflicted heart: a sweet savour to God is a heart glorifying Him who formed it." For if, when angry, He had repudiated these sacrifices of theirs, as if they were persons unworthy to obtain His compassion, He would not certainly have urged these same things upon them as those by which they might be saved. But inasmuch as God is merciful, He did not cut them off from good counsel.”

Jerome, Letters, 60, To Heliodorus: “We have long felt that God is angry, yet we do not try to appease Him. It is our sins which make the barbarians strong, it is our vices which vanquish Rome's soldiers: and, as if there were here too little material for carnage, civil wars have made almost greater havoc among us than the swords of foreign foes.”

Chrysostom, Homilies on St. John, Homily 1, Preface: “He will not be honored out of other men's calamities, such sacrifice is unclean and profane, and would rather anger God than appease Him.”

Ambrose, Decease of his brother, Book 2, On Belief in the Resurrection: “The father offered indeed his son, but God is appeased not by blood but by dutiful obedience. He showed the ram in the thicket s in the stead of the lad, that He might restore the son to his father, and yet the victim not fail the priest.”

Aphrahat, Demonstrations, 5: Therefore be sure, my hearer, that Sodom and her daughters shall not be inhabited for ever; but they shall be as of old, namely, as in that time when they were not as yet inhabited, and as in the time when the Lord was wroth with them and was not appeased towards them.”

Arnobius contrast the whims of anger in pagan gods over against the Christian God. Arnobius says of the pagan gods: “If, when there is a famine, the gods are said to be enraged at us, it follows that in time of plenty they are not wroth, and ill-to-be-appeased; and so the matter comes to this, that they both lay aside and resume anger with sportive whim, and always renew their wrath afresh by the recollection of the causes of offence.” (Against the Heathen, Book I, 15).

Augustine, City of God, Book 22, Ch 8: “Now it was about fifteen days before Easter when they came, and they came daily to church, and specially to the relics of the most glorious Stephen, praying that God might now be appeased, and restore their former health.”

Homilies on the Psalms, 77, 24: "Then stood up Phineas, and appeased Him, and the shaking ceased" (verse 30). He hath related the whole briefly, because he is not here teaching the ignorant, but reminding those who know the history....that God would not be otherwise appeased than as Phineas the Priest appeased Him, when he slew a man and a woman together whom he found in adultery.”

Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 13, Ch 11: “And what is meant by "being reconciled by the death of His Son?" Was it indeed so, that when God the Father was wroth with us, He saw the death of His Son for us, and was appeased towards us? Was then His Son already so far appeased towards us, that He even deigned to die for us; while the Father was still so far wroth, that except His Son died for us, He would not be appeased?”

John Cassian, Twelve Books, Book 11, Ch 10: “So that all his good deeds would have been forgotten as if they had never been, and he would at once have been subject to the wrath of the Lord unless he had appeased Him by recovering his humility.”

John Cassian, The Conferences, Part 2, XX, Conference on Abbot Pinufius, Chapter 4: “And so on the value and appeasing power of penitence many have published a great deal, not only in words but also in writing, showing how useful it is, how strong, and full of grace, so that when God is offended by our past sins, and on the point of inflicting a most just punishment for such offences, it somehow, if it is not wrong to say so, stops Him, and, if I may so say, stays the right hand of the Avenger even against His will.”

Cyprian, On the Lapsed 16: “All these warnings being scorned and contemned, before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest, before the offence of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord.”

Cyprian, On the Lapsed, 17: “The Lord must be besought. The Lord must be appeased by our atonement, who has said, that him that denies Him He will deny, who alone has received all judgment from His Father. We believe, indeed, that the merits of martyrs and the works of the righteous are of great avail with the Judge; but that will be when the day of judgment shall come; when, after the conclusion of this life and the world, His people shall stand before the tribunal of Christ.”

On Works and Alms, 4: “...should they be able to make atonement for their sins; nor, if they were clothed in sackcloth and ashes, be able to soften God's anger, yet in the last part showing that God can be appeased by almsgiving alone, he added, saying, "Break thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are without a home into thy house.”

Cyprian, To Demitrianus, 20: “And yet we always ask for the repulse of enemies, and for obtaining showers, and either for the removal or the moderating of adversity; and we pour forth our prayers, and, propitiating and appeasing God, we entreat constantly and urgently, day and night, for your peace and salvation.”

Gregory Nanzianzus, Orations, 16: “Let us anticipate His anger by confession; let us desire to see Him appeased, after He was wroth. Who knows, he says, if He will turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him? This I know certainly, I the sponsor of the loving-kindness of God. And when He has laid aside that which is unnatural to Him, His anger, He will betake Himself to that which is natural, His mercy.”

Gregory the Great, Epistles, Book 11, Epistle 1: (Exod. xxxiii. seq.). “When the Lord was wrath with the people, he appeased Him by the intervention of his prayer; those who rose in pride and dissented in discord he engulfed in the jaws of the gaping earth; he bore down his enemies with victories, and showed signs to his own people.”

Book or Pastoral Rule, Ch 22: “Hence Phinehas, spurning the favor of his fellow-countrymen when they sinned, smote those who came together with the Midianites, and in his wrath appeased the wrath of God (Num. xxv. 9).”

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Ch 18: “...offering of Cain, because his heart was divided with envy and malice, which he cherished against his brother, as God says when reproving his hidden [thoughts], "Though thou offers rightly, yet, if thou dost not divide rightly, hast thou not sinned? Be at rest;" since God is not appeased by sacrifice. For if any one shall endeavor to offer a sacrifice merely to outward appearance, unexceptionably, in due order, and according to appointment, while in his soul he does not assign to his neighbor that fellowship with him which is right and proper, nor is under the fear of God.”

Jerome, Against Jovinius, Book 2: “So also the city of Nineveh by fasting excited compassion and turned aside the threatening wrath of the Lord. And Sodom and Gomorrha might have appeased it, had they been willing to repent, and through the aid of fasting gain for themselves tears of repentance. Ahab, the most impious of kings, by fasting and wearing sackcloth, succeeded in escaping the sentence of God, and in deferring the overthrow of his house to the days of his posterity. Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, by fasting won the gift of a son.”

Chrysostom, Homilies on Second Corinthians, Homily 4: “And concerning the former He saith, "I saw that he went sorrowful, and I healed his ways ;" (Is. lvii. 17. 18. LXX.) and in Ahab's case, this appeased the wrath of God: (1 Kings xxi. 29) concerning the latter, ‘Remit, and it shall be remitted unto you.’”

Leo The Great, Letter 156, To Leo Augustus: “...of the rights of others and reinstating the ancient Faith in the See of Alexandria, that by your reforms GOD's wrath may be appeased, and so He take not vengeance for their doings on a people hitherto religious, but forgive them.” [Leo separates God’s anger from his vengeance]

Sulpitus Severus, Sacred History, Book 1, Ch 21: “Then truly death mowed them down in heaps; and all would have perished in a moment, had not the Lord, appeased by the prayers of Moses, turned aside the disaster.”

Tertullian, On Repentance, Ch 9: “...of confession repentance is born; by repentance God is appeased.”

The following are the quotes I included in my book Not By Bread Alone:

Thomas Aquinas explains: “This is properly the effect of a sacrifice, that through it God is appeased, as even man is ready to forgive an injury done unto him by accepting a gift which is offered to him...And so in the same way, what Christ suffered was so great a good that, on account of that good found in human nature, God has been appeased over all the offenses of mankind” (ST III, Q. 49, Art. 4, emphasis added; See also ST 1a, 2ae, 87, 1-6; 3, 48, 2; De Veritate, 28, 2).

The Catechism of Trent stated: “...our heavenly Father, oftentimes grievously offended by our crimes, might be turned away from wrath to mercy” (CCT, p. 255).

Ludwig Ott reiterates the same: “By atonement in general is understood the satisfaction of a demand. In the narrower sense it is taken to mean the reparation of an insult: satisfactio nihil aliud est quam injuriae alteri illatae compensatio (Roman Catechism, II, 5, 59). This occurs through a voluntary performance which outweighs the injustice done...Thus Christ’s atonement was, through its intrinsic value, sufficient to counterbalance the infinite insult offered to God, which is inherent in sin” (FCD, pp. 186, 188).

Augustine writes: “But what is meant by ‘justified in His blood’?....Was it indeed so, that when God the Father was wroth with us, He saw the death of His Son for us, and was appeased towards us? Was then His Son already so far appeased towards us, that He even deigned to die for us; while the Father was still so far wroth, that except His Son died for us, He would not be appeased?” (On the Trinity, Book XIII, Ch. 11). See also; Book IV, Ch. 14.

The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “...Redemption has reference to both God and man. On God’s part, it is the acceptation of satisfactory amends whereby the Divine honor is repaired and the Divine wrath appeased....The judicial axiom ‘honor est in honorante, injuria in injuriato’ (honour is measured by the dignity of him who receives it) shows that mortal sin bears in a way an infinite malice and that nothing short of a person possessing infinite worth is capable of making full amends for it....‘For an adequate satisfaction,’ says St. Thomas, ‘it is necessary that the act of him who satisfies should possess an infinite value and proceed from one who is both God and Man’” (ST, III, Q. 1, a. 2, ad 2um (1911 edition, vol. 12, p. 678).

The Encyclopedia continues: “Satisfaction, or the payment of a debt in full, means, in the moral order, an acceptable reparation of honor offered to the person offended and, of course, implies a penal and painful work” (ibid., p. 678).

Last but not least, Scott Hahn states in reference to Hebrews 2:17: “Jesus appeases the anger of the Father and covers the shame of his younger brothers....the mercy seat. No one sat on it; it was propitiatory; it was where God’s anger was appeased” (Hebrews Tape Series, op. cit., Tape 1 and Tape 3, emphasis added). Even some of the more liberal theologians see the value of sacrifice.

After reading all these quotes, the obvious question is: If God has no anger, then what are we appeasing? It can’t be punishment, because the appeasement of the anger averted the punishment.

I hope that this will be an eye-opener for those in the Traditional movement who think that the leaders on our side are always right, and our opponents are always wrong.

Yes, I do hope it has been an “eye-opener,” but not for the reasons Mr. Field intended. I’m sorry to say that, Mr. Field did not do his homework before he came to this discussion. . . . although it is very obvious that Mr. Field intended to, as they say, “get even” with me for Hahn’s sake by attempting to critique my view of God’s nature, it is clear that Mr. Field has not thought out what is necessary in such a discussion. Quoting Thomas is one thing; understanding him is quite another. Speaking of God’s anger as a metaphor is one thing; understanding the complete theology about anger, appeasement, atonement, propitiation, punishment is quite another.

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