Apatheia and atonement : grammar of salvation for contemporary Christian theology.




Kim, Paul Inhwan.

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I propose to study the axiomatic significance of apatheia (divine impassibility) in contemporary Christian understanding of atonement. The claim that God suffers, an anathema for centuries, is commonplace in many contemporary theologies. In the face of the human suffering witnessed in the bloodiest century, God’s apatheia as held by the great fathers and doctors of the church seems both immoral and unscriptural to modern Christians. As Western thinkers reject the patristic concept of divine impassibility and immutability as a Hellenistic contamination, East-Asian theologians such as Kazoh Kitamori and Andrew Park also attempt to contextualize the gospel based on divine pathos (suffering). Kitamori’s “theology of pain” attempts to reconstruct Luther’s theology of cross with the Japanese traditional ethos of tsurasa (pain). Park’s “theology of han (deep wound)” makes a radical claim that God’s han relieves human han, as he incorporates the insights of Process Theology through his Korean experience. Against the widespread contemporary rejection of the classical axiom of divine impassibility, this dissertation contends that the patristic articulation of apatheia is
indispensable to express a holistic salvation of Christ’s redemptive life and work. At stake is the theological grammar of salvation: to posit that God is a passible God in order to assuage human suffering would not only undermine a true understanding of God, but also distort the mystery and integrity of the Incarnation. Among many patristic theologians who uphold apatheia as apophatic (negative) qualification of God’s perfect affections, Cyril of Alexandria augments it to be the ontological and soteriological certitude for divine agape. Cyril’s mia (one subject) Christology construes the transformative redemption of sinners in the person of the incarnate Word whose “impassible suffering” not only undoes the effects of the fall but also restores humanity to God’s original intention of eternal communion. Contrary to simplistic modern misunderstanding of apatheia, divine impassibility deepens our understanding of God’s unconditioned love and its transformative power with a greater hope that divine healing will lead us to participate in his divine nature.



Theology., Soteriology., Contextual theology., Atonement., Kitamori, Kazō, 1916-1998., Cyril, Saint, Patriarch of Alexandria, ca. 370-444., Park, Andrew Sung.