“God Has No Body” Part 3.1

Find Part 1 here.

One of the primary arguments used by those who claim that God is incorporeal is an appeal to the teachings of the early Church Fathers. Often men like Origen and Augustine are quoted among scores of other early Christian leaders, expounding over and over again variations of the philosophy that God is without body, parts, or passion. The formal argument is relatively simple, and goes something like this:

  1. The Church Fathers are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts
  3. Thus, God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts (1) (2)

It is not necessarily important to include each and every quote by Church Fathers regarding the incorporeality of God. For my purposes, it is sufficient to imply them as an appendage to the second premise above.

The First Premise

It may be significant to note that this argument is guilty of the logical fallacy of an appeal to authority. In all fairness, though, this error should be taken completely seriously. Certainly, we cannot say that some secular principle is true for certain just because someone else believes it. In relation to religious principles, though, we often believe things primarily because they were written by prophets or taught by prominent deities (like God or Jesus Christ). While ignoring this fallacy may be unacceptable for non-Christian or non-religious audiences, it would be counter to my purpose to investigate these issues from a completely secular standpoint. Thus, while it may be significant to note the fallacy, it is also significant to note that (in this arena of discourse) that fallacy is not important.

The issue of how reliable the Church Fathers are, though, is still a very important question to consider, for the entire argument hinges on their reliability. If they are not reliable, we cannot consider what they taught (including what they taught about the incorporeality of God) to be of any worth.

There is considerable evidence that they do not carry any substantial authority to direct the Christian Church or make statements of belief, some of which I will discuss below. Perhaps most importantly, they received no authority from Jesus Christ, the head of the Church. A poem illustrates this point. Watching his brother John ordain priests and ministers according to the dictates of his own whims, Charles Wesley wrote the now famous lines:

So easily are bishops made
By men’s or women’s whim?
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid
But who laid hands on him?

The same could be said of the early Church Fathers. They spoke with supposed authority, but where exactly did that authority come from? Who “laid hands” on them? Any quick read of Catholic history will show that doubtful is the claim that any authority was transferred from Peter to any other members of the Catholic Papacy, let alone the Church Fathers. So who gave the Church Fathers this authority?

The answer is no one. When the Savior organized his Church, he ordained the apostles to be the leaders of the Church. Revelation was given through them after the ascension of Christ. They formed, with Christ, the foundation of the Church. It was through this foundation that the Church was guided, and it is evident from the calling of additional apostles like Matthias and Paul that the organization was meant to continue. When it ceased to continue, so did that link between Jesus Christ and the Church. And like any structure without a foundation, the Church began to crumble. Within a short time, it was in a state of apostasy (see also here).

The importance of the apostles was not lost on contemporaries of the early Church. Hegesippus wrote that

“the church continued until then as a pure virgin and uncorrupt virgin: whilst if there were any at all attempted to pervert the sound doctrine of the saving gospel, they were yet skulking in dark retreats; but when the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom had passed away, then also the combination of impious errors arose by fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there were none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth” (emphasis added).

See also FAIR’s article on the Church Father’s recognition of the apostasy that was happening around them.

The bottom line in relation to the Church Fathers is that they had no claim to any authority. Instead, it was the apostles who were able to lead the Church and dictate statements of belief, and that line of authority was broken when they, the highest authoritative body, ceased to exist.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The apostles, not the Church Fathers, are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts
  3. Thus, God may or may not be an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts (1) (2)

Continued at Part 3.2.

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