AskDefine | Define impassible

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Unable to be passed or traversed.
    The road, under three feet of water, was completely impassible.
  2. Unable to suffer.
  3. Unable to feel.

Extensive Definition

Impassibility (from Latin in-, "not", passibilis, "able to suffer, experience emotion") describes the theological doctrine that God does not experience pain or pleasure from the actions of another being. Some theological systems portray God as a being subject to many (or all) emotions; in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, however, it is understood that God is not subject to sin. Biblical scholars do not take anthropomorphic phrases in the Bible like "the finger of God" or "the hand of God" to mean that God literally has a hand or finger. This is not the case in all religions: many folk religions, especially ones dealing with ancestor worship, will treat good weather, favorable harvests, etc., as a sign that the gods are pleased, and will attribute disease or misfortune to their anger.
Many polytheistic traditions portray their gods as feeling a wide range of emotions. For example, Zeus is famous for his lustfulness, Susano-o for his intemperance, and Balder for his joyousness and calm. Impassibility in the Western tradition traces back to ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, who first proposed the idea of God as a perfect, omniscient, timeless, and unchanging being not subject to human emotion (which represents change and imperfection). The concept of impassibility was developed by medieval theologians like Anselm and continues to be in tension with more emotional concepts of God. Recent works on divine impassibility:
Gavrilyuk, Paul L. (2004). The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004/ 2006.
Weinandy, Thomas G. (2000). Does God Suffer? Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000.
Creel, Richard E. (1986). Divine Impassibility. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
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