Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Thomas on God’s Incorporeality: Reason away your Imagination (SCG 20)

For Christians, it is clear from the Bible that God is not a body. John 4:24 (“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth”) and 1 Tim. 1:17 (“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen”) are just two of many Bible verses that clearly state this truth. But the biblical teaching, according to Thomas, is also known through reason. Chapter 20 of the Summa Contra Gentiles gives several arguments for this conclusion (for one, God’s having infinite power is incompatible with his residing in a finite body), but that’s not what interests me for this post. What’s interesting is his concluding remark about what lead so many previous thinkers and (non-Christian) theologians into thinking that God does have a body:

“The occasion of all these errors was that, in thinking of divine things, men were made the victims of their imagination, through which it is not possible to receive anything except the likeness of a body. That is why, in meditating on what is incorporeal, we must stop following the imagination.” (SCG, 1.20)

Our imaginations necessarily deal with the sensory world—try imagining something immaterial!—and are apt to err with respect to God’s being. Yet through reason we can ‘strip away’ various properties of embodied things from our thoughts about God in order to follow the Bible’s (and, if Thomas is right, reason’s) clear teaching that God has no body.

In another sense, however, God does have a body, the body of Jesus of Nazereth. God has freely become Incarnate in Jesus Christ, taking on human nature and becoming flesh, though without suffering any change. This is the great mystery of the Christian faith: our bodiless God elected embodiment for himself through his Son Jesus Christ, for the sake of his children.


  1. Danny you master at obfuscation, does the commentator thinks it is possible to "strip away various properties of emododied things."

  2. 1 Tim. 1:17 (“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen”)

    One thing he doesn't say is incorporeal. To make God not have a body you have to throw away Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. Ok, you'll say, Jesus has a human body. Sure, but you say the Father doesn't. So how is Jesus (in a body) sitting at the right hand of God (no body)? For it to work, both have to have bodies. Duh.

  3. Denying that God has eyes, hands, ears, emotions, simply leads to atheism. "He that formed the eye, can he not see? He that formed the ear, can he not hear?" I think its Isaiah that says that. Fine, he that formed the butt, can he not sit on a throne? He who formed the hands, can he not have Jesus sit on his right hand? Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Maimonides, and all who deny that God has hands, etc. are atheists.