The God of Plotinus is the God of Calvinism, who needs the Bible anyway? Part III Impassibility and other Impossibilities

“We correctly deny that God has passions …He cannot be affected by love” [1]

C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study

C.S. Lewis is a consistent Calvinist and a remarkable Neo-Platonist philosopher.  He is driven by his relentless logic to the conclusion, “God cannot be affected by love.”  As shown in the section on the immutability of Plotinus, immutability drives reason to the impassibility of god.  God cannot change, if he was influenced by the world he would be subject to change, therefore the events of the world cannot affect god.

Few modern theologians are honest enough to admit this conclusion of their Neo-Platonic attributes of God.  In a real human crisis, people fall on their knees, cry out to God and beg for his attention.  Modern congregations will not listen to such ideas.  There are a few modern theologians who would openly agree with C.S. Lewis. Some Calvinists such as Bruce Ware redefine impassibility and offer an incoherent and irrational redefinition of impassibility; God has passion but is passionless, he has emotions but is immutable.  More classical theologians will redefine impassibility to mean “God does not suffer” or “God has no emotions” or “God has no negative emotions.”  These foolish and inconsistent spin stories will be examined in later articles on impassibility.

Of all the classical attributes, this is the most blasphemous attack on God.  There is a need to cleanse the mouth with a short sermon before examining this attribute.  Recognize this, there are no apophatic or negative rationalization in the Scripture, supporting the classical attributes of God.  The structure and reasoning are borrowed from the Platonists but especially from Plotinus.  The terminology of immutability, impassibility, infinite etc are from Greek metaphysics.  Even if these terms are redefined to make them more palatable to modern audience, the bias and fondness for these ideas are still maintained.  Modern day classical theologians are modern day Neo-Platonists.

Matthew 12:41

The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.

Jonah’s prophecy to Ninevah was clear, unambiguous, and without condition: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  Jonah and the people of Ninevah realized something about the attributes of God.  God is affected by the prayers of people on earth and God will change his mind.

Jonah 3:9

Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

God saw the people of Ninevah repent, he was affected by their repentance and he responded to their actions.

Jonah 3:10

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

He did not foresee their repentance.  He saw their repentance and changed his mind and had mercy on them.  If the people of Ninevah will rise up in the last days and condemn the people of Israel for not believing in a greater prophet than Jonah (Jesus), how will the people of Ninevah not condemn those who believe God is immutable and impassible?


There is a bit of a controversy in Christian circles, does impassibility mean God is unable to be affected by other things or does impassibility mean God does not suffer. There is no controversy in the Neo-platonic philosophical definition of impassibility.  Impassibility is from the Latin in-, “not”, and passibilis, “able to be affected by other things and the Greek form is similar from (απαθες) apathes.

Passible and suffer had a similar etymology or historical development.  Suffer meant to bear under something.  Originally this only meant to be affect for better or worse.  Passible meant to be affect by something else.  Eventually each word was used in the negative sense as in feeling pain.  Eventually the sense of feeling pain became the predominant use of the words.  This is not the way Plotinus uses impassible.  Plotinus means not affected by other things.[2]

Plotinus believes real being (to on) which is in the Intellect, is the second person of the Plotinian triad.  In the Six Ennead he will claim the One is immutableWithout.. undergoing any change,  …remains the same.  This immutable one is eternalthere is no coming-to-be about it .” Because the One is immutable, it cannot change by being first in one place then another,  (one part of it cannot be here and another there), the One must not be in any place (omnipresent).  Because the One cannot be in any place, the One has no parts, it is simple.  Here is the logical connection between immutability, eternality, omnipresent and simplicity.

In the Fifth Ennead, the One is impassible because it is immutable (without  being moved).  The image presented is a person turning his back on the real world and looking at himself instead.  This is radical impassibility.  The One not only does not care about the world, he turns his back on it.

The One has no such end, so we must not consider that it moves.  If anything comes into being after it, we must think that it is necessarily does so while the One remains continually turned towards itself…what comes into being from the One does so without the One being moved.[3]

If this is not a sufficient metaphor, Plotinus will say, without metaphor, the One is unconcerned with the world. The One is sometimes referred to as the Good.  Here the One is portrayed as not caring about the world.  He does not care if they even exist, he needs nothing from the world and he leaves the world alone.

The Good then is master also of this derived power.  He does not need the things which have come into being from him, but leaves what has come into being altogether alone, because he needs nothing of it, but is the same as he was before he brought it into being .  He would not  have cared if it had not come into being; and if anything else could have been derived from him, he would not have grudged its existence.[4]

This image of God as impassible is entirely foreign to the Scriptures.  God cares enough about Israel to remember their afflictions in Egypt, to establish the Kingdom of David and Solomon. He cares enough for the world to send his only begotten Son to die for the world.  The modern concept of impassibility will be examined later, it is foreign to the Word of God.

The God of Scriptures desires to be in communication with us and is passionate in his attempts to reach us.  God complains, he is continually reaching out to the world but the world is rejecting
God.  The Neo-Platonist reverses this order.  He claims the world is reaching out to god but god is unmoved and impassible towards the world.  God is not impassible, he is not like the god of the Neo-Platonists.

Romans 3:10-11

 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;  There is none who understands;                                                                                                                                There is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside;

Romans 10:21

But to Israel he says: “All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people.”

Plotinus Enneads

The One does not desire us, so as to be around us, but we desire it, so that we are around it.[5]


Aseity (from Latin a “from” and se “self”, plus -ity making the word an adjective), this attribute refers to the property by which God needs nothing from any other being.  He exists in and for himself.  Plotinus will call this self-sufficiency.

For since he is he most sufficient and independent of all things, he must also be the most without need; but everything which is many is also in need unless it becomes one from many….Given, then, that there must be something supremely self-sufficient(autarkestaton), it must be the One, which is the  only thing of such a kind as not to be in need either in relation to itself or to anything else.  For it does not seek anything for its being or for its wellbeing, or its establishment in its place.[6]


Most lay people would be taken by surprise on the concept of eternality.  The Scripture presents God as being Everlasting.

Revelation 1:8

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”


This is a claim that God has existed in the past, exists now in the present and will exist in the future.  This is not eternal time.


The classical theologian does not believe in an everlasting God, he believes in an eternal God.  This is a God that exists outside of time.  This is the concept of atemporality.  An atemporal

God sees the past happening, the present happening and future events happening as if all event are in present time.  This is referred to as the “Eternal Now.”    There should be no surprise that such a concept does not exist in the Scriptures and was first introduced into philosophy through the Platonists.  Plotinus will discuss the concept in detail in the Enneads.

Seeing all this one sees eternity in seeing a life that abides in the same, and always has the all present to it, not now this and again that, but all things at once, and not now all things and then again others, but a partless completion, as if they were altogether in a point, and had not yet begun to go out and flow into lines; it is something that abides in the same in itself and does not change at all but is always in the present, because nothing of it has passed away, nor again is there anything to come into being but that which it is, it is… Necessarily there will be no “was” about it, for what  is there that was for it, and has passed away?  Nor any “will be” for what will be for it? So there remains for it only to be in its being just what it is.  That then which was not, and will not be, but is only, which has being which is static by not changing to the “will be”, nor ever having changed, this is eternity.[7]

Plotinus Enneads

Here in the Enneads Plotinus is referring to the Intellect.  The Intellect has no temporal sense because the Intellect is immutable.  (nor ever having changed)  This idea of change is incompatible with the eternal nature.   Since time is one category of Aristotle’s accidents, Plotinus follows the changelessness of Intellect in accordance with the categories.  Plotinus believes if there is a past for the intellect then this would be a change in him.


How then does multiplicity come from the One? Because it is everywhere, for there is nowhere where it is not.  Therefore, it fills all things; so it is many or rather it is already all.  Now if it itself were only everywhere, it would itself be all things; but since it is also nowhere, all things come into being through him, because he is everywhere, but are other than him because he is nowhere. ..Therefore, he must fill all things and make all things, not be all the things he makes.

Plotinus. Ennead III. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. 1988.  442. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001.  P413 (III,9,4)

Plotinus asks how does The One which is simple (without parts) can produce compound things which are multiple.  The answer is found in a negative argument.  The One is not in any place. (it is also nowhere) At the same time the One is the cause of all things and is in some way present in the all things that come from him.  Now both of being nowhere and being in all things could be said of something that was all things (pantheism).  The solution in panentheism, the One is in everything.  (he must fill all things)   This explains the ideas of omnipresence and casuality in the One.  The omnipresence of the One is derived from his simplicity, immutability and casuality.


In relation to the attributes God, the Scriptures do not have a metaphysical system resembling the philosophical concepts in Platonism.  Classical Christian theology will borrow from the Platonists to build their theological concepts about the attributes of God.  The problem of this borrowing process is that the God of Classical Christian theology looks like the god of the Platonists.

The god of the Platonists is not the God of the revelation of Scriptures.  Their god was built on a logical reconstruction of a perfect being in reaction against the gods of Homer and Hesiod.  This process of building god from logic is called reification.

In order to reify God, the Classical Christian theologians had to ignore certain direct statements and metaphors in the Scripture.  Then the theologians would modify the accepted Platonist attributes to make them more compatible with the Scriptures which resisted their reification with a stubborn consistency.

In coming articles, the two strains of theology in Augustine and Aquinas will be examined.  It will be demonstrated that Augustine relies on immutability as a base attribute for this theology on the nature of God and Aquinas will use simplicity as a base attribute.  Both attributes are Platonic attributes without Scriptural support.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1960-1974), 92- 93.

[2] Now if this is real being (to on ontwV) and remains the same (wsautwV ecei)and does not depart from itself and there is no coming-to-be about it and , as was said, it is not in place, it is necessary for it, being in this state to be always with itself, and not to stand away from itself, one part of it cannot be here and another there, nor can anything come out of it; For if it did it would already be in different places, and, in general, would be in something and not on its own or unaffected, (apaqhV)for it would be affected it was in something else; but if it is going to be in a state of freedom(apaqhV) from affection it will not be in something else. If, therefore, without departing from itself or being divided into part of itself undergoing any change  metabollan mhdemian metabolhn), it is many things at once, existing at the same time as one whole with itself, then, being the same everywhere…

Plotinus. Ennead VI. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. 1988. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001. P 331. VI,5,2)


[3] Plotinus. Ennead V. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library 444. 1984. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001.  P 29-31 (V,1,6)


[4] Plotinus. Ennead V. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001.  P 193.  (V.5.13)


[5] Plotinus. Ennead VII. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. 1988. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001.  P 333 (VI,9,8)


[6] Plotinus. Ennead VII. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. 1988. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001.  P 325 (VI,9,6)

[7] Plotinus. Ennead III. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. 1988.  442. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001.  P 303-305 (III,7,3)


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2 Responses to The God of Plotinus is the God of Calvinism, who needs the Bible anyway? Part III Impassibility and other Impossibilities

  1. Bradley Kevin Broadhead says:

    What evidence do you have for Lewis being “a consistent Calvinist”? To the contrary, I know he takes exception to a certain view of ‘total depravity’ in The Problem of Pain. Furthermore, he consistently defends human freedom throughout his works. Also, your quotation of him is not quite accurate. Your citation goes, “He cannot be affected by love,” but Lewis writes, “The passion of love is something that happens to us as ‘getting wet’ happens to the body: and God is exempt from that ‘passion’ in the same way water is exempt from ‘getting wet’. He cannot be affected with love because he is love. To imagine that love as something less torrential or less sharp than our own temporary and derivative ‘passions’ is a most disastrous fantasy” (the difference being ‘with’ rather than ‘by’).

    • craigfisher says:

      This is real common. If someone even quotes Calvin, then Calvin is not a Calvinist. The concept of impassibility is common in Augustine, Aquinas, Berkhof, Geisler in fact please name a Calvinist who does no believe in an impassible God. The reason is God is immutable and the immutable cannot change or be affected by anything.
      God is love therefore he cannot be affected by love.|
      Love exists independently of God. I can love my daughter or my wife and it is not God loving my wife. To say God is love is to use a metaphor that God is the ultimate expression of love. This is like Jesus saying John 5:1 I am the vine. Jesus is not saying he is a plant with branches. He is saying he has something in common with the vine that is the function of metaphor.
      In order to be affected by love it requires a change in you or in God.
      This is love>Hosea 11:8-9
      “How can I give you up, Ephraim?
      How can I hand you over, Israel?
      How can I treat you like Admah?
      How can I make you like Zeboyim?
      My heart is changed within me;
      all my compassion is aroused.
      9 I will not carry out my fierce anger,

      to have an emotion is to come from the Latin
      Vulgar Latin *exmovēre, for Latin ēmovēre; see e-1, move, motion
      Someone who is in a constant state of bliss has no emotion or love.
      God feels passion for his loved ones. He has emotion. He is not the Calvinist God of water and impassibility.

      You argument is not logical. It is a syllogism based on equivocation. You are confusing the an attribute of God with the essence of God. Love is not a substance of God but an attribute of his character.

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