The one thing it is impossible for God to do, part 2

While we’re on the subject of theological paradoxes, I want to share an excerpt from a book with you.

The book is a biography of Erasmus, the famous sixteenth century humanist. We touched on the issue humorously in a previous post, the one thing it is impossible for God to do. But Erasmus addressed the issue quite seriously, as a significant philosophical problem.

(In case you don’t already know: Erasmus was a sixteenth century scholar, priest, and humanist. He prepared the edition of the Greek New Testament which was used by the King James Version translators. He criticized Roman Catholic clergy for the abuses they perpetrated, and was dismayed by the ignorance of the lay people. Thus Erasmus prepared the way for the Protestant Reformers, notably Martin Luther. Unlike Luther, however, Erasmus never left the Roman Catholic Church.)

This excerpt is from Erasmus of Christendom by Roland Bainton.

The doctrine of God’s omnipotence asserts that God can do whatever He will. In that case can He contradict Himself? Can He make black white? Can He make the past not to have been the past so that a harlot might be a virgin? Can God set aside all the canons of Christian morality? Can He make right wrong? Can He cause a man to hate God?

ErasmusErasmus perceived that absolute power corrupts even God. There must be some limitation, otherwise all the standards of Christian morality lose their religious undergirding.Once more, can God do something preposterous as that He should become incarnate not in the man Christ Jesus but in an ass, a cucumber, or a stone? This final question might have prompted serious inquiry in more than one direction. Comparative religion is involved because only Christianity makes the claim that God became incarnate in the form of a man. Other religions do assert that God inhabits animals and objects. Why should not God become incarnate … in an ass since in the Old Testament God caused Balaam’s ass to speak? …

The Christian answer to these queries points to the theme dear to the Renaissance of the dignity of man. Erasmus did proclaim the dignity of man but he was not interested in relating this to the incarnation. Sufficient to believe that God did become incarnate in Christ, to believe, to adore, and to imitate.

A couple of weeks ago, Jamie posed a very difficult theological question: is God above the rules of right and wrong, or is God accountable to those rules? Both possibilities seem to be unacceptable.

I note that Erasmus wrestled with the same riddle: Can God set aside all the canons of Christian morality? Can He make right wrong?

I also note that Erasmus gave the wrong answer to the question. (At least, I think it’s the wrong answer, though some less enlightened souls agree with Erasmus: see the dialogue in the comment section of Jamie’s post.) Erasmus perceived that absolute power corrupts even God. There must be some limitation, otherwise all the standards of Christian morality lose their religious undergirding.

If you find the discussion interesting, please note that Jamie also published a follow-up post. In the follow-up, we did our best to find middle ground where none appears to exist.

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