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I understand that most (though not all) Christians believe that God is disembodied.

God cannot be corporeal because that would preclude his being eternal, immutable, and simple, for example.

Does anyone claim that a disembodied personality or agency is problematic, as problematic as the paradoxes of omnipotence, for example.

I have read a fair amount about Merleau-Ponty, a while ago now, who claims that persons are their embodiment. The arguments against that I found pretty useless, for example the possibility of out of body experiences. But would that extend to divine persons?

  • hm ok thanks @MauroALLEGRANZA not sure i made it clear, but i meant "problematic" in the sense of involving an objection that would need to be overcome – user35983 Mar 18 at 14:08
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    "The repudiation of any sort of pantheism is regarded as a chief exploit of Thomas Aquinas, and he accomplishes it by his classical radical distinction between the natural and the supernatural. But it in turn leads to this, that the First Mover is rendered always external in regard to the world and to man, and that these relationships begin to resemble a mere mechanical impulse. ". N Berdyaev – Gordon Mar 18 at 16:50
  • Merleau-Ponty describes embodiment as our way of being a person, phenomenological approach precludes any abstract claims about what something else could be out there. The idea is similar to Kant's, it is problematic for us to know the thing in itself because we are limited by our categories, but there is no problem for other beings to have intellectual intuition. Panentheists, like Griffin, often criticize the idea of transcendent god, see SEP and Kim's Transcendence and Immanence. – Conifold Mar 18 at 20:11
  • INCORPOREAL SUBSTANCE (pps117-132) archive.org/details/philoralph00lowruoft/page/116 – Bread Mar 19 at 0:58
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The disembodiment of God is, indeed, problematic. Dominic J. O'Meara describes the problem in terms of the disembodied Platonic Forms: (page 23)

...how could one Form (for example, the Form of beauty) be present in many (beautiful) things without being divided up among them? The presence of the Form in a multitude seems to mean destruction of the Form as a whole, as a unity. This cannot be right. But to save the Form's unity, one must abandon its presence in many things. This too is unacceptable.

According to O'Meara, "Aristotle considered it as yet another decisive reason for rejecting Plato's theory of Forms (Metaphysics, 1.6)."

Aristotle, including others at least to the time of Plotinus when he provided a solution, should have found disembodied realities problematic for similar reasons. Plotinus's interpretation of Plato put the bodies in these Forms rather than the Forms splitting into different bodies. (See Chapter 2 of O'Meara's text.) If that seems odd, think of planets in a gravitational field rather than the other way around.

This may help resolve issues of God or Plotinus's One being disembodied and show that there was a problem considering the idea of being disembodied from this perspective.


O'Meara, D. J. (1995). Plotinus: an introduction to the Enneads. Oxford University Press on Demand.

  • thanks for the answer, it didn't help me a huge amount, though i can't place why. maybe just my stupidity, hopefully it helps someone who might ask a similar question, though! – user35983 Mar 18 at 14:55
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    Quite hard to connect to "theological problems". The idea of God of monotheistic religions is not "available" to Aristotle. From a Western perspective, based on mind (soul)-body dichotomy, God is on the "soul-side"; this is not so for Aristotle, which has no such dichotomy : soul in Aristotle is linked with organism, also if it is not a body or a corporeal thing. According to Epicurean and Stoics soul is corporeal. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 18 at 15:20
  • Plotinus lived ca.250 CE and was aware of e.g. Gnosticism (the Christians heresy). Plotinus' critique of A is based the rejection of the identification of the first principle with the Unmoved Mover : "the first principle of all, the Good or the One, must be beyond thinking if it is to be absolutely simple. [...] according to Plotinus, Aristotle then misconceives being such that he identifies it with substance or ousia. But for the first principle, it must be unlimited in the way that ousia is not." This "sounds much more theological". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 18 at 15:25
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA The issue of disembodiment of the Platonic Forms is analogous to any disembodiment issue with theism. Plotinus's One could be viewed as a theism. As I understand it from O'Meara the One does go beyond Aristotle's or earlier Platonists' views of these disembodied realities. – Frank Hubeny Mar 18 at 15:53
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    @mauroallegranza : soul-problem as the fundament of which the God-problem is the corrolary — neat formulation! Do note though that the soul as dualistically separate from the body is a Cartesian concoction ‹ghost in the machine› and not an originally christian one. The very word for soul (spirit) in Greek –pneuma – suggests a relation with Hindu prana – Rusi Mar 18 at 16:12
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It’s problematic only to a point. The pivot being the solution.

In Christianity God is three distinct persons that are echâd or in English united but most translate it directly from Greek rather than Hebrew and read God is One which gives the impression that He is singular. Echâd in Hebrew does not mean singular it means united (I’m simplifying) but if the Hebrew wanted to say one singular, they would have used yachid. So God is united Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The second person of God according to the Bible after Creation and prior to incarnation stripped himself of his divine glory and was indistinguishable from the other heavenly hosts (angels if you will).

So the invisible God had a representative in the material realm that could materialize if he so chose to speak to humans.

Ontop of that God placed his Spirit into men, until He decided to remove his Spirit from all men because their thoughts were continually only toward evil. He would select a few to represent him in each age/generation, namely prophets and seers.

At the incarnation the second person of God further humbled himself by taking on the biological housing of a human body. And He fully represented God before men and men before God.

But after his death, resurrection and ascension he sent his Spirit back to those who would believe upon him.

So now God is able to dwell in all who receive Him.

The human body is not who we are, it’s a housing of our person and together with us we can have God inside our biological housing.

So in a sense God has never been disembodied in the material realm. Whether through His Spirit living in men, him taking on form that is not in his full glory prior to Creation or incarnating. God has always embodied.

But beyond that the human spirit can communicate with Spirit and bypass the mind altogether or involve the mind.

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    "The second person of God according to the Bible after Creation and prior to incarnation stripped himself of his divine glory and was indistinguishable from the other heavenly hosts" What Bible verses are you thinking of there? I've never heard Christians teach such a thing. His Kenosis was strictly only at the incarnation onwards. – curiousdannii Mar 20 at 3:57
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    "The human body is not who we are, it’s a housing of our person and together with us we can have God inside our biological housing." This is also not orthodox Christian teaching, which says that we are a body-soul/spirit union. It is as unnatural for a human to be without their body as it is for their body to lack a soul, and orthodox Christianity teaches the afterlife will be lived embodied. – curiousdannii Mar 20 at 3:58
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    “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” ‭‭John‬ ‭17:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. In order to be given back a glory that He has prior to Creation He must have given it up prior to Creation. That is why He is often referred to as the angel of the Lord because he essentially took on a form of an angel. Let me known if I’ve answered your question please. Thank you – Autodidact Mar 20 at 9:55
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    “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:19‬, also “Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” ‭‭John‬ ‭14:23‬. You are not your body but your body is yours. And when I say you are not your body I’m saying there is more to you than just your body the housing that has been corrupted by sin, you also have a soul and a spirit. I guess I don’t disagree with you. Did I answer this comment also? – Autodidact Mar 20 at 10:00
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    Maybe I should have worded it differently, the human body is not the sum total of who we are, we also have a soul and a spirit. I did over simplify some aspects of my response to keep it short. But thank you for letting me know how it sounded and that I ought to be more precise in future @curiousdannii – Autodidact Mar 20 at 10:05

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