Does God Have a Body?
on Divine Embodiment in Christ & Creation
Does God have a body? The very idea may seem preposterous: God is not an animal, whether rational or irrational. The higher up we move on the chain of being, the more ethereal its occupants. Even if, as some maintain, angels, too, have bodies, it would still seem axiomatic to say that God does not. He is spiritual, infinite, and invisible—perfections that appear at odds with an embodied God. The problematic implications of divine embodiment seem obvious: it either makes God human (anthropomorphism), or it confuses him with the cosmos (pantheism).
When St. Augustine asks whether we can see God with bodily eyes, he is at pains to reject the error of the anthropomorphites: “There are some who presume that God is nothing but a body, supposing that whatever is not a body is not a substance at all. I think that we must oppose them in every way” (Ep. 147). Ascribing embodiment to God would seem to drag him down to the human level. Or, at best, it would place him alongside the Greco-Roman gods: Zeus had a body, but his sexual escapades make clear that it was the source of endless trouble. We may well end up anthropomorphizing and mythologizing the Christian faith by ascribing a body to God.
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Hans Boersma is the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Professor in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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