Calvin's commentary on Romans 1:18 (Latin, English translation by MacKenzie):

Ira, ἀνθρωποπαθῶς, more Scripturae pro ultione Dei: quia Deus puniens, prae se fert (nostra opinione) irascentis faciem.

The word wrath, referring to God in human terms as is usual in Scripture, means the vengeance of God, for when God punishes, He has, according to our way of thinking, the appearance of anger.

Nullum ergo motum in Deo significat: sed tantum ad sensum peccatoris, qui plectitur, relationem habet.

The word, therefore, implies no emotion in God, but has reference only to the feelings of the sinner who is punished.

How accurate is this translation?

In particular, I am wondering whether this use of motum 'movement' is nothing more than a typical assertion of divine impassibility, or whether it is stronger, not denying merely that he has no passions (involuntary/passive responses) but also that he has no true active and transcendent anger. Does anyone know how the Reformation era use of the concept of movement, signified by moveo/motum, maps onto our contemporary concepts? (Oxford Dictionaries say that the current sense of emotion dates only from the 19th century.)

  • Would a Thomistic explanation of the term be sufficient? Though he wrote in the 13th century, Aquinas had a considerable influence on discourse in Calvin's day (and even now).
    – brianpck
    Jun 9 '17 at 13:16
  • @Brian I don't know if it will be sufficient, but it would undoubtedly help a lot! Jun 9 '17 at 14:07
  • I can tell you that Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) used motus in the 18th century to speak of "motions of mind," i.e., emotions. Example: primus motus, qui est misericordia Domini . . . (Arcana Coelestia #7): "The first stirring, which is the Lord's mercy . . ." So the use of motus to refer to emotions, including emotions in God, definitely predates the 19th century. Jun 9 '17 at 15:46
  • @LeeWoofenden That does sound like the original sense (according to Wikipedia), which also says it was used as a replacement for passions. I'm not sure how exactly the ODO is differentiating the current sense. I'm not even sure for how long passions and emotions have been distinguished in the context of divine impassibility. Jun 9 '17 at 23:35

This is a partial answer, because I'm more familiar with Classical Latin than that of Calvin's time.

But in classical times, mōtus was specifically "passion", in the sense of a strong and sudden emotion: love or hatred would qualify, but not contentedness. L&S suggest the translations "agitation" and "disturbance", among others, and it was particularly used of political movements and rebellions. Literally, it means a "movement" of the mind or the heart, and was metaphorically applied to emotions strong enough to "move" you.

So if I were translating Calvin's commentary, I would take this simply as emphasizing God's impassibility.

I'm not aware of a Classical word that encompasses all of what we call "emotions" today. For something less strong than mōtus I might use sententia, perhaps, though it's not a perfect fit.

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