Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Anthropomorphitae

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Anthropomorphitae (Anthropomorphism), (ἄνθρωπος, man, and μορφή, form). Terms applied to those who ascribe to God human shape and form. We must distinguish two kinds of anthropomorphism, a doctrinal and a symbolical. The former is heretical, the latter Scriptural, and necessarily arises from the imperfection of human language and human knowledge of God. The one takes the Scripture passages which speak of God's arm, hand, eye, ear, mouth, etc., literally; the other understands and uses them figuratively. Anthropomorphism is always connected with anthropopathism (from ἄνθρωπος and πάθος, passion), which ascribes to God human passions and affections, such as wrath, anger, envy, jealousy, pity, repentance. The latter, however, does not necessarily imply the former. All forms of idolatry, especially those of Greece and Rome, are essentially anthropomorphic and anthropopathic. The classical divinities are in character simply deified men and women. The Christian, Jewish, and Mohammedan religions teach that God is a Spirit, and thus elevate him above the reach of materialistic and sensual conceptions and representations. But within the Christian church anthropomorphism appeared from time to time as an isolated opinion or as the tenet of a party. Tertullian is often charged with it, because he ascribed to God a body (Adv. Prax. c. 7: "Quis enim negabit, Deum corpus esse, etsi Deus Spiritus est? Spiritus enim corpus sui generis in effigie"). But he probably identified corporeality with substantiality, and hence he maintained that everything real had a body of some kind (de Carne Chr. c. 11: "Omne quod est, corpus est sui generis, nihil est incorporale, nisi quod non est"). The pseudo-Clementine Homilies (xvii. 2 seq.) teach that God, in order to be an object of love, must be the highest beauty, and consequently have a body, since there is no beauty without form; nor could we pray to a God Who was mere spirit. (Cf. Baur, Vorlesungen über die Dogmengeschichte, vol. i. p. 412.) In the middle of the 4th cent. Audius, or Audaeus, of Syria, a bold censor of the luxury and vices of the clergy, and an irregularly consecrated bishop, founded a strictly ascetic sect, which were called Audians or Anthropomorphites, and maintained themselves, in spite of repeated persecution, till the close of the 5th cent. He started from a literal interpretation of Gen. i. 28, and reasoned from the nature of man to the nature of God, Whose image he was (Epiphanius, Haer. 70; Theod. H. E. iv. 9; Walch, Ketzerhistorie, iii. 300). During the Origenistic controversies towards the end of the 4th cent., anthropomorphism was held independently by many Egyptian monks in the Scetic desert, who, with Pachomius at their head, were the most violent opponents of the spiritualistic theology of Origen, and were likewise called Anthropomorphites; they felt the need of material conceptions in their prayers and ascetic exercises. Theophilus of Alexandria, formerly an admirer of Origen, became his bitter opponent, and expelled the Origenists from Egypt, but nevertheless he rejected the Anthropomorphism of the anti-Origenistic monks (Ep. Pastr. for 399). In the present century Anthropomorphism has been revived by the Mormons, who conceive God as an intelligent material being, with body, members, and passions, and unable to occupy two distinct places at once.