Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism (from ἄνθρωπος, a man, and μορφή, a form), 1. A term used to signify the "representation of divinity under a human form;" and the nations or sects who have followed this practice have been sometimes called Anthropomorphites (q.v.). The Egyptians represented deities under human forms, as well as those of animals, and sometimes under a combination of the two. The ancient Persians, as Herodotus tells us (1, 131), adored the Supreme Being under no visible form of their own creation, but they worshipped on the tops of mountains, and sacrificed to the sun and moon, to earth, fire, water, and the winds. The Hebrews were forbidden (Ex 20:4-5) to make any image or the representation of any animated being whatever. The Greeks were essentially anthropomorphists, and could never separate the idea of superior powers from the representation of them under a human form; hence, in their mythology and in their arts, each deity had his distinguishing attributes and a characteristic human shape. Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans revere God as a spirit, and therefore reject all representations of Deity in human form.

2. The term is also used to denote that figure of speech by which the sacred writers attribute to God parts, actions, and affections which properly belong to man; as when they speak of the eyes of God, his hand, etc. Anthropomorphism (ἀνθρωπόμορφος) differs from anthropopathy (ἀνθρωποπαθής) in this: the first is the attributing to God any thing whatever which, strictly speaking, is applicable to man only; the second is the act of attributing to God passions which belong to man's nature.

Instances of both are found in the Scriptures, by which they adapt themselves to human modes of speaking, and to the limited capacities of men (see Klugling, Ueb. d. Anthropomorph smus d. Bibel, Danz. 1806; Gelpe, Apologie d. anthropomorph. u. anthropopath. Darstellung Gottes, Leips. 1842). These anthropopathies we must, however, interpret in a manner suitable to the majesty of the Divine nature. Thus, when the members of a human body are ascribed to God, we must understand by them those perfections of which such members are in us the instruments. The eye, for instance, represents God's knowledge and watchful care; the arm his power and strength; his ear the regard he pays to prayer and to the cry of oppression and misery, etc. Farther, when human affections are attributed to God, we must so interpret them as to imply no imperfection, such as perturbed feeling, in him. When God is said to repent, the antecedent, by a frequent figure of speech, is put for the consequent; and in this case we are to understand an altered mode of proceeding on the part of God, which in man is the effect of repenting.

Bible concordance for ANTHROPOMORPHISMS.

Anthropomorphitic phrases, generally considered, are such as ascribe to the Deity mixed perfections and human imperfections. These phrases may be divided into three classes, according to which we ascribe to God:

1. Human actions (ἀνθρωποποίησις);

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

2. Human affections, passions, and sufferings (anthropopathy);

3. Human form, human organs, human members (anthropomorphism).

A rational being, who receives impressions through the senses, can form conceptions of the Deity only by a consideration of his own powers and properties (Journal Sac. Lit. 1848, p. 9 sq.). Anthropomorphitic modes of thought are therefore unavoidable in the religion of mankind; and although they can furnish no other than corporeal or sensible representations of the Deity, they are nevertheless true and just when we guard against transferring to God qualities pertaining to the human senses. It is, for instance, a proper expression to assert that God knows all things; it is improper, that is, tropical or anthropomorphitic, to say that he sees all things. Anthropomorphism is thus a species of accommodation (q.v.), inasmuch as by these representations the Deity, as it were, lowers himself to the comprehension of men. We can only think of God as the archetype of our own spirit, and the idea of God can no longer be retained if we lose sight of this analogy. Anthropomorphism must be supplanted by Christianity; anthropopathism is not supplanted, but spiritualized and refined. Only what is false must be rejected — that crudeness which transfers to God human passions (πάθη) and defects, for want of recollecting the elevation of the Supreme Being, as well as his relationship to man. Christianity must teach us to distinguish what is owing to the corrupting influence of sin from what constitutes the true analogy between God and man. In heathenism a false anthropopathism prevailed, since polytheism presented in its gods the apotheosis of human qualities, not only of virtues, but of vices, and withal a deification of the power manifested in Nature. Among the common, carnally-minded Jews there was a corresponding crudeness in their views of the Divine attributes; for omnipotence was represented as unlimited caprice, and punitive justice as perfectly analogous to human wrath. McCosh remarks that "of all systems, Pantheism is the most apt, in our times, to land in Anthropomorphism. For, if God and his works be one, then we shall be led to look on humanity as the highest manifestation of the divinity, and the natural devoutness of the heart will find vent in hero-worship, or the foolish raving about great men, which has been so common among the eminent literary men of the age now passing away, the issue of the Pantheism which rose like a vapor in Germany, and came over like a fog into Britain and America" (Intuitions of the Mind, pt. 3, § 5). See Seiler, Bibl. Hermeneutik, p. 56; Penny Cyclopoedia, s.v.; Home, Introduction, 1, 362; Neander, Hist. of Dogmas, 1, 102 sq.; Tappe, De Anthropopatica (Dorp. 1815).

 
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