The Theodicy of Austin Farrer



This article seeks to place the theodicy of the Anglican theologian Austin Farrer, as expressed in Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited (1962), within the context of philosophical and theological approaches to the so-called “problem of evil”. Farrer's work is initially contrasted with the theodicies of John Hick and Richard Swinburne. This comparison reveals some of the rationalist and foundationalist moral assumptions of modern philosophical theodicy of which Hick and Swinburne are representatives. By contrast, it is argued that Farrer's approach is thoroughly theological and begins not with a pre-conceived ethics, but with God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Farrer is thus deemed to have much in common with pre-Enlightenment thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas.

Although Farrer's theodicy is seen to be theological (rather than a philosophical attempt at a resolution of the modern “problem of evil”), it is argued that he resists trends in recent theological approaches to theodicy that claim that God is passible (for example, the work of Jürgen Moltmann). This article defends divine impassibility and argues that, although Farrer's later “metaphysical personalism” implies that God may be personal to the point that he could be said to suffer, his Augustinian notion of the nature of evil as privatio boni strongly implies impassibility. This Farrer is seen to avoid two anthropomorphic approaches to theodicy: one that judges God by the standards of a foundational secular morality, and the other that ascribes certain “personal” emotions to the divine.

This article defends Farrer's theological approach to theodicy and his emphasis on ecclesiology and soteriology. However, the lack of a convincing and thorough dogmatic theology is seen to render his theodicy uncompelling. Despite this weakness, it is argued that Farrer's work points theodicy towards a theological encounter with particular narratives of evil and suffering and away from the consideration of a single “problem of evil” by means of “rational”, philosophical enquiry.