Saturday, January 29, 2011

Genesis as Verbal Icon, Part II: Icon of the Creation of Man

The first post in this series dealt with Genesis as an icon of the creation of the whole universe; this second post will look specifically at Genesis as an icon of the creation of Man.

He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:15-18. "Thrones, dominions, principalities and powers" are orders or ranks of angels.)

Man was Created In the Image of God

Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1: 26-27)

Christian anthropology, like Christian theology, begins and ends with Christ, the Perfect Man. The first man, although he appeared before Christ chronologically, was made in the image of Christ (not the other way around), and the God-Man, in turn, is the image of God. Man was patterned after Christ and for Christ, because from the beginning, God the Son in His fathomless love for us already intended to come among us as one of us and would need a mother to give Him flesh.

Thus, the first and most important statement in Christian anthropology is that mankind is created in the Image and Likeness of God.

The Fathers of the Church, although emphasizing the teaching that man is created in the Image of God, never systematized the doctrine. It meant different (not conflicting) things to different Fathers and Orthodox writers, and still does.

Some Orthodox writers say it is not permissible for us to compare any human characteristics with divine attributes, period – much less to say these human traits are the Image of God. Granted, man has much that distinguishes him from animals, such as free will, creativity, conscience, reason, and reflexive consciousness. (Reflexive consciousness is not only being, but knowing that we are; not only knowing, but knowing that we know,) Yet none of these distinctions, say some of the Fathers, is yet the Image of God. The Image of God in us, they say, is nothing less than the Holy Spirit. For these writers, man by sinning lost the Holy Spirit Who was both man’s immortality and the Image of God in him.

For other Orthodox writers, the Image of God in us consists of “all that distinguishes man from the animals and makes him in the full sense a person – a moral agent capable of right and wrong, a spiritual subject endowed with inward freedom.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 65.)

Man is Created for Love.

For every Orthodox theologian, though, it is certain that being created in the Image of God means specifically being created in the Image of the Holy Trinity. Like the Three Persons of the Trinity, we humans all possess the same human nature, yet each of us is a unique example of it.

Being created in the Image of the Trinity is the very meaning of personhood. In other words, to be a person is to love as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love one another and love us.

A true person, then, is the opposite of an individual. True personhood is achieved and possessed not in isolation from other persons, but in the most intimate communion with them. As each One of the Holy Trinity indwells the Other Two, so too human beings are meant to indwell one another. “We are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25) Each other person is to me another hypostasis of my very own inmost nature, another self. His life is lived in my skin and mine, in his. His sorrows are mine and my joys are his.

Human beings were created not only for mutual love of one another, but also for intimate, personal communion with God. This communion is not an external, moral one. Neither is it merely an “intentional” relationship (“You and I intend to be one; therefore we both consider that we are one”), but a personal union: my person is connected to God’s Person; my very being partakes of Him. If man rejects this communion,

…he ceases to be properly Man. There is no such thing as ‘natural man’ existing in separation from God: man cut off from God is a highly unnatural state. The image doctrine means, therefore, that man has God as the innermost centre of his being. The divine is the determining element in our humanity; losing our sense of the divine, we lose also our sense of the human. (Ware, Kallistos, On the Orthodox Church, p. 67)

What is also certain is that being in the Divine Image means that there exists in each of us, at our most profound level, the capacity for direct contact with God. That the Image of God is at our center in turn means we can seek God there – and there experience Him, provided, and to the degree that, the center is pure. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) and “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

Often, the Greek Fathers, reading, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”, make a distinction between the image and the likeness. The “likeness,” they say, is a moral similarity, while the “image” as an ontological one; that is, the “image” has to do with our being rather than our behavior, with who we are rather than what we do. “All men are made in God’s image; but to be in His likeness is granted only to those who through great love have brought their own freedom into subjection to God.” (“On spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination: One Hundred Texts,” 4 in Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, The Philokalia, vol. 1 (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), p. 253.)

The (moral) Likeness to God is obviously lost in us. The Image, however, the God-pattern built into our being, remains no matter what. We have obscured, ignored, desecrated, disfigured, and hobbled it, but it can never be erased.

Man was Created to Exercise Dominion Over the Earth

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28)

Man was to be both the king and the priest of creation, exercising wise stewardship over it and offering it, with thanksgiving, back to God as a holy gift. This is man’s vocation. The implication is that we are not to ravage and plunder the earth. To the contrary, Man is also meant to be a co-creator with God, that is, to shape this world creatively, constructively, together with God.

Man was created Male and Female

...and both sexes, together, make up the Image and Likeness of God. And God blessed them both, and gave both the dominion over the earth. God created Eve from Adam's rib, as women have often pointed out - not from his foot, and not from his skull.

The fact that this verbal icon shows the man as the first to be made and the woman as the first to sin does not override these other points, does not in any way imply, as males have tended to say for centures, that woman is the morally weaker sex. Both the man and the woman in this story show themselves equally distrusting, disobedient, prideful, fearful, self-justifying and unrepentant. If, as St. Paul teachers us, "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived," (I Timothy 2:14) it means Adam has, if anything, even less excuse.

That the man was the first made and the woman the first to sin, does imply a certain order in how we go about doing things. St. Paul discusses this in I Corinthians 11 and in I Timothy 2. But he emphasizes that the different roles, different functions, are not a matter of inherent inequality. First reviewing the Genesis icon, St. Paul then reverses it, writing, "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman [as the man was before the woman was created], nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man [as in Genesis, of man's rib], even so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God." (I Corinthians 11:11-12)

Man was Created with Freedom.

By freedom, we man both “yes/no” freedom and creative freedom, self-determination. God miraculously “made room” in His creation for other free agents than Himself. By His very will, He allows for the existence of other wills genuinely outside of Himself and able both to will and to do even things opposed to God.

Both “either/or” and creative freedom are essential for the attainment of Man’s vocation. Without freedom, we cannot give true love. Without freedom, we are not human, but only smart animals. Without freedom, there is no true morality – or immorality. Without freedom, we cannot be co-creators with God. Furthermore, if men (and angels) have no free will, then they are not responsible for the evil in this world: God is.

Why, one may ask, did God create man free and responsible? Precisely because He wanted to call him to a supreme vocation: deification; that is to say, to become by grace, in a movement boundless as God, what which God is by His nature. And this call demands a free response; God wishes that this movement be a movement of love. Union without love would be automatic, and love implies freedom, the possibility of choice and refusal. (Lossky, pp. 71-21)

Man was Created Body and Soul

And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

We do not have to insist upon believing that man was literally created out of dust (or clay, since the dust was formed). That detail intends to convey the fact that Man, in his own nature, is virtually nothing. He would be no more than dirt, had not God breathed life into him. The proper response to this image is not to debate its literal veracity; the proper response is humility.

Man is unique in all of creation in that he is compounded of matter and of soul. Man, by uniting in himself the material and the immaterial, proves them not mutually exclusive. Not only the soul, but also the body of man is created in the image of God. “Together they were created in the image of God,” writes St. Gregory Palamas. (Lossky, p. 71)

Man is superior to the animals, who lack the spirit of man; and Man is superior (in being, if not morally) to the angels, who lack bodies. Man, dust though he is, by bridging both the material and spiritual realms, is the apex of creation.

To be composed of body and soul is another facet of being “in the image” of Christ. As we, in our persons, unite the material and the spiritual, Christ unites in His person both God and Man, indivisibly and without confusion.

In mankind, creation comes to consciousness and is endowed with reason. In mankind, the creation has the possibility of offering itself to God. Man was created as the priest of creation, as the soul and mind and voice of the whole natural order.

We are therefore responsible for the world. We are the word, the logos, through which it bespeaks itself, and it depends solely on us whether it blasphemes or prays. (I can't remember where this came from.)

Fr. Alexander Schmemann emphasizes that man was created to be the priest of creation:

So the only natural (and not “supernatural”) reaction of man, to whom God gave this blessed and sanctified world, is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it and – in this act of gratitude and adoration – to know, name and possess the world. All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. “Homo sapiens,” “homo faber” … yes, but, first of all, “homo adorans.” The first, most basic definition of man is that he is the preist. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God – and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. (Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p. 15)

Body and soul are not opposed to one another, as though one were evil and the other good, or one were mortal and the other immortal. Neither of these is the case. The body is neither some tomb of the soul nor some evil prison of the soul. In fact, in biblical terminology, “flesh” and “soul” are sometimes even interchangeable. “All flesh” refers to the complete human being as in Genesis 6:12; or in the broader sense, to all living creatures, as in Psalm 136:25. “Every soul” or “living soul” means the same thing, as we read in Acts 2:43 or Romans 13:1. The terms are shorthand for the same, complete reality of body plus soul, both of which constitute Man, both of which are made for immortality and failed to achieve it, as we shall see.

Nor is “flesh” anything bad in itself. After all, St. John writes that “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and Jesus bids us eat His flesh and drink His blood. (John 6:51-56) St. Luke proclaims that “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6)

“Carnal” does not always denote something evil, either. St. Paul, requesting donations for the Jewish-Christian famine victims in Jerusalem, writes, “For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in carnal things.” (Romans 15:27)

What is wrong is to live carnally; that is, to live according to either our bodies or our psyches, for their demands are alike self-serving and therefore opposed to the Holy Spirit. Bodily pleasures are not evil in themselves, but to live for them, instead of living for Christ, is evil because in the end, it is subhuman. To live as mere fleshly creatures is wrong because the flesh will pass away. “For if you live according to the flesh, y shall die: but if you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.” (Romans 8:13)

Man was not Created Perfect.

Strange as it may sound, the statement that man was not created perfect does not mean he was created imperfect! It means he was created a spiritual infant. As an infant, Adam was perfect, and innocent, too; but he had yet to acquire the perfections of mature adulthood. (If he had been perfect from the beginning, he could not have fallen into sin, for perfection is not corruptible.) Rather, our first parents were intended to develop and grow, to increase in wisdom and in favor with God and their fellow man, just as Christ did, in Whose Image they had been made. Adam and Eve walked and conversed with God as with a familiar Friend; but they did not behold His Essence, as some suppose. They had every earthly happiness, but spiritual joys – which come from participating in God’s own Life – lay ahead of them. Life as spiritual beings had yet to be learned.

God transferred him from the earth, out of which he had been made, into Paradise, giving him the means for advancement in order that, maturing and becoming perfect, and even being declared a god, he might thus ascend into heaven in possession of immortality. For man had been made a middle nature, neither wholly mortal nor altogether immortal but capable of either…( St. Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus 2, 24, in Romanides, p. 125)

Had man been created perfect from the beginning, then his goodness (or wickedness) would be a function of his nature and not of his will. It would be involuntary, that is, and thus morally meaningless. Romanides writes, “He was made needing to acquire perfection, not because he was made flawed in nature and morally deficient but because moral perfection is achieved only in total freedom.” (Romanides, op. cit., p. 126)

Man was not Created Naturally Immortal.

Again, this assertion, paradoxically, does not mean man was created mortal, either. Our Fathers tell us man was created for immortality, but without having it as a part of his nature. Immortality is not natural, but supernatural, a divine attribute. Not having the divine nature, Adam had no divine attributes such as immortality. Having been created out of nothing, he had no immortality in his own nature. God indeed breathed life into Adam, and that life was immortal, but it was also contingent. Being contingent meant the life Adam had was not yet his own, but a communion in God’s Life. To secure it for himself, he would have had to grow into a mature spiritual man in a communion with God such as could never more be disrupted. Meanwhile, his life, although immortal, was borrowed, was derived from such nascent and on his part irresolute communion as he already had with God. There was no fountain of life within him; he had continuously to tap into God’s Well of Life. Or, using the Genesis icon, for Adam and Eve to become immortal, they would have had to eat from the Tree of Life planted in the middle of the Garden – which they never did. (Genesis 3:22, to be discussed more later)

St. Irenaeus says it is diabolical that man should ever suppose

that the incorruptibility which belongs to him is his own naturally, and by thus not holding the truth, should boast with empty superciliousness, as if he were naturally like to God. For he (satan) thus rendered him (man) more ungrateful towards his Creator, obscured the love which God had towards man, and blinded his mind not to perceive what is worthy of God, comparing himself with, and judging himself equal to, God. (St. Irenaeus, 3 XX, 1.)

St. Theophilus likewise teaches:

If God had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. On the other hand, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Rather, He made him neither immortal nor mortal…but capable of being either one in order that, should he incline toward things of immortality and keep the commandment of God, he would be rewarded by him with immortality and become god. If, however, he should turn to things of death by disobeying God, he would be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free and sovereign. (St. Theophilus of Antioch, op. cit., 2, 27)

The erroneous supposition that Adam and Eve were created immortal is one of the major reasons for the terrible teaching that God killed them in punishment for their sin. Had they been immortal, nothing and nobody else could have ended their lives; it must have been God. But they were not yet ready for immortality; and before they had even become ready, they cut themselves off from it.

There is a great deal more to be said about Christian anthropology as portrayed in Genesis, but in the space allotted us here, perhaps we have mentioned the highlights. They are that Man was created in the Image and Likeness of God; that he was created to love his fellow man and to live in direct communion with God; that he was made possessing free will (Adam and Eve chose to disobey God), conscience (they hid from Him after they had sinned), reason, and reflexive consciousness; that Man was created to be the king of the world and its priest; that Man was created both male and female; that Man was not created perfect, in the sense of being fully mature, but rather, as a spiritual infant, needing to learn and grow in wisdom; that Man was created neither mortal nor immortal, but able to become either, and that Man was created body and soul, and both were good.

The next post, God willing, will consider just what did and did not happen in the Garden of Eden.


David Garner said...

Thanks for writing these, Anastasia. These are as helpful to me now as reading your posts on Free Will in Conversion were during the time I was considering becoming Orthodox. Good stuff.

Marsha said...

"The Image, however, the God-pattern built into our being, remains no matter what. We have obscured, ignored, desecrated, disfigured, and hobbled it, but it can never be erased. "

Beautiful! Thank you for these!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

The Orthodox perspective IS different from what we grew up with, isn't it?

David, I never knew. Thanks for letting me know.