Saturday, May 5, 2012

Christian Anthropology, Part 01

Man as he was First Created
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 and principalities are ranks of angels.)
In the Image of God

Christian anthropology, like all things Christian, 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 already from the beginning, Christ in His fathomless love 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.
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)
Man in the end is as unknowable as God is. A human person is not reducible to any concept or set of concepts. “…what lies at his core, by reason of his very structure, is a theological being which falls outside the scope of science.” (Nellas, Panayiotis, Deification in Christ, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1987, p. 30. ) For this reason, 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, though not conflicting, things to different Fathers and Orthodox writers, and still does.
An image is not truly an image if it does not possess all the characteristics of its pattern…It is characteristic of divinity to be incomprehensible; this must also be true of the image. If the image could be essentially understood while the original remained incomprehensible, the image would not be an image at all. But our spiritual dimension, which is precisely that wherein we are the image of our Creator, is beyond our ability to explain…by this mystery within us we bear the imprint of the incomprehensible godhead.  St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Creation of Man, II, P.G. 44,155.)
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, but none of these distinctions, such as freedom, creativity, and conscience, is yet the Image of God. The Image of God in us, they say, is nothing less than the Holy Spirit, together with the immortality He brings. For these writers, man by sinning lost the Holy Spirit Who was both man’s immortality and the Image of God in him. St. Irenaeus exemplifies this position.

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.” (Ware, Kallistos, The Orthodox Way, St. Vladimir’s Seminary press, Crestwood, New York 1990, p. 65.)

In any case, whether they constitute the Image of God or not, man was endowed with certain unique characteristics such as conscience, reason, and reflexive consciousness.

Reflexive consciousness is not only knowing, but knowing that we know; not only being, but knowing that we are.

Man was also made to have dominion over the Earth, 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.
The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. 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 [thanksgiving], he transforms his life, the one he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. (Schmemann, Fr. Alexander, For the Life of the World, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1995, p. 15.)
Man was created with Freedom. By freedom, we man both “yes/no” or "either/or" 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, Vladimir, Orthodox Theology:  An Introduction (Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001, pp. 71-72.)
Whether or not being “in the Image” means any of these things, for every Orthodox theologian, it is certain that being created in the Image of God means specifically being created in the Image of the Holy Trinity. As the Three Persons of the Trinity all possess one and the same divine nature, so we humans all possess one and the same human nature, although each of us is a unique example of it. (Human beings, however, divide human nature among them, each being so to speak a tiny piece of it, whereas each Person of the Holy Trinity is the whole Divine Nature, not a piece of it.  In other words, there are not three gods.) be continued


Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.