The Human Being: A Spiritual Animal (II)

This is the 17th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is The Human Being: A Spiritual Animal.  With this blog we will conclude our look at the human as being an animal as well as being spiritual.  I will remind the readers, that this blog series is offering a collection of quotes that I came across in a life time of reading which are related to the theme of being and becoming human.  The blog series is not a research paper, but truly a collection of quotes which I have brought together as I continue to reflect on this topic.

“Man is a mystery.  We carry within us an age-old inheritance – all the good and precious experience of the prophets, the saints, the martyrs, the apostles and above all of our Lord Jesus Christ; but we also carry within us the inheritance of the evil that exists in the world from Adam until the present.  All this is within us, instincts and everything, and all demand satisfaction.  If we don’t satisfy them, they will take revenge at some time, unless, that is, we divert them elsewhere, to something higher, to God.

That is why we must die to our ancestral humanity and enrobe ourselves in the new humanity.  This is what we confess in the sacrament of baptism.”  (Elder PorphyriosWOUNDED BY LOVE, p 134)

In speaking about “our ancestral humanity”, Saint Porphyrios is describing humanity bereft of union with God, in other words, fallen humanity.   Despite being fallen creatures and living in the world of the Fall, we humans still and always have an innate connection with God.  We are created in God’s image and likeness,and we breathe God’s holy breath.   Despite the Fall, we still have the potential to be so much more than merely ancestral humanity – theosis is a possibility for us.  We can aspire to something beyond our animal nature.

 “Everyone must bear in mind that every man possesses, besides his animal nature, a spiritual nature also; that as the animal nature has it requirements, the spiritual one has its own requirements too.   The requirements of the animal nature are:  drink, food, sleep, breath, light, clothing, warmth; whilst those of the spiritual nature are meditation, feeling, speaking, communion with God through prayer, Divine Service, the sacraments, instruction in the Word of God, and fellowship with our neighbor through mutual conversation, charitable help, mutual instruction and teaching.  We must also bear in mind that our animal nature is temporal, transitory, perishable, whilst the spiritual one is eternal, not transitory and indestructible; that we must despise the flesh as perishable, and care for the soul, which is immortal, for its salvation, its enlightenment, its cleansing from sins, passions, and vices from its adornment with such virtues as meekness, humility, gentleness, courage, patience, submission, and obedience to God and men, purity and abstinence.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 244)

If we live only to care for our animal desires and instincts, we will live as animals.  If however we aspire for that divine life beyond our animal nature, God blesses that desire and unites us to divinity.  The Christian life consists in living in such a way as to care more for our relationship with God than with our animal nature, to nurture the soul, not just the body.  Our goal is not to abandon the body but to unite the body to God, to be God’s temple, to partake of the divine nature.

“How strange it is!  I, a Christian, a heavenly man, am occupied with everything earthly, and care but little for heavenly things.  I am transplanted in Christ into heaven, but meanwhile I cling with all my  heart to earth, and apparently would never desire to be in heaven, but would prefer to always remain on earth, although earthly things, notwithstanding their delights, oppress and torment me; although I see that everything earthly is uncertain, corruptible, and soon passes away; although I  know, and feel that nothing earthly can satisfy my spirit, can appease and rejoice my heart, which is constantly disturbed and grieved by earthly vanity.  How long, therefore, shall I, a heavenly man remain earthly?”   (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 2, p 9-10)

We remain merely earthly, as long as we live only according to our animal nature, the flesh.  We are however more than our bodies.  As the mind is more than the brain, so the self is more than a body.   It is our ability to aspire for the divine life that gives sanctity to human life.  We value the unborn as well as the aged because each is loved by God.

“Who utterly low and brutish is the level to which a human mind has to sink before it can look at an old lady in a nursing home bed suffering some incurable disease and call this life and this suffering ‘meaningless’, lacking in ‘quality of life’.  To call this the ‘quality of life ethic’ is like calling a cannibal a chef.

If this sneeringly snobbish judgment is true of the old lady, it is true a fortiori of Christ.  If her cross of suffering, her deathbed, lacks ‘quality’, then his Cross and death-tree also lack ‘quality’.

‘Quality’ is thus used as a professional euphemism for sex and money. “    (Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans,  p 58)

Human life is not measured purely in a utilitarian fashion, for what a person can produce, or consume.   Human life is measured only by the Creator God’s love for each of us.  God bestows upon us a life which is more than our bodies.  The human is not completely defined by his or her physical existence, nor is a human life coterminous with its body.   Each human being is not only body but also spiritual.  Roman Catholic Professor Peter Kreeft offers the following analogy of the difference between a driver and the car to explain the relationship of a person (soul) to the body.

“Here is empirical proof of our doubleness, proof of an immaterial and thus immortal soul, and refutation of materialism.  It is a fact that wise men are not driven by their animal passions as a car is driven by a driver; but they control them.   They are the drivers.  The materialist wants us to believe that the body is a car that drives itself, or that the driver is just another one of the parts of the engine; that the mind is merely the brain.  How absurd!  How could a mere machine negate its own drives and overcome its passions?  Only a double being can oppose itself—something like a ‘thinking reed’.  A cannot oppose A.  Only A in AB can oppose B in AB.”    (Christianity for Modern Pagans,  p 59)

Professor Kreeft continues with his criticism of materialism:

“We are metaphysically very good because we are created in the image of the absolutely good God.  But we are morally very bad because we have despised our Creator.  Modern paganism says we are not metaphysically very good at all, because we are merely trousered apes; and not morally very bad at all because there is no divine law to judge us as very bad.  There is only man-made societal law, that is, our own pagan society’s expectations, and these are quite low, negotiable and revisable.  ‘Here, kid.  Take a condom.  We know you’re incapable of free choice and self-control.  We expect you to play Russian roulette with AIDS, so we’re giving you a gun with twelve chambers instead of six.”  (Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans,  p 62)

We are not merely bodies, nor do we have bodies over which we have no control.  We are capable of exercising control over our bodies, as our bodies are not separate from our minds, hearts or souls.  We are a whole being with free will, conscious awareness and consciences.  We are normally and naturally able to exert control over our bodies, desires and thoughts.  Thought it is obvious in the world that some will not control themselves, and some due to the fall have lost the ability to control themselves.  This is not natural to humans, but is part of our struggle of living in the  world of the Fall.

angrycrowd“Thus our love of pleasure took its beginning from our likeness to the irrational creation, but was increased by human transgressions, begetting such a variety of sinning flowing from pleasure, as is not to be found among the animals. Thus the rising of anger is indeed akin to the impulse of the animals, but it is increased by the alliance with our processes of thought. For thence come resentment, envy, deceit, conspiracy, hypocrisy: all these are the result of the evil husbandry of the intellect. For if the passion is stripped of this alliance with the processes of thought, the anger that is left behind is short-lived and feeble – like a bubble, bursting as soon as it comes into being.”   (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology), Kindle Loc. 1496-1501)

As stated earlier in this blog series, humans can be more damaging and dangerous than any wild animal for we can use our intellects, wills and desires to choose evil.  God become human in Jesus Christ in order to show us how to be human so that we can become like God.

Next:  The Angelic Human: An Angel in the Flesh?

The Human Being: A Spiritual Animal

This is the 16th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is St. John Chrysostom on Humans as Beasts and Saints.

“For the devil has always been eager, through these philosophers, to show that our race is in no way more honorable than the beasts.”   (St. John ChrysostomWOMEN AND MEN IN THE EARLY CHURCH, p 231)

It is not only modern scientific materialists who think humans are nothing more than another animal.  In the Fourth Century St. John Chrysostom was engaged with philosophies and philosophers of his day which had decided that humans are nothing more than a brute beast. [Certainly through the centuries many rulers have thought that human life is cheap – just look at how troops were used in warfare, nothing more than ‘cannon fodder’ and hoping to use up enemy arrows and spears before one ran out of men].   Prior to the Fourth Century Christianity had spent a great deal of its apologetic arguments against various form of Gnosticism beginning with Docetism in the First Century, all of which had denied the value of the physical nature of humans.

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God.“   (1 John 4:2)

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”  (2 John :7)

The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ showed the extent to which God valued humanity’s physical nature.  God had created the humans with a physical body which was capable of being united to divinity.   Humans though having a physical body like any animal were viewed by the early Christians as not being merely animals.

“It is not only in our possessing a rational (logikon) soul that we surpass beasts…, but we also excel them in body.  For God has fashioned the body to correspond with the soul’s nobility (eugeneia), and has fitted it to execute the soul’s commands.”    (St. John Chrysostom quoted in WOMEN AND MEN IN THE EARLY CHURCH, p 125)

Humans have an animal body but the human corporeal nature is not controlled by or limited to the body.  Each human has a soul, the very place where divinity and the physical world interface.  God bestowed upon the human God’s own image and likeness, which is how humans differed from all other animals – humans are related to God in specific ways which other animals are not. Each individual human has a nobility and a value bestowed upon them by God:  this is certainly a great contribution Christianity offered to the world- even the “impoverished masses” are seen by God as beings to be loved and cherished and all have worth and nobility in God’s eyes, and so are also to be loved by all other humans.

“God has given us a body of earth, in order that we might lead it up with us into Heaven, and not that we would draw our soul down with it to the earth.  It is earthly (geodes), but if we please, it may become heavenly (ouranion).  See how highly God has honored us, in committing to us so excellent a task.  ‘I made Heaven and Earth,’ He says, ‘and to you I give the power of creation’ … Make your earth heaven, for it is in your power.”  (St. John Chrysostom quoted in WOMEN AND MEN IN THE EARLY CHURCH, p 146)

The human is created to be both the connection between God and creatures, and the mediator between them, enabling all of the rest of creation to have a full relationship to the Creator through the human’s relationship with God.  St. Ephrem the Syrian makes an interesting, if allegorical interpretation of the humans having both physical and spiritual qualities.  He sees these qualities as interrelated and intertwined with both the world of agriculture and the liturgical year.  Everything is arranged by God:

“… Ephrem points out that human beings possess both a physical and a spiritual side and that they need to cultivate these two aspects equally: physical labor on the land receives its reward in October, with the ingathering of its produce and the arrival of the rain after the long hot summer months of drought;  spiritual toil, however, is rewarded in April, the month of the Feast of the Resurrection—and it was on Easter eve that in many places it was the custom for baptisms to take place.  Agricultural labor and spiritual toil turn out to be closely interrelated, for October provides the oil for the baptismal anointing in April.”   (Ephrem the Syrian, SELECT POEMS, p 181)

For St. Maximos the Confessor humans share a relationship with both plants and animals, but then have beyond either intelligence and a intellect.  This gives humans a means to share in immortality.

“The soul has three powers: first, the power of nourishment and growth; second, that of imagination and instinct; third, that of intelligence and intellect. Plants share only in the first of these powers; animals share in the first and second; men share in all three. The first two powers are perishable; the third is clearly imperishable and immortal.”   (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 13154-59)

In the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas the human naturally has a relationship with God, but if that relationship is lost or distorted, then the human too becomes unnatural and loses his/her humanity.  Being dehumanized, or becoming inhuman is in his mind a form of hell on earth.

 “‘A mind removed from God becomes like either a dumb beast or a demon.  Once having transgressed the bounds of nature, it lusts for what is alien.  Yet if finds no satisfaction for its greed and, giving itself the more fiercely to fleshly desires, it knows no bounds in its search for earthly pleasures.’ . . . Life becomes a hell, freedom a burden, and other people a curse.”  (Archimandrite George Capsanis,  THE EROS OF REPENTANCE, p 9)

Life on earth becomes a hell when we lose our godliness, even if we gain all the riches of the world.

“‘What good will it do a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?’ Christ asks His disciples (Matt. 16:26); and He says that there is nothing equal in value to the soul. Since the soul by itself is far more valuable than the whole world and any worldly kingdom, is not the kingdom of heaven also more valuable? That the soul is more valuable is shown by the fact that God did not see fit to bestow on any other created thing the union and fellowship with His own coessential Spirit. Not sky, sun, moon, stars, sea, earth or any other visible thing did He bless in this way, but man alone, whom of all His creatures He especially loved.”  (St Symeon Metaphrastis, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 34642-54)

Christian theology has through the centuries highly valued each human being and viewed human life as sacred because God the Trinity bestowed on each human being a sanctity by creating all in God’s own image and giving each person a soul and imprinting the image of God on every human being.  Orthodox Christianity continues to defend the sanctity of human life and to defend the dignity and nobility of every human being whether saint or sinner, believer or not.  Christianity is not opposed to science, but rejects the reductionist thinking of materialism which denies that humans are related to God or can aspire to something greater than our brutish animal nature.  We believe that even science shows humans have conscious awareness, consciences and free will.  As many scientists now acknowledge humans are no longer predestined by their genetics but have even gained control over some these natural forces of evolution.

Darwin caused controversy, not merely because his ideas contradicted Genesis, but because they fell foul of the way in which Genesis had been read by those influenced by the Enlightenment, for it was the Enlightenment that conceived of the human as almost exclusively rational and intellectual, and set the human at a distance from the animal. When the Fathers interpret Genesis, they see the human as sharing a very great deal with animal, and indeed plant-like, creation. The possession of reason, the gift of being in the image of God, makes the human distinctive, indeed raises the human to a position that transcends the animal and the plant-like, both as being nobler, and also as bearing responsibility for the rest of creation, but the human still shares a very great deal with the rest of creation, both animal and plant-like, and even with the inanimate”     (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1469-75)

We humans are biologically, chemically and genetically related to all other animals on earth.  However, we believe we are not only or merely animals.  We are rational and intellectual beings.  However, rationality and intellectualism neither completely define delineate what it is to be a human being, for we believe we are created in God’s image and we are embodied souls or ensouled bodies, and thus are spiritual beings.

“When we read in the writings of the Fathers about the place of the heart which the mind finds by prayer, we must understand by this the spiritual faculty that exists in the heart.  Placed by the Creator in the upper part of the heart, this spiritual faculty distinguishes the human heart from the heart of animals: for animals have the faculty of will or desire, and the faculty of jealousy or fury, in the same measure as man.  The spiritual faculty in the heart manifests itself—independently of the intellect—in the conscience or consciousness of our spirit, in the fear of God, in spiritual love towards God and our neighbor, in feelings of repentance, humility, or meekness, in contrition of the spirit or deep sadness for our sins, and in other spiritual feelings; all of which are foreign to animals.” (Bishop Ignatii Brianchaninov, THE ART OF PRAYER, p 190)

Next:  The Human Being: A Spiritual Animal (II)

The Word of the Lord Says

The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel offers us a mystical look at God as well as giving some very profound insights into God’s love, plan for salvation, and into the work of the promised Messiah.  Ezekiel also offers us some very specific insights into the Word of God, and also into the Scriptures.

In this blog we look at a few passages from Ezekiel and why they are so significant to our  experience of and understanding of the Word of God.  For Ezekiel the word of God is not equated with the Scriptures, for the Word of God is not a written text, but rather speaks to us and is heard by us.  In Ezekiel, “the word of the Lord” is not merely an object which comes forth from God  but more importantly “the word of the Lord” is a personal subject who himself acts in the world.  For example at the very beginning of the Prophecy, the Book states:

“…the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the LORD was upon him there.”  (Ezekiel  1:3)

The text has “the word of the Lord” coming to Ezekiel which is a different image than God speaking a word to Ezekiel, for the text says the Word Himself acts and comes to Ezekiel.  What the text suggests is that while the Word comes from God, the Word of the Lord is distinct from the Lord but also a person.  We find this same theology in Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.”     In the New King James translation of the Bible, as in the Orthodox Study Bible,  we read both the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel  dozens of times using this phrase:   “The word of the Lord came to me saying...”   It is an interesting phraseology for it is not saying it is the Lord who comes to the prophets, but the word of the Lord,  giving us the image that the Word of the Lord is a person who speaks to the prophets as a person would speak.  God’s word is not a thing which God says, but a divine person who speaks!  This is the basis for our theological doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  And, not only this but also God comes fully present in the divine Word.  This is the basis for our understanding of theosis as defended by St. Gregory Palamas.  God comes fully present in the Word and we receive not a word from God but God present in His Word, thus enabling us to participate in God.

The Word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel


That God comes present in the Word of the Lord, and that the Word is a fully divine person is the theology found the Prologue of John’s Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  …  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1:1-3, 1114)

The Word of the Lord who creates all things in the beginning and who becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ and comes to the people of God is the same Word of the Lord who speaks to the Prophets.

Again he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”   (Ezekiel 37:4-6)

The dry bones of the people of Israel are to listen to the Word of the Lord, for He speaks to them the divine, life-giving message.  In hearing the Word the dry, dead bones are vivified.  Union with God’s Word gives life to the body.

The idea of the Word of the Lord speaking, rather than God speaking a word,  is found in the Prophet Jeremiah:

Prophet Jeremiah

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a rod of almond.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” The word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.    (Jeremiah 1:11-14)

The Word is capable of speaking because the Word is  a divine Person;  in the above text,  the Word of the Lord speaking is God speaking.  The phrases “the word of the LORD came… saying” and “the Lord said to me”  parallel and enrich each other giving us the Trinitarian sense of the Lord and the Word of God being distinct divine Persons.

Then in Ezekiel 3:1-3 we find another image of the Word of God, this time in the written Scriptures:

And he said to me,  “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”  

The Word of God is not only spoken to us by God, but is a Person.  The Word of God is not only something to which we listen, nor even only someone who speaks to us, for the Word comes to us to be consumed by us, entering into our very being.  We not only hear the Word of God with the ear, but we commune with the Word in our very being, physically and spiritually.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.(Jeremiah 15:16)

We consume the Word in order to commune with God in our hearts.

Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man,  all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears.  (Ezekiel 3:10)

The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart…”  (Romans 10:8)

The Word of the Lord enters into our hearts and unites us to God the Trinity.

Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.(Psalm 119:11)

For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.(Isaiah 57:15)

When the Word of God enters into us, physically and spiritually, we are transformed, becoming partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  God does not only speak the Word, but the Word Himself speaks to us in our hearts uniting us to God thus bringing about our salvation.

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. (Hebrews 1:1-3)




The Apostle’s Fishing Nets: Icons of the Gospel


St. John Chrysostom writes a  commentary on the Gospel lesson of Luke 5:1-11 using some wonderful imagery.  Below is the Gospel, followed by Chrysostom’s comments.

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;  and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

St. John Chrysostom says:

FishersofMen“Every time the Gospel is preached, I see no one else but Peter or Andrew and the whole choir of Apostles spread out the Evangelical Net (or the Net of the Gospel). The spectacle was strange, to see the Savior on the ocean and those who are taught standing on the beach. Really this is strange, the fish on the land and the Fisherman on the ocean. The casting out of that net into the ocean was an icon of the Evangelical Word (or the Word of the Gospel).

‘He found,’ He says, ‘the Fisherman cleaning out their nets’ (Luke 5:2), because they had been exhausted from fishing…The Savior found them exhausted from fishing, and the Master of the pursuit stood next to them. What did He do? First of all, He taught them the  Word of the Truth, and then He gives them the command to drop the net. […] The power of the One, who commanded and a multitude of fish assembled, appeared before the net. This was an icon of the Church of the Ecumene [note: civilized world]. The net tore. They waved at the partner ship to come and catch them. Two ships were needed to help in the fishing. Because, truly, if the Prophets did not stand by as helpers of the Apostles and if after the prophecies the appearance of the Apostles did not follow, the Fisherman would not have been able to catch fish. Hence, our Savior wants to show us how the catching of the fish is an icon of the Church; in order to teach Peter even more so with this example, He exhorts Peter towards manliness and says, ‘Do not be afraid; henceforth, you will be catching men’ (Luke 5:10); from now on, He says, from the moment you tried the power and you learned that even illogical things are obedient to My word and all things follow My mere nod. Enough examples, use them now during your hunt (fishing). He did not say, ‘You will fish men,’ but ‘You will catch men.’ The fish, when they are caught, are transported from life to death, but men from death to life.

‘From now on,’ He says, ‘You will catch men.’ Why does He tell him, ‘Do not be afraid?’ Let it be; the promise was brilliant. Then why did He say, ‘Do not be afraid?’ Simply, since he remembered the previous sins, He says, ‘Do not be afraid of yourself’ because you are a sinner, but consider yourself as an Apostle, who had received a command to net the ecumene with the word of the Master. ‘Do not be afraid.’ Let every sinner listen to this sentence from Christ. ‘Do not be afraid,’ but from now on show repentance. Therefore, in order to return to the logical sequence of my homily, the net is nothing else than an icon of the Evangelical teaching of the Savior.”

(Protopresbyter Gus George Christo, The Church’s Identity: Established through Images according to Saint John Chrysostom, pp. 369-370)

Jesus calls His disciples to go into the world to do their fishing – on land, with fellow humans being the desired catch.  Unlike fishing which leads to the death of the fish who are caught, the evangelical net of the Church gives life to those who enter into the net.  Why did Christ have the disciples successfully make this huge catch of fish only to then have them abandon the fishing business?   Chrysostom says it taught them that even non-rational fish obey Him, so surely humans will want to obey the Gospel.  It gave the apostles courage to take the Gospel to the world.

From the Akathist of  the Sweetest Lord Jesus:

We see most eloquent orators as voiceless as fish when they must speak of you, O Jesus our Savior.  For it is beyond their power to tell how you are and remain perfect man and immutable God at the same time.

St. John Chrysostom on Humans as Beasts and Saints

This is the 15th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Angel and Animal; Spiritual and Physical.

In this blog we will look specifically at three excerpts from the writings of St. John Chrysostom  (d. 407AD) related to humans having both an animal nature and also having a spiritual nature.  St. John is ever the moralist, and he unfavorably relates the animal nature in humans to our failure to behave in a human manner.

 “I repeat, and shall not cease saying it:  come in, prove yourself human lest you give the lie to your natural title.  Do you understand what is said to you?  He is a human being, someone may say, but a human being often in name only, not a human being in his way of thinking.

I mean, when I see you living an irrational life, how am I to call you a human being and not an ox?  When I see you robbing others, how am I to call you a human being and not a wolf?  When I see you committing fornication, how am I to call you a human being and not a swine?  When I see you being fraudulent, how am I to call you a human being and not a serpent?  When I see you with venom, how am I to call you a human being and not a snake?  When I see you being a fool, how am I to call you a human being and not an ass?  When I see you committing adultery, how am I to call you a human being and not a lusty stallion?  When I see you disobedient and forward, how am I to call you a human being and not a stone?  . . .

How, do you ask, am I to become a human being?  If you keep the thoughts of the flesh under control, those brutish thoughts, if you expel lewd habits, if you expel an inopportune desire for money, if you expel that wicked tyrant, if you make your own place pure.  But how do you become a human being?  By coming here where human beings are created.  If I receive you as a stallion, I turn you into a human being; if I receive you as a wolf, I turn you into a human being; if I receive you as a serpent, I turn you into a human being, not changing your nature but transforming your free will.”    (St. John Chrysostom, OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES  Vol 3, pp 87-88)

Chrysostom frequently compares sins to the behavior of a variety of animals.   He sees repentance as turning away from behaving purely according to our animal nature by mindfully gaining control of our passions and appetites.  Then in the Church through baptism those who live according to animal nature are transformed into human beings who live by reason (rapacious wolves are transformed into reason-endowed sheep!).   Reason is God’s gift to humans which distinguishes us from all other animals.

Chrysostom does not miss a chance to moralize.  Seeing the simple statement of Genesis 6:9, “Noah was a righteous man” (Greek: anthropos:   meaning a human being, rather than a male), Chrysostom sees opportunity to wax eloquently on what it is to be human.  And perhaps, since Noah, according to the biblical story, led a pair of each of the animals in the world into the ark, Chrysostom found an excellent example of a human who differed from all the other animals.  Noah is a human who can be contrasted with all other animals since he was called to lead them all (Genesis 6:9-22) thus fulfilling God’s original intention for human beings (Genesis 1:26-28).   Noah is the only human in the Old Testament who actually exhibits dominion over all of the animals on earth, and the animals actually obey his lead (Genesis 7:8-9).  The animals follow Noah in an orderly fashion into the ark as if they are in a liturgical procession.  Chrysostom’s view is that Noah in his day is really the only true human being left on the planet, all others being dehumanized through sin were thus inhuman, mere animals bereft of the glory of God which they originally possessed.

“’Noe,’ it says, ‘was a man.’ . . . You see, since the other people had lost the status of human beings through falling into the pleasures of the flesh, this man (Scripture says) retained the character of a human alone among such a vast multitude.  This, after all, is when a man become human, when he practices virtue: it is not having the appearance of a human being—eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks and other features—that establishes the human being: these, in fact, are parts of the body.  I mean, we would call a human being the man who retains the character of a human being.  But what is the character of a human being?  Being rational.  Why so?  Someone will say, “Weren’t those others rational also?”  Still, it is not merely this attribute, but also being virtuous and avoiding evil and getting the better of improper passions, following the Lord’s commands—this is what makes a human being.

For proof that Scripture’s habit is not to bestow the title of human being on those who practice evil and neglect virtue, listen to the words of God, as we were saying yesterday, ‘My spirit is not to remain with these human beings on account of their being carnal; [Genesis 6:3]’ in other words, he is saying, I regaled these people with a being constituted of flesh and spirit; but as though composed of flesh only, they thus neglect virtue in a spiritual manner and have now proved to belong completely to the flesh. . .

Do you see how Holy Scripture knows how to call human only the person practicing virtue and doesn’t think the others are human, calling them instead flesh at one time and earth at another?  Hence at this place, too, in promising to list the genealogy of the good man it says, ‘Noe was a human being.’  You see, he alone was a human being, whereas the others weren’t human beings; instead, while having the appearance of human beings they had forfeited the nobility of their kind by the evil of their intention, and instead of being human they reverted to the irrationality of wild animals.   . . .

Do you see which people Sacred Scripture is prepared to call human beings?  Hence, when even from the outset the Creator of all saw the creature he had made, he said, ‘Let us make a human being in our image and likeness’ – that is to say, to have control both of all visible things and the passions arising within him; to have control, not to be controlled.  If, however, they forfeit this control and would rather be controlled that have control, they lose also their human status and change their name to that of wild animals.”   (St. John Chrysostom, HOMILIES ON GENESIS 18-45, pp 95, 96, 98)

For St. John Chrysostom to live only to satisfy one’s carnal desires is to give up being a human person.   To rationally control one’s desires, passions and appetites is to use the rationality/reason with which God had gifted human beings from the beginning – the very thing which differentiates us from other animals.  If we don’t want to live by reason, if we don’t want to live according to the image and likeness of the Creator, then we choose to live like the other animals on earth which lack reason.

It is exactly from humans who live according to their animal nature that we need protection.  More dangerous to us than any venomous animal, more detrimental to us and more deadly is the human who has forsaken God-given reason/rationality and who like an animal uncontrollably follows its genetically determined impulses.  So Chrysostom sees the Psalmist asking God not to deliver him not from dangerous, vicious animals, but from people who have become inhuman.

Rescue me, Lord, from an evil person; from an unrighteous man deliver me (Psalm 140:1)  Where now are those who ask, ‘What is the purpose of wild beasts?  Of scorpions?  What purpose do they have?’  I mean, look: a living creature is found to be betraying signs of worse evil, not from nature but from disposition – the human being.  This is the reason, to be sure, that the inspired author omits mention of those other creatures and asks to be delivered from this one.  Why on earth?  I ask: to suggest that, since it is like that, human beings should not be created?  But to say this is an index of extreme folly:  nothing is harmful about the human being except sin; with that disposed of, everything is trouble-free, easy, peaceful – just as, consequently, with that present, everything becomes crags and tempests and shipwrecks.  Now, let no one condemn us for saying a human being in the grip of vice is more vicious than a wild beast.  I mean, the latter, even if not gentle by nature, can easily be deceived, and what you see is what you get, whereas the human being who contemplates wickedness adopts many guises and is more difficult to ward off than an animal, often proving to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Hence, too, many people incautiously fall victim to such types.  Since, then, such creatures are difficult to detect, the inspired author turns to prayer and calls on help from God to be freed from such wiles.”  (St. John Chrysostom, COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS Vol 2, p 264)

As the folk story has it, scorpions will be scorpions – they can’t help behaving according to their natures.  Humans on the other hand are capable of denying the self for the good of others.  Humans can practice self-control, can repent and can forgive.

Next:   The Human Being: A Spiritual Animal

Angel and Animal; Spiritual and Physical

What is man, that You should exalt him,

That You should set Your heart on him,

That You should visit him every morning,

And test him every moment?”

(Job 17:17-18)

This is the 15th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is In the Image of God (II).  In this blog and for the next several blogs we will look at being human through some issues suggested in Scripture or contemplated from the very beginning of Christianity: humans as being both spiritual and physical.  We humans are related both to the physical world (animals) and the spiritual world (angels).  Yet we are not angels, nor are we merely animals.  Whereas humans being in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1) is something that distinguishes us from all other animals and even sets us above them, humans share having the “breath of life”, given by God, with all animals (see Genesis 1:30, 2:7, 6:17, 7:15, 22).

In this blog we will consider comments from some of the early Patristic writers.  Keep in mind that for this topic, the Old Testament viewed humans as a whole: either an embodied soul or an ensouled body, but in any case an inseparable wholeness, not soul AND body.   A more dualistic idea of a separated soul and body comes into Christian thinking from a Hellenistic point of view.  So some of the comments in the earlier days of Christianity still reflect the more Biblical view, while some reflect the tension of Christian thinking shaped by Biblical theology but now trying to grapple with issues and perspectives of the Hellenic culture into which Christianity was moving and which itself was becoming increasingly Christian.

We begin by considering the ideas of St. Athanasius the Great (d. 373AD):

“ St Athanasios treats of the Fall at the beginning both of On the Incarnation and of the first part of that two-part work, Against the Nations. … He sees human beings – rational beings, as he puts it – created to live in contemplation of God through the Word of God, and thus to ‘rejoice and converse with God, living an idyllic and truly blessed and immortal life’. But these rational beings have turned away from contemplating God and turned – where?  for they are created out of nothing – to themselves, and to the world that they fashion from . . . nothing. And so the soul comes to ‘harbour fears and terrors and pleasures and thoughts of mortality’.   From contemplating God and living in a world of reality and life, Adam, or human kind, contemplates non-being and enters a haunted world of unreality and death – which Athanasios spells out as a world of immoral desires and longings, populated by the gods and goddesses of Greek paganism.”   (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1410-19)

So humans created in God’s image and with divinity somehow being a basis for our existence, turn away from God and become more concerned with our physical nature.  The trouble being that our physical nature was created by God “out of nothing” and we come to realize there is no eternal basis or foundation to the physical world, and so we begin to scramble in this world both in fear of death, but also to avoid the return to nothingness.  Sadly this doesn’t always result in our looking for the eternal God, but ends up in human efforts of self-preservation which sometimes involves sin and the killing of others.

“St. Athanasius, in his work On the Incarnation, describes how human beings were created in the image of God, but have lowered themselves to the level of brute animals, and so the image of God is just about to disappear, finally and completely, from the world.   Right at this extreme situation, God acts: the one who is the Image comes to restore the one who are in the image to their proper dignity (cf. Col. 1:15; Gen. 1:26-27).”   (John Behr, THE CROSS STANDS WHILE THE WORLD TURNS, p 118).

The incarnation of the Word is God’s response to humans feeling and being totally lost and on the verge of returning to nothingness and nihilism.   Our problems as humans are related to our turning away from God, the source of life “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) and trying to deal with ourselves as only or purely material beings – a material world which was created from nothingness.

“At one point, Gregory [of Nyssa; d. 284AD] tackles the idea that the human being has a soul that shares a great deal with the soul we find in animals, and indeed the soul we find in plants: the Greek word for soul, psyche, means ‘life’, and so the word soul suggests the principle of the life that any living being has. So the human may be said to have an animal soul and a plant-like soul, as well as a rational or intellectual soul. Yet a human being does not have three souls, rather the intellectual soul manifests itself at the animal and plant-like level, which the human shares with animals and plants. What is meant to happen with humans is that the intellectual soul expresses itself through, and makes use of, the lower levels, the animal and plant-like. But the Fall, as we have seen, has disturbed the harmony of God’s creation, and this is true at what one might call the psychological level: instead of expressing itself through the animal and plant-like, the intellect finds itself serving the animal drives and plant-like needs (for nourishment, for example), and producing what we call bestial behaviour – which is really something distinctively human, though not anything to be proud of. So the human has two aspects – one reaching towards the divine, the other succumbing to the animal – and is in fact poised on a watershed between affinity to the divine and affinity to lower creation. Gregory puts it like this:

‘It seems to me that the human bears two contradictory likenesses – shaped in the divine aspect of his mind after the divine beauty, but also bearing, in the passionate impulses that arise in him, a likeness to the bestial nature. Frequently his reason is reduced to bestiality, and obscures the better element by the worse through its inclination and disposition towards the animal. For whenever anyone drags down the activity of thought to these, and forces reason to become the servant of the passions, there occurs a sort of distortion of the good character towards the irrational image, his whole nature being refashioned in accordance with this, as reason cultivates the new shoots of the passions, and little by little causes them to grow into a multitude; for once [reason] makes common cause with passion, it produces a thick and diverse crop of evils.’”    (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1480-96)

In understanding humanity as Orthodox Christians there is always a tension, and a mystery and a paradox.  Humans have a natural connection to God (created in God’s image, breathing God’s breath), but humans also are physical/animal beings, created from the dust of the earth made of the same materials that compose inorganic matter as well as compose the genes of all living things on earth and which follow the same genetic processes that govern all life that has genetic material.  Into this mix is added the fact that humans rebelled against their divine Creator and thus distorted their relationship both to God and to the physical world.  So though we are naturally both physical and spiritual, we live in a world which have distorted through sin.   This contributes to the tensions we experience in our lives between ourselves and God, between ourselves and nature, and between each other.  Therein lies the paradoxes, ambiguities and mystery we experience about ourselves when trying to understand who we are.  Biology, genetics, chemistry, archeology, history, anthropology and physics in themselves cannot unravel the mystery or solve all the paradoxes and tensions we humans experience about ourselves.  These sciences today leave the divine and spiritual out of the equation and so never in and of themselves can explain what it is to be human.

St Gregory [the Theologian, d. 391AD] explains more fully what he has in mind in one of his poems, where he describes God looking in vain for a creature on earth ‘who could discern his wisdom, the mother of all things’; finding only dumb beasts, he creates a ‘mixed creature’ that can delight in his works, an initiate of heavenly things who will also sing the praises of God’s ‘wills’ and mind; God’s ‘wills’ are his intentions expressed in created things.  . . . Man’s ‘oversight’ of creation is not just practical management or ‘stewardship’; it is inextricably bound up with being aware of the mystery of creation, discerning god’s wisdom in the depths of created things.   . . . Of course, man is perfectly capable of using the earth in a different way—that is all too obvious.  But when he does so, he is not simply disobeying a commandment: he is ceasing to be a real human being.  What we are talking about here is creation in the image and likeness of God as the defining characteristic of man.”  (Elizabeth Theokritoff, LIVING IN GOD’S CREATION,  pp 68-70)

Genesis 3 presents humans created to fill the gap between God and brute beasts rebelling against this divine role and seeking their life and existence in the empirical world alone.  Which by the way which is what scientific materialism does as well.  We will never fully understand humanity until we see the big picture of what humans were created to be, unless we take into account the divine life.  Science can tell us many absolute truths about the empirical world, but we Christians (as well as many other religious traditions) claim there is more to being human than can be revealed through physics and chemistry alone.

Adam naming the animals

“The human person, too, is an icon.  Created in the image of God, humanity is also a living image of the created universe.  The Church Fathers see humanity as existing on two levels simultaneously—on the level of spiritual and on the level of material creation.  The human person is characterized by paradoxical dualities: humanity is limited yet free, animal yet personal, individual yet social; in brief, created yet creative.  To attempt escaping this fundamental tension within humanity would be to undermine the Christian doctrine of humanity created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26) and as the image of Jesus Christ who is at once human and divine.

A human being, says Gregory the Theologian (fourth century), is like another universe, standing at the center of creation, mid-way between strength and frailty, greatness and lowliness.  Humanity is the meeting point of all the created order.”   (John Chryssavgis, BEYOND THE SHATTERED IMAGE, pp 130-131)

Mystery, even in exploring the depths of what it is to be human, is not a bad thing in theology.  Science can uncover the most amazing facts about the empirical world and be absolutely true in its laws and theories.   Science can perfectly place humans in the vastness of the macrocosm of the universe, and see into the tiniest microcosms of human genes  Yet not begin to touch the depths of what it is to be human.

Next:  St. John Chrysostom on Humans as Beasts and Saints

Truth is Someone, Not Something

“It seems at first almost like a heretical thought. And yet, truth which can be written or spoken is not the Truth, for Truth is the Living One through whom all things were made, the ‘Treasury of blessing and Giver of life Who is in all places and fills all things.’



No map can fully describe this Living One. Truth is not a system that can be formulated by human intellect or a doctrine that can be used to neatly tie things up and provide security for small souls who prefer studying maps to the adventure of exploring the territory which they signify. No, the Truth is alive. It is not how or why but who and when?”   (Stephen Muse, Being Bread, p 181)

In the Image of God (II)

This is the 14th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is In the Image of God.  This will be the last blog to focus prominently on humans as being created in the image and likeness of God.  As we continue to explore a theological understanding of what it is to be human, we will in future blogs look at humans as related to animals and to angels, what it is to be both spiritual and physical beings.

In this blog we again encounter the awe with which many ancient and modern theologians view humans.  We are created in God’s image and we are God’s glory.  This may seem amazing to us when we consider the condition the world is in and the human behaviors we observe daily through media outlets.   However, Orthodox theology tends to consider what is natural to humans is the condition in which God created us before the Fall.  All we know about humans from studying anthropology, history, biology, and archeology is life in the world of the Fall, but this does not reveal to us what it is to be human, created in God’s image.    Sin does not however diminish God’s image in us, nor that the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21).  We can learn of this dimension of humanity only from the Church’s Scripture and theology.

“’The glory of god is man’, affirms the Talmud… and St Irenaeus states the same: ‘The glory of God is a living man.’  The human person forms the center and crown of God’s creation.  Man’s unique position in the cosmos is indicated above all by the fact that he is made ‘in the image and likeness’ of God (Gen 1:26).  Man is a finite expression of God’s infinite self-expression.”   (Kallistos Ware, THE ORTHODOX WAY, pp 64)

What a wonderful choice of words:  “Man is a finite expression of God’s infinite self-expression.”   The God who we glorify in the Orthodox Liturgy as being indescribable, ineffable, invisible, and inconceivable,  improbably imprints His image (icon) on each human being.  That same God then becomes incarnated in Christ, revealing His image in the God-man Jesus.  “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

This is the great mystery revealed in Christ.   And, as Fr. John Behr explains we come to understand the narrative of the Bible theologically, not through the lens of a linear history.  The Bible is God’s revelation of God’s perspective of creation and history.  Adam is not before Christ, but rather Adam is made in Christ’s image and likeness. This thinking is based exactly in Christ’s claim in John 8:56-58 that he pre-existed Abraham:

Jesus said:  “’Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’”  (For other biblical passages about Christ’s pre-existing his older cousin John the Forerunner, as well as not only human history but creation itself, see for example:   John 1:1-15, John 17:5, Philippians 2:5-8 and Hebrews 1:1-3).

Adam anticipates the fullness of humanity, but it is the pre-eternal Word of God who is the type for Adam and then becomes Adam’s completion and fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.

St. Nicholas Cabasilas explains how this was so:  he points out that it was for the new Adam that the old Adam was created at the beginning, that human nature was equipped with a mind and desire to direct these towards Christ (THE LIFE IN CHRIST 6.91-4 [6.12]).

For God, who sees all things from an eternal perspective, who sees all things before they come to be and after they have passed away, who holds all things – past, present, and future – in the palm of his hand, for him, Christ is first, the beginning, and so Adam is created in the image of Christ, already looking towards him.  But for us, we know Adam first: that is our experience of human existence, that is how we are brought into this world, needing to die to ourselves, in baptism and taking up the cross, before we put on Christ.

And so, although, for us, Christ appears to come later – at the fullness of time – this in appearance is in fact a revelation of the mystery hidden from all eternity.”  (John Behr, THE CROSS STANDS WHILE THE WORLD TURNS, pp 158-159)

Humans were created in order to make the incarnation possible.  We were created to be God-bearers, untied to God in our empirical existence.  We do not find God by escaping the earth or our bodies, but rather in and through them we encounter God.  We were create to be God’s free children, not God’s robotic slaves.   “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”  (John 1:12-13).

 “… we have to understand Christ to be the ‘blueprint’ of what Man was meant to be, the perfect image of God and reflection of this glory (Morna Hooker).’  The question, of course, is, What precisely was humanity meant to be?  What was the significance of being ‘in the image of God’ and ‘a reflection of his glory’?

Throughout Israel’s history, the language of humanity being created in the image of God carried polemical weight.  According to the mythology of Babylon, for instance, humanity was created as a slave people to do the menial labor of the gods.  In the face of such a view of humanity, Israel in exile under Babylonian rule told a different story, a story of humanity created not to be slaves but to be the image-bearer of God and to reflect God’s glory in their stewardly dominion over the earth (Gen 1:26-28; 2:15).”    (Stanley Porter, HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 195)

The Jewish and Christian Scriptures do not portray a Creator who brings into existence slaves or automatons to do His divine will.  Rather the Triune God creates humans whom God then must choose to love, for though endowed with God’s image and inbreathed with God’s Spirit, God also gives us free will – which includes the ability to make ourselves unlovely and even to make ourselves into God’s enemies.  Nevertheless, God chooses to love us despite our sinful choices.  “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“So, to be created according to the image of God and according to his likeness suggests that we have been created with some kind of affinity for God which makes possible a process of assimilation to God, which is, presumably, the point of human existence.”   (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1645-47)

The God who is love still has to choose to love us humans for we do not behave in such a way as to earn or deserve God’s love. God proclaims Himself to be  “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:6)  And for God to love us humans, God will be put to the test and will have to exhibit mercy and patience, faithful and forgiveness to people who will commit iniquity, transgressions and sins.  We prove ourselves not to be the most loveable and lovely of creatures, yet despite our sinful rebellion, God bestows continual love upon us.

“It is a great mystery that man can attain to knowledge of God.  Man can know God, first of all, because God has created him in His image and after His likeness, capable of reflecting the perfection of his Creator.  To enable him to attain to this perfection, God asks man to love Him with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his strength; and to love his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27).  Man is made truly noble through God’s gift of this commandment of love.  Secondly, man can know God through co-operation with Him: God Who is infinitely great, deigns to depend upon man, who is infinitely small, in bringing His purposes to perfection. “ (Archimandrite Zacharias, REMEMBER THY FIRST LOVE, p 322)

The human potential, all God given, is great.  Yet humans have frequently failed to reach their potential.  As St. Paul has it:  “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”  (Romans 3:23).   God though still offers to humanity the gift of godlikeness, theosis.   We are not mere mortals or nothing but animals.  We have to learn to live according to our God-given nature, but it requires great ascetic effort on our part to overcome ourselves.

“Orthodox culture derives from two sources.  The first source is the fundamental and most important one, namely the Gospels.  That source is the teaching and proclamation about God-manhood, in other words, about the mystery of the eternal and the mystery of the human.  It is the teaching that humanity is exceptionally important and valuable for the Creator.  It is the teaching that humanity is raised above all creation because the Eternal itself made contact with it, because human beings are created in the image and likeness of the Creator and in them lives a kind of programme for the future: to develop from beings akin to the animals to beings akin to heaven.”  (Alexander MenCHRISTIANITY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, p 154) 

Next:  Angel and Animal; Spiritual and Physical

In the Image of God

This is the 13th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Image and Likeness of God in the Writings of St. Gregory of Nyssa.

In this blog, we continue to look at the issue of what does it mean that humans are created in the image and likeness of God?  What precisely in humans is in the image of God?   The answers to these two questions are rich and varied in the Orthodox tradition.  What we learn from this is that the image of God in us is best understood as a mystery which goes beyond any one dogmatic or definitive answer.

“What then is it to be in the image of God? Often enough, we find the Fathers giving an answer in terms of human qualities, and these turn out to be qualities of the soul. ‘The “according to the image”’, says John Damascene, ‘is manifest in intelligence [noeron] and free will [autexousion]’.  Being in the image means being a rational, or intelligent, being with free will. Sometimes the answer is more complex. Athanasios, for instance, talks about God’s creating us and our being ‘given something more’: creating human beings not simply like all the irrational animals upon the earth, but making them according to his own image, and giving them a share of the power of his own Word, so that having as it were shadows of the Word and being made rational, they might be able to abide in blessedness, living the true life, which is really that of the holy ones in paradise.  Being in the image, however, is not, for Athanasios, simply a matter of being rational, for otherwise the angels would be in the image, too, something that he denies: being in the image is a gift to humanity, body and soul, which grants rationality to the human, but must mean more than this. The more is, I think, for Athanasios, tied up with the fact that the image of God is Christ, the Word of God, whom we cannot understand apart from the Incarnation. It is in some way according to the image of God, understood as the Word of God Incarnate, that human kind was fashioned. This more complex notion unfolds in two ways.  (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1656-69)

Humans being created in the image of God is directly connected to the Word of God being incarnate in Jesus Christ.  What God did in the beginning –  creating humans  in His image (icon) – was to form humans in the image of the Word of God.  It turns out that at the incarnation – in Christ – we finally see the One in whose image we are created.  This is how we understand the words of Jesus in John 14:9 –  “He who has seen me has seen the Father”.    This is also the basis for iconography, for the God who has no form, whom we cannot see (John 5:37) has revealed His image (icon) in Christ.

“What I am arguing is that limiting being in the image of God to being rational and possessing free will falls short in two respects of what the Greek Fathers generally mean by being according to God’s image. First, being logikos means more than simply being rational; it means participating in the Logos, the Word, of God, including rationality, certainly, but also a capacity for recognizing and conveying meaning, for communicating, with one another and with God, and ultimately an affinity with God, that enables us to know him. Second, possessing to kat’ eikona means having a relationship to God through his image, that is, the Word; it is not just a property or a quality, but a capacity for a relationship, a relationship that is fulfilled in attainment of to kath’omoiosin, being according to the likeness, assimilation with God.”    (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology,  Kindle Loc. 1683-89)

God created humans as being capable of bearing His image, and this becomes fulfilled in the incarnation of the Word, where finally we see God’s image.  This is the manner in which we are capable of partaking of the divine nature.

Sin has formed layers of filth and dirt over us, covering the image of God in each of us.  The Christian life, obeying the commandments of Christ, is lived in order to reveal that image in each of us.

Desert ascetics understood that the journey to a deep and mature relationship with God was made within oneself.  The arduous work of stripping away illusions and all that keeps us from knowing God gifted the ascetic with a deep sense of understanding her own true humanity.  This understanding of their true humanity, created fully in the image and likeness of God and yet still on the journey toward full maturity, made desert ascetics deeply humble people.”   (Laura Swan, THE FORGOTTEN DESERT MOTHERS, p 26)

Humans are created to reveal God’s image to one another as well as to all of creation.  Humans are created by God to have an intermediary role in creation – uniting the Divine Creator with all the created universe.  It is Jesus Christ, the God-man, who fully reveals this role for humanity for He unites earth to heaven.

“Man is created to God’s image and likeness.  All created things bear testimony to God’s power, wisdom, and kindness; but man bears in addition God’s image within himself.  In truth, this is the greatest goodness, the most admirable beauty, the highest honor!  Man is inferior to God, but he is above all other created things: man has been honored by God’s image: beautiful are the skies, the sun, the moon and the stars, and all things made by God; but man is the most beautiful of  all; for he bears within himself a beauty created to the image of God.  Think and reflect on the beauty of God, Who is the Uncreated and Eternal Beauty!  If god has so greatly honored man, who, then, can rise against him?  The whole world, all hell and all the devils, can do nothing to man.  God is within him and is his protector.”    (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, A TREASURY OF RUSSIAN SPIRITUALITY, p 234)

Next:   In the Image of God (II)

The Suffering of Christ Conquers Death

There is a universal nature to the salvation Christ brings to humankind.  Christ came into the world to save sinners, to seek and save the lost, to heal the spiritually sick.  But not everyone responds in kind to Christ’s love.  And sadly there are those who instead of accepting God’s love, choose instead to crucify Christ.  These folk are among those for whom Christ died, but they reject the forgiveness and salvation He offers to them.   St. Hilary of Poitiers  (d. 367AD) says:

“Christ’s victory over death has a universal character: ‘The Son of God is nailed to the cross; but on the cross God conquers human death. Christ, the Son of God, dies; but all flesh (omnis caro) is made alive in Christ. The Son of God is in hell; but man is carried back to heaven.’ ” ( Christ the Conqueror of Hell by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, p 82)

So we all should join St. Isaac the Syrian (7th Century) in his prayer:

 “O Christ who are covered with light as though with garment, who for my sake stood naked in front of Pilate, clothe me with that might which you caused to overshadow the saints, whereby they conquered this world of struggle. May your Divinity, Lord, take pleasure in me, and lead me above the world to be with you. O Christ, upon you the many-eyed Cherubim are unable to look because of the glory of your countenance, yet you of your love you received spit upon your face: remove the shame from my face and grant an open face before you at the time of prayer.”The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Hilarion Alfeyev, p 59)