WHO AM I?
“In the Image and Likeness”
“The uniqueness of every human person”
The most basic questions in life occasioning answers so that we can have peace of mind and happiness are often related to discovering our distinct ”identity”. Those who have not found answers to such questions are said to be suffering an “identity crisis” which can lead to much anxiety and unhappiness. For this reason, it is not only fundamental, but quite natural that we struggle to find answers to the questions relating to our identity, such as: Who am I? From where did I originate? What is the purpose of my life? What does it all mean? Is there any meaning in life? Where am I heading? For most persons, it is not only during their adolescence that they usually begin to search for meaning and identity, but certain life changing situations throughout their life, such as: middle age; parents whose children marry and move on in life; widowed persons will trigger these questions again and again. And it is only in our struggle to discover our true identity that we are free to express the uniqueness of our personhood and therefore to enjoy purposeful living. It is only in this great and sacred effort on our part to find answers that we can attain peace of mind in this great adventure we call life.
Different people will attempt to discover who they really are in different ways. Some will derive answers from their the amount of material wealth they possess. Therefore they will argue that they have more value than others not because of who they are but because of what they possess. Others may base their identity on physical appearance going to extraordinary extremes to improve their appearance as this, they argue, could help in establishing some sort of better self worth and identity. Still others will seek psychiatrists and psychologists hoping to discover who they are. For many people, they will find answers in the sciences. So depending from their area of interest or specialization, whether they are biologists, physicists, chemists or geneticists, they will give different answers as to who the human person is. And we must admit that the sciences go a long way in telling us about the human person, but still instinctively we may feel that we have not gained the fullness of our identity.
To Be Human
Just from the above, we begin to appreciate just how difficult it may be to discover a complete answer of who we are, given that in our society today the idea of what it means to be a human person is many things to different people. Along with this, society, profoundly influence by empirical positivism has argued that in our pursuit for truth and identity only logical considerations which can be verified empirically are valid. Therefore any beyond the sensory world is non existent. However very early in our adult life we discover that our intellectual or rational capacities are but one aspect of our life. Coupled with the confusion in this vast diversity of answers, we only need to take a few moments to appreciate just how different, unique and distinctive each person is. While it may be true that a group of people may lead similar lives, have similar interests, yet they still are all distinct. Physiologically, there are no two people that look the same, talk or think exactly the same way. Even identical twins will have discrete differences that usually can be distinguished only by those who know them. It is not enough to say that amongst the entire animal kingdom, the human race occupies an exceptional position; it also has to be affirmed that within the human race itself, each person possesses an irreducible uniqueness and therefore within each of us there is a priceless treasure not to be found in anyone else.
For this reason, each person has the unique vocation to discover and become all that they were created to be – and for every person this is entirely unique and unrepeatable. The Greek poet, Elytes noted in one of his poems that even though throughout the centuries all people in love may engage in the act of kissing, yet each person will kiss in his or her unique and unrepeatable way. If one, hypothetically speaking could gather all the human faces throughout the ages, there would be none of exactly the same image. There is only one of me and one of you! Living this truth alone would surely make every person to appreciate the infinite value of each person thereby embracing all kinds of persons since they can add to the diverse beauty of the world. However, more often than not we like other people only to the extent that they are similar to us. However since there is an inexhaustible variety of human person we are called to embrace the ”other” not despite his/her differences but because of those very differences. I would add that this must be done because we have been created not different from each other, but different for each other.
Since we are all unique, it follows that we cannot compare ourselves to others. People have a unique calling in life to discover and live out their unique mode of existence. And this uniqueness needs to be made a reality to our fullest potential and in freedom. If for example, it was Christ’s calling by His Father to become a human person, live a certain number of years on earth fulfilling the signs of the expected Messiah found in the Old Testament, then to die and resurrect then this is what He had to do willingly and freely. For others it may be to live life not dieing for another, as was Christ’s vocation but working for the common good of society. Then this needs to be undertaken the best of one’s ability. If for others it may be to gain a certain professional degree, then it needs to be used to serve society for its advancement. Even those called to clean the streets have a sacred task and duty to society in that they have promised the community that they will keep the streets clean and tidy.
Consequently, the difficulty faced in establishing our own identity is that it cannot be made to conform to another person’s identity. We must not seek to discover our identity by becoming somebody else – be that our personal hero, a famous actor or even simply a person who has been inspirational to us in our life and to whom we look up – e.g. a teacher. Unfortunately, more often than not, we prefer to conform and that is why we organize states, clubs, fraternities so that we can ”fit in” since we do not want to be considered ”outcasts” or ”nerds”. We prefer conformity instead of diversity – that is living the adventure of our personal freedom. Life is definitely not how much good I can do or how I can improve my character by trying to conform to some form of standards and morals. Rather in life we all need to embark on that difficult journey in freedom to discover all that we have been created to be. But the question which justifiably arises, is: how can I discover who I am? How do I know who I am? How do I find and fulfill myself as a person? How do I find the ultimate meaning of existence? How do I come to terms with my life in this ever-changing world?
Now, the question that begs answering is in what way can a Christian view of who a person is add to a scientific or secular world view? Can the Christian vision help a person struggling to discover their identity? For those who are linguistically sensitive, the word alone for human person in Greek “anthropos” reveals something of who we are. An-thropos literally means a creature that looks up beyond the sensory world to the heavens, in contradistinction to an animal who looks down. In other words, for a person to discover fully who they are, they need to look up to find the answers and not simply act by instinct as the animal kingdom does. And if it important for us to know who our Creator God says that we are, then it is to the Church’s teaching that we must turn to find the answer.
To God, the human person is more than simply flesh and blood; more that a compound of complex substances; more than a complex system of obsessions; rather the human person is a special creature whom God knows more intimately than ourselves (cf Jeremiah 1:5), created in God’s image (which means that we are something like God) and stamped with His likeness (given the potential to become everything that He is by nature, by grace). In order to uncover our true identity we need to spend time reflecting to what extent we are like God. Just like the sciences conscientiously examine our likeness with the animal kingdom, the same should be done regarding what we have common with God.
Image and Likeness
It becomes clear that we must come to know God intimately so that we can discover who we are since we are created in His image and according to His likeness. The Christian answer to who we are begins with the affirmation that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. In Gen 1:26 we read: “Then God said, ”Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”.” Such is the Christian answer to who we are – every human person is an icon and ephiphany of God. It follows therefore that God calls all human persons, in their own unique way, to become, by His grace, power will, energies and love everything that He is by nature. We are called to share in the very qualities of God. True happiness, inner peace and joy will come about if we search to exist the way God exists. And since God is all-wise, compassionate, merciful, loving, kind, desiring union with all creatures, we too will find peace and joy in saying “yes” to living out all these qualities. Whether we know it or not, or even accept it or not we are all created in God’s image and according to His likeness.
This means that there can be no definition of who a person is understood apart from divine being, for the divine is the determining element in our life. The deepest element of our being is God Himself. And we should hasten to add the true God. The good news is that once we discover this truth and accept it then this becomes paradise for us right down here on earth. And this is the satisfaction and fulfillment that all human beings are thirsting and hungering for. However if we come to know this truth and deny it, then this can become our anxious, worry ridden “hell” right down here on earth. And with this usually comes a loss of freedom since we become entangled in so many compulsions or addictions. Or else we make idols of things such as food, power, prestige, pleasure, possessions etc. insatiable greed for power, knowledge and status.
Having stated that the human person is created in the image and according to the likeness of God, the question which justifiably arises is: what part of us is in God’s image? What is signified by the image of God? To be created in the image of God implies, first and foremost that we are relational beings. We only exist to the extent that we relate with others in a loving way. Therefore we would say: I need you in order to become myself. Descartes, the great philosopher was partly right when he affirmed, ”cogito ergo sum” (I know therefore I am); it is also vital to affirm, ”amo ergo sum” (I love therefore I am) since this is what God does after whose image we have been created. We are not called to be individuals competing with one another; rather persons working together with others. The whole purpose of life is to develop from this false sense of security in believing we are fulfilled as individuals to becoming relational loving persons. How radical a teaching it is to believe that in giving up our will for the sake of the other, we are not annihilated rather what is revealed in front of us in world so beautiful as seen through the eyes of that other person leading to our enrichment.
Furthermore, created in the image of God means we have the potential for growth and maturity in all aspects of our life – knowledge, feelings etc. Not only are we called to live life in a relational way but also to grow. Indeed that does not imply growth only in this life, but for all eternity. The fathers of the Church teach that we continue to have before us limitless possibilities yet unrealized and even in the life to come we will endlessly grow towards unending perfection. The human person must continue to become more aware and more conscious of the world around through his or her powers of reason, introspection, and intuitive insight. And the more we learn of the beauty of the world and how it functions the more this will lead us to a sense of fascination, awe and gratitude to its Creator.
Lastly the image is to be seen reflected in our possession of free choice. God is free so human beings, made in His image are free to choose. “Heaven, sun, moon and earth have no free will” state the Macarian Homilies of the fourth century, “but you are in the image and likeness of God; and this means that, just as God is His own master and can do what He wishes and, if He wishes, He can send the righteous to hell and sinners to the Kingdom, but He does not choose to do this… so, in like manner, you also are your own master and, if your choose, you can destroy yourself.” Therefore, our vocation, as persons made in God’s image is not to become copies of one another, but through our freedom, to become authentically our own image. In the world to come I will not be asked why was I not like Moses or why was I not Paul, but why was I not Philip.
For such a glorious destiny have human beings been created since they have been created in God’s image and according to His likeness. That is, they have been “ordered by God” (St Basil the Great) to be all that God is in His nature, by grace. Human persons have infinite possibilities since they are the crown and fulfillment of God’s creation.
But sooner of later we see that we are like the earth, and will return to it one day. Not only do we die, but through life there can emerge so many problems of loneliness, fear and depression which make us realize just how frail we are. We see the sufferings of others around us and ask what meaning can there be in all this. But in this whole – and often difficult – adventure we call life we must never forget that God, who created us all in a unique way purely out of His love, loves us more than we could ever imagine. Moreover, this world which came into existence out of nothing was created for us simply to enjoy – to enjoy God’s beatitudes. The paradox is that within us there exists a strange mixture, of feeling invincible yet frail; in the words of St Gregory the Theologian of the fourth century, we are “earthly, yet heavenly…. midway between majesty and lowliness…. both spirit and flesh.” Yet in all this we are never to forget that we are created in God’s image, all in a distinct and unique way, capable of relating and mutual love, open to unending growth and self awareness and entrusted with a free will. To end this brief examination of who we are, we quote a passage from St Gregory of Nyssa, a father of the fourth century who wrote:
“For this is the safest way to protect the good things you enjoy; by realizing how much your Creator has honored you above all other creatures, He did not make the heavens in His image, nor the moon, nor the sun, nor the beauty of the stars, nor anything else which surpasses all understanding. You alone are an icon of Eternal Beauty, and if you look at Him, you will become what He is, imitating Him Who shines within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity. Nothing in all creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens can fit in the palm of God’s hand… and though He is so great… you can wholly embrace Him. He dwells within you… He pervades your entire being.”
Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College
The Human Person – Crown of God’s Creation
The Christian tradition claims that the human person is the crown of all creation, created “in the image and according to the likeness of God” (Gen 1:26) to be God’s special creature. The human person is more than simply flesh and blood; more than a compound of complex substances and more than a complex system of obsessions; rather the human person is a special creature whom God knows more intimately than human beings know themselves (cf Jer 1:5), “created in the image and likeness of God.” Every human person is an icon or epiphany of God. As images of God, human persons are called in their own unique way, to become, by God’s grace, power, will, energies and love everything that He is by nature.
Created in the image and according to the likeness of God means that human nature reflects in a created manner the divine attributes or qualities of God and as such expresses them in a creaturely way. Therefore the human person has been endowed with capabilities, such as a mind, will, freedom, and even a body to live, imitate, resemble, within the conditions of creaturely existence, a divine life.
To image God implies to become by God’s grace, everything that God is by nature. And since God is all-wise, compassionate, affirming, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast mercy and love, kind, desiring union with all creatures, then it follows that the human person is also called to share and live out these qualities of God in a creaturely way. In fact the human person is called even to share in those qualities of God which include incorruptibility and life eternal. It must be said that the way God lives out these qualities cannot be known because God’s essence is beyond comprehension. Yet when God manifests Himself to us through His activities as they are revealed by His Son and Holy Spirit we know that He is good, loving etc and therefore human persons, created in His image must reflect these qualities as well. Whether human persons know it or not, or even accept it, they are all created in God’s image and according to His likeness.
Therefore the Christian Orthodox tradition would claim that the ineffable essence of God is made accessible to human persons by the uncreated energies which flow from the three persons of the Holy Trinity by the very fact that as relational or personal beings, human persons can relate to God on a personal level. It follows therefore that there can be no definition of who a person is apart from divine being, for the divine is the determining factor in a human person’s life. The deepest element of what it means to be a human person is God Himself.
Human Beings – in the image of Christ
The Scriptures unveil that the image of God after which all human persons are created is Jesus Christ. Since God is holy and therefore completely different from anything in creation, it is only in the light of Jesus Christ, who is the perfect and uncreated image of God that one can learn what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. According to Christian theology Jesus Christ is the uncreated perfect image of God and therefore bearing the image of God, means that the human person is to become Christ-like. Therefore to image God simply means to be like Christ or to imitate Christ. This is made clear in St Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
“He Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:15-19)
This passage shows the significance of Christ for an understanding of the human person. That is to say, in order to understand what it means to be human one must attain “the measure of the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13). If Christ is in the image of God and human persons are in the image of Christ then it can be said that humanity is in the image of the Image. For this reason some fathers carried this Pauline line of thought further in stating that Christ is the direct image of God but that human beings are in the image.
Clearly the human person is christological in structure. Therefore united to Christ, the essential gulf between humanity and divinity is bridged and it is in Christ that persons find their true fulfilment and destiny. United to Christ human persons become capable of being raised up into an image of God. The teaching would be that the eternal will of God was that the human race be united to Him and it is for this reason that the incarnation was necessary with or without the fall. Even without the fall, human persons, which Scripture calls the body of Christ lacked a head who is Christ since Christ is the head of the body. Therefore in Christ all of humankind is completed.
The Meaning of the Image
Since the teaching is that the human person is created in the image of Christ and Christ is inexhaustible since He is the Son of God with the exactly same supraessential divinity as His Father, then it follows that the image of Christ in human beings is also incomprehensible. A question which justifiably arises is what part of the human person is in God’s image. What is actually signified by the image of God? There are at least three facets of the human person which relate directly to God’s image and it is to these that we now turn.
To be created in the image of God implies, first and foremost that human persons are relational beings. If God is a relational being then the human person is likewise relational. Human beings can only exist to the extent that they relate with others in a loving way. The other in this case without whom human persons cannot find their true self is primarily God but it also includes other human beings. Therefore we would say that this relational dimension of being created in the image of God implies both vertical and horizontal relationships.
It could be said that to be a human being implies saying: “I need you in order to become myself.” Descartes, the great philosopher was partly right when he affirmed, cogito ergo sum (I know therefore I am); however it is also vital to affirm, amo ergo sum (I love therefore I am) since this is who God is after whose image the entire human race has been created. Human beings are not called to be individuals competing with one another; rather, persons working together with others. The whole purpose of life is to develop from this false sense of security in believing we are fulfilled as individuals to becoming relational loving persons. Human persons are completed to the extent that they love – that is give up their will for the sake of the other. And in doing this they are not annihilated but are rather initiated into a world entirely different – a world as seen through the eyes of that other person leading to an enrichment.
Dynamism and Growth
Furthermore, created in the image of God means that human persons have the potential for growth and maturity in all aspects of their life – knowledge, feelings etc including growth towards Christ-likeness. In his letter to the Corinthians, St Paul is very clear on the dynamic character of the human person created in the image of the Son of God:
“Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:45-49).
According to the above passage it is very clear that the creation of the world was for no other reason than for the human person to become like Christ – that is to grow from simply being an image of Adam and become an image of Christ. It is this Christlike form, which completes human beings and therefore it is growing and orienting themselves towards Christ that persons find their true existence.
It was this dynamism and growth which led some fathers in the early Church to distinguish between image and likeness even though it is believed by Biblical scholars that no such distinction is intended in the Genesis account. St Irenaeus, who was the first to make this distinction wrote that that imperfect beings have the image but not the likeness.
It came to be believed that the image refereed to God’s gift of His qualities through His will to humankind, while the likeness was the postulate or goal towards which human beings must strive. Whilst the former is God’s initial endowment to all human beings without discretion the latter is the purpose or the goal of becoming Christ-like. Regarding this distinction, Origen (d. ca 254 AD) explicitly stated:
“Human beings received the honour of the image at their first creation, but the full perfection of God’s likeness will be conferred upon them only at the consummation of all things.”
Many fathers of the early Church underline this distinction by suggesting that the creation of the first human beings prior to the fall was indeed very good but not perfect. Like small children, simple and innocent, they had to grow to perfection. St Irenaeus for example highlights that Adam:
“was but small, for he was a child; and it was necessary that he should grow and so come to his perfection.”
Viewed in this way, Adam and Eve were given the opportunity for progress, so that by becoming mature they could become god-like and ascend to heaven. Such is the implication of the distinction between image and likeness in the human person. The fathers of the Church teach that human persons have continually before them limitless possibilities yet unrealised and even in the life to come they will endlessly grow towards unending perfection. Human persons must continue to become more aware and more conscious of the world around, through their powers of reason, introspection, and intuitive insight. And the more human beings learn to appreciate the beauty of the world and how it functions the more this will lead them to a sense of fascination, awe and gratitude to their Creator.
Lastly, the image is to be seen reflected in humanity’s possession of free choice. God is free so human beings, made in His image are free to choose. “Heaven, sun, moon and earth have no free will” state the Macarian Homilies of the fourth century, “but you are in the image and likeness of God; and this means that, just as God is His own master and can do what He wishes and, if He wishes, He can send the righteous to hell and sinners to the Kingdom, but He does not choose to do this… so, in like manner, you also are your own master and, if your choose, you can destroy yourself.”Therefore, humankind’s vocation, as persons made in God’s image is not to become copies of one another, but through their freedom, to become authentically their own unique image. In the world to come human persons will not be asked why they were not like Moses or Paul, but why they were not themselves. For such a glorious vocation have human beings been destined since they have been created in God’s image and according to His likeness. That is, human persons have been “ordered by God” (St Basil the Great) to be all that God is in His nature, by grace. Human persons have infinite possibilities since they are the crown and fulfilment of God’s creation.
Human Beings as composite beings
The Eastern Christian tradition claims that the human being is dual – that is a unity consisting of both soul and body where one element does not overshadow the other nor is in opposition to the other. The Christian tradition affirms that the human person is a psychosomatic unity – one where there is a clear interdependence of soul and body. For this reason the body should not be undervalued in favour of the spirit since this would be a deviation into a kind of angelism where the body is dismissed as little more than a hindrance and an obstruction – something quite irrelevant to the notion of personhood. This was the teaching of Origen in the third century which the early Church condemned. Origen believed that originally human beings were purely spiritual entities gathered around God but finally fell into corruption. Therefore God, he claimed, in wanting to rescue them, gave them bodies so as to gather up their fallen souls.
In contrast to this false teaching, many fathers of the Church taught that the body and soul cannot exist separately but are necessarily linked to each other since this is the way that God willed it to be. Following the Holy Scriptures which affirm the sacredness of the body, the early Church taught that the body together with the soul constitute a human person. The body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19) through which God is glorified (cf 1 Cor 6:20). St Ireneaus is explicitly clear on this:
“By the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Spirit, the human person was created in the likeness of God. The person was so created, not just a part of the person. Now soul and spirit are certainly part of the person, but they are not the person as such. For the complete person consists in the commingling and union of the soul that receives the spirit [or breath] of the Father, together with the flesh [or physical nature] that is fashioned according to the image.”
Therefore, faithful to the Scriptures the Christian tradition describes the person as a unity of both soul and body. In fact Niketas Choniates (d.1217) went so far as to say that the humankind can only be thought to be a complete species when considered together as body and soul.
“The term human being applied not to the soul alone or to the body alone, but to both of them together; and so it is with reference to both together that God is said to have created the human person in his image.”
It is this totality of both soul and body that is “according to the image”. In fact St Gregory Palamas in the thirteenth century went so far as to argue that the fact that human beings have a body makes them not lower but higher than the angels. Therefore for the Patristic tradition, the dual nature of the human person has greater potentialities than the angelic. The conviction of the Orthodox Christian tradition that human persons have been created for a higher purpose than the bodiless powers of heaven is affirmed in St Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
“so that the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11).
From the above we see that human persons, in communion with Jesus Christ who was a perfect human being, are created for a life superior even to angels. This is also reflected to the person of the virgin Mary, who after Christ, was the most perfect human being who is hailed in the Orthodox Church as “more honourable than the Cherubim, incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim.” And that which Mary has accomplished already is the calling which the entire human race still awaits.
Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College
The Glory of Man and Woman as Created by God
In the last issue of the newspaper we discussed briefly the Christian doctrine that the human person is created in the image and according to the likeness of God. The article below is a continuation of last month’s contribution and examines others aspects of the glory of man and woman as created by God.
Men and Women together express God’s image
The Eastern Christian tradition claims that human beings are created in God’s image and according to His likeness, as male and female. In Genesis we read:
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1.27).
The above Biblical quote affirms that men and women are equal in value and dignity. Further evidence of this equality is given in the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit is bestowed in new fullness to both men and women (Acts 2:17-18); and where both men and women are baptised into the body of Christ (Acts 2:41). Therefore the Orthodox tradition would claim that that gender and sexuality not only belong to human nature as such, but that gender differentiation is an essential element of what it means to be a human person. Just as the divine nature of God does not exist in abstraction but concretely in the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so too the one nature of humanity which all persons share exists either as man or woman.
Gender and sexuality belong to the original plan of God’s creation which the Scriptures affirm was “very good” (Gen 1.28). It is interesting to note that when God created Adam, He said that it was not good for man to be alone and then He fashioned woman from the side of Adam which means together as man and women do human persons make constitute the image of God. It is important to remember that God fashioned the woman from the very same substance of man – from the side – which the Holy Fathers interpreted as a sign of the equality between man and woman since they were both created from the same substance. In fact the man cannot be in God’s image without the woman. The reason for this, quite simply is that human beings are created in the image of God who is love. And therefore there must be a communion of love in order to reflect God. In order to love one must have another person of the same kind yet different who can be loved because God is love. Just as God is not alone in His divinity from all eternity, so too human persons, in order to love must have other persons in order to be what God made them to be – that is loving creatures. In other words, Adam alone without Eve could not image God since he could not love.
Reflecting God, human beings are created to be lovers and this cannot be done without the gender distinction. It is clear that gender distinction is needed in order to have love that images the love that God is. Therefore human life cannot be contemplated apart from the communion of love as male and female.
It would definitely be a teaching of the Eastern Christian tradition that there is no difference whatsoever when it comes to what it means to be human. Both men and women have the same vocation – that is to share the life of God. Paul explicitly states the equality of men and women in his letter to the Galatians:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
For Paul the message of Christ is open to all without discrimination based on nationality or gender. From this we can see that in the New Testament female, gentile slaves are considered equal in God. However the equality is evident also in the Genesis creation story:
“The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man” (Gen 2:21-22).
The Patristic tradition have interpreted God’s act of creating woman from the ‘rib’ or side of Adam as meaning equality. The woman does not relate to God through the man but equally to God. Therefore it follows that gender distinction must be incorporated in human behaviour in a god-befitting manner. And so, men and women, in their communion with one another must discover and fulfil their calling as created in the image and according to the likeness of God. Both men and women are called to share in the same qualities which belong to God since the entire human race, irrespective of nationality, colour or gender are called to spiritual perfection. For this reason there should be a harmony and unity within a community of human persons. Just as in God the real differences between Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not destroy but actualise the perfection of the divinity, so too, analogically speaking, can gender difference of human beings
Regarding gender distinction, the second point that needs to be affirmed is that it expresses the very will of God and as such was not introduced in view of the fall. There are some within the Church who would argue that God introduced the different genders in view of the fact that He knew that the human person would sin and thus allow evil to reign. And so it is argued that in view of this situation there would need to be men and women for reproduction and for the possibility of salvation. They would therefore claim that if God knew that human beings would not sin that He would not have made them in this way.
Rather, He would have made them in some other way – like the angels for example. However it must be stated that it is definitely the teaching of the Church and its interpretation by the fathers that God created human persons male and female as an absolute necessity for human life to be in the image and likeness of God. This implies that humankind could not be human and live properly according to the image and likeness of God without being male and female. Therefore gender distinction expresses the very will of God since God has endowed the human person with a mind, will, freedom, a body, even gender and sexuality so that they can live within the conditions of creaturehood a divine life – and the point would be that this cannot be done unless human beings are male and female.
The Human Person as Microcosm and the World as Macroanthropos
Balanced between the material and non-material realms, both men and women can act as a microcosm and mediator, forming a bridge and a point of contact for the whole created world. Whilst they are God’s special creatures, human beings are nevertheless related to the rest of the material world in so far as they have a body but are also closely related to the spiritual world since they have been endowed with a soul. It is for this reason that the human person has been called a microcosm in so far as all the elements of creation are contained in the human being. Closely linked with the concept is the notion of macroanthropos which affirms the world’s close relation to the human being. Seen in this way, humanity cannot but respect the environment as opposed to abusing it as it has done for too long.
The notion of the human person as microcosm in the Christian tradition simply means that not only do human persons reflect the world around them but they form an organic part of the material creation. Organically connected to creation, since humanity was created from the material world , the human person is its centre and point of convergence. Harkianakis has noted that it is not of no significance that even the physiological composition of the human person as 75% liquid and 25% solid is directly analogous to that of the world. As a microcosm the human person has the specific task to unite the entire world in praise to God. It is precisely for this reason that the Orthodox Christian tradition employs material things – such as water, wine, oil, flowers and other natural products – in worship since the material world is not to be disregarded in giving thanks and praise to God.
Along with the human person, the destiny of the entire created world is to be taken into the Kingdom of God. Therefore the person as microcosm affirms that humanity forms a link between God and the material world. In the age to come, the eternal survival of the material world united to God is realised in this irrevocable unity between the world and the human person. The Patristic understanding would claim that human persons were created by God in order to reconcile and unite in their person the created world with God and thus enable it to live eternally. Consequently it could be said that the world was created for the human person and the human person for the world. The responsibility of the humanity is to lead the entire material world in communion with God. This is the destiny of human persons, which led some fathers to see the human person higher in dignity than even the angels.
Responsibilities of being created in the image and likeness of God Naming the animals
There are at least two instances or two moments which show the important responsibilities given to the human person by God. They are found in the fact that the human person was: a) asked by God to name the animals and b) told to multiply and conquer the world. Even though God creates the entire universe out of nothing, He nevertheless does not give any name for what He as created. This is witnessed in the second Genesis account of creation:
“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field” (Gen 2:19-20).
God creates the universe but He then puts the entire creation before Adam and called him to give names to everything. This is not without significance. Orthodox theology notes that the moment of name-giving is a very special moment in the relation between God and the human person. Giving a name is the highest responsibility that the human being has towards the rest of creation. It is as if God said to human persons to study the uniqueness of each of His creatures, respect, protect and love them all and then to give them a name which could enable them realise the ultimate aim for which they were created. This really betrays the love and highest esteem that God has for the human person. A name is not just an arbitrary characterisation or a conventional term but rather expresses both the essence, function and purpose of a creature. By naming the entire world, human persons are given the responsibility to sanctify all things – that is to be partakers and not consumers.
Go Forth and Multiply
The second significant responsibility given to human persons was the commandment by God to go forth and multiply. In Genesis we read:
“God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over it…” (Gen 1:28)
It is important to note that God’s commandment to multiply and subdue the earth does not give human persons the right to conquer, oppress, abuse or subject the world to their will. The Greek word used in the in the Scriptures for subdue is “katakyrieuo” and has within the word “kyrios” which means “lord” or “gentleman”. Therefore God’s will is that the human person be responsible as a caretaker and protector of the world on God’s behalf. The human person carries the responsibility to govern the world in a god-pleasing manner so as to sanctify it by leading it back to God. Just as headship in marriage does not imply any deprivation on the part of the man of his wife’s free will, but rather sacrifice and service so that his wife may realise her full potential so too as caretakers over the universe, human persons have the responsibility to help the entire creation realise their full potential.
The Human Person as the Hope of all Creation
By way of conclusion, we must state that the Orthodox Christian tradition would view humanity’s distinctive role in creation in their calling from God to be the hope and priests over all creation. The notion of ‘priest’ over the material world simply implies that creation is fulfilled when the human person offers it to God in praise and thanksgiving. And this human persons do since they alone, in naming everything in the created world, as we saw above, have come to realise the uniqueness and therefore the sacredness of even the slightest detail within creation. Furthermore, in forming an organic link with the created order as we stated above, the human person alone is able to lead the whole created realm to its transcendence. Now, human persons can do this by virtue of their ecstatic aspect. By ‘ecstatic’ is simply meant that ability of the human person to reach out and stand beyond any given boundaries. Therefore in being ecstatic the human person can refer creation to God and in offering it back to God in glory and thanks, and bringing it into a relationship with God, that person opens up the infinite possibilities which potentially remain hidden within the entire created order. Therefore creation is liberated by humankind when it is brought into communion with God.
Creation acquires in this way a sacredness which is not inherent in its nature but acquired in the fact that the human person images God and therefore is an epiphany of God. It is this exalted role that God had envisioned for humankind alone which makes the human person the crown of all creation.
Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College
Sin: Missing the Mark of God’s Original Plan for Humankind
What is sin? How does it work? Did God create it? What is ‘original’ sin? How does ‘original’ sin affect us since we did not take part in it? How does it come down through the generations? It is these questions that the following two articles of VEMA seek to reflect upon.
Created in the image and according to the likeness of God, and therefore for communion with God, the human person was destined to become like God in every respect by grace. Yet Genesis 3 claims that in the persons of Adam and Eve, the primordial couple fell from innocence and found themselves outside paradise. In failing to achieve their ultimate destiny to grow more godlike in an eternal communion of life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they failed to realise the fullness of life as love and communion with God.
The Genesis 3 account speaks of sin precisely in terms of Adam and Eve’s failure and how they missed the mark. In fact the Greek word for sin, amartia means “to miss the mark, to miss the road, to fail of doing, fail of one’s purpose, to miss one’s point, fail, go wrong.” According to this interpretation of Genesis, the sin of the primordial couple consisted in their failure to achieve the very purpose for which God created them – that is to share in God’s life for all eternity. And it was this missing of the mark that brought about their fall.
The fact that the Christian tradition speaks of the fall presupposes that the first human beings fell from one state of being into another. From what has been said above the Orthodox Christian tradition does not claim that Adam and Eve fell from an idealistic or ‘spiritual’ world to a material world. Rather, the teaching is that they fell from an incorruptible life of relationship and communion with God and the world, into a mode of life unrelated to, and independent of God – that is a life of autonomy and existential self-sufficiency which gave birth to loneliness, isolation and the first taste of mortality. Regarding the Orthodox claim that the fall is to be identified with a loss of communion with God which resulted in death and not with any notion of punishment on the part of God, is also succinctly verified by St Basil (4th century):
“the more human persons separated themselves from life, the more they drew near to death. For God is life, and the loss of life is death.”
In this interpretation, it is sin and death which are inextricably connected. The primordial sin is not explained in terms of God’s punishment upon the world resulting from Adam offending God nor can it adequately be explained in terms of God needing to punish Adam and Eve with death . Rather it is simply stated that in ceasing to remain in communion with God as the source of life they caused their own distance away from God which is isolation and death. Consequently the consensus in the Greek Patristic tradition would be that the world thereafter essentially inherited mortality rather than sinfulness, sinfulness resulting from mortality. In reflecting upon Psalm 51:7, Theodoret of Cyprus remarked:
“Having become mortal [Adam and Eve] conceived mortal children, and mortal beings are necessarily subject to passions and fears, to pleasures and sorrows, to anger and hatred”.
For this reason human beings would subsequently be born into a world where sin and death prevailed and therefore would not be able to live in accordance with their original destiny of selfless love and communion with God.
By succumbing to the serpent’s temptation and going against the one commandment required of them not to eat from the fruit of the tree in the centre of the beautiful garden, the first couple turned from God-centeredness to self-centeredness. Having been promised likeness to God – that is the possibility of ‘real’ life – Adam and Eve were beguiled into thinking that this could happen without the assistance of God. In Genesis we read:
“God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:3-5).
Seeing that the fruit was good and a delight to the eyes, and desiring to be made wise, they ate of the fruit only to have their eyes opened to a world completely different. In putting themselves over and above God they thereby attempted to become their own gods without God. In trying to realise life without God, they thought that they could draw life from themselves but instead tasted the fruits of an autonomous self-centred existence which was loneliness and ultimately death.
The ancestral sin consisted precisely in Adam and Eve ‘missing the mark’ or deviating from the original goal; in falsely believing that they did not need God in order to exist. Regarding sin, the Orthodox Christian tradition would state explicitly that sin did not enter the world by the will of God but by human beings who were deceived by the devil. In the Wisdom of Solomon states:
“For God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24).
God created the human person ‘very good’ (cf Gen 1:31) and therefore sin was not built into human nature. Yet the possibility of sin existed since human beings were created with God-like freedom since they were created in His image and could therefore chose to alienate themselves from God. This loss of communion with God is beautifully described in the Genesis account in terms of Adam’s desire to hide from God:
“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen 3:8).
Adam and Eve’s desire to hide from God, shows the rupture in their communion as they seek for a place where God was ‘absent’. Therefore the fundamental definition of sin has nothing to do with punishment or morality but rather is directly related to humankind missing the mark as to what God had originally intended for them. Since it is God who provides the world with life it follows that it is only in communion with God that the world could be provided with the presupposition of life. The Orthodox Christian tradition would claim that the sin of Adam and Eve consisted precisely in their false belief that they could exist the way God exists without the grace of God. Fundamentally they were beguiled into thinking that they did not need to be in loving communion with God in order to really live as opposed to simply survive.
A fundamental point to be made at this point is that the fall did not rule out the possibility for humankind to restore and regain their former participation of a life in God. The story of Genesis continues in showing how God went out to find the fallen Adam.
“But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9). Prefiguring the parable of Christ seeking the lost sheep, the Scriptures depict God actively seeking out Adam in the hope of his repentance. Some Eastern fathers openly believed that if Adam and Eve had repented from their sinful ways, that God undoubtedly would have forgiven them. It is for this reason that the Eastern Christian tradition does not describe the fall as a total depravity of God’s grace since God does not entirely abandon the world.
The Genesis account of the fall also describes the ‘original sin’ of humankind in terms of alienation or loss of communion not only from God, but from creation itself. In speaking to the serpent, God explicitly states this lack of intimacy with the world.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:15).
Therefore the primordial human beings produced a division between God, themselves and the world. The division between God and the first couple which was a result of pride separated and alienated them at the same time from the world since pride is essentially a concern and love for self over others. Whilst before the fall, the human person was created to be in constant communion and love with God and the created realm, after the fall, no place was given to God or the world since the human being turned in on itself. Therefore with this loss of communion with God followed a rupture in their communion with the world which was originally given to Adam and Eve to care for and cultivate. The world became a disposable commodity, nothing more than an object for their fulfilment and self-centred desires. According to St Maximus the Confessor “Human persons wished to lay hold on the things of God without God, before God and not according to God’s will” and so “they delivered the whole of nature as a prey to death.” Just as the image of God within human persons was distorted, so too was creation robbed of its lustre and translucency in reflecting the beauty of God.
Consequences of the Fall
The alienating effects of Adam and Eve’s fall were both physical and moral. Finding themselves outside paradise, they experienced not only ‘bondage and decay’ but also a world, as was stated above, hostile and destructive, subject to storms, earthquakes and floods. Furthermore they experienced pain, guilt and anxiety in the face of death. There are three consequences of the fall which are outlined and reflected below:
a) the rise of pain and sorrow in the world;
b) the plight of the entire created realm;
c) the feeling of nakedness.
It is to these three consequences that we now turn.
Consequences of the fall: sorrows and pain
Genesis describes the original joy of a mother with regard to bringing forth children now marred with pain and labour. Moreover it describes that henceforth women would be ruled over by their husbands even though they were created in equality and mutuality. To the woman God said:
“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:15-16).
The God given hierarchy of equality within creation was now disfigured into inequality and subservience. As for men, they would experience hardship in the tilling of the land in that they would earn their food by the sweat of their brow.
“And to the man [God] said, “…cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19).
The primordial couple were overcome by pain and sorrows because they have lost God’s gift of incorruptible life and now anxiously had to struggle merely to survive.
Consequences of the fall: the plight of creation
With the fall of Adam and Eve came the fall and distortion of the entire created world from its original beauty since it too was alienated from the source of life. The original harmony and beauty of creation was disrupted by the fall of the primordial couple. Since God’s commandment to Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree was directly related to creation it too felt the consequences of Adam’s fall. The fall of creation is described in the letter to the Romans in the following way:
“for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope.” (Rom 8:20).
This point is made clear by St Paul regarding the interdependence between human beings and the world and therefore of the consequent fall of the world resulting from Adam’s fall. It could be said that the entire created realm is victim to humanity’s abuse of freedom. It is for this reason that the created world refuses to be subject to human persons. St Symeon the New Theologian describes this reality in a beautifully poetic way:
“When it [creation] saw Adam leave paradise, all of the created world no longer wished to be subject to the transgressor. The sun did not want to shine by day, nor the moon by night, nor the stars to be seen by him. The springs of water did not want to well up for him, nor the rivers to flow.”
The very air itself thought about contracting itself and not providing breath for the rebel. The wild beasts and all the animals of the earth saw him stripped of his former glory and, despising him, immediately turned savagely against him. The sky was moving as if to fall justly down on him and the very earth would not endure bearing him upon its back.”
The world ceased to be a transparent window through which humanity could behold God but rather grew opaque; it ceased to be life-giving but instead it too became subject to mortality and corruption.
Consequences of the fall: nakedness
Both Adam and Eve were not only isolated from creation but also from themselves in that they were ashamed by their nakedness and put on garments of skin. Genesis states this in the following way:
“then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” (Gen 3:7).
The feeling of nakedness is symbolic of a rupture in communion since they ceased to relate in a self-offering and unifying love but rather saw the ‘other’ as an object of desire and gratification. It is for this reason that Genesis describes Adam and Eve sewing leaves of figs so as to protect and defend themselves from such objectification. Weakened in their will and divided within themselves they would now become subject to inward estrangement and isolation, caught in a situation where they would choose evil even though God created them innately good. In Genesis 4, for example, the Scriptures describe the story about fratricide where Cain killed his brother Abel; and in Genesis 11, humankind is further divided from each other in the confusing of languages brought about by the headstrong pride of that generation.
Even if the entire Genesis narrative is mythological and prescientific in nature it offers an explanation for the reality and human experience of sin in the world. Prefiguring the entire tragic history of humanity, the Genesis account of the fall accounts for the reality of suffering, injustice, evil death and sin which are all too obvious in the world today. One only has to mention the twentieth century list of violence – the two world wars, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the killings in Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia, the death of so many children which result from a lack of nutrition and starvation, the continued wars of religious ideologies, the continued existence of slavery and the sexual exploitation of children.
However this world of natural catastrophes and injustice is not a failure of God’s work nor is it his punishment but rather as St Paul notes a triumph of freedom in that the world is led back to life ever so slowly and sometimes unbeknown to us by the love of God:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God….in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom 18-21).
Knowing that Adam and Eve would sin by missing their original target, God nevertheless created them along with the entire world simply so that they could become partakers of His eternal beatitude. Yet even a life in communion with God without the person’s freedom to choose this would be a failure of God’s work. For this reason, beyond the reality that “the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now” (Rom 8:22) there is in all this God’s guiding ‘hand’ leading his children and the entire created world back to His embrace.
Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College
Sin: Missing the Mark of God’s Original Plan for Humankind
What is sin? How does it work? Did God create it? What is ‘original’ sin? How does ‘original’ sin affect us since we did not take part in it? How does it come down through the generations? It is these questions that the following two articles of VEMA seek to reflect upon.
Sin in St Paul
No theology of sin and indeed ‘original sin’ would be whole without a reflection of the reality of sin as it is depicted by St Paul particularly in his letter to the Romans. Now, in the Gospels, even though the sin of Adam (ie the ancestral sin) is not mentioned explicitly it is definitely presumed in that Jesus is depicted beginning his earthly ministry with a call to repentance for the sake of the immanent kingdom. Repentance implies a ‘change of mind’ (meta-noia) where one chooses to forego a sinful way of life in favour of a life in Christ.
St Paul on the other hand, in his letter to the Romans deals with the pervasive subject of sin in a systematic way. Not only does he succinctly describe the reason for sin in chapter one in terms of people’s refusal to offer glory and thanksgiving to God – that is humanity’s denial to remain in communion with God – but also lists the effects of sin in the world today. Written some two thousand years ago, St Paul’s words still echo true in society today. In a very long passage yet one worthy of quoting in full, St Paul describes the reality and results of sin in the following way:
“For though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.” (Rom 1:21-32).
Further to the universal reality of sin, St Paul also describes, in very personal terms, his own reality of sin in a very moving passage in Romans 7:
“but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom 7:23)
Due to sin at work within them, human beings, like Paul, find it hard to do what is good, and easier to separate themselves from life. Not only can all human persons identify with St Paul’s reality of sin on a personal level, but his remarks affirm the universal nature of sin as well.
From all that has been said thus far on the reality of sin as portrayed by St Paul, a question, which justifiably arises is why should the sin of Adam and Eve affect subsequent generations since they did not take part in Adam’s particular sin? This type of question has to do with the transmission of sin. At least two answers can be given to this problematic. The first has to do with the relational or communal character of existence implying that a person’s actions has consequences on all around. Secondly different Christian denominations have traditionally based their answer on how sin is transmitted throughout history on Romans 5:12, a particularly difficult verse from St Paul. It is to these two areas that we now turn our attention.
The first point, which must be mentioned is that since human persons are relational beings, this implies that all subsequent generations are affected by the sin of Adam. Since all human persons and indeed the entire created realm is organically linked, then the actions of one person affect the environment at large. Therefore being communal in being, human persons, in the fall, caused the reality of sin to become universal. Except for Jesus, no person lived on earth without falling into sin. Just as no person is saved alone so too no one sins alone. One of the greatest myths of society today is the belief that human beings are independent from one another. Rather the truth lies in the fact that they are interdependent and cannot exist isolated. A person is not an arithmetic unit or an entity within itself. The word ‘person’ comes from the Greek word ‘prosopon’ –the prefix (pros) means – to, or towards, and the noun (opsis), means “look”, “eye”, or “face”. A person can only be known in a direct, personal encounter of immediacy with another person. The sin of the primordial couple is clearly related to all persons, indeed the entire created realm, just as the salvation of Christ touches all people and all created things. Yet whilst affirming the extensive or universal consequences of Adam’s disobedience on all the world thereafter, the Orthodox Christian tradition does not speak of any inherited culpability. From the time of the ancestral fall, the Orthodox tradition teaches that human persons inevitably have a strong propensity towards sin.
That is to say, human persons do not inherit Adam’s guilt or sin automatically; yet they do so in so far as they too freely choose to imitate the ways of the primordial couple. Since the image of God within human persons was distorted by sin but not totally destroyed, they were still capable of doing good. However this is not to overlook the reality that humanity’s loss of communion with God did in fact set up a barrier which could only be overcome by the gift of Christ’s way of life offered to the entire world with his incarnation, life, death and resurrection. A close study on Romans 5 verse 12 will shed further light on the Orthodox doctrine on the transmission of ‘original sin’.
A Case Study of Rom 5:12
A Scriptural text which has played a key role in discussions on ‘original’ sin throughout the history of the Church and even up to this day, is a verse in St Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned [ εφ’ ω παντες ημαρτον].” (Rom 5:12)
The difficulty of the passage, which has formed the basis of the Church’s teaching on ‘original sin’ lies in the last four words of Paul’s phrase. The reason for this is that these words “because all have sinned” can be interpreted in at least three different ways. These are as follows: 1) in whom all have sinned; 2) because all have sinned and 3) because of death all have sinned. And these diverse readings give different understandings.
Firstly, the West, based on Jerome’s Vulgate, translated the difficult Greek phrase as “in whom all have sinned” which led to the belief that Adam’s sin was passed onto future generations and that human persons today carry this sin of Adam. This gave rise to the belief that human beings throughout the centuries have inherited the sin of Adam and therefore are guilty in that they share in his sin as they share in his nature. Whereas the Orthodox Christian tradition would claim that the world today shares in the effects of the sin of Adam which was death, this understanding believes that human persons share in the sin of Adam directly. The consequences of such an doctrine is that God is seen to punish subsequent generations unjustly since He judges them not on their actions but on the deeds of Adam.
A second rendering of this difficult phrase and one espoused by most scholars today is to translate this verse not as “in whom all have sinned” but as “because all have sinned”. Such an understanding implies that human persons today have not inherited Adam’s transgression or guilt but rather that they have replicated it in their lives by sinning themselves. Simply put, in this understanding, Adam sinned causing death which in turn caused a likely propensity on the part of human persons to sin themselves. This subtle difference makes each person responsible for their sin and consequently takes away any inherited notions of culpability. In agreement with this view, St Mark the Monk affirmed: “When evil thoughts become active within us, we should blame ourselves and not ancestral sin.” Understood in this way, Adam’s sin is not passed down to human persons today causing them to sin. Rather Adam’s sin is a prototype of all future sin in the world and therefore all people are responsible for their own sin.
There is yet a third reading of the text which takes the Greek words usually translated as “because all have sinned” to mean “because of death all have sinned.” In this case, the relative pronoun, all — is taken to be masculine, as was the case in the first interpretation, but in this case it does not relate back to Adam but rather to the word “death”. Grammatically speaking, it makes more sense to have the relative pronoun relate back to the word “death” since it is this word which immediately precedes and substantiates the phrase in question. Understood in this way, it is the cosmic reality of death which explains the reality of sin in the world and not the other way around. In other words, this subtle yet profound saving truth affirms that human persons sin or break communion with God because of the reality of death and not that human persons are punished to death because they have sinned. Therefore the verse could read in the following way:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all; because of death all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12)
From this understanding, the Eastern Orthodox tradition would claim that it is not the sin of Adam which is propagated to future generations as St Ambrose and Augustine believed but the reality of death. And because of death human beings personally sin as well. In contrast to Augustine’s view St John Chrysostom wrote:
“With Adam’s guilt, also those who did not eat from the tree became all mortals, coming from Adam.”
And thus the human person could not be liberated from the predicament of death except by the grace of God who by his Son’s incarnation we have the culmination of our salvation.
All human beings are born into a world subject to death caused by humanity’s refusal to share in the real life of God by being in communion with Him. Instead of a life of immortality, incorruptibility realised in communion or in a loving relationship with God, humankind believed that life could be realised outside of God’s life and this caused death. God’s commandment not to eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil was not a law given by God to Adam and Eve, which if they broke would bring about their punishment in order to satisfy God’s wrath. Rather, in these words God simply made a statement – that life exists in communion with Him and outside of Him there is death. By eating of the fruit of the tree, God was declaring that this would remove the presuppositions of life and lead to death. In eating of the tree, Adam and Eve were in fact attempting to realise “life” in a way which does not constitute God’s communal and loving way of life.
Therefore it is death which renders sin inevitable in so far as in one’s struggle for life there is prevalent an overwhelming pressure to sin in order to survive. It would be Christ as the second Adam, in his obedience to the Father, who would come to reverse the reign of sin in death and bestow eternal life through grace:
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:18-21).
In this case the inheritance of the Fall is seen as an inheritance of mortality rather than of sinfulness.
From the above it was shown that in the entire adventure of life God does not intervene to remove the result of Adam’s use of free choice since this would remove the way of life feely chosen by Adam. Rather as we shall see God will intervene to transform this self-afflicted punishment into a salvific opportunity for relationship or communion with God, which is nothing other than a restoration of the world to eternal life. Jesus Christ God would make possible this transformation from death into life again without eliminating human freedom. For this reason in this continual state of tension the anticipated Messiah will come and assure the world saying:
“In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33).
In fact the entire Old Testament Scriptures which is nothing other than God’s increasing communion with the world in the covenant that He initiates with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will find its ultimate purpose in the birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and ultimate glorification of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah.
It will be He who will come to save the entire world from their sin thereby granting them the possibility once again of eternal life.
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College
The Importance of the Eastern Doctrine of Deification for the Theology of Grace
“I say, ‘You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you’” – Psalm 82:6
Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. – 2 Peter 1:4
God became human so that human beings may become gods.- St Athanasius
In the history of theology, one can detect quite different, but not always necessarily opposing emphases in the understanding of grace in the Western and Eastern Churches. The West has tended to perceive grace in terms of ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’.1 Namely, grace is seen as that divine power, beyond any virtue or any merit which has restored and continues to restore humankind to its ‘original beauty’. In the East, however the doctrine of grace has been closely connected to ‘deification’. The predominant idea here has been that the grace of God is that undeserved divine gift which has led humanity, created from the dust of the earth, to become god-like. Here, the doctrine of grace is not understood in juridical terms, whereby one is granted an extrinsic justification, only as a result of the fall. Rather, the salvific effects of divine grace are understood as signifying a new reality – a real fellowship in the divine and eternal life of Jesus Christ. More correctly, deification is understood as a personal encounter with the three Persons of the Holy Trinity through their uncreated and saving energies in the world.
However, to speak of grace in such terms has caused a lot of confusion throughout the centuries and continues to do so even to this day. Indeed some have even perceived the doctrine of deification as an aberration of little doctrinal importance. It must also be admitted that in the East too, only with the patristic revival did Orthodox theology come to appreciate the importance of deification. For this reason, this article will seek to explain the notion and importance of deification for a theology of grace. Whereas the first stage will concentrate on a general outline of deification as the ultimate aim of humanity, the second will set forth the theological basis for a doctrine of deification which will reveal the continual regenerative grace of the Holy Spirit working with human persons, endowing them with a god-like existence.
It is the contention of this article that as a result of a) the creation of the human person in the image and according to the likeness of God; b) the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the person of the incarnate Logos and c) the permanent presence of God through the Holy Spirit, the ultimate destiny of the human person – that is, to become god-like – has been secured.
Deification: The Human Destiny
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, deification (qevwsi”) denotes a direct union and a total transformation of the human person with the living God by divine grace. St Basil the Great pointed out that human beings are nothing less than creatures that have received the order to become gods.2 The strong language suggesting that God did not simply invite the world, but ordered it to become ‘gods’ by grace betrays nothing other than the intense love of God to share everything He is by nature, by grace with the entire created cosmos. For St Basil, as for many Eastern fathers, the descent (katavbasi”) of God, especially in the Incarnation and kenosis of the only-begotten Son of God has offered the created order the capability of ascending (ajnavbasi”) towards the Divine by the power of the Holy Spirit. For the Eastern fathers, deification was God’s greatest gift to, and the innermost goal of, human existence. That is, the formulation of the doctrine of ‘deification’, affirmed the reality of humanity’s innermost hope as “belonging to God”. St Gregory Nazianzus, like St Basil insisted that the root of a person’s true greatness and calling lay in being “called to be a god”.3 The ultimate destiny of humanity was seen as none other than to attain likeness to God and in this way to be united with Him. Consequently, deification, as a concept used to denote the participation of humanity in the being of God was only possible by the sanctifying power of divine grace (implying that the initiative belonged wholly to God).
Although, as a term deification does not occur in the Holy Scriptures, the Greek fathers believed that it was a fitting theological term affirming the command of 2 Peter 1:14 – i.e. “to become participants of the divine nature”. Regarding deification, St Anastasius of Sinai, a seventh century father wrote the following:
Deification is the elevation to what is better, but not the reduction of our nature to something less, nor is it an essential change of our human nature. A divine plan, it is the willing condescension of tremendous dimension by God, which He did for the salvation of others. That which is of God is that which has been lifted up to a greater glory, without its own nature being changed.4
Not only an important definition in its own right, especially in its rejection of any alleged pantheism – a charge often directed towards the Orthodox Church by others – the above passage beautifully captured the dynamism with respect to deification, highlighting its meaning entirely in terms of a divine gift which raised the faithful up towards God, as a result of God descending into the world in the first place.
Now, the patristic tradition has always sought to explain the process of deification in reference to grace. Deification is not brought about by humanity’s own merits but becomes accessible ultimately as a gift which is both entirely gratuitous and poured out for all. Grace is that gift which the created order receives and by which it is deified. It is only the grace of God and not human efforts, which enables human beings to rise to this divine state. St Basil attributed the experience of deification to the Holy Spirit, when he wrote that:
[the Holy Spirit] being God by nature… deifies by grace those who still belong to a nature subject to change.5
Maintaining the need for grace in deification, St Maximus the Confessor stated that “all that God is except for an identity in essence, one becomes when one is deified by grace”.6 It becomes clear that, for the Greek fathers deification was dependant on the grace of God. Moreover, grace was not something bestowed upon human beings so as to simply justify them, but was divine life itself. The Patristic literature clearly stated that persons, as they are, cannot see God but rather the presence of the Holy Spirit then gives the faculty to see God:
[the saints are] transformed by the Spirit; they receive a power which they did not possess before; they become Spirit and see in Spirit.7
So it is only by being transfigured by the Holy Spirit that a human being – as a whole person, body, mind and spirit – has the possibility to be united with God and to share in His eternal blessedness and beatitude. From the above it has become evident that, in insisting on the deification of humanity, the fathers of the East were affirming the reality of God’s dynamic participation in creation and therefore the possibility of a direct, unmediated vision of God “face to face”. But the question that must be addressed now is, on what premises did the Eastern fathers base their teaching on deification. This is necessary since it will shed some light on another perspective of the theology of grace – that is its relation to the Incarnation. And it is to this that we shall turn our attention both now briefly and in the next issue of the Voice.
The Basis of the Doctrine of Deification
(a) “He created humanity in His own Image”
The fact that people are created in the image of God implies a certain mysterious and indefinable aspect with human persons. This is so because God, the prototype in whose image human beings are created, is beyond understanding.8 Lossky noted that, “the image of God in man… is necessarily unknowable… for as it reflects the fullness of its archetype, it must also possess the unknowable character of the divine Being”.9 When one searches the writings of the fathers so as to find what aspect of human nature reflects the image of God, one soon realizes that many different interpretations exist. Sometimes the image refers to humanity’s free will or sometimes to his/her rational faculty. Indeed, sometimes, as Lossky also noted, the image of God in humankind is occasionally compared to a certain characteristic of the soul, such as its simplicity, its immortality, as well as its capability of a true communion and union with God by means of the presence of the Holy Spirit.10 Beyond these different emphases, what can be said is that all human persons, by the grace of God, find their true meaning only when they strives to reflect and mirror their Image – namely to become godlike. Even though there is no clear understanding as to what the image specifically refers to in the human person, the overriding principle for the fathers was that humankind was created in the image of God and more particularly in the image of Christ. For the fathers, this teaching was found in St Paul, in his epistle to the Corinthians:
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor 15:49).
Having been created in the image of Christ, humankind is therefore also called to realise the sovereignty and freedom of Christ. Beyond this however, the greatness of human persons lies in the fact that they have been called to transcend their natural boundaries and become Christ-like, to live a life in Christ – i.e., to become deified.
In the first chapter of the book of Genesis there is a description of the creation of humankind created in God’s image and after His likeness. Even though modern scholarship often understands ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ as synonymous, the Eastern fathers make a distinction. Indeed, the movement from the divine image to the divine likeness was understood in terms of deification. And so, the Eastern Orthodox tradition would claim that the image of God is common to all humanity by virtue of creation (cf. Gen 1:26).
However, having received the image of God, humanity must try to attain likeness to God, its archetype, and so to be deified.11 Therefore, the likeness of God can be thought of as a realised image and the image as a potential likeness. A father of the Eastern Patristic tradition observed that, the image was given to us in our nature, and it is unchangeable; from the beginning until the end it remains. The likeness, on the other hand, we gain and achieve through our cooperation and volition; [it] exists potentially in us, and is energised through the good life and excellent behaviour.12
St Gregory Palamas, a thirteenth century Greek father, also noted that, “all human beings are in the image of God, and perhaps also in His likeness”.13 Having received the gift of being created in the image of God, human persons find true meaning in life when, empowered by the grace of God, they strive to resemble Him and become gods themselves by grace.
(b) The deification of human nature in Christ
As it has already been stated above, the aim of the human person is to become Christ-like. But more than that, the fathers speak of the original destiny of human nature in terms of being incorporated into the body of Christ. Enjoying a perfect union of both a divine and human nature 14, Christ opened the way for our human nature to participate in the divine life of God. For this reason many fathers interpreted the Incarnation of the Logos not as a simple consequence of the fall, but as the fulfillment of the original will of God – namely that in the person of the Logos, human nature is capable of being united with the divine. That is to say, the deification of Christ’s human nature made possible our deification as well. In his book, Deification in Christ, Nellas wonderfully summed it up in this way: “Christ is not the result of an act of Satan. The union of the divine and human natures took place because it fulfilled the eternal will of God….. Prior to the hypostatic union of the divine nature with the human, man even before the fall was anterior to Christ, a fact which means that even then, in spite of not having sinned, man had need of salvation, since he was an imperfect and incomplete “child”. This teaching lies at the core of the theology of St Irenaeus. Human nature could not have been completed simply by its tendency; it had to attain union with the Archetype. Since Christ is “the head of the body, the Church” (Col 1:18), a fact which means in patristic thought that Christ is the head of true humanity, as long as human nature had not received the hypostasis of the Logos it was in some way without real hypostasis – it lacked real substance”.15 In this long, yet important quote, Nellas emphasised that the deification of humanity required the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures of Christ in the Logos and so the Incarnation would have taken place even if humanity had not sinned.
The hypostatic union of divine and human accomplished in Christ, was the very foundation of the deification for human persons. Since Christ took on human nature and bestowed upon it the fullness of grace, He made humanity capable of ascending to God. Therefore St Athanasius correctly and succinctly noted that, “God became human so that humanity may become God”.16 That is, it was this gift of the Incarnation which gave humanity the possibility of deification. Since the first Adam went astray and deprived himself of the gratuitous gift of union with God, the Second Adam, the divine Logos achieved this union of the two natures in His person. Therefore the Incarnation of Christ did not simply redeem humanity from the effects of the fall but, more importantly completed the pre-fallen nature of humanity by deifying it. For the fathers the deification of Christ’s human nature became the vessel by which our human nature could also be deified. This is the basis of the theology of deification which is found in the fathers. Meyendorff describes it in this way:
The hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ is the very foundation of salvation, and therefore of deification: in Christ humanity has already participated in the uncreated life of God because the ‘flesh’ has truly become ‘the flesh of God’.17
(c) The communion of God to humankind in the Holy Spirit
Now, the saving act of Christ has been communicated throughout the ages by the grace of the Holy Spirit. For St Basil the Great, no gift could be received without the Holy Spirit.18 Elsewhere St Gregory of Nyssa asked:
How could we be united with Christ, if the Spirit did not effect the connection?19
For the Eastern fathers, whilst it is true that the deification of humanity was made possible by the Incarnation of the Son, which the Father willed, it is also true that they considered that it was to be accomplished by the Holy Spirit by means of the uncreated emergies and grace natural to Him. Moreover the grace which accomplishes the deification of humanity is not created since this could not deify humankind. In this regard St Gregory Palamas asked:
“…. but since the gift which the saints receive and by which they are deified is none other than God himself, how can you say that too is a created grace?” 20
Clearly, it is the uncreated divine grace, bestowed by the Holy Spirit which makes deification possible. Karmiris argued that the grace of the Holy Spirit was necessary “preceding, cooperating with, and following the work of salvation, bestirring him, enlightening him and directing him”.21 In this way the fathers avoided the Pelagian and Messalian temptation to consider deification possible by human effort alone.
Having affirmed the necessity and primacy of grace, it must also be stated that human freedom must work together with God. Indeed, the Patristic literature understood a clear cooperation or synergism between the grace of God and the human response. St John Chrysostom wrote:
God brings no one to Himself contrary to that individual’s free will; although He wishes all to be saved, He forces no one…. Not without the consent of human persons, nor without their will…. rather, it is in accord with their desire and will that God prepares the salvation of humankind.22
Human freedom, generated by the grace of the Holy Spirit, was seen as mandatory since it was seen as the receptive instrument in our deification in Christ. Without divine grace or human synergy the subjective appropriation of deification would be rendered impossible.
All that has been said thus far necessitates a theological synthesis between the Western and Eastern theologies of grace. Despite the Western understanding of the effects of grace as that which causes human beings to be ‘justified’ and ‘sanctified’ as a result of the fall, this article – in two parts – has examined the Eastern understanding of the theology of grace as that which deifies the created order. What is called for therefore today is a complementary theology of grace so that the fullness of humanity’s true existence might be realised. All too often, the West speaks of justification and sanctification at the expense of other concepts such as deification. On the other hand, the East is all too often tempted to speak of the effects of divine grace solely in deification terms. Both perspectives are necessary for a complete and integral understanding of grace. In a world where our struggles often seem hopeless, where our life seems meaningless because death is ever present, the good news and foundation of our hope is that Christ has overcome death and granted life in the tombs.23 The grace of God offers us a “life in Christ” empowering us to live as Christ, to love as Christ, to serve as Christ and to be one with Christ.
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College
1. The fact that the West perceives the effects of grace primarily as justification and sanctification does not imply that the notion of deification is totally absent from its tradition. For example St Augustine writes that “God received a body and a soul in order that the body and soul of humanity may be blessed: the soul with his divinity and the body with his humanity”. Enchiridion, 26 (cited in Nicodemus of Athos, Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, (Paulist Press, New York, 1989), 204).
2. On the Holy Spirit, 1.2
3. Funeral Oration for St Basil, P.G. 36, 560A
4. Concerning the Word, P.G. 89, 77BC
5. Against Eunomius, 3.5
6. Book of Ambiguities, 41, cited in Jarloslave Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, 267.
7. Against Akindynos, IV, 16Coisl. 98, fol. 109. Cited in J. Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas (Faith Press, Great Britain, 1964), 174.
8. Cf. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Creation of Humankind 11, PG 44, 153D-156B, esp. 156AB.
9. V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 118.
10. V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 114-125
11. G. Mantazrides, The Deification of Man, 21.
12. Work attributed to St Basil, On the Creation of Humanity, P.G. 30, 29ff, 32.
13. Second Letter to Barlaam, 48.
14. Cf. the teaching of Chalcedon (451AD) on their teaching of Christ: “Following the holy fathers we teach with one voice that the Son of God and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same (Person), and he is perfect in Divinity and perfect in Humanity, true God and true Man. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son (of God) must be confessed to be in two natures, without mixture and without change, without separation and without division.”
15. P. Nellas, Deification in Christ, 37-38.
16. De Incarnatione verbi 54, P.G. 25, 192B.
17. J. Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, 182.
18. On the Holy Spirit, 24, 55, P.G. 32, 172B.
19. Against the Pneumatomachoi 22, P.G. 45, 1328CD.
20. Against Akindynos 3, 8, cited in J. Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, 64/
21. J. Karmiris, A Synopsis of the Dogmatic Theology of the Orthodox Catholic Church, 76.
22. John Chrysostom, On “Saul, Saul” 6, P.G. 51, 144.
23. An Orthodox hymn of the Resurrection