Publications: Articles - Theology
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.
Academic Secretary and Associate Lecturer
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College