Christological Anthropology pt. 2

…read Part 1 here…

It is not Adam, then, who is our ultimate reference for “made in the image of God,” but the incarnate Word, the god-man Jesus the Christ.[1]  As many fathers argued, the incarnation indicates that the first man was created good but not perfect, because had he continued in goodness, he had eventually assumed not the divine nature, but the spiritual likeness of the incarnate one.[2]The distinction between image and likeness made by some fathers tries to express this developmental dynamic of human nature. [3] Being made in the image of God implies two levels of participation. On a lower, or weaker level of participation, the creaturely qualities of man themselves reflect the image of God, his rationality, his freedom, and his sociality.[4]

Yet these endowments are not an end in themselves but constitute the human capacity for communion with God. Human being is designed to approximate the likeness of God, and human life even when separated from communion with God, will evidence this desire in all kinds of beautiful and also perverted ways. Yet all these human attributes are merely a copy of the divine wisdom, and are even more weakened by sin.

There is, however, a second and stronger level of participation at which “creatures would receive the divine image itself for their own, and end the futile struggle, so to speak, to approximate God in and through what they simply are in themselves. Creatures would receive from God what is beyond themselves—the divine image itself—and be considered the image of God themselves primarily for that reason . . . . [At this stronger level of participation], human beings share in, hold in common with God, what is and remains itself divine, the perfect image itself.”[5]  This higher level of participation was experienced to some extent by man upon his creation, when he enjoyed communion with God and the Word through the Spirit.

Cyril of Alexandria, humanism

St. Cyril speaks of our ensoulment at the point of Creation

Cyril of Alexandria indicates this belief when he describes the ensoulment of man by the divine breath at the point of creation: “In the beginning . . . the creator of all, taking dust of the ground and having formed man, breathed upon his face the breath of life. And what is the breath of life, save surely the Spirit of Christ Who says ‘I am the resurrection and the Life?”[6] Being created in the divine image thus also implied Trinitarian communion. This communion was lost in the fall, but godlikeness will be restored in a better way by participation in the god-man. For unlike Adam, who could lose the likeness of God, the second Adam knit god-and humanity into an intimate union, and by participation in him, the gift of spiritual life becomes, as Athanasius put it, “irrevocable.”[7]  Irenaeus expresses the same idea when he says, “we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then, at length, gods.”[8]



[1] Steenberg, God and Man, 33.

[2] Against Heresies, ANF, 2.28.3; Steenberg, God and Man, 52.

[3] Clement, a contemporary with the apostle Paul, already equated the imago Dei with rationality: “He formed man, the most excellent [Of His creatures], and truly great through the understanding given him – the express likeness of His own image” (ANF 1, 13-14). In Ignatius’s Epistle to the Magnesians, immortality is evidenced buy the congregation’s unity (ANF 1, 61). Justin Martyr, affirms the body as belonging to the image to defend the resurrection and the value of the body against any (gnostic?) detractors (see, On the Resurrection, ANF 1, 297 l.c.). Irenaeus can sometimes refer to “likeness” as “mixed organization of soul and flesh” (ANF 1, 463 l.c.), and link “likeness of God” to “freedom” as part of the image of God (ibid., 519) and to image and likeness as pertaining “to the knowledge of good and evil” which we gained as part of God’s educational plan for humanity (ibid., 522). For Irenaeus, the restoration of man entails bestowal of immortality (ibid., 527).  Yet generally, likeness of God are the fruits of the Spirit (ibid., 536) and incorruptibility (ibid., 533); See also his contrast of a rational soul and animal spirit. Likeness seems to refer here to “communion with the Spirit” of God (ibid., 538).  For the same distinction, see Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, ANF Vol. 2, 206: “It is time for us to say that the pious Christian alone is rich and wise . . . and thus call and believe him to be God’s image, and also His likeness, having become righteous, holy, and wise by Jesus Christ and so far already like God.”

[4] The idea of natural law as participation in God’s eternal moral law also belongs at this level. This Neo-Platonic motiv of participation in the divine mind by all rational beings is formulated by Thomas Aquinas with reference to Psalm 4:6: “‘The light of They countenance O Lord, is signed upon us,’ thus implying that the light  of natural reason by which we discern what is good and what is evil and which pertains to the natural law, is nothing else than the imprint on us of the divine light [impressio luminis divini in nobis]. It is evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law” (Summa theologiae I-II, 91.2; qtd in Russell Hittinger, The First Grace: Rediscovering Natural Law in a Post-Christian World, xx). Hittinger also points out that the idea of natural law, of a common, obligatory moral norm that predates positive law,  emerged only when the Greek logos-metaphysics “was appropriated by the biblical theology of a creating and law-giving God” with Jewish philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 B.C.-A.D.50). See The First Grace, xix.

[5] Katheryn Tanner, Christ the Key, 12.

[6] Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, in NPNF (Second Series), Book 5, chapter 2, p. 550. The full passage runs: And if you investigate the reason why not before the resurrection but after it did the pouring forth of the Spirit take place, you will hear in reply, Christ became then the firstfruits of the renewed nature, when making none account of the bands of death He lived again as we have just now said. How then should those be quickened before the Firstfruit who come after It? For as the plant will not shoot up from the earth, if it be not surely sprung from its own root (for thence is the beginning to it of growth): so it were impossible that we having for our root unto incorruption our Lord Jesus Christ, should be seen springing up before our root. But He shewing that the time of the Descent of the Spirit upon us was now come, after the revival from the dead, He breathed on His disciples, saying, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. For then was the time of the renewal indeed at the doors, yea rather within the doors. And let the searcher after learning again see whether what we say on these things too be not true. For in the beginning, as said the Spirit-clad, Moses, to us, the Creator of all, taking dust of the ground and having formed man, breathed upon his face the breath of life. And what is the breath of life, save surely the Spirit of Christ Who saith, I am the Resurrection and the Life? But since He fled away from the human nature, the Spirit which is able to gather us and to form us unto the Divine Impress, the Saviour gives us this anew bringing us again unto that ancient Dignity and reforming us unto His own Image. For therefore does Paul too say to certain, Little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.

[7] “For while mere man receives, he is liable to lose again (as was shown in the case of Adam, for he received and he lost ), but that the grace may be irrevocable, and may be kept sure by men, therefore He Himself appropriates the gift” (Athanasius, Four Discourses, Discourse 3, chapter 27, section 38, ANF, p. 415).

[8] Against Heresies, ANF series 1, Volume 1, 4.38.4 p., 522. According to Irenaeus, “it was necessary, at first, that that nature should be exhibited; then, after that, that what was mortal should be conquered and swallowed up by immortality . . . and that man should be made after the image of God, having received the knowledge of good and evil” (ibid.).

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