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The Image of God in man.


This subject is most pertinent in our times, due to the fact that, for some representatives of Russian theological and philosophical thought, it is tied up with the sophiological ideas concerning a female presence in God. This results in a singular interpretation of Genesis 1:27: "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them." Applying the method of reverse deduction, contrary to the laws of logic, to these Biblical words, some people find support for the idea of a mysterious "Sophia," as a female facet in God,.

"What does the word "image" mean? And how do the male and female coexist in this image, when they are not present in God as the Primary Image?" —reads the heading of Chapter 16 in the above-mentioned writing of the saint. We shall relate the content of this and later chapters in condensed form.

The pagans used to say: "Man is a small world," consisting of the same elements as the universe. But by using this great name they did not notice that they honored man with the characteristics of the mosquito and the mouse…Why is it so important to honor man as the image and likeness of the world, when the sky and everything in this world passes away with time? According the church teachings, the greatness of man is not in his likeness to the physical world, but in his being the image of the Creator of all.

What does the word "image" mean? Only Truth itself can relate this clearly. But we, as much as we can, think thus by conjecture and supposition.

On the one hand, the pathetic poverty of human essence cannot be compared to the blessed impassivity of Godly life; on the other hand, — the Word, saying these words about God’s image in man, is not lying. Why is the Godly essence Blessed, while the human is calamitous, if in the Holy Writ the latter is considered comparable to the former? Let us examine the words precisely. It is said: "Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him." The creation is completed in accordance with God’s image. Then these words are repeated, saying "male and female created He them," which seems to be at odds with the usual notion of God. For this reason our nature’s structure is, in a way, double: one is comparable to the nature of God, and the other is different, being divided into two sexes… "For I think, that some great and elevated dogma is being related through the Holy Scriptures through that which is said, and it is such: the human nature is positioned in the middle of two extreme natures, the Godly nature — incorporeal, and the wordless life — mute and beastly; from the Godly — verbiage and reasoning; from the mute — the physical structure, with the divisions into the male and the female…" " May no one become angry with me for the following thought. God, by His essence, contains all the good which can possibly be encompassed by thought, and higher than any good that can be imagined or comprehended. He creates man only because He is good…, and provides him with no lack of blessings. And the word of God, unifying all the good given to man, indicated this succinctly: man was created "in the image of God." If Godliness is the fullness of blessings, and man is in His image, then we are capable of everything wonderful, of any virtue and wisdom; and one of these blessings is freedom, because virtue is something which cannot be subjugated, but remains free always." All humanity has these excellent qualities, although called collectively, in the person of the first man, "Adam" ("one taken from earth"). That which is forced and compelled cannot be virtuous.

The saint answers the following question with great caution: why has the present method of reproduction been chosen for humanity, and not one that would "have likened us to angels." "Our opinion is such," answers he, giving the following reason: "Inasmuch as Creator saw with His "all-perceiving vision" that human choice would not lead humanity to its predestined perfection by a straight path, and therefore it would fall away from near-angelic life, then, in order that the number of human souls should not remain small by losing that ability by which the angels grew in number, — the Creator provides humans with another method of reproduction, one that suits the sinners better, making this method of succession more beast-like and senseless. It is for this reason, it seems to me, that the great David, pitying the poverty of man, cries over human nature with the following words: "Man that is in honor, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 48:20).

"I think, — continues St. Gregory, — that all passions stem from this source, flooding our entire life… Love of pleasure, having an animal-like beginning, gained power in human life through the assistance of thoughts. From this have come revenge, envy, falsehood, evil intentions, hypocrisy. All this sprouts from the bad intention of the mind. But in reverse, if reason takes power over such movements, then each of them turns into a virtue. Thus, irritability bears courage, timidity — caution, fear — obedience, hatred — loathing of vice, power of love — desire for the truly dignified, and greatness of disposition (knowledge of one’s worth) lifts one above passions… Thus the great Apostle orders us to be continually "setting your affection on things above" (Col. 3:2). Then the loftiness of thoughts will conform to the beauty of that, which is in the image of God. Those in whom initial beauty has not faded are a living confirmation of the truth of what has been said, that man has been created in resemblance to God."

God, who rules over everything, also foresaw that the human race would sometime achieve a certain fullness, and then this method of human regeneration will end. Time will end as well, and the entire universe will be renewed. With this change, humanity will pass from finite and earthly to passion-free and eternal life when the trumpet of resurrection will sound.

Thus, though man does sin after his fall from heaven, yet he keeps the image of God. His mind still has the traits of its Original Image. "Inasmuch as God is the most wonderful and superior to all possible good, the mind is decorated with the likeness of the prototype beauty, like a mirror reflecting that which is before it. Then the entire spiritual nature adheres to the mind and is itself beautified by similar beauty, becoming like a mirror reflecting another mirror; in this way one’s material side is also protected and upheld. Thus, "while one holds to the other, true beauty is commensurately reflected in everything; that which decorates the higher immediately beautifies the lesser. But when this good union is annulled, or when the higher follows the lower, then, when this lower matter departs from its norm, its non-imagery is revealed (because matter itself alone has no image and no structure). Then, through this lack of image, the beauty of one’s nature, previously enhanced by the mind, is spoiled. Then the impurity is transferred to the mind itself, so that the image of God can no longer be seen in the features of the creation (man). The mind, in itself remaining an image of goodness, now, like a crooked mirror, does not reflect the beautiful features of goodness, but reflects the ugliness of matter. Thus, through the deletion of the adorable, the evil is introduced."

"We, on the other hand, fearing such a disastrous result," —concludes the saint, — "hearing the call of the Apostle Paul: "Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him" (Col. 3:9-10), — let us return to that God-like goodness, with which God created man in the beginning, saying: "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness."

When we familiarize ourselves with the works of the holy fathers, particularly those of the 4th and the 5th century, we can only bow down before the manner in which the fathers of the Church perfectly knew and employed their knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. On the other hand, one can only marvel what great knowledge of the sciences of their time they possessed, including history, natural sciences (as in the example above), philosophy and even pagan mythology (like St. Gregory the Theologian), to the extent that it assisted to the formation of a Christian worldly view. The given short excerpt from the works of St. Gregory of Nys, of course, does not show in what detail he examined the anatomical structure of the human organism and of all its organs, corresponding to the knowledge of his time. He did this in order to show what favorable conditions one has to fulfill his calling "to be a friend of God," as the prophet Moses is called in Genesis, and to keep his regal position on earth.

The present is very different. Modern directors of human consciousness approach the psychic of a person in the same way that nature is treated nowadays - with a practical and business-like mind. Its present state is accepted as the required, perfect norm, capable only of deviation to one side or another. Modern experimental psychology focuses on the study of various deviations, abnormal and, perhaps, artificial spiritual states. Hence the study of the psychology of the subconscious, its dark sources, shadowy spheres, expressed in dreams or half-conscious psychosomatic tendencies. There is no mention of psychology as an educational tool for the moral elevation of humans. History has kept the memory of human geniuses, providing a wealth of material for psychology, as well as for analyzing and clarifying the good or bad conditions for the spiritual perfection of a person. A link of modern psychology to religion would be even less likely to exist. Modern artistic literature is leading down the same decadent path.

Our epoch has fully revealed itself already. Will not a new one, coming soon, reveal spiritual powers in order to reinstate the union of scientific knowledge and Christian faith, in order to create a unified world view, the first steps to which were made by the Church fathers? Or will faith and science continue on their separate ways?

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