image with the sign of Myriobiblos

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Nikos A. Nissiotis

"Secular and Christian Images of Human Person"

Theologia 33, Athens 1962, p. 947- 989; Theologia 34, Athens 1963, p. 90-122.

III. The Image of God: Christian Anthropology in Dialogue with Secular Images of Man

1. The Imago Dei: Love, communion and humbleness.

Following these remarks we have to be careful not to fall into any kind of tritimphalistic speculation describing man as the Image
of God, because this anthropological affirmation of Christian faith is the highest and the boldest statement ever made in anthropology. Christians risk falling into all kinds of hidden «isotheia», theories of equality with God which is precisely what Christian theology should avoid doing by all means.

It is fundamental and imperative to focus our approach to the Christian notion of man in God, because of the affirmation that his image is of God. In this connection God is the Creator of man. There is an infinite difference between «creating» and «being created». The Church Fathers will insist on this notion by the term «diastema» signifying «distancing», as we find it expressed in Gregory of Nyssa.

Further, following the biblical text we are not allowed to speak directly of man as the Image of God, as we usually do. The biblical expression relates to the act of God as Creator. Man is created «after» or better «according to the image of God». It is the act of Creation qualifying man as image of God and not man in himself directly. The image denotes the relationship of dependence of the created man on the creating God.

It is not, therefore, man as such, who is the Image of God, but it is the act of God placing him in the inseparable God-man relationship, offering him the freedom to grow and become «after His Likeness». The act of Creation is — as we already said — to be understood only christologically; «In and by him all things were created» (Col. 1,16). That is why the only one, the unique one called directly «the image of God» is Christ (II Cor. 4,4), who contrary to all possible triumphalistic temptations, as the unique Image of God, «thought it is not a thing to be grasped to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant» (Phil. 2,7). His glory, as the Image of God, is shown in his self-humiliation as a human person.
The Christian image of man is definitely theocentric (God-centered). We cannot escape including this reference to God in the dialogue with the secular images of man. We cannot, however, ignore the fact that we have to deal with an ontological affirmation of His Being and qualify His creative action as transcendent. But all of these references in the realm of anthropology have to be made in Christ, in the person of the historical Jesus in this world, in this history. The difficulty in dialogue is that Christians propose him as the realized relationship of communion with God, the Creator, and therefore, the One and Unique Image of man. But, again, this is not an abstract ontological
affirmation of the absoluteness of God but of the uniqueness of the Person of Christ. Unique signifies universal while absolute refers to the transcendence of Being. Christ, because he is unique, can have a universal presence. The nature of uniqueness is relationship on a universal scale.

Eikon, image, denotes the presence of a prototype or archetype. It is a representation, faithful to its original without absolute identity with the prototype. It is a «likeness», a «resemblance» which establishes a relationship with the prototype and its characteristic traits. Eikon indicates that an object is related with what precedes it, revealing the relationship between created and non-created. It is in this sense that Christ as the image of God has said to his disciples: «he that has seen me has seen the Father» (John 14,9). But it is evident that here the resemblance does not refer to the external traits of the prototype, but to essential elements of identity between Father and Son, and the accomplishment of the will of the Father by the Son in this world, in this history.

The verb ὁρῶ (to see) in the Bible has a deeper dimension in many cases. «To see», on the part of man, signifies to know, to participate, to communicate, to coexist in agreement and to follow the will of God. St. Matthew makes use of this verse in one of these senses in one of the beatitudes: «Blessed are the pure in heart-for they shall see God» (5,8). «To see God» does not mean visionary contemplation of his glory only, but principally and primarily the desire of man to participate in his grace dynamically and existentially. In other words, mystical contemplation and union with God has to be interpreted by the existential decision of man to think and act according to the Image of God, i.e. in Christ and his involvement in history in the form of a servant and on the Cross. This is the Image of God in its uniqueness and universality in Christ, This implies for all human persons the need to relate with him, sharing through him in the holiness of God and acting accordingly in history.

It is, perhaps, through this approach to the notion of man as the Image of God, in Christ acting in history and its tragedy that we can suggest a dialogical image to the scientific and secular world. Certainly on the Christian part faith in the incarnation of the Logos of God is required. Without this presupposition agreement is not possible with the non-Christian images of man. But, if agreement is not possible the dialogue with them is fully possible and can become fruitful for both sides faithfully serving humanity together and the whole creation in its movement towards continuous recreation. This Christological and historical interpretation of the Image lays emphasis on historicity and facticity, leading to a dynamic involvement of man in Christ in the ongoing operation of the Spirit of God towards the new man in a new Creation.

There is no strict ontological and philosophical abstract notion of the Imago here, something which could equally divide and frustrate positivist scientists or activistic secularists and adherents of political theology and «contextualists». Of course, there is the unavoidable reference to the act of the Creator which is transcendent and presupposes also an ontological reference to the nature of God acting as love in Christ and in the Spirit. But this ontology is grasped and experienced by faith, i.e. through a personal existential decision comprising the whole of the human condition in history. It is this kind of existential ontology and ontological existentialism which though a paradox in the eyes of a philosopher is however the authentic cognitive approach to the image of man of Christian anthropology establishing a point of contact with the secular images of the human person.

This realistic and dynamic approach to the Imago Dei underlines the means employed by the creating act of God: Love which is his essence, and therefore communion on a universal scale (which is the result of his essence) with the whole creation and all men; and finally humbleness and selfhumiliation which is the application of both in a concrete way in history for the sake of the transformation of the old man to a new creation.

Epistemologically also, this approach to the understanding of the Imago Dei can afford us the possibility of engaging in dialogue with the modern scientific image of the human person. Instead of philosophical, ontological abstract categories of thought, the Imago Dei notion expounded in this existential way can meet the epistemological and existential notions of the new scientific outlook comprising «universal-ism», «communalism», «disinterested and organized scepticism» respecting at the same time the «mystery» as the final option of cognitive operation in the realm of anthropology. For a better dialogical exchange on these notions, especially regarding the scientific «disinterested and organized pessimism» the «tragic traumatism» and the «existential anxiety» of scientists, as well as the Christian notion of «humbleness» and the need to grasp the human person in Christ which is always in need of a continuous transformation from the old to the new man, we have to interpret the Imago Dei in connection with the fall and tho sinful-ness of man.
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