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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.

IV. Becoming Human - Becoming Divine

Deification: a process towards achieving authentic Humanum in Christ

The secular images of the human person, though deprived of an immediate and direct reference to a transcendent model of humanity are however persuasive in that they envisage man in his development towards becoming more authentic in his nature as a distinctive human being. Science, technology or social and political ideologies project an image of the maximum possible perfection within this world. Man has to develop his natural capacities and to improve human conditions. It it is true that general anthropology contributes towards broadening and deepening our understanding of man, and «explores the range of man's capacity to build cultural systems» (1).

The secular humanists betray a desire to serve the dignity of man. Regardless of special presuppositions in each field of knowledge and action they all converge in a desire to serve a process of humanization. We can detect common characteristics, therefore, which sum up all particular insights, visions and efforts towards the same end: a better humanity achieved by scientific knowledge and stewardship of nature, by facing diseases and hereditary deficiencies, by elevating cultural standards through art and creative imagination, by professing ethical norms for action and by attacking destructive and evil forces in unjust structures of society.

Humanization, in this sense, is a continuous process of improving the quality of life imposed on all men at all times and in all places on account of their humanity, which implies development, progress, growth, improvement of human conditions. There are not definite criteria of this almost natural effort, which constitutes the backbone of human history, but we can assert that no human being escapes this effort.

A human being has its definition as a person taken into a process of humanization and as sharing actively in this process by a personal contribution. No glorious theory about man nor any negative position regarding his nature because of his failures, moral deficiencies and his existence threatened by death can affect and hinder this humanization process as the main purpose of human life.

Certainly, this humanization process is a risky affair. It includes inevitably also dehumanizing acts. It causes confusion, since its criteria are, in most cases, not entirely clear. It can cause divisions amongst man because of the competitive nature of all human enterprises. There is the danger of self-denial and offence against the dignity of the person and humanity as a whole and at the same time of a catastrophe, due to excessive technical progress that man cannot master. But in all of these negative instances humanization remains the first and dominating feature of human history.

The debate is, therefore, not whether secular images of man have a value but what that value is. The image itself of man as a model humanization, an object of debate and possibly of negation, but in what way this image does not allow probable negative powers to operate against human dignity and offence humanity. The secular images of man in the understanding of a Christian are not false alternatives of the Imago Dei, but they can become ambiguous both in their impact on humanity and by the application in some of their models.

The missing element of a transcendent of theological nature in the secular Images of the human person does not disqualify the Image as such a priori. The mystery of the Creation of man implies that all human beings work unconsciously as collaborators with their Creator for promoting and fulfilling this Creation. Creativity is the common characteristic of all models of secular images. It is the deepest qualification of the nature of man which can be regarded as an indirect manifestation or as of the ontological depth and transcendence of human being. Further the fact that one reflects on the human existence reveals that man has as his purpose in life the achievement of the fullest possible self-consciousness and the fulfillment his inner impulse to recreate his deepest Self and his concrete identity as a distinctive person. In all kinds of scientific research or social and political activities, regardless of their individual or collective nature, the quest of, search for and experience of this personal distinctiveness is inherent in man's being and his value, and in almost all possible secular images of man constitutes the basic element of his intrinsic value and worth. Creativity and self-consciousness and therefore the sense of ethical consistent judgment and action comprise the unavoidable basic elements of the secular images of man.


1. Margaret Mead: «The Quest for the truly human». In «StudyEncounter», Vol. II, No. 1, Geneva (W.G.C.) 1966, p. 2.

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