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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

1. Humanization as a God-given Process in the Service of Humanum

The understanding and appreciation of secular images of the human person depends on the value we ascribe on the part of Christian faith to these human efforts to make man more human. It seems to me that the impact of Christology on nature and the relation between anthropology and cosmology should lead us to acknowledge that humanization is one of the main purposes of Creation. This world and human history as a whole are means of man's struggle towards perfection and salvation. It is man's being and life work which is at the center of the historical process towards humanization. It is in this process that man proves himself to be a responsible creature in the midst of history bearing the marks of an intelligent and meaningful Creation.

There is, indeed, an evident obligation of man as an intelligent being to act for his further development as man in this history without external intervention. The structure of man's consciousness of being and possession of a deeper Self with a prescribed plan of his continuous transformation is the first thing that he experiences in all phases of his involvement in history. Without concerning himself with great philosophies about the intrinsic value of nature and the historical process, a human person, as by his nature, tries to respond to plans of life, value systems and a deeper meaning of what he has decided to do at every moment in his daily life, which are all already prescribed for him.

Involvement in history signifies sharing meaning and serving purpose in history as it moves towards its fulfillment. Nothing is meaningless and vain in nature and cosmos. It is this truth that compels us to define man as a creature-in-hope looking always forward to his development and nature manhood. Without any immediate sense of God's calling to act according to a given plan of humanization in Creation, man inevitably becomes an actor of this plan by a simple conformity to an existing order and purpose that he finds subjectively structured in himself and objectively present in history. Not only as religious but as a secular man, even in his radical agnostic position, a human person is defined as a self-predetermined being in process of becoming more human, i.e. more conformed to his nature and purpose as a thinking creature in an intelligent Creation. Everything in the world demands that man shall work for promoting human development and his fulfillment by consistent action, and everything in human effort is subject to evaluation according to the corresponding attitude he has taken in answering this demand from the world and from his consciousness that he is a human person. Without referring to a transcendent Being, a human person transcends himself everyday by his unavoidable actions as one involved in the process of his humanization and fulfillment.

It is inadmissible on the basis of a consistent Christology of nature to maintain that history is meaningless or entirely corrupted because of man's fall and sin. This approach represents the most Promethean attitude in this Creation, if one at the same time accepts that human efforts are decisive in giving meaning and purpose to life. The fact that we cannot define what is «humanum» as the purpose of the process of humanization does not mean that history has no meaning. It means that humanum cannot become one ideology amongst many and that there is no repressive obligation for a man to become what he should become, negating thus his freedom, the main element of the humanum.

Certainly, one can attempt a description of the distinctive characteristics of a human person within Creation, making him able to speak and act in the service of humanum. David Jenkins makes the comment: «Humanum should not be considered as if were a collective adjective treated as a man designed to point towards what is distinctively necessary for our existence to be a human existence» (1). This is due to the fact that one cannot make an exhaustive and adequate analysis of these particularities which construct the essence of humanum. If there is something resisting logical and systematic analysis it is precisely the qualitative essence of humanum as it is clearly grasped, and especially as it is experienced, as a process in which we are involved. Together with apophatic theology there is apophatic anthropology, which does not really mean ignorance, agnosticism or abstraction. On the contrary it means personal involvement and relationship with an indefinable object.
By the «humanum» as the final stage of the process of humanization in this sense, as an unavoidable involvement of man in history, we are obliged as Christians to recognize man as created according to the Image of God permeating the natural order of man's Creation. By the study of the humanum as the particular, the indefinable characteristic of the secular image of man and as a result of the incarnation of the Logos in this history and world reality, anthropology is a theology of the process of humanization. To consider the humanum in the secular realm means to do a theology of man involved by God in the world struggle in order to fulfill his God-given purpose as a human person.

If there is a glory in man's enterprise this is the glory of the deeper purpose of Creation reflected in the human process of making man more human, i. e. after the image and likeness of God. All human beings are to be seen within this struggle to become human, as they reveal God's glory in becoming human in this history. Therefore all events in history manifesting man's effort to become more human are elements of doing the appropriate theology of the human person. The context of theology of man is the process of humanization because man can only in this context realize his calling to become more human as a God-given reality in Christ.

A human person in the process of humanization becomes meaningful in so far as he is creative. Creativity is a sharing in God's image as Creator. Humanum is precisely a sharing in God's deepest essence and grace. Creativity does not only unite all men as one of the common characteristics of humanum. It is more important that it makes becoming humanum a sharing in divine nature. Man's process of humanization is in itself a process of being on the way to the maximum possible end, purpose, and fulfillment of man's nature and life, which is God's communion and love. We should not minimize this God-given dynamic sharing in the Image of God because of the sinfulness of man and especially the tragic element represented by the existence of death in history. Humanization is a process of making the glory of God, as Creator and regenerator of human history, manifest in this world. But of course, it is a glory of the Cross in the light of resurrection. It is the drama resolved by the victory of God in this world. Death is not simply an annihilating element but also and principally in the light of the resurrection a positive one of human existence.

The process of humanization reveals in human life and world history that God's image in man is the reality of God's being acting in history and Creation through an inner personal and unbroken relationship with the human person. Man's sin cannot break this link. It can damage it but never destroy it without losing entirely man's humanness. Within this process of humanization a Christian approach to the secular models of man recognizes God's being in solidarity with the human process towards the achievement of full manhood as it has been revealed in Christ. His Being becomes in this way communicable as new life. Any static concept of God as Being-in-itself, absolute and unapproachable in his essence is defeated by his self-communication in the God-created humanum, his sharing in it finally in Christ.

Therefore, humanization is also and finally a sharing in the divine life. Becoming human is equal to sharing in the divine nature.


1. David Jenkins, Towards a Purposeful Study of Man. In «Study Encounter», Vol. V, No. 4. W.C.C. (Geneva) 1969, p. 154.

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