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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

3. Authentic Humanness in Humanizing Divinity

This interpretation of deification as the purpose both of the process of humanization and of the Incarnation of the Logos has a particular bearing on the interrelationship between secular and Christian images of the human person conceived on the ground of interdependence of secular cosmology and Christian anthropology. Certainly, within the church life and Orthodox spirituality deification has definite and clear implications first in the area of personal ethics, initiating total conformity to evangelical virtues and the imitation of Christ in the mystery of transfiguration from glory to glory; second, in the liturgical life as the climactic manifestation in worship of the deified nature of man and his elevation in his supreme order of collaboration with God in his creation; third, in the broadening of salvation to cosmic dimension including nature and all things in the process of theosis; and, fourth, and most evident and important, in opening the vision towards the glorious final end and fulfillment in history by anticipation as a realized eschatology. This definite deification, clearly bound up with inner church life, should not be regarded as a transcendental vision detached from the world situation, which unfortunately is the case very often. In reality, this should be a reminder of the centrality of deification for historical facticity, for man's immanent relationships as they are now re-evaluated by Christ's incarnation and the right understanding of the Image of God implied by the manhood of Christ.

«Secular» and «Christian» are related as the areas of humanization and deification mutually exchangeable, complementary and interdependent. You cannot speak of the one without the other. Humanization and deification become the two perspectives of the one movement of immanence within transcendence and vice-versa. Humanness is possible only by its reference to its divine origin and purpose and deification is the paramount reality of humanness. Man as the Imago Dei is the link between the two and therefore he has his proper definition as a man in the process of change from being human to being really humanized through his deification. Everything now becomes a flow of inner, deeper, invisible transformation within humanity which is transformed into the receptacle of divine grace for its own fulfillment, through the infinite movement towards achieving God's likeness.

In this context transcendence in anthropology is the ontological reality of the deepest humanum in God, as he is acting in Christ by the Spirit. Transcendence according to this concept of the Christian Image as the outcome of the Imago Dei and the likeness is the process of man's transfiguration from natural humanity to the movement of deification. Transformation in man's nature is a far more vital, difficult act and notion than what is meant by the term transcendence in the realm of reason and philosophy. It is more difficult to change human nature from sin to sanctity, from meaningless creativity to responsible synergia with God than to create something ex nihilo. That is why it is only God with the consent of human freedom, who can work this kind of transformation. Deification has always its origin in God like the Incarnation. There is always a priority for God's humanizing process over the human act of accepting and operating it out of man's free will.

This type of transcendence permeates all human enterprises. More and more science realizes that knowledge in its manifold application bears an ontological, essential, deeper movement of personal relationship. Every new discovery in the realm of science is a new discovery of the inner interdependence of things with man's mind accompanied by a profound involvement of change of one's own person-in-communion with a transcending power of transformation. Research is revealing the three-fold reality behind things and human reason: personal interprenetration as a real intercourse of male and female, mutual exchange of roles between nature and human mind, and finally reference to a supra-individual focus, which are all inherent within these relationships. For Michael Polanyi: «a discovery is always creative. As man discovers, his personality changes. If man refuses to grow and evades change, his thinking becomes schematized. Unwillingness to change leads man to do violence to facts,... he quenches the spirit of inquiry which issues from the depths of existence» (1).

Though science requires individual concentration and operation and the objective field of research is clearly objective, the essence and the character both of knowledge and objects are more deeply connected in existential terms, representing an interpenetration of transcendence and immanence. John Macmurray accepts that an impersonal science is an impossible notion and writes in this connection that the terms «transcendent and immanent refer to the persons as agents and they are strictly correlative. Pure immanence like pure transcendence is meaningless. Whatever is transcendent is necessary immanent, and immanence in turn implies transcendence. God therefore, as the infinite Αgent is immanent in the world which is his act, but transcendent of it» (2).

In all realms of intellectual or cognitive, volitional and emotional life all kinds of dualisms should be defeated if one thinks of man as created after the Image of God uniting dynamically humanization and deification. Man is coming slowly into an age of maturity by conceiving reality and himself as a bi-polar unity. All kinds of splits in all areas of reason, will and feeling are slowly being understood as necessary challenges for communal thinking and action. Life takes its deeper sense as divine humanness and humanness in process of deification in man's effort to realize unity and equality between spirit and matter, individual and personal, subject and object, body and soul, divine and human.

The greatest challenge, perhaps, in this respect is man himself as a total human person at risk and under trial in his bi-sexual being as male and female. This is indeed, from the natural point of view, the most fundamental split and striking division in himself as the Image of God. It is the encounter in transcendental dimensions, indeed, because man-woman does not constitute a simple relationship but a full interdependence. The more any kind of undue imbalance and inequality is overcome the more a human being is in the process of his deification. Humanness entirely depends on the continuous reconstruction of the Image of God as an interchange on an equal footing of full complementarity and communal interpenetration of man and woman as the one whole human being in the making within the Trinitarian God. Male and female are rooted inside the Trinitarian communion of personal relationships based on the identity of essence which is love. The perversion of this relationship is a pure and direct negation of the Christian triune God as fullness of communion.

It is not the fundamental role of maternity which is decisive for creativity as external par rapport to the Trinity which makes the psychiatrist C. Jung professes the necessity of «Quarternity» instead of the Trinity. But the maternity as it appears in the Person of Mary, not as Christotokos but as Theotokos, is inherent to the Fatherhood, the Son-ship and the Procession inside the Trinity. The «maternity» archetype is the manifested outcome of the essence of God as love and is implied in the Fatherhood. Christ, therefore, as the Word incarnate represents as male historical person both aspects of creativity of the new man as deified in full identity and complementarity of male and female. Discrimination against cither sex is not a simple negation of ethical order but a refusal of the humanization process and humanizing act of God, in other words it is inherent in the full acceptance of authentic deification as the basis of realizing full manhood. The Image of man according to the Imago Dei is recognized only in the full identity and reciprocity of communal being reflecting the divine essence. The question of equality and reciprocity here is the basic anthropological issue for a Christian model of man in dialogue with secular images.

The Eastern Orthodox approach to the human person as created in the Image of God Jays, in other words, its emphasis in the effort of man to realize the Image by actualizing the «similitude» (after God's likeness). It is the sense of «existential ontology» which has priority over rational transcendentalism. With this presupposition Christian and secular images of the human person might enter into fruitful encounter without discriminating between secular and sacred. Becoming human is possible through becoming divine by participation and deification. This is to be attempted only within the process of humanization, which is also a God-given order and possibility.

Certainly, this concept of the human person presupposes faith in the event of the incarnation and the Christology of nature. Without it there is no possible exchange of views for the sake of a fuller understanding of humanity. But, there is from the Christian point of view an open possibility of apprecing the secular movement of humanization as sharing in ongoing fulfillment of the purpose of the whole creation: to create a new man together with the world. Eastern Orthodoxy has on this point its main and crucial standpoint facing the secular images of human person as valid partners of dialogue and action within the one Creation.

Perhaps, this presentation of the Christian Image of the human person has to a certain extend failed to appreciate the reality of fallen man as sinful, in the eyes of a Western Christian. It is possible. It seems to me, however, that Orthodoxy faces this aspect of humanity in its full negative ontological content and significance by the image of the «hopeful repentant sinner». The human person created after the Image of God and «after his likeness» should be grasped principally in his movement towards his prototype and not through its negation. Sin should not remain the abstract «substratum» of guilt, preventing all efforts of transfiguration, discouraging all dynamic attempts of a person as member of the Ecclesia to fulfill his calling. The calling of God for Orthodoxy will be always understood as an imitation of acquiring the things which are given from above and a movement forward to the future in eschatological anticipation. Sin as a permanent «guilt-conscience« can hinder this perspective. Christology of the Image of God in the human person signifies a total affirmation of authentic humanity as rooted and determined in the divinity. It is the way of the resurrection. Without the latter the Gross is deprived of its entelechia for the human person, and history becomes a meaningless circle under the domination of death. The Christian image of man on the contrary has to be understood as an appeal to all men to share in the glory of God and his victory in history, here and now.


1. Aarne Siirala comments in this way on M. Polanyi's philosophy in his work; Divine Humanness, Philadelphia (Fortress Press) 1970, p. 137.

2. John Macmurray, Persons in Relation, London (Faber) 1961, p. 223.

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