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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.

I. Anthropology and Cosmology: the inseparable link between man, nature and history

Anthropology is central for all Christian theologies, especially for the Eastern Orthodox tradition, because of the Logos theology, i.e. of the Incarnate Word of God, in Jesus, in a historical person. This centrality, due to the Christology of the Incarnate Word, makes some Orthodox theologians give priority to anthropology over abstract and theoretical theology (1). Especially because of the incarnation and the operation of the Spirit, as Paraclete, comforting and fulfilling the whole Creation to its maximum highest possible end, set by God the Creator, the humanum of man is seen in his divine origin and purpose. In this way, the whole Creation is centered around the human being in process of transfiguration from humanity to divinity on the basis of the Incarnation of the Logos and the operation of the Spirit.

Consequently, man, in Eastern patristic thought, is regarded as «microcosmic» (2). He is the link between God and the rest of the created world because all things have been created for him as the last and supreme creature, as the King on the earth (3), and he has to act as such because of the commandment of God and in the light of the Incarnation of His Logos in the form of a man. In the Bible, to man are attributed all the characteristics of superiority and uniqueness over the whole created world, physical and animal, because Christ as a man becomes by the grace of God the pivot event in history. The human being becomes the centre of the universe which has no more value than the soul of one single human person.

This anthropocentricity belongs to the backbone of the new gospel
of salvation as good news. It is far more radical than the ancient Greek concept of the centrality of man in nature because of his rational being and immortal soul or than the ancient oriental wisdom, because of the identity of man with the Supreme all embracing One and Whole. In Christianity the uniqueness of man is grounded in the fact of God «humanizing» in history, here and now in the form of a man. The qualification of the uniqueness of man is not expressed by reference to God's gift or man's similarity on the basis of man's reasonable nature. The Christian understanding of man's uniqueness is due to Christ's event in history par excellence. That is why Christian anthropocentricity in Creation is the authentic new message of the Christian faith and the most revolutionary event of history from within.

This human centrality in creation has also nothing to do with all kinds of evolutionary theories, suggesting that the human being occupies the highest climax due to his conceptual thought or orientation towards the future, because he is on the way towards the point Ω of the Creation (4). The Christian centrality of man is the entirely new event erupting into history as the one and unique explosion in the world's physical, biological and historical order. It is self-caused by «the other side» of nature and history.

That is why the effects of the Christian anthropocentricity are also radical and earth shaking. Nature has been desacralized from all latent religious mythologies and all magic, animistic or totemistic trends. Man is dealing with it now as superior and from a distance. His techne (craft) became a process towards technology. His mechanical power is now extended to increase his thinking operation by electronic machines. The revolution brought about by their Christian human centrality had, to a certain extent, an immediate effect together with other forces on man's behavior vis-à-vis nature.

Dealing with anthropology today we have to face the problems arising out of this concept of uniqueness and centrality of man in the creation of God. The question is a double one, first, whether the authentic Christian understanding of the uniqueness of man implies such a superiority inside the Creation, especially vis-à-vis nature; and second how are we to conceive man as the center of creation without falling into a kind of egocentric anthropomonism exploiting nature to the maximum possible point, violating it by using natural resources and causing a total disorder in human relationships. It seems to me that without reexamining the notion of anthropocentricity and uniqueness we should not attempt any positive encounter between secular and Christian images of man today.


1. Paul Evdokimov, in his book «Orthodoxie», Neuchâtel-Paris (Delachaux et Nieste) 1959, begins his presentation of Orthodoxy by Anthropology p. 57 ff.

2. Maximus the Confessor writes that «man is introduced at the end of all other creatures in Creation as the link between God and the whole Creation. (P.G. 91, 1305).

3. Gregory of Nazianzus uses the term «king» (P.G. 36, 612) for man in connection with the Creation.

4. Teilhard de Chardin, Le Phénomène Humain, Paris (Seuil) 1955.

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