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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

1. Man, Nature, Cosmos, Ktisis and History as an unbroken continuum

When we speak of the necessary interdependence between anthropology and cosmology we have to think of the Cosmos as a comprehensive reality, the whole created world comprising geosphere as well as biosphere and noosphere. In other words, one has to distinguish between material elements of creation in the narrow sense of «nature» and the Order, which is the result of the summing up of all created things in a Whole of the total reality, representing the world system as Universum. Cosmos signifies the Whole and the Totality of the Creation (τὸ ὅλον and τὸ πᾶν) (1).

Cosmology, in general, presupposes the notion of order, unity and beauty conceived as an intelligible, beautiful and harmonious universal all-embracing reality. The logos about the Cosmos in cosmology is not simply the use of human reason as an instrument for reflecting on nature and the material world. It represents more deeply an act of thinking on the unavoidable experience of man's inner relationship with the whole of created reality. Cosmology denotes solidarity with the overwhelming given reality without which human existence is unthinkable. Cosmology is the commentary of the deep, unbroken, inseparable interdependence of the created world and mankind within the One Universe.

Certainly, this kind of deeper and broader understanding of cosmology is due to the comprehensive aesthetic notion of Cosmos as «jewel» in ancient Greek philosophy according to which cosmology was directly linked with theology and the act of Creation by the Demiourgos, the wise Creator, God. That is why this kind of cosmology betrays pantheistic trends. The act of Creation of the Cosmos is of a transcendental nature. It is grasped, however, as the most immanent reality expressing the wisdom of God in nature. This is the heart of natural theology in classic philosophy, whence natural religion, the respect and honour given to nature and rational paganism are to be understood. An
ancient Temple and a statue of religious significance are at the same time by their beauty and absolute harmony a grateful answer to the beauty of Cosmos as a gift of God. It is also incarnation of His presence in nature, achieved by human rationality and art.

The word physis (nature) in this context cannot be used as a synonym of Cosmos in cosmology. Rightly, one has to speak of physiology in the sense that physis denotes something created and existing objectively and immediately grasped by senses and reason. Further, physis - nature refers to the inner, deeper quality of things, man and God. It is another term for denoting the unchanging ousia as the inner ontological qualitative structure of being beyond corruption and change. It is, therefore, both a term signifying created reality and its constitutive qualitative principle. We use it in both senses by speaking of «φύσις» as nature and as physis-nature of God, man and things.

Nature, however, is more and more understood within the limits of the «natural», i.e. what is distinctive from accidental, technical or artificial. It refers, mainly, to the created world without including humanity or the works, the objects produced by human action. It is perhaps, Christian faith which inspired in a latent and progressive way this kind of separation between Cosmos and physis and concreticized nature within the limits of the created material reality, while the term continues to be used in philosophy and theology.

We can now understand why the Bible makes use of this term only either in this latter sense (II Pet. 1,4 ἵνα γένησθε θείας κοινωνοί φύσεως «You might be partakers of the divine nature») or in most of the cases in the sense of the «natural» being and character, «by birth» something rooted within man «by nature» (cf. Rom. 2,14 ὅταν γὰρ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιεῖ «do by nature the things contained in the law») whence we have the idea of «natural» law and «natural» theology. Nowhere in the New Testament does the word «nature» refer to the whole of creation or to its non-human aspect. That, it seems, is «a Hellenic legacy in western Christian thought» (2).

The New Testament also does not speak of δημιουργία, i.e. of creation in the sense of ancient Greek literature. Only in Hebr. 11,10 God is named δημιουργός (creator). The biblical text referring to the act of creation uses more dynamic and comprehensive terms like κτίσας (I Gor. 11,9) or ποιήσας (Math. 19.4). or πλάσσειν (Rom. 9,20) signifying the particular care and personal involvement of God acting with a definite purpose in Creation. Replacing the word «nature» in all of the references to Creation, the Bible prefers the words «τὰ πάντα» (all things) together with the word κτίσις (creation)—Eph. 3,9: ἐν Θεῷ τῷ τὰ πάντα κτίσαντι. Especially, the link between these two terms is made when the Christological approach to creation is underlined, as we read in Colossians 1.16: ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα — τὰ πάντα δι' αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται: «all things were created by and in him and for him and by him all things consist». «Created» and «consist» denote the absolute totality of Creation. Κτίζειν and τὰ πάντα unite both the universality of the Cosmos and the act of Creation in Christ as the highest meaningful and in the personal, trinitarian God originated maintained and destinated Creation. Ktisis cannot be determined either by identifying it simply with nature, or with man, or with cosmos. It points more to the thorough, complete and all-renewing act of God creating, preserving and recreating τα πάντα by and in His incarnate Word and His Spirit. The Pauline verse II Cor. 5,17 gives us, in the most clear and condensed form, this new understanding of cosmos and nature in relationship with man as a holistic, total Creation in its dynamic aspect of being created and renewed by a continuous concern of God acting in Christ and uniting all things of Creation with man renewing him and all things together: εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ καινή κτίσις• τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδοὺ γέγονε καινά τὰ πάντα («if any man be in Christ, a new creation; behold all things are become new»). It is a paraphrase when one translates by «is a new creature», because though more logical, this translation risks isolating man as the only new creation (the text does not offer this possibility directly). It also introduces a discontinuity with the second part of the verse, which clearly refers to the renewal of all things together with man.

The use of these particular terms, τὰ πάντα — καινή κτίσις in Christ has a paramount importance for understanding the unbroken relationship between anthropology and cosmology on the basis of the unbroken continuum and interdependence between man, nature and cosmos and the dynamic historical process within the whole creation. On this biblical basis anthropology cannot be conceived apart and in isolation from Christology and cosmology. Creation is linked inseparably with the mystery or renewal of all things and the salvation of man with the whole created reality. The text of Roman 8 makes a clear reference to this interdependence. The κτίσις in this text is earnestly expecting the manifestation of the sons of God and this ktisis also «shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of God. For we know that the whole κτίσις groaneth and travaileth in pain together (with the sons of God) until now» (Rom. 8,19-22). Here in this text we are given by St. Paul the maximum possible expression of the relationship between Creation, as Nature and Cosmos, with man in the mystery of salvation. The whole Creation is symbolically described as a pregnant woman in pain before giving birth to a new man, i.e. the highest image ever used in expressing the inner coherence of created nature and man taken within the one saving act of God by Christ and in His Spirit, which makes intercessions for us with groanings, for us which have the first fruits of the Spirit (v. 23 and v. 26).

Anthropology implies, if conceived on this basis, a Christological and pneumatological approach to nature as Creation — κτίσις and cosmos. There is no possibility of studying man apart from a manifold creating act of God resulting in a multitude of created realities. These realities in Christ are constituted as one total-Whole with inner coherence and purpose, and they are subject to a continuous becoming and renewing act operated by the Spirit. By a Christological pneumatology of κτίσις anthropology becomes possible as the central theme of biblical systematic theology. This kind of connection as interdependence between anthropology and cosmology has important bearings in a more comprehensive understanding of man, nature and history as an unbroken God-given continuum. This is the specifically Christian element in the image of man when confronting all kinds of possible secular images, scientific, societal and ideological.


1. Plato in Politeia 270b.; 273e, Tim. 28c, 30b; Grat. 412d. [Kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, Band III, Stuttgart (Kohlhammer) 1938, p. 869-879].

2. G. Paulos Gregorios, The Human Presence. An Orthodox view of Nature, W.C.C. (Geneva) 1978, p. 21.

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