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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

2. Matter — Nature and Body — Soul: One κτίσις.

The connection between anthropology and cosmology has immediate repercussions on our understanding of the interrelationships and the cohesion between the fundamental elements of Cosmos and their reciprocal role in manifesting, maintaining and perfecting the inner unity of Creation. We should not try to conceive man in Christian terms by an one-sided understanding of nature and cosmos as a corrupted, fallen objective reality of material (physical) creation. A careful study of the notion of κτίσις, as comprising both nature and saving act of God including man and all things created in heaven and on earth, must guard us from falling into different kinds of dualisms. It is the sinfulness of human beings that creates this dualism, and not the nature of nature or the secularity of cosmos. In the Bible there is no reference to a fallen nature as ktisis, and cosmos has a dialectical sense either as a total reality of nature-man-history for which God has such a love that he gave His only begotten Son (John 3,16) or as a resisting evil power against His will (John 17,14), but in no way is this cosmos alienated from the intention and the plan of salvation: «I came not to judge the world, but to save the world» (12,47).

The Cosmos concept should not express the secular part of creation in revolt against God as an objective reality in which man is not participating and at which man looks as an observer from outside. The cosmic dimension is man's insight into the wholeness of creation. He is a part, the most significant, in God's creation, but never above or separated from it on account of his superiority. In this sense, he is micro-cosmic because he reveals the macrocosmos of the total purpose of Creation but always together with matter, nature and cosmos and thanks to this relationship. Man is the link, the mediator between natural and cosmic, matter and spirit, and we can add, facing possible scientific images, between static and dynamic, given and becoming, necessity and possibility, obligation and freedom (1).

All dualistic concepts of man are overcome by this fundamental thesis. There is no split or opposition between matter and spirit, body and soul. The oneness in Creation as ktisis represents the ongoing process of final unification of all apparently opposed elements of Creation. Man is continually becoming the recapitulation of material, animal, spiritual, created and further creative elements of the one ktisis in himself. Man, as microcosmic, signifies not that human beings are beyond matter as pure spirits or reasonable beings, but as E. L. Mascall points out, «for we live in the borderland where matter is raised to the level of spirit and spirit immerses itself in matter» (2). In the so-called spiritual man we appreciate the conditio sine qua non which is matter in the form of the body. There is a spiritual body and a bodily spiritual existence. Without this reciprocity man is not the creature of God, according to a consistent Christian anthropology.

Against all kinds of dualistic idealisms or monistic materialisms the Christian image of man will defend the absolute interdependence of matter and spirit in the one human existence as microcosmic of the question of qualitative priority between the two, for they are entirely and equally reciprocal in one and the same organism reflecting thus the origins, the foundation and the function of the whole cosmos. From one point of view matter appears to be the matrix of life, either as it is indicated by the words of Genesis 1,20 (life coming out of the waters) or in the story of the creation of man, Genesis 2,7 (God starting His creation by taking earth into his hands).

The microcosmic nature of man is mainly focused on his bodily existence. Only Christian faith has accepted and consistently proclaimed body and soul as an inseparable unit with tremendous implications for appreciating matter in general as the fundamental element and bearer of life. In this created world nothing can exist without its basic material foundation. Matter is the matrix of animal life and the body is its highest expression as God's direct creation. That is why the body in spite of all kinds of abuses (spiritualistic-ascetic or hedonistic) is «the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is in you, which you have from God» (I Cor. 6,19). Against all idealistic beliefs of the immortality of the soul alone, we are reminded by the authentic biblical tradition that our resurrection is a bodily one. That is why, in biblical terms one does not speak of flesh as the inferior part of the human existence. After the incarnation the term flesh denotes the central event of faith, because «the Word was made flesh» (John 1,14). Flesh is the state of the «carnally minded» (Rom. 8,6) while this inferior part of man is denoted by the paradoxical expression «ψυχικός ἄνθρωπος» (I Cor. 2,14), «the psychic man», i.e. the bearer of the simple natural quality of soul is not spiritual element, namely it is not yet renewed by the Holy Spirit.

In Christian faith and praxis material creation is elevated as part of the one creation of God at the same level of appreciation and qualification with man and his bodily existence. Man as a Body is fundamentally a Christian basis of anthropology resulting from its inseparable link with cosmology. The body can never become a separated object if it is understood in its identity with the spiritual foundation of man. «I am a body», does not signify only an identity with my body either; but the phrase points out to the solidarity of man with nature as part of the whole created cosmos, comprising man, nature, matter and history.


1. Maximus the Confessor: «Man is introduced as the last one into the Creation as a natural (φυσικός) link of the whole reality through his mediation of the extreme beings in himself, leading all greatly differentiated things into the oneness» (M.P.G. 91, 1305 B).

2. E. L. Mascall, The Importance of Being Human, London (Oxford University Press) 1959, p. 34.

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