THE MYSTICAL THEOLOGY OF THE EASTERN CHURCH Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church destroyed by sin;

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)

Text of THE MYSTICAL THEOLOGY OF THE EASTERN CHURCH Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church destroyed by...





    ST. VLADIMIR'S SEMINARY PRESS Crestwood, New York 10707



    Image and Likeness

    I f man contains within himseJf all the elem

    . ents of which

    the universe is composed, it is not in this that his true perfection, his claim to glory lies. 'There is nothing

    remarkable', says St. Gregory of Nyssa, 'in wishing to make of man, the image and likeness of the universe, for the earth passes away, the sky changes and all that they contain is as transitory as that which contains them.' 'People said, Man is a microcosm . . . and thinking to elevate human nature with this grandiloquent title, they did not notice that they had honoured man with the characteristics of the mosquito and the mouse.' 1 The per­ fection of man does not consist in that which assimilates him to the whole of creation, but in that which distin­ guishes him from the created order and assimilates him to his Creator. Revelation teaches us that man was made in the image and likeness of God.

    All the Fathers of the Church, both of East and of West, are agreed in seeing a certain co-ordination, a primordial correspondence between the being of man and the being of God in the fact of the creation of man in the image and likeness of God. However, the theological expressions of this revealed truth, though they are not in any way contradictory one of another, often differ even within the traditions of East and West. St. Augustine

    1 'De hominis opificio, XVI', P.G., t. 44, 177 D-180 A.

    I I4

    Image and Likeness

    takes as his starting point the image of God in man, and attempts to work out an idea of God, by trying to dis­ cover in Him that which we find in the soul created in His image. The method he employs is one of psycho­ logical analogies applied to the knowledge of God, to theology. On the other hand, St. Gregory of Nyssa, for instance, starts with what revelation tells us of God in order to discover what it is in man which corresponds to the divine image. This is a theological method applied to the knowledge of man, to anthropology. The first way seeks to know God by starting from man created in His image; the second wishes to define the true nature of man by starting from the idea of God in whose image man has been created.

    If we try to find in the Fathers a clear definition of what it is in man which corresponds to the divine image, we run the risk of losing ourselves amidst varying asser­ tions, which though not contradictory, cannot be applied to any one part of human nature. Sometimes the image of God is sought in the sovereign dignity of man, in his lordship over the terrestrial world; sometimes it is sought in his spiritual nature, in the soul, or in the principle, ruling ( �yeµovtK6v) part of his being, in the mind (voi>s), in the higher faculties such as the intellect, the reason (.\6yos), or in the freedom proper to man, the faculty of inner determination (avretovala), by virtue of which man is the true author of his actions. Sometimes the image _of God is identified with a particular quality of the soul, its simplicity or its immortality, or else it is described as the ability of knowing God, of living in communion with Him, with the possibility of sharing the divine being or with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul. Sometimes, as in the Spiritual Homilies attri­ buted to St. Macarius of Egypt, the image of God is presented in two ways. First it is the formal condition of liberty, free will, the faculty of choice which cannot be

    I 15

  • Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church destroyed by sin; secondly, it is the 'heavenly image', the positive content of the image, which is that communion with God, whereby before ·the fall man was clothed with the Word and the Holy Spirit.1 Finally, as in St. Ireneus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory Palamas, not only the soul, but also the body of man shares in the character of the image, being created in the image of God. 'The word Man, says St. Gregory Palamas, is not applied to either soul or body separately, but to both together, since together they have been created in the image of God.' 2 Man according to Palamas is 'more in the image of God" than the angels, because His spirit being joined to a body, possesses a life-giving energy, by which the bodily nature is quickened and controlled. The angels being bodyless spirits do not possess this faculty, though at the same time by reason of the simplicity of their spiritual nature they are nearer to God. 3

    The number of these definitions and their variety show us that the Fathers refrain from confining the image of God to any one part of man. In fact, the Biblical narrative gives no precise account of the nature of the image; but it does present the whole creation of man as an act apart, different from the creation of other beings. Like the angels, who, as St. Isaac the Syrian puts it, were created 'in silence', 4 man was not formed by a divine command addressed to the earth. Rather God Himself fashioned him from the dust of the earth with His own hands; that is to say, according to St. Ireneus, yVith the Word and the Holy Spirit,5 and breathed the breath of life into him.

    1 'Hom. Spirit, XII, r, 6, 7, etc.', P.G., t. 34, 557-6r. 2 'Prosopopeiae', P.G., t. 150, 1361 C. A work attributed to

    Palama,s. 3 'Capita physica, theologica, etc.' (38 and 39), ibid., I 145-8. 4 See above, p. 107, n. 3. 6 'Contra Haereses, IV, Praefatio, 4', P.G., t. 7, 975 B. Also IV,

    20, l (1032); v, 1, 3 (1123); V, 5, I (1134-5); V, 6, I (I 136-7); V, 28, 3 (1200).


    Image and Likeness St. Gregory N azianzen interprets the passage in Genesis in the following way: 'The Word of God taking a portion of the newly created earth, has with his own immortal hands fashioned our frame, and imparted life to it; since the spirit which he breathed into it, is an effluence (a1Toppo�) of the invisible Divinity. Thus out of the dust, and out of the breath, man was created in the image of the Immortal, for in both the spiritual nature reigns supreme. That is why being but dust, I am bound to the life here below; having also a divine part (0Elav µ,olpav) I carry in my breast the longing for eternal life. '1 And in the same poem on the soul, he says: 'The soul is a breath of God, and though heavenly, it allows itself to mingle with the earth. It is the light shut up in a cave, but it is none the less a light divine and inextinguishable.' 2 Taken literally, we ought apparently to deduce from these two passages the uncreated character of the soul, and see in man a God weighed down by his bodily nature, or at least a mixture of God and animal. Understood in this way, creatJ.on in the image of God would contradict the Christian teaching that man is a creature called to attain to union with God, to become god by grace, but in no way god by virtue of his origin. Without mentioning other out­ rageous consequences, the .problem of evil would be in­ conceivable in these conditions. Either Adam could not sin, since by reason of his soul, a part of divinity, he was God, or else original sin .would involve the divine nature -God Himself would sin in Adam. St. Gregory N azian­ zen could not hold such a view. In his work on human nature, he addresses his soul thus: 'If you are truly the breath of God, and of divine origin, as you suppose, put away all iniquity that I may believe it .... How comes it that you are so troubled by the suggestions of the adver-

    1 'Poemata dogmatica, VIII, ?Tcpt 1'vxf;, vv. 70-7', P.G., t. 37, 452.

    s Ibid., vv. 1-3, 446-7. II7

  • Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church sary, if you are one with the heavenly Spirit? If despite such assistance you still fall to the ground-alas, how powerful your sin must be.'1 Mingled (Kipvaµ,ev1J) with 'the heavenly Spirit', the soul is helped by something greater than itself. It is the presence of this divine power in it, which causes it to be called 'a portion of the Deitf, for it originates in an infused 'effluence of deity', which is grace. The 'divine breath' points to a mode of creation, by virtue of which the human spirit is intimately con­ nected with grace, and is produced by it in the same way as a movement of air is produced by the breath, contains this breath and is inseparable from it. It is a participation in the divine energy proper to the soul, which is meant by the phrase 'part of the deity'. Indeed, St. Gregory N azianzen in one of his homilies speaks of this participa­ tion in connection with the 'three lights', of which the first is God, the supreme Light, unspeakable and un­ approachable; the second the angels, 'a certain effluence ( d.1roppo� ns) or participation (µ,E-rovala) of the first, and the third, man also called light because his mind is enlightened by the 'archetypal Light', which is God. 2 Thus creation in the image and likeness of God implies the idea of participation in the divine Being, of com­ munion with God. That is to say, it presupposes grace.

    The image of God in man, in so far as it is perfect, is necessarily unknowable, accordjng to St. Gregory of Nyssa; for as it reflects the fullness of its archetype, it must also possess the unknowable character of the divine Being. This is the reason why it is impossible to define what con­ stitutes the divine image in man. We can only conceive it through the idea of participation in the infinite goodness of God. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, 'God is, by His very nature, all the good it is possible to conceive;