*This article is part 1 in a series of 3.
Before we start discussing anything, we have to recognize that there is a difference, an enormous difference, between the state of Creation before the Fall and after the Fall. We also have to acknowledge that we only know, through our senses and through our rational knowledge, the formal, the fallen world. All we know about the state of the cosmos before the fall is through the glimpses of revelations given to the prophets and the Fathers. What we know now as the world, however, is not all there is and definitely not all that will come to be. But in Christ we are waiting for the entrance in the eschaton, the Kingdom, when we will finally know, experientially, empirically, the fullness of the intent of the Creation by God.
Living in the current state, however, makes most of us blind to God’s original intent, and we have to turn, humbly and trusting, to those who have tasted the mystery of God through their own experience. Their teachings, that we sometimes call dogmas or theology, are intended to guide us toward this mystery. They are not the ultimate truth, but they are medications, as Fr. John Romanides calls them, towards the Truth. Ultimately, the dogmas are an experience of God that, if applied properly in the Church, has the important role to guide all of us to an experience of God. So all the body of the teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is nothing else but a guide to a personal and collective experience of God.
Why is this important in our discussion today? Because we can fall into the trap to think that the important subject of the essence of man’s existence could be tackled exclusively through fallen human rationality. The entire Western society has fallen into this trap, promoting a theoretical pursuit of knowledge, delinked from any empirical understanding of God and His mysteries.
Further, if, according to the prevailing cultural beliefs, we consider man nothing else but another animal, maybe a little more “evolved” (if I can permit myself a pun), an animal that came to be out of a random series of mutational events, then all bets are off. There is no plan in creation, there is no purpose of creation, there is only today and how do I make the best of it, what the kids nowadays name YOLO (you only live once). However, I will not follow that path, but I’ll try to go back to those luminaries of the Church, who, through their own tasting the mystery of God, can also guide us to the same fountain that will quench our thirst for understanding.
The Creation of Man
In the book of Genesis we find two accounts of the Creation of man. In the first chapter of Genesis, the creation of man follows immediately the creation of the Cosmos:
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”(Gen 1:26-28)
The second account is in the second chapter of Genesis:
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7)
“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman (ishshah in Hebrew), because she was taken out of Man (ish in Hebrew). Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Gen 2:18-25)
From these two accounts we see clearly that, unlike everything else in Creation, Man was created by a special act of God. All the other things, the light, the earth the water, the plants, the animals were brought to existence by a simple ”let there be…,” by God’s command they were brought fourth. They all obeyed God as a master and came into being. With Man however, we see an extraordinary intimacy in the act of creation, a closeness between God and His greatest creature. We see God using His own hands, in order to shape man out of earth. Man is the only creature that can be called “theoplaston,” that is made, modeled, by God Himself.[ii] No other creature enjoys this status, to bear the image of God Himself. St. Basil the Great underlines the dignity and the superiority of man, in relationship with all the other creatures:
“You will know that you are formed of earth, but the work of God’s hands; much weaker than the brute, but ordained to command beings without reason and soul; inferior as regards natural advantages, but, thanks to the privilege of reason, capable of raising yourself to heaven.“[iii]
Man enjoys this status specifically because it was created in God’s image and after God’s likeness. But the Fathers agree that there is a difference however between image and likeness. The image of God cannot be lost. It is a gift embedded in the very fiber of man. The likeness, on the other hand, is obtained through a progress towards God’s mode of existence that is gifted and has to be earned at the same time, through the cooperation between man and God, until man becomes god in theosis.
The achievement of the likeness of God however, does not mean confusion with God; God remains God and man remains man. As man advances in the likeness of God, the differences endure to eternity, despite the progress in the likeness. This guarantees an infinite progression and wonder. In the same way, although man and woman are alike, by sharing the same human nature, this does not mean confusion of the two and abolition of their differences. Man and woman enjoy in their relationship the love for what is different and yet familiar in each one of them, without the eradication of differences.
Male And Female He Created Them
The image of God in man continues to be a mystery even for the Holy Fathers of the Church. However, they agree that man is made in image of the Holy Trinity. The entire Trinity takes part in the creation of man, as we can see from the plural of the account of creation: “Let us make man in our image, according with our likeness” (Gen. 1.26). This means that the relational life of the Trinity of Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is also transmitted to Man through this special act of Creation. This is why in the first account of Creation we hear: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them”. So, according to God’s image, which is personal and relational, also mankind is personal and relational This is why man was created together with a woman peer, a “helper for for him”.
This is a very important aspect because it shows that both the male and the female coexisted in God’s creative act and discovered themselves as persons by reflecting in each other’s distinctions. “And Adam said, this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman (ishshah in Hebrew), because she was taken out of Man (ish in Hebrew).”
Adam was not aware of his manhood until God created woman from his side. He reflected himself in her, and Eve was made aware of her womanhood when she reflected herself in her man. There is a beautiful complementarity between the man and the women expressed very nicely by the Hebrew play of words ish-man and ishshah-woman, which, coincidentally, is also found in the man-woman of the English language.
We can conclude then that the full image of God as a Trinity of love is expressed beautifully by the loving relationship between man and woman, a true reflection, oikona, image, of the Holy Trinity. The likeness therefore lies in the potential success of this relationship. Man and woman both hold in them as image the potential of this beautiful love, and, by acting on it appropriately, they can advance in the likeness of the Trinity. Of course, they can also choose to reject it and the likeness could diminish in them and be lost.
Both man and woman however hold this possibility. Both are called to act on this mutual love, with their common traits as humans but also with their specific characteristics, which make them distinct as male and female. Both have access to what the fathers call askesis, or podvig or struggle. Both are called to struggle, but they may do it in different ways.
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