BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING
An Orthodox Handbook
by Protopresbyter Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos (1931 – 1996)
Dr. of Theology, Dr. of Philosophy
Chapter 6 – The image of the Trinitarian God
1. The image and the prototype
«Then God said, “Let us make humankind according to Our image and according to likeness, and let them (man and woman) rule the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and the cattle and all the earth and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.” And God made humankind; according to divine image He made it; male and female He made them.» (Gen.1:26-27. Cmp Gen.5:1, 9:6, Wisd.Solomon 2:23)
Man, therefore, was created according to the image of the Trinitarian God (“in the image of”). This means that in order to actually know what man is – in his own nature – we need to know about God Himself, Who is man’s prototype. This signifies that man is not the prototype; he is an image of the prototype.The more that man delves into the life of the Trinitarian God and the more he responds with his life to the life of the Holy Trinity, the more he will respond better to his human nature, which is an image of God.
In the opposite case, when we are at a distance from God, we do not live according to our nature, but instead, contrary to it. That is what “man’s fall” is: the deterioration of God’s image – the death of man.
«But even if you say to me: ‘show me your God’, I will also say to you: ‘ show me your man and I will show you my God’, said Saint Theophilos to the idolater Autolykos.
As another Abba of the “Gerontikon”(*) adds: «if you have seen your brother, you have seen your God».
2. The image of the Omniscient and Omnipotent God
Man is an image of the Trinitarian God. This means that deep down inside him, within the image of God, he can sense and discern the presence of God Himself. In this way, man hides within him immense potentials. and his place within Creation is unique.
The narration of the Old Testament underlines this truth. It presents God as calling upon man to become the centre of all of Creation; the master of nature, of plants, of animals, of the universe (Gen.1:28-30, 9:1-2):
«And God blessed them, saying, “Increase, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and all the cattle and all the earth and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth……” »
«And God blessed Noe and his sons and said to them, “Increase, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it. And the trembling and fear of you shall be on all the animals of the earth and on all the birds of the sky and on all the things that move on the earth and on all the fish of the sea; I have given them under authority to you…” »
«He gave them days in number and a fixed time, and He gave them authority over the things upon it. He clothed them in a strength like Himself, and in His image He made them. He placed the fear of Him upon all flesh, even to have dominion over beasts and birds » (Wisdom of Sirach, 17:2-4. Cmp. Wisdom of Solomon 10:2)
This dominance of man does not merely relate to creations catering to their needs, but also to a more spiritual level. Man receives an instruction from God: to give to each animal – that is, to each of God’s creations – a suitable name:
«And out of the earth God furthermore formed all the animals of the field and all the birds of the sky and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them, and anything, whatever Adam called it as living creature, this was its name. And Adam gave names to all the cattle and to all the birds of the sky and to all the animals of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper like him.» (Gen. 2:19-20).
This action does not constitute a simple and insignificant episode. For one to give a certain animal or thing its name, signified to the Jews a definition of the purpose to which he is called, to fulfil it within the harmony of the world. With this instruction, therefore, God calls upon man to determine the particular purpose of each animal, by giving it an appropriate name. In other words, he was called upon to continue the work of God’s Creation – to become a co-creator in a world that was “very good”; that is, full of beauty and harmony.
3. And He gave to mankind science
All of the above reveal that man – as the image of the all-wise and omniscient God – received tremendous potentials to develop civilization and science in every field.
For example, in order for man to give a suitable name that would reflect the particular characteristics of each animal, he had to previously develop all those abilities that God had given him for obtaining a true knowledge of those animals. After all, that was God’s instruction, when He led the animals before Adam «to see what he would call them» (Gen. 2:19).
The deep knowledge of the wonders of God’s Creation is also presupposed by God’s other commandment, to fill the earth: «and subdue it..» (Gen.1:28. Cmp.also Wisdom of Sirach 17:2-4. Wisdom of Solomon 10:2).
This authority of man, and his dominant place opposite the rest of Creation, was placed inside the full beauty and harmony of the world (Genesis 1:31), and not outside it. That is, it had to be exercised not only in accordance with the particular characteristics of each creation, but also in harmony with the the will of God (cmp. Gen. 3:3). It is also obvious that the fulfilment of this instruction by God presupposes scientific research and a deep knowledge of creations.
Knowledge and science therefore fully respond to God’s creative plan. He is the One «Who teaches man knowledge» (Psalms 93:10). «And it was He that gave skill to human beings in order to be glorified in His marvelous deeds» (Wisdom of Sirach 38:6).
It is for this reason that man is “blessed”: «Happy is the person who has found wisdom, and the mortal who perceived prudence» (Proverbs 3:13).
«Listen to me, child, (says the wise Sirach) and learn knowledge, and to my words apply your heart. I will disclose instruction by fixed standard, and with accuracy I will declare knowledge.» (Wisdom of Sirach 16:24-25)
Faith, therefore, not only does not go contrary to scientific progress; it actually places theological and anthropological prerequisites for unlimited human research and human science.
Man should utilize all his potentials in order to improve the conditions of his life. Indeed, during the course of human history we see him discover tools, with which he treats wood, stone, iron, the metals; we see him subjugating steam, electricity, atomic power, constructing factories, eliminating distances.
This is a truth that we today are able to perceive even more than previous generations, because we are living in an era of human science and techniques.
Many people wonder in our day and age just how much man’s arrival on the Moon has shaken his faith in the Holy Bible. The answer to this question can be found in one of David’s Psalms:
«O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is Your name in all the earth, because Your magnificence was raised beyond the heavens. Out of mouths of infants and nurslings You furnished praise for Yourself, for the sake of Your enemies, to put down enemy and avenger, because I will observe the heavens, works of Your fingers— moon and stars—things You alone founded. What is man, that You are mindful of him or son of man that You attend to him? You diminished him a little in comparison with angels; with glory and honor You crowned him. And You set him over the works of your hands; You subjected all under his feet, sheep and cattle, all together, and further the beasts of the plain, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea —the things that pass through paths of seas. O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is Your name in all the earth!» (Psalms 8:1-10).
The Creator Himself has therefore crowned man with “glory and honour” and destined him to become the “master” of all “the works of His hands”, to subdue “beneath his feet” not only the earth, but all of Creation, “the heavens, the moon and the stars”.
4. The image of the God of love
Man’s authority in the potentials and the powers of the world were not arbitrary ones; as such, man could not possibly exercise that authority in a selfish manner. It was an authority that pertained to a responsibility for God’s entire Creation.
«And the Lord God planted an orchard in Edem toward the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed […] And the Lord God took the man whom He had formed and put him in the orchard to till and keep it.» (Gen. 2:8-15).
Man’s role in Paradise was a creative one, not an arbitrary and destructive one. He had to be a faithful and caring guard and protector of God’s entire Creation.
Furthermore, the usage of the world on the part of man was not in a selfish manner, but always in accordance with the will of the Creator. This is made clear in God’s commandment:
«…“You shall eat for food of every tree that is in the orchard, but of the tree for knowing good and evil, of it you shall not eat; on the day that you eat of it, you shall die by death”.»(Gen. 2:16-17. cmp. Romans 6:23).
In Paradise there were no differences between the thoughts and decisions of man or the deliberations and the actions of man and the will of God. Without any coercion, man related his own will to God’s will, and he let God be the centre of his life. This was very natural for man in Paradise, as he was created in accordance with the image of the Trinitarian God and he lived a life according to his prototype – that is, a life that was in accordance with the life of the Holy Trinity: a life of inner unity, love and harmony – with himself, with his fellow-man, with the rest of Creation.
The centre of this unity was always God, to Whom man voluntarily offered himself, his achievements and all of Creation. Thus, everything was harmoniously united; everything was “very good”.
(*) Gerontikon: The Gerontikon is comprised of short texts usually describing a certain event or delineating the teaching of an Elder, and are set out in alphabetical order, per the name of the Elder that they pertain to. As one maxim succeeds the other, the history of a locality’s monasticism also unfolds; a history of everyday events, which are nothing more and nothing less than the narration of relations among the Elders, with their students, with their neighbouring monastic communities, with their visitors, with the world…
The Gerontikon took on the form that we recognize today, at the beginning of the 5th century. It was the age when the continuous barbarian invasions had wholly destroyed the communities of the Egyptian desert, forcing the Abbas who had survived to seek a place of solitude in Palestine and Sinai. The Gerontikon was complied, so that the tradition which had meantime been created not be lost. The opus was written in Greek, from the beginning, even though the Elders (who were poor farmers in their majority) spoke Coptic. However, a plethora of translations was promptly embarked on, thus denoting the importance of the opus.
What impresses the reader who comes in contact with the Gerontikon for the first time is the unadorned expression of its narrations: in them, you will not find any of the intricate rhetorical intertwining as in later hagiological texts. Redundant descriptions, pietism, pretexts, puritanism are altogether absent. The responses given by the Abbas to the customary request of “Say a word” are direct, explicit, clear, straightforward. Trenchant. Their teachings almost never pertain to dogmatic or other theoretical issues. They only speak of practical issues; of the soul, of their everyday lives, of the temptations they encounter, and of their passions. Being fully aware of the complexity and the uniqueness of each person, they avoid setting down general rules – instead, they always opine according to each case. It is not unusual for one Elder to say entirely different things than another; their intention and their goal is the element that they have in common. But, it is because of this diversity that one is enabled to find that which pertains to him personally.