the Image of God, which we behold in universal humanity

Saint Gregory of Nyssa (feasted today, January 10) says that the image of God is only seen when every human person is included both at the outset of creation and at the end of time. Here Gregory describes how God’s image applies to the entire human race gathered from across all of fallen history:

In the Divine foreknowledge and power all humanity is included in the first creation; for it is fitting for God not to regard any of the things made by Him as indeterminate. …The entire plenitude of humanity was included by the God of all, by His power of foreknowledge, as it were in one body, and …this is what the text teaches us which says, God created man, in the image of God created He him. For the image is not in part of our nature, nor is the grace in any one of the things found in that nature, but this power extends equally to all the race. …The Image of God, which we behold in universal humanity, had its consummation then. …He saw, Who knows all things even before they be, comprehending them in His knowledge, how great in number humanity will be in the sum of its individuals. …For when …the full complement of human nature has reached the limit of the pre-determined measure, because there is no longer anything to be made up in the way of increase to the number of souls, [Paul] teaches us that the change in existing things will take place in an instant of time. [And Paul gives to] that limit of time which has no parts or extension the names of a moment and the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

These excerpts from Gregory’s On the Making of Man (intended to supplement and complete the Hexaëmeron of his older brother Saint Basil) illustrates Gregory’s idea that God created all of humanity at once in the beginning, but that this universal humanity is revealed within fallen time as a multitude of individuals all contributing to the image of God but not manifesting the fullness of that image without each other. Gregory sees all of human history, as we experience it now, to be a result of the human fall which took place with the first creation of all humanity before any individual humans existed. All of humanity is therefore currently participating in both our fall and our creation (both of which were initiated before time itself). Once each person arrives within this fallen history, humanity then be restored to our union with each other and to God, allowing us to once again display the fullness of God’s image as intended from the start (in the first creation, before our fall).

Gregory even says that this movement from the first creation of humanity as a collective whole into a “plenitude” of particular humans could have happened without a fall, in which case we would have become a multitude in whatever way the angels themselves became a great multitude (which process Gregory says is inconceivable to us in our current condition). Once the full number of humans ordained by God has been born within fallen history, the final manifestation of all humanity, transformed with bodies of incorruptibility and united to Jesus Christ as the first fruits of this resurrection life, will mark the fullness and end of history and of time itself as humanity is once again a complete whole as it was initially revealed in the first creation. This way of thinking is far from intuitive for modern people. Here is a more complete sample of the passages expanding these ideas from Gregory (in a slightly convoluted older translation):

In saying that God created man the text indicates, by the indefinite character of the term, all mankind; for was not Adam here named together with the creation, as the history tells us in what follows? Yet the name given to the man created is not the particular, but the general name: thus we are led by the employment of the general name of our nature to some such view as this—that in the Divine foreknowledge and power all humanity is included in the first creation; for it is fitting for God not to regard any of the things made by Him as indeterminate, but that each existing thing should have some limit and measure prescribed by the wisdom of its Maker. [XVI.16]

Now just as any particular man is limited by his bodily dimensions, and the peculiar size which is conjoined with the superficies of his body is the measure of his separate existence, so I think that the entire plenitude of humanity was included by the God of all, by His power of foreknowledge, as it were in one body, and that this is what the text teaches us which says, God created man, in the image of God created He him. For the image is not in part of our nature, nor is the grace in any one of the things found in that nature, but this power extends equally to all the race: and a sign of this is that mind is implanted alike in all: for all have the power of understanding and deliberating, and of all else whereby the Divine nature finds its image in that which was made according to it: the man that was manifested at the first creation of the world, and he that shall be after the consummation of all, are alike: they equally bear in themselves the Divine image. [XVI.17]

…Yet while, as has been said, there is no marriage among them, the armies of the angels are in countless myriads; for so Daniel declared in his visions: so, in the same way, if there had not come upon us as the result of sin a change for the worse, and removal from equality with the angels, neither should we have needed marriage that we might multiply; but whatever the mode of increase in the angelic nature is (unspeakable and inconceivable by human conjectures, except that it assuredly exists), it would have operated also in the case of men, who were “made a little lower than the angels,” to increase mankind to the measure determined by its Maker. [XVII.2]

…God says, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and God created man, in the image of God created He him (Genesis 1:26-27). Accordingly, the Image of God, which we behold in universal humanity, had its consummation then. [XXII.3]

…Man, then, was made in the image of God; that is, the universal nature, the thing like God; not part of the whole, but all the fullness of the nature together was so made by omnipotent wisdom. …He saw, Who knows all things even before they be, comprehending them in His knowledge, how great in number humanity will be in the sum of its individuals. [XXII.4]

…For when, as I suppose, the full complement of human nature has reached the limit of the pre-determined measure, because there is no longer anything to be made up in the way of increase to the number of souls, [Paul] teaches us that the change in existing things will take place in an instant of time, giving to that limit of time which has no parts or extension the names of a moment and the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). …So that it will no more be possible for one who reaches the verge of time (which is the last and extreme point, from the fact that nothing is lacking to the attainment of its extremity) to obtain by death this change which takes place at a fixed period, but only when the trumpet of the resurrection sounds, which awakens the dead, and transforms those who are left in life, after the likeness of those who have undergone the resurrection change, at once to incorruptibility (1 Thessalonians 4:17). [XXII.6]

On the Making of Man by Saint Gregory of Nyssa (translated by H.A. Wilson)

Note: see also this extended passage from David Bentley Hart reflecting on this material from Gregory of Nyssa.

American bewilderment in the face of the world we live in

What the mass culture really reflects …is the American bewilderment in the face of the world we live in. We do not seem to want to know that we are in the world, that we are subject to the same catastrophes, vices, joys, and follies which have baffled and afflicted mankind for ages. And this has everything to do, of course, with what was expected of America: which expectation, so generally disappointed, reveals something we do not want to know about sad human nature, reveals something we do not want to know about the intricacies and inequities of any social structure, reveals, in sum, something we do not want to know about ourselves. The American way of life has failed—to make people happier or to make them better. We do not want to admit this, and we do not admit it. We persist in believing that the empty and criminal among our children are the result of some miscalculation in the formula (which can be corrected); that the bottomless and aimless hostility which makes our cities among the most dangerous in the world is created, and felt, by a handful of aberrants; that the lack, yawning everywhere in this country, of passionate conviction, of personal authority, proves only our rather appealing tendency to be gregarious and democratic. We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.

James Baldwin in “Mass Culture and the Creative Artist: Some Personal Notes.”

we are in a world of invisible people

E. F. Schumacher in A Guide for the Perplexed:

Inner space is created by the [combined] powers of life, consciousness, and self-awareness; but we have direct and personal experience only of our own “inner space” and the freedom it affords us. The human …in his inner space …can develop a center of strength so that the power of freedom exceeds that of his necessity.

…We do not grasp that we are invisible. We do realize that we are in a world of invisible people. …We need not be surprised that most people throughout most of human history …have always claimed that we can learn to see the invisibility of the persons around us.

we should think of our humanity as a privilege

You are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.

From Marilynne Robinson (unknown source).

a bit of overt pressure from his mother

The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon (excerpts from chapters 1 and 2):

The problem, which is historical, is easily stated: Just where did Matthew and Luke discover the historical material that fills the first two chapters of each of these gospels? Since this material had not been part of the early preaching of the apostles, how did the two Evangelists know about it? The only reasonable answer, it seems to me, is that the “source” was Jesus’ own mother, of whom we are told, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). Later in the first century, when Matthew and Luke wrote, she alone was still alive to remember those details, which could have been known to no one else.

…The evidence, however, indicates that this was not the case. Joseph was not a person given to anxiety. He appeared, rather, as a man of extraordinary serenity. We find Joseph in five scenes in the gospel of Matthew, and every single time he is sound asleep (Matthew 1:20–24; 2:12, 13, 19, 22). Whatever troubles Joseph endured, they did not include insomnia. Perhaps we see Joseph’s mark on Jesus—particularly the example of his serenity and simple trust in God—when we contemplate a later New Testament scene:

…Mary’s “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) was also the first step along the road to Jesus’ “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (22:42). I believe the correspondence between these two verses indicates, likewise, the important spiritual mark of Mary on her son. It was from her that he learned to respond in faith to the call of God, not counting the cost. Their destinies were inextricably entwined in the mystery of redemption.

…There is no doubt that Jesus was literate, for we find him reading, and there is every reason to believe he learned the Scriptures as did any other young man from a working-class Galilean family: at the local synagogue. Normally, in fact, in a small town such as Nazareth, copies of the Scriptures, or any other books, were available only at the synagogue.

…Jesus was not “working out” a religious theory. He was taking possession of his own identity. This was a process of growth, and Jesus’ study of the Hebrew Scriptures was integral to that growth. He did read books, and he learned from them. The works of Moses, David, Jeremiah, and the others truly contoured his mind and conscience. The mental horizon of Jesus, as we discern it in the four gospels, took shape during those long years at Nazareth, where—Luke tells us—he went to the synagogue “according to his custom.” So when Luke also tells us, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature,” it is wrong to imagine his growth was unrelated to what he read—any more than his increase in stature was unrelated to what he ate (Luke 2:52).

…Nonetheless, to speak of the “influence” of the Hebrew Scriptures on Jesus’s mind dramatically transcends our normal use of that expression. The Law and the Prophets shaped his self-awareness in an unparalleled way because the Savior found in those writings his identity, vocation, and mission. His grasp of those texts—an understanding at the root of Christian theology—is the very substance of Jesus’ “self-regard.” It was in studying the Hebrew Bible that Jesus became convinced, “I must be about the things of my Father” (Luke 2:49).

…Christian theology begins with—and is inseparable from—understanding the Old Testament as Jesus understood it.

…I believe it is misleading, however, to inquire “when” with respect to Jesus’ self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is not objective. One does not acquire it as “information,” like the study of biology or business law. Self-knowledge is an extension and activity of the self; it is, by definition, subjective. It is necessarily tautological—that is to say, self-knowledge is its own cause. The knowledge of one’s self is inseparable from being oneself.5 It is important not to “objectify” Jesus’ self-awareness and then try to determine at what point—“when?”—he acquired the knowledge of his identity. Self-knowledge is intrinsic to, and an extension of, self-being. His consciousness of his identity came from his identity. Self-knowledge, however, does take place in a process of growth. It is historical, like all components of human consciousness. Human self-knowledge is an ongoing “event.”

…There is a subtle hint in this juxtaposition. Luke seems to imply that the sustained contemplation in Mary’s heart was in some way related to her son’s increase in wisdom. The author paints here a provocative picture of the home in Nazareth where Jesus and his mother, joined in a common faith during the three decades of their shared life, continued to mature spiritually in each other’s company. Given the delicacy of this subject, it is important not to sail off into speculations beyond the data provided by Holy Scripture. Does the Bible give any sign of this personal and interpersonal growth of Jesus and his mother? As it touches their relationship—especially their shared faith in the Father’s purpose and the mission of the Holy Spirit—is it possible to discern in the relevant biblical texts some indication of this spiritual development? I believe it is.

…However we name it, nonetheless, both stories—in the temple at Jerusalem and at the wedding party in Cana—portray Jesus and his mother as “not agreed.” They are not in harmony. The two conversations convey, between Mary and her son, a sense of initial opposition. Their questions to each other disclose a rough patch, as it were, a foothold of friction that serves to move the narrative forward.

…I suspect, by the by, that Jesus’ answer to Mary was a sort of continuation of his discussion with the rabbis. Recall that Jesus, when his parents discover him in the temple, has been engaged (for three days, apparently) in discourses with the rabbis; he has been asking them questions and answering theirs. In other words, Jesus has been engaged in a pedagogical and rhetorical method where a favored device is the “counterquestion”—the answering of a question by a further and more probing inquiry. We find this style of debate frequently in rabbinic literature and in the Gospels. The boy Jesus, then, so recently exposed to this pedagogical and rhetorical method here in the temple, spontaneously has recourse to it in order to answer his mother.

…Luke’s story, which chronicles Jesus’ growth in wisdom, is told here through the person who witnessed that growth and who was obliged, in a very personal way, to explore its meaning. It was certainly from her that Luke learned the facts of the case.

…Mary was not just a temporary or purely physical conduit of the Incarnation. The relationship between Jesus and his mother was transpersonal and transcendent to biology. She was truly the mother, and not simply the “bearer,” of God’s Son. When, during her pregnancy, she declared, “He who is mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49), she was aware of at least this much. Day by day she measured, and now continued to measure, what this meant. If she knew Jesus at all, if being the mother of God’s Son meant anything, then it certainly meant she was entitled to speak to him about a shortage of wine.

…Perhaps our English “ma’am” comes closest to the sense of the Aramaic idiom. It is especially noteworthy that in John’s gospel Jesus addresses his mother this way as he is dying (John 19:26). In this gospel, Cana and Calvary are the only places where Mary’s son speaks to her, and the same word is used both times.

…Jesus was declining his mother’s suggestion that he intervene in the wine problem. De facto, he was telling her no. And how does Mary respond to his objection? She ignores it! Mary does not argue the point with her son. She simply turns and boldly says to the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.” She thus puts the pressure squarely on her son, manifestly confident that he will not disappoint her. It is worth remarking that “Do whatever he tells you” are Mary’s last recorded words. We know the day’s outcome: Mary’s son, at the direct instigation of his mother, transformed the water into wine. We surmise, too, that the wedding party was transformed, once the guests discovered that the host had “kept the good wine until now!” Indeed, Jesus’ own ministry was transformed. Here it was that he “manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” The “signs” have begun. Up to this point, it was possible for their contemporaries to think of Jesus and John the Baptist mainly in terms of similarity, inasmuch as both were teachers. No more, however, because “John performed no sign” (John 10:41). After the Cana event, people in the region would tell “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).

…The organic particularity of Jesus’ life included a bit of overt pressure from his mother. The doctrine of the Incarnation affirms that we were redeemed through the personal experiences of God’s Son in human history—the very things that the Word underwent—from the instant of his conception, through his birth and infancy, through the events and phases of his life, through his tears and laughter, through his ministry and teaching, through his obedient sufferings and death on the cross, through his resurrection and entry into eternal glory. Human redemption “happened” in the humanity of the eternal Word as he passed through, transformed, and deified our existence.

…“Imagine,” Augustine wrote of Jesus, that the Almighty did not create this man—however he was formed—from the womb of his mother, but abruptly introduced him before our eyes. Suppose he passed through no ages from infancy to youth, or that he neither ate nor slept. Would that not have proved the heretics correct?9 An adequate Christology, then, affirms that the Word’s becoming flesh refers to more than the single instant of his becoming present in the Virgin’s womb. He continued becoming flesh and dwelling among us, in the sense that his assumed body and soul developed and grew through the complex experiences of a particular human life. We see this actually happening in these two conversations between Jesus and his mother.

…She was, like himself, a person of faith. Indeed, her faith pertained very much to his own person and mission.

celebrants of the sacrament of life

This is the first meaning of our bringing to the altar the elements of our food. For we already know that food is life, that it is the very principle of life and that the whole world has been created as food for man. We also know that to offer this food, this world, this life to God is the initial “eucharistic” function of man, his very fulfillment as man. We know that we were created as celebrants of the sacrament of life, of its transformation into life in God, communion with God.

…To be sure, it is a sacrifice: but sacrifice is the most natural act of man, the very essence of his life. Man is a sacrificial being, because he finds his life in love, and love is sacrificial: it puts the value, the very meaning of life in the other and gives life to the other, and in this giving, in this sacrifice, finds the meaning and joy of life.

From chapter two in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (34-35).

leaves him weaker as well as stronger

Each new power won by man is a power over man as well…. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger…. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man.

From The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis (69). Quoted in C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty by Baggett, Habermas and Walls (92).

This next passage makes a related point about the essential quality of human limitations (which we seek the power to eliminate through technology):

As tools are necessary for art—brushes, pigments, canvas—so technology is simply a tool for the art of living. Technology is in its essence incomplete, waiting to be fulfilled by its use as part of art. Today the technology of living, which focuses on youth, longevity, and pleasure subverts the art of living which focuses on maturity, sustainability, and truth. The art of living has been replaced with the technology of living. I do not know how we can return to the art of living.

From “The Art of Living” by Stewart K. Lundy at Front Porch Republic.