Sunday, March 27, 2011

Christian Anthropology: Imago Dei

Sooner or later, everyone asks deepening questions about nature: What is man? What is the meaning of life? What is my ultimate end? In a world where traditional thoughts and values are rapidly changing, these questions arise more despondently as people try to find their place in life. The disharmony is felt through unequally growing economic conditions and social injustices, and filters down into society’s outlook by their philosophical and academic instruction. Therefore as the gaps between injustices expand, society become more divided in its appearance; if not treated, individuals begin to look onto themselves as a collection of dismembered and dissatisfied factions: rich vs. poor, male vs. female, blacks vs. white, straight vs. gay, right vs. left, citizen vs. foreigner, privileged vs. disenfranchised, and so on. To quote the Second Vatican Council, “These dichotomies affecting the modern world is, in fact, a symptom of the deeper dichotomy that is man himself” (Gaudium et Spes 10 § 1).

The Catholic Church teaches that man is formed from the material world and has life breathed into him (see Gen 2:7), therefore making him a unity of body and soul. He is the center and pinnacle of all creation, who is made “in the image of God” (Gen 1:26) as able to know and love his creator, which renders him superior above all other creations (like animals and plants) in this world. His very soul is of divine likeness, which has the intellect to seek truth and the will to love what is objectively good. These two things connect him to his last end, God, who is both infinite Truth (see Jn 14:6) and infinite Goodness (see Lk 18:19).

“Male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) in perfect harmony with the Creator who walked with them in the garden (see Gen 3:8). Knowing the Creator face to face, they beheld perfect knowledge and love, but enticed by the Evil One to “be like God” without God, they let their trust die in the Creator and immediately lost perfection. As a result, man’s senses and desires became disordered (see Gen 3:7), his view of God became twisted (see Gen 3:8-9), relationships between persons were broken (see Gen 3:12), and nature became alien and hostile (see Gen 3:13,17-19).

Man’s broken harmony between God, others, and nature is the division that he finds within himself. Man therefore struggles between good and evil throughout his entire life, and he finds himself in ordeals, which he does not do the good he wants but the evil he does not want (see Rom 7:19). This misery that man experience is the result of sin which is man’s attempt, tempted by the Evil One who is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), to seek happiness apart from God Who is that Good which ultimately fulfills. Sin has brought man into a lower state in which his mind, darkened by ignorance (see Rom 1:21), chooses what is perceived as good, but is actually harmful to his attainment of love and truth.

So when man, enlighten by the divine mind, recognizes in himself the image of the One Who created him, he at last finds the model of perfection, which he had sought to obtain without God, in the God that he has rebelled against. Realizing that it was never possible on his own merits to successfully overcome the disturbed nature that keeps him divided, his will, prompted by the Holy Spirit, motivates him to seek the Almighty and merciful Savior to restore him to his original dignified nature—the fullness of wisdom and love—that can only be obtained with God. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

Sin can never be justified by condescension (e.g., “he is just being human”) because sin is an action that is really inhuman: sin goes against our nature to seek the Truth and Good from God. Otherwise, this negative anthropology means that humanity is a monster that enjoys disharmony of indefinite degrees with God, self, neighbor and nature. Religion (from the Latin word religio which means to relink), and specifically the Christian religion, which I believe fully subsists in the Catholic Church, has its place to relink God to humanity and to relink humanity to humanity, and thereby restoring the the heart of man with “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity” (Gal 5:22-23; Rev 2:7, 22:2).