Written by Vladimir Moss



     Salvation, writes the new calendarist theologian Fr. John Romanides, lies in deification – or theosis, as he prefers to call it, using the Greek word. We have no quarrel with this; it is the teaching of the Holy Fathers. “God became man, in order that man should become god” – and the process of becoming god is what we call deification. However, Romanides links this uncontroversial teaching with another, much more dubious one: that there is no likeness whatsoever between God and His creation, including man. And this is true, he asserts, not only in relation to the absolutely unknowable essence of God, but also in relation to His energies. “No similarity whatsoever exists between the uncreated and the created, or between God and creation. This also means that no analogy, correlation, or comparison can be made between them. This implies that we cannot use created things as a means for knowing the uncreated God or His energy.”[1]But this immediately raises the objection: if there is no similarity whatsoever between God and His creation, why, when He created man, did He create Him in His “image and likeness”? And again: is not this likeness between God and man precisely the basis which makes possible the union between God and man, and man’s deification?


     In order to answer these questions, we need, first, to examine what the Holy Fathers understood by the image and likeness of God in man:-


     1. The Image as Dominion.This is the interpretation that follows most directly from Genesis 1: “Let us make man in Our image, according to 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 every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (v. 26). As God has dominion over the whole universe, so He has given to man to be master of everything on earth. Thus St. John Chrysostom writes: “God says ‘image’ by way of dominion, not in any other way… Nothing on earth is greater than [man], but all things are subject to his authority.”[2]Blessed Theodoret of Cyr writes: “Some have said that man was made in accordance with God’s image with respect to dominion; and they have made use of a very clear proof, the fact that the Creator added, ‘And let them have dominion…’ For just as He holds absolute sway over the whole universe, so He has given to man to have authority over the irrational animals.”[3]Man, according to St. Cyril of Alexandria, is “the impress of the supreme glory, and the image upon earth of Divine power”.[4]God “deigned to ‘crown [us] with honour and glory’ (Psalm 8.6) and made us illustrious; for He appointed [man] to rule over the earth and ‘set him over the works of His hands’ (Psalm 8.7).”[5]Ambrosiaster writes: “This, then, is the image of God in man, that one was made as it were the lord from whom all the rest would derive their origin; he would have God’s sovereignty as if His vice-regent.”[6]


     2. The Image as Rationality.St. Basil the Great writes: “The passions have not been included in the image of God, but reason, which is master of the passions”.[7]St. Cyril of Alexandriawrites: “Man alone of all the living creatures on earth is rational, compassionate, with a capacity for all manner of virtue, and a divinely allotted dominion over all the creatures of the earth, according to the image and likeness of God. Therefore man is said to have been made in God’s image inasmuch as he is a rational animal, a lover of virtue and earth’s sovereign.”[8]And the Venerable Bede writes: “Man is undoubtedly made in the image of God especially in that he excels the irrational creatures in being created capable of reasoning, through which he both rightly rules whatever has been created in the world, and can enjoy the knowledge of Him Who created them all.”[9]A Christological dimension to this interpretation is given by the fact that Christ is called the Logos (“Word” or “Reason”), so that man created in the image of Christ-God must be rational or logical. Thus Clement of Alexandria writes: “An image of the Word is the true man, that is, the mind in man. It is on this account that he is said to have been made in accordance with God’s image and likeness, because by his heart’s understanding he is made like the Divine Word (Logos) and therefore rational (logikos).”[10]And since Christ is Himself the Image of the Father, says St. Athanasius the Great, it is through the rationality of the image that we come to know the Father: “When God… made mankind through His own Word, He saw clearly that owing to the limitation of their nature men could not of themselves know their Maker, and could get no concept of God at all; for He is uncreated, while they have passed from non-being to being. He is incorporeal, while men have been moulded with a body… He did not leave them without knowledge of Him, lest their existence be useless; for what profit can there be for creatures if they do not know the Father’s Word (Logos), in Whom they have been made? If they had no knowledge of anything except earthly things, they would differ in nothing from the irrational beasts (aloga). And why should God have created them at all if He did not wish to be know by them? That is why… He made them share in His own image, our Lord Jesus Christ, and made them in accordance with His own image and likeness, in order that by such a grace they might perceive the Image, I mean the Word of the Father, and, knowing their Maker, might live the life that is genuinely happy and blessed.”[11]


     3. The Image as Freedom. Theophilus of Antioch writes: “God made man free, and with a free will”.[12]Dominion and rationality necessarily presuppose freedom.[13]Moreover, freedom is a necessary condition of morality, as St. Irenaeus explains: “If it was by nature that some men are good and others bad, the good would not be praiseworthy for their goodness, which would be their natural equipment, nor would the bad be responsible, having been so created. But in fact everyone has the same nature, with the power of accepting and achieving good, and the power likewise of spurning it and failing to achieve it… Therefore it is just that among men in a well-ordered community the good are praised… and the evil called to account; and this is all the more true in respect of God’s dealing with me… If it were not in our power to do, or refrain from doing, why did the Apostle, and – what is more important – why did the Lord Himself, advise that some things be done and others not be done? But since man has from the first been endowed with free choice, and God, in Whose likeness he was made is also free, man is advised to lay hold of the good, which is achieved in fullness as a result of obedience to God.”[14]St. Gregory of Nyssa writes: “That man was made in the image of God… is equivalent to saying… that he is freed from necessity, and not subject to the dominion of nature, but able freely to follow his own judgement. For virtue is independent and her own mistress.”[15]St. Augustinedistinguishes between “the first freedom of the will, the ability not to sin” and “the final freedom… the inability to sin”.[16]


     4. The Image as Conscience. The freedom to make a rational choice between right and wrong entails the possession of an internal criterion distinguishing between right and wrong. This is the conscience, which a Russian saying calls “the eye of God in the soul of man”. St. Dorotheus of Gazawrites: “When God created man, He breathed into him something divine, as it were a hot and bright spark added to reason, which lit up the mind and showed him the difference between right and wrong. This is called the conscience, which is the law of nature.”[17]That this breath is nothing other than the image of God is confirmed by St. Gregory the Theologian: “He placed in it [the body] a breath taken from Himself which the Word knew to be an intelligent soul and the image of God.”[18]


     5. The Image as Holiness. St. Paulsays: “Renew yourselves in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who was created according to God in righteousness, in true holiness” (Ephesians 4.23-24). Therefore, writes the Venerable Bede, “Adam was created a new man from the earth according to God so that he should be righteous, holy and true, humbly submissive and cleaving to the grace of his Creator, Who has existed just and holy and true eternally and perfectly. But since he by sinning corrupted this beautiful newness of the image of God in himself, there came the second Adam, He Who is the Lord and our Creator, born of the Virgin, created incorruptibly and unchangeably in the image of God, immune from all sin and full of grace and truth, in order that by His example and gift He might restore His image and likeness in us.”[19]St. Cyril of Alexandria writes: “The image of the heavenly man, Christ, is conspicuous in cleanness and purity, in total incorruption and life and sanctification… Unionwith God is impossible for anyone except through participation in the Holy Spirit, instilling in us His own proper sanctification and refashioning to His own life the nature that fell subject to corruption, and thus restoring to God and to God’s likeness what had been deprived of this glory. For the perfect image of the Father is the Son, and the natural likeness of the Son is His Spirit. The Spirit, therefore, refashioning as it were to Himself the souls of men, engraves on them God’s likeness and seals the representation of the supreme essence.”[20]


     6. The Image as Eternity. Solomon writes: “God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own Eternity. Nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world” (Wisdom of Solomon 2.23-24). And St. Athanasius the Great writes: “God made man by nature sinless and free in will, imperishable and eternally in His image”.[21]St. Columbanus of Luxeuil writes: “God bestowed upon man the image of His Eternity, and the likeness of His Character.”[22]


     7. The Image as Love. “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him,” Who is love (I John 3.2, 4.8). St. Johnof the Ladder writes: “Love, by reason of its nature, is a resemblance to God, as far as that is possible for mortals.”[23]St. Maximus writes: “Love alone, properly speaking, represents true humanity in the image of the Creator.”[24]St. Diadochus writes: “In portraiture, when the full range of colours is added to the outline, the painter captures the likeness of the subject, even down to the smile. Something similar happens to those who are being repainted by God’s grace in the Divine likeness: when the luminosity of love is added, then it is evident that the image has been fully transformed into the beauty of the likeness.”[25]


     The above quotations are sufficient to make the point that man as he was originally created, and as he is recreated in Christ, is like God. In fact, becoming like Him to the supreme degree is the same as being deified. For, as St. Dionysius the Areopagite writes, “the aim of Hierarchy is the greatest possible assimilation to, and union with, God, and by taking Him as leader in all holy wisdom, to become like Him, so far as is permitted, by contemplating intently His most Divine Beauty.”[26]


     This point receives confirmation from a consideration of the subject of the Divine Names. In his treatise with this title, St. Dionysius teaches us that each of the names we ascribe to God are taken from created human experience and then applied to an Uncreated Energy of God which bears a resemblance to that human experience. Thus we call God “love” from our experience of human love and of God’s love towards us. This is not to say that God’s love is not infinitely purer and greater than human love. Nevertheless, if there were absolutely no similarity between our experience of created human love and God’s uncreated love for us, there would be absolutely no reason to call Him “love”.


     God reveals Himself to us in many ways, and our names for Him are correspondingly many. Thus “He is many-named,” writes St. Dionysius, “because this is how they represent Him speaking: ‘I am He Who is, I am Life, Light, God, Truth’. And the wise in God praise God Himself, Creator of all, by many names gathered from created things, such as Good, Beautiful, Wise, Beloved…”[27]


     These are names gathered from created things, but applied to the Uncreated God. So unless we are to deny that God can meaningfully be called Good, Beautiful or Wise, Life, Light or Love, we must conclude that Romanides is wrong in asserting that there is no similarity whatsoever between God and man. The fact that we can, however approximately, give names to God shows that there is some interface between the Creator and His creation. However transcendent and unknowable God is in His essence, He still makes Himself known in His energies; and we can know Him and name Him in His energies because we are made in His image and likeness and because He has become man for us, and revealed Himself in that very human nature that He assumed for our sake. It is on this basis that “we know that, when He is revealed [at the Second Coming], we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3.2).


Vladimir Moss.

May 2/15, 2009.

St. Athanasius the Great.

[1]Romanides, Patristic Theology, Dalles, Oregon: Uncut Mountain Press, 2008, p. 126.

[2]St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis, 8, 3; P.G. 53, 72.

[3] Blessed Theodoret, Questions on Genesis, 20; P.G. 80, 105.

[4]St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Genesis, 1; P.G. 69.20.

[5]St. Cyril of Alexandria, On Hebrews, 2.7.

[6] Ambrosiaster, Questions on the Old and the New Testament, 127, 106, 17.

[7] St. Basil the Great, On the Six Days of Creation, X, 8.

[8]St. Cyril of Alexandria, Letter to Calosyrius.

[9] The Venerable Bede, On Genesis, 1.26.

[10]Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus, 10.

[11] St. Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation of the Word, 11; P.G. 25, 113-116.

[12]Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, II, 27.

[13] For, as Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky writes, “Man’s reason makes his will conscious and authentically free, because it can choose that which corresponds to man’s highest dignity rather than to that which his lower nature inclines him.” (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1984, p. 137).

[14] St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, IV, 37.

[15] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, XVI.

[16]St. Augustine, On Sin and Grace. According to Vladimir Lossky, a similar distinction is to be found in the works of St. Macarius the Great (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, London: James Clarke, 1957, pp. 115-116).

[17]St. Dorotheus of Gaza, Instructions, III.

[18] St. Gregory the Theologian, Sermon 38, 11; P.G. 36.317.

[19] The Venerable Bede, On Genesis, 1.26.

[20]St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, 11.11.

[21] St. Athanasius the Great, Against Apollinarius, 1.15.

[22] St. Columbanus, Instructions.

[23]St. John of the Ladder, The Ladder, 30.7.

[24] St. Maximus, To Thalassius, 61; P.G. 90, 628B.

[25] St. Diadochus, On Spiritual Knowledge, 89; The Philokalia, volume 1, p. 288.

[26] St. Dionysius, The Celestial Hierarchies, III.

[27] St. Dionysius, The Divine Names, I, 6.

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company