THE MYSTERY OF PROSOPON (PERSON) AND HUMAN ADVENTURE

by Archbishop Stylianos of Australia

 

"When Christ who is our life appears,
then you will also appear with Him in glory"
(Col 3:4).

 

At certain special moments we will ponder on the "purpose" of life and our "destination".

Of course, there have always been those who do not believe in any purpose or destination. But they are no doubt a minority for whom we should feel compassion rather than indication. Conversely, most people, whether eminent or plain, have always struggled honourably, in the face of the difficulties of life, to leave something behind which will remind others of them: a child, a plant, a song. Among all those who struggle in life — the battlers as they are wisely called — we should make a distinction between these two groups: those who determine their purpose and destination arbitrarily and of their own accord, and those who feel that they are "within boundaries" which are set from above. Even within this "godly" multitude of people, we should in particular single out the Christians for whom the God-given order and calling contain "measures" which by definition lead infinitely beyond that which is human. We should not forget the remarkable words of St. Nicholas Cabasilas, that we have received the command to become gods.

The distinction between Christians and non-Christians is made not in order to boast, nor in order to be contemptuous of people of other religious persuasions. On the contrary, the distinction is necessary in order for us to appreciate the true extent of our dept toward God, ourselves and our fellow human beings. It would be more precise to say that the distinction is made so as to show how much more demanding Christianity is when compared with other faiths.

The purpose and destination of humankind according to Christian teaching are not defined simply as being more demanding. Rather, they are on a completely different level to that which other monotheistic religions know or could know. The difference between Christian and non-Christian faith, in other words, is not quantitative but qualitative.

Even Judaism — to which we are organically connected through the entire Old Testament — does not teach the same things as Christianity as far as the purpose and destination of the human being is concerned. For although we may share the same teaching about being created in "the image and likeness of God", the presuppositions and the consequences of this fundamental teaching are formulated by Christianity in a totally incomparable and unique way. We could therefore say that Christian anthropology radically differs from all teachings and philosophies of every other religion or science concerning the human person.

The truths taught by Christianity, both with regard to the origin and the destination of humanity, transcends human knowledge, experience and imagination.

The key to approaching Christian anthropology is the mystery of the God-man (Theanthropos) Himself. He is the pre-eternal model and the unmovable goal to whom the faithful are directed. Humanity without the God-man is, for Christianity, a sad utopia. An inconsolable futility. An extreme absurdity of suicide.

It is not simply a matter of God's presence or absence from the world, as several famous western thinkers saw it, such as Nietzche who proclaimed the "death of God", or H. de Lubac who spoke about being orphaned without God in his classic book "The tragedy of Humanism without God". What is involved here are the "structural feature" of the very nature of the human being, without which he or she is not simply unfortunate or lacking in direction, but literally in-conceivable, thus appearing as a monstrous creature.

St. Maximos the Confessor writes very characteristically that with "the intelligible sun of righteousness", namely the Theanthropos, something occurs which is similar to the effect of the natural sun: just as it does not only show itself when it rises, but rather all the rest of creation which it illuminates, in the same way the Theanthropos showed through His incarnation into the world not only His own theanthropic nature but also the true measure and nature of all created things, especially humankind.

Let us however take things from the beginning in order to see more analytically in what the mystery of the human person consists, something which only Christianity can throw light upon through the mystery of the Theanthropos.

We must note especially that people are normally scandalised by the teaching of Christianity not so much because of what it says about the beginning and origin of humanity, but rather because of what it states concerning the end point and purpose of humanity. Having permanently left the issue of human origins "open" to further biological and philosophical investigation, they are scandalized by the end point of "theosis" or deification as taught by genuine Christianity. They are therefore unable to accept such a postulate or else they consider it to be an unthinkable blasphemy.

The Greek term for "destination" (pro-orismo) is a key word which evidently contains both extremes of human life, namely the beginning and the end. In this word the everlasting organic link between the beginning and end is directly expressed, such that we could not see the end as being related to the beginning. In any case, we know that in the material world around us, in which things are more plain and obvious, "what is grown is what is sown".

According to such fundamental order in God's creation, we must first apply ourselves to a study of the beginning whenever we wish to understand the end. The question is then: Have we done this in the case of anthropology?

It seems that it is not only Judaism which has not managed to approach the mystery of the creation of the human person "in the image" of God — since it has rejected the Theanthropos who has appeared — but also western Christendom as a whole has misunderstood basic truths on this matter which Orthodoxy maintained and developed under very trying conditions and at great cost, while being scoffed at for centuries by the impetuous naturalism and rationalism of the west.

If western Christendom had correctly understood and appreciated the dynamism, by grace, of being created "in the image" of God, then it would not be scandalised by the Orthodox teaching on human "theosis", and it would consider it completely consistent and in accordance with what is given in the Old and New Testaments.

It is precisely this "mystical" dynamism which is hidden, as if in a mystery, which we shall try to outline by way of the following analysis. This will be based on the amazing Christian anthropology of the Apostle Paul which is without parallel.

From such an analysis, brief though it may be, we hope that not only the Roman Catholics will be assisted in accepting the Orthodox notion of "theosis" — which to a ertain degree is already gradually occurring among their more devout and discerning theologians — but also the Protestants in general, who as a rule continue to regard the teaching on deification not only as being unbiblical but even blasphemous, despite the special affinity they have towards the teachings of the Apostle Paul.

The teaching of Holy Scripture concerning the creation of the human person "in the image" of God; at least as it is presented in the Old Testament, gives the clear impression that human beings were created last in time, as the most perfect and supreme creation of the seven days. This progression in time would be of no particular importance if it was not emphasised in the Book of Genesis that the bodily and biological aspect of human beings is made up of and "depends" upon the elements which were created before them, and which they sum up to some extent. It is precisely because of this organic link between the material world and the human person that the Fathers named the latter a "microcosm", while the former they called "macroanthropos". However, such dependence, no matter how much it may simply have to do with the vessel or "vehicle" into which God would subsequently blow the "breath of life" (Gen 2:7) and thereby give His "image", certainly becomes definitive of the dynamism and development of human nature and, as a result, of the human person. In stating that it is "definitive", we clearly mean that it is restrictive, since the "dimensions" which a person can take throughout his or her development in history are more or less predicable and static, especially if they are to be judged mainly on the basis of the quality of their "genes".

The more our knowledge of genetics increases, the more we can follow and foresee — as well as influence of course — the given data of the genetic code. Given that humankind is "by nature" created, it follows that the possibilities for the development of the human person are restricted to a limited framework.

Presented in this way, the passage in the Old Testament concerning our creation "in God's image" seems to be a subsequent addition, like something which is built to edify the original foundational structure of human existence, in which case the later teachings concerning "deification" appear to be somewhat unnatural or at least mechanical and problematic.

In the New Testament, by contrast, and especially in the epistles of the Apostle Paul, creation in God's "image" is not presented as a subsequent addition, not even as a gift which is simultaneous with the creation of the material part of the human being. Here the God-like nature of humanity axiomatically and infinitely precedes its material construction and creation.

The words of St. Paul in this regard are very revealing and characteristic, particularly in his letter to the Ephesians, even from the very first chapter. Here the "image" is dealt with not as a relationship between humanity and God in general, but with God the Word in particular. And because the Son and Word of God is uncreated, pre-eternal and without beginning, the unique mystery of the human person consists precisely in the fact, in being directly related to forechosen and pre-destined "before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4). In this way, however, the order of the whole creation in time is completely reversed or at least nullified, since human beings instead of being "last", are presented "first".

Thus the "grace" and "blessing" of the Father towards humankind are not simply a vague and general concept, but rather a very concrete relationship with the Only-Begotten Son, through which we are led to God as "Christ-like" people.

It is a "selection" of the human person which occurs in a miraculous way before the creation of the world and humanity, seeing that it does not depend created and limited nature, but on "the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph 1:5-7).

According to all of the above, we could then say — no matter how strange it may sound — that the final horizons of humanity should not be sought in an unknown "progressive" future, but rather in a known "re-gressive" past. Since we are dealing with a return to the original glory of the human person, which is none other than the eschatological perfection — precisely that which we call "theosis" by grace — the term "past" here loses its negative meaning, because nothing has "passed" in essence. This original glory was simply "hidden" in God, awaiting the "fullness" of time in order to be "revealed". It is for this very reason that the supreme goal of one who is struggling in Christ is nothing other than to seek throughout one's life to be "reshaped according to the ancient beauty".

Such an absolute Christocentric anthropology of the Apostle Paul safeguards human glory which exists beyond its created presuppositions; a grace which has nothing to do with biological powers and possibilities. On the contrary, the assurance of St. Paul is clear that "our outer nature is wasting away, but our inner nature is being renewed" (2 Cor 4:16).

A necessary condition for this transformation and return to the "ancient beauty" is undoubtedly that Christ Himself be first of all revealed, i.e. recognised and confessed in His glory by humanity, as the Lord of life and death. In this way, humankind becomes "synchronised" with God-man, and thus truly become "partakers of divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

In conclusion, we should note the fact that it is extremely characteristic that the Apostle Paul sees the revelation pf the glory of the human person not as something which follows the revealed glory of Christ, as a result, but rather as something which is accomplished simultaneously and together with it: "Then you will be revealed with Him in glory" (Col 3:4).

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