The human being as image of God in the works of St. Cyril of Alexandria

  1. Lemma
  2. Ο άνθρωπος ως εικόνα του Θεού στα έργα του αγίου Κυρίλλου Αλεξανδρείας
  3. English
  4. Koutalis, Vangelis
  5. Orthodox theological tradition and practice > Patristic studies - Key thinkers - Concepts of knowledge and modes of reasoning > Orthodox gnosiology - Orthodox Anthropology - Mutual dependence
  6. 28-11-2018
  7. Veselin, Tudor Viorel [Author]. The human being as image of God in the works of St. Cyril of Alexandria
  8. Ο άνθρωπος ως εικόνα του Θεού στα έργα του αγίου Κυρίλλου Αλεξανδρείας - Thessaloniki: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Faculty of Theology, School of Theology, 2016.
  9. Cyril of Alexandria - anthropology - gnoseology - Orthodox doctrine of the Uncreated and the Created (Άκτιστο-Κτιστό) - image and likeness - Christology - Incarnation
    1. <p>Βέσελιν, Τούντορ Βιορέλ [Veselin, Tudor Viorel] (2016). <em>Ο άνθρωπος ως εικόνα του Θεού στα έργα του αγίου Κυρίλλου Αλεξανδρείας</em> (Doctoral dissertation). Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Faculty of Theology, School of Theology.</p>
    1. The Christian conception of the creation of the human beings “in the image” and “in the likeness” of God, a conception which according to the author is the key to the understanding of the anthropological approach of Cyril of Alexandria, is the topic addressed in this dissertation.

      For Cyril, the principal ontological distinction is not that between the spiritual or ideal and the material or actual, as is the case in Plato, but that between the Created and the Uncreated. God, the creator of the universe, does not occupy the same ontological level as the entities which comprise the universe. Yet, the uncreated creator is incessantly present in the creation through the uncreated divine energies. In this way, both the pantheistic pitfalls of Platonism and the dualism between spirit and matter are avoided. Cyril lived in a historical period in which, due to the eruption of a series of controversies over the nature of Christ, the comprehension of the person of the Incarnate Word became an issue of vital importance. His anthropology, thus, is closely knitted with his theological defense of the reality and indissolubility of the unity between the divine nature and the human nature in the hypostasis of Christ.

      For Cyril, the creation of the human being should be seen as an extension of the Triadic love. Both the visible and the invisible world were created owing to the divine will, as an outcome of the love of the Triadic God. And the divine love presupposes the possibility of a conscious and voluntary response by the human being, that is, a “similarity” or “ affinity” between the Creator and the Created. The human being, just as everything else created, is the result of a cooperation of the persons of the Triad, a circumincession (αλληλοπεριχώρηση) of the three persons also on the level of the divine economy, i.e., the level of the unfolding of the divine plan, but the divine activity in its creation acquires a different meaning: God, for the human being, apart from being its Creator, is also its Father. The “affinity” between God and the human being entails also the possibility, due to the divine grace, of the moral progress and the perfection of humanity.

      Instead of being itself an “image” of God, since only the Son is the real “image” of God, the “image” of the hypostasis of the Father, the human being was created “in the image” of God, and therefore is an image of the image of God. It was created through the Son, and is loved by God as the “other son” thus His Son. The mystery of the human being lies in its archetype, in the Son and the Word of God, the “seal” in which the Father, as the highest archetype and the sole source of existence, is “imprinted” also upon the human being. God is not inscribed on the human being in terms of an essential community, but “in imitation”. The adoption of the human being by God is prefigured from its creation as its ultimate purpose.

      In this regard, an important distinction made by Cyril is that between the image as an ontological fact, the image in potentiality, and the image as a reality or as an ascesis, as the transition from the potentiality to actuality, as the process of perfection of the human nature. The “in the image” is always intrinsically linked to the “in the likeness”: the ὁμοίωσις is the fulfillment of the εἰκών εἰκόνος. But ὁμοίωσις is not “similarity”. The human being is in “similarity” to the actual unfolding of the divine nature, and in “likeness” to God in so far as it realizes the ontological possibility pertaining to an image of the image of God. Therefore, the divine image has a dynamical character, both in moral and in ontological terms: not only does the human being reflect in its own nature certain divine traits, but it is also constantly formed, through the synergy between the human free will and the grace of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with these traits. The “likeness” is always a process of conformance to the archetype.

      To understand its own nature, the human being must try to understand the divine imprint upon it. Cyril does not reject the attempts to describe God in human terms, and through the human ways of communicating, as diminutions of the divine transcendence. Only partly is possible to describe God, but the attempts to make such descriptions, through the knowledge of the created reality and the approach of what is humanly approachable, contribute to the ascension of the human beings. This ascension is a process of perfection which involves the wholeness of the human hypostasis, the undivided psychosomatic existence of the human being, not only the “gifts” of God that facilitate a successful human response to the divine call, i.e., the human rational ability, the human freedom, the human self-determination, but also the corporeality of the human being in all its dimensions, including its sexuality. The human being is not “in the image” of God in its corporeality, because God, the highest archetype of the “image of the image”, is not corporeal. The human body, however, is not excluded from sanctity: the perfection of the human nature will bring the spiritualization of the human body.

      Cyril’s anthropology is a theology of participation in God. The accomplishment of incorruptibility and immortality for the human being amounts to its permanent participation in the uncreated life of God. After the Fall, the human mind veered away from its proper object, from the knowledge of God, from the “synergic course” towards the archetype, and it was directed towards the knowledge of the created reality, misusing its rationality. The fallen human being is an alienated human being, subjected to the material sensible reality, liable to sin and deprived of its true autonomy, unable to overcome its createdness, and the possibilities of corruption and death that are endemic to its createdness. The event of the Incarnation recapitulates the creation of the human being, transforms the human nature from inside, and restores it as an “image of the image”. God received, as God, the fallen human nature, in its psychosomatic wholeness, so as to communicate the renovating divine uncreated power to it, so as to render possible again, for the human beings, the overcoming of their createdness. Christ became a new beginning, and the second “root” of humanity.