The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

Gods’ Image and The Church

Two concepts in Chapter Six of Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church:

Firstly, that the image of God can be considered one of two things: As liberty, or free will, which cannot be destroyed by sin; Or as communion with God. St Gregory of Nyssa speaks of this first consideration: ‘he is freed from necessity, and not subject to the domination of nature, but able freely to follow his own judgement. For virtue is independent and her own mistress.’, and freedom is a necessity for the attainment of perfect cooperation with God.  This concept of the image of God as free will ties into the concepts in the previous chapter.

Secondly, that this image of God applies to the whole of humanity,  not to a single person, much in the same way that the God is the whole of God, not  each person of the Trinity. The divine image is applied to the whole of mankind; it is one common nature to all men, parceled out to each of us, split up, imperfect. Unity between men, therefore, is necessary for us to be remade in Gods’ image: Hence why the church is considered a body. We have one nature, but many persons.

I find this difficult; not in concept, but in practice. I feel strongly that God created us in diversity, so in which sense our divine image is only in unity, and in which sense our individuality is something created and to be considered a portion of that image, I find difficult. Lossky specifically speaks of ‘the person who asserts himself as an individual, and shuts himself up in the limits of his particular nature, far from realising himself fully becomes impoverished. It is only in renouncing its own possession and giving itself freely, in ceasing to exist for itself that the person finds full expression in the one nature common to all.’

I know the key here is ‘in ceasing to exist for itself’, but at what point does ones god given passions, skills and desires need be subsumed in this cessation of selfish living? Consider the theologian, God-gifted with intellect and a passion for deeper thought: These things are natural to him – should they be subsumed in the pursuit of unity?

I don’t know the answer. But I think the concept of a shared nature between all men is a unique argument for the body of the Church.


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