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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part II: Faith and Worship
    • God and man
      • Man: his creation, his vocation, his failure
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Man: his creation, his vocation, his failure

‘Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.’ (Augustine,

Confessions, 1, 1) Man was made for fellowship with God: this is the first and primary affirmation

in the Christian doctrine of man. But man, made for fellowship with God, everywhere repudiates

that fellowship: this is the second fact which all Christian anthropology takes into account. Man


was made for fellowship with God: in the language of the Church, God created Adam according

to His image and likeness, and set him in Paradise (The opening chapters of Genesis are of course concerned

with certain religious truths, and are not to be taken as literal history. Fifteen centuries before modern Biblical

criticism, Greek Fathers were already interpreting the Creation and Paradise stories symbolically rather than literally).

Man everywhere repudiates that fellowship: in the language of the Church, Adam fell, and

his fall — his ‘original sin’ — has affected all mankind.

The Creation of Man. And God said, let us make man according to our image and likeness

(Genesis 1:26). God speaks in the plural: “Let us make man.” The creation of man, so the

Greek Fathers continually emphasized, was an act of all three persons in the Trinity, and therefore

the image and likeness of God must always be thought of as a Trinitarian image and likeness.

We shall find that this is a point of vital importance.

Image and Likeness. According to most of the Greek Fathers, the terms image and likeness

do not mean exactly the same thing. ‘The expression according to the image,’ wrote John of

Damascus, ‘indicates rationality and freedom, while the expression according to the likeness indicates

assimilation to God through virtue (On the Orthodox Faith, 2, 12 (P.G. 94, 920B)). The image, or

to use the Greek term the icon, of God signifies man’s free will, his reason, his sense of moral

responsibility — everything, in short, which marks man out from the animal creation and makes

him a person. But the image means more than that. It means that we are God’s ‘offspring’ (Acts

27:28), His kin; it means that between us and Him there is a point of contact, an essential similarity.

The gulf between creature and Creator is not impassable, for because we are in God’s image

we can know God and have communion with Him. And if a man makes proper use of this faculty

for communion with God, then he will become ‘like’ God, he will acquire the divine likeness; in

the words of John Damascene, he will be ‘assimilated to God through virtue.’ To acquire the

likeness is to be deified, it is to become a ‘second god,’ a ‘god by grace.’ “I said, you are gods,

and all of you sons of the Most High(Psalm 81:6). (In quotations from the Psalms, the numbering of the

Septuagint is followed. Some versions of the Bible reckon this Psalm as 82.).

The image denotes the powers with which every man is endowed by God from the first

moment of his existence; the likeness is not an endowment which man possesses from the start,

but a goal at which he must aim, something which he can only acquire by degrees. However sinful

a man may be, he never loses the image; but the likeness depends upon our moral choice,

upon our ‘virtue,’ and so it is destroyed by sin.

Man at his first creation was therefore perfect, not so much in an actual as in a potential

sense. Endowed with the image from the start, he was called to acquire the likeness by his own

efforts (assisted of course by the grace of God). Adam began in a state of innocence and simplicity.

‘He was a child, not yet having his understanding perfected,’ wrote Irenaeus. ‘It was necessary

that he should grow and so come to his perfection (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 12).

God set Adam on the right path, but Adam had in front of him a long road to traverse in order to

reach his final goal.

This picture of Adam before the fall is somewhat different from that presented by Saint

Augustine and generally accepted in the west since his time. According to Augustine, man in

Paradise was endowed from the start with all possible wisdom and knowledge: his was a realized,

and in no sense potential, perfection. The dynamic conception of Irenaeus clearly fits more

easily with modern theories of evolution than does the static conception of Augustine; but both

were speaking as theologians, not as scientists, so that in neither case do their views stand or fall

with any particular scientific hypothesis.


The west has often associated the image of God with man’s intellect. While many Orthodox

have done the same, others would say that since man is a single unified whole, the image of God

embraces his entire person, body as well as soul. ‘When God is said to have made man according

to His image,’ wrote Gregory Palamas, ‘the word man means neither the soul by itself nor the

body by itself, but the two together (P.G. 150, 1361C). The fact that man has a body, so Gregory

argued, makes him not lower but higher than the angels. True, the angels are ‘purespirit,

whereas man’s nature is ‘mixed’ — material as well as intellectual; but this means that his nature

is more complete than the angelic and endowed with richer potentialities. Man is a microcosm, a

bridge and point of meeting for the whole of God’s creation.

Orthodox religious thought lays the utmost emphasis on the image of God in man. Man is a

living theology,’ and because he is God’s icon, he can find God by looking within his own

heart, by ‘returning within himself:’ “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). ‘Know

yourselves,’ said Saint Antony of Egypt. ‘…He who knows himself, knows God (Letter 3 (in the

Greek and Latin collections, 6)) ‘If you are pure,’ wrote Saint Isaac the Syrian (late seventh century),

heaven is within you; within yourself you will see the angels and the Lord of the angels’ (Quoted

in P. Evdokimov, LOrthodoxie, p. 88). And of Saint Pachomius it is recorded: ‘In the purity of his

heart he saw the invisible God as in a mirror (First Greek Life, 22).

Because he is an icon of God, each member of the human race, even the most sinful, is infinitely

precious in God’s sight. ‘When you see your brother,’ said Clement of Alexandria (died

215), ‘you see God’ (Stromateis, 1, 19 (94, 5)). And Evagrius taught: ‘After God, we must count all

men as God Himself (On Prayer, 123 (P.G. 79, 1193C)). This respect for every human being is visibly

expressed in Orthodox worship, when the priest censes not only the icons but the members of the

congregation, saluting the image of God in each person. ‘The best icon of God is man (P. Evdokimov,

LOrthodoxie, p. 218).

Grace and Free Will. As we have seen, the fact that man is in God’s image means among

other things that he possesses free will. God wanted a son, not a slave. The Orthodox Church rejects

any doctrine of grace which might seem to infringe upon man’s freedom. To describe the

relation between the grace of God and free will of man, Orthodoxy uses the term cooperation or

synergy (synergeia); in Paul’s words: “We are fellow-workers (synergoi) with God(1 Cor. 3:9).

If man is to achieve full fellowship with God, he cannot do so without God’s help, yet he must

also play his own part: man as well as God must make his contribution to the common work, although

what God does is of immeasurably greater importance than what man does. ‘The incorporation

of man into Christ and his union with God require the cooperation of two unequal, but

equally necessary forces: divine grace and human will (A Monk of the Eastern Church, Orthodox Spirituality,

p. 23). The supreme example of synergy is the Mother of God (See p. 263).

The west, since the time of Augustine and the Pelagian controversy, has discussed this question

of grace and free will in somewhat different terms; and many brought up in the Augustinian

traditionparticularly Calvinists — have viewed the Orthodox idea of ‘synergy’ with some

suspicion. Does it not ascribe too much to man’s free will, and too little to God? Yet in reality

the Orthodox teaching is very straightforward. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone

hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). God knocks, but waits for

man to open the door — He does not break it down. The grace of God invites all but compels

none. In the words of John Chrysostom: ‘God never draws anyone to Himself by force and violence.

He wishes all men to be saved, but forces no one’ (Sermon on the wordsSaul, Saul…’ 6 (P.G. 51,

144)). ‘It is for God to grant His grace,’ said Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (died 386); ‘your task is to

accept that grace and to guard it (Catehetical Orations, 1, 4). But it must not be imagined that be-


cause a man accepts and guards God’s grace, he thereby earnsmerit.’ God’s gifts are always

free gifts, and man can never have any claims upon his Maker. But man, while he cannot ‘merit

salvation, must certainly work for it, since “faith without works is dead(James 2:17).

The Fall: Original Sin. God gave Adam free will — the power to choose between good

and evil — and it therefore rested With Adam either to accept the vocation set before him or to

refuse it. He refused it. Instead of continuing along the path marked out for him by God, he

turned aside and disobeyed God. Adam’s fall consisted essentially in his disobedience of the will

of God; he set up his own will against the divine will, and so by his own act he separated himself

from God. As a result, a new form of existence appeared on earth — that of disease and death.

By turning away from God, who is immortality and life, man put himself in a state that was contrary

to nature, and this unnatural condition led to an inevitable disintegration of his being and

eventually to physical death. The consequences of Adam’s disobedience extended to all his descendants.

We are members one of another, as Saint Paul never ceased to insist, and if one member

suffers the whole body suffers. In virtue of this mysterious unity of the human race, not only

Adam but all mankind became subject to mortality. Nor was the disintegration which followed

from the fall merely physical. Cut off from God, Adam and his descendants passed under the

domination of sin and of the devil. Each new human being is born into a world where sin prevails

everywhere, a world in which it is easy to do evil and hard to do good. Man’s will is weakened

and enfeebled by what the Greeks calldesire’ and the Latinsconcupiscence.’ We are all

subject to these, the spiritual effects of original sin.

Thus far there is fairly close agreement between Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and classic

Protestantism; but beyond this point east and west do not entirely concur. Orthodoxy, holding

as it does a less exalted idea of man’s state before he fell, is also less severe than the west in its

view of the consequences of the fall. Adam fell, not from a great height of knowledge and perfection,

but from a state of undeveloped simplicity; hence he is not to be judged too harshly for

his error. Certainly, as a result of the fall man’s mind became so darkened, and his will-power

was so impaired, that he could no longer hope to attain to the likeness of God. Orthodox, however,

do not hold that the fall deprived man entirely of God’s grace, though they would say that

after the fall grace acts on man from the outside, not from within. Orthodox do not say, as Calvin

said, that man after the fall was utterly depraved and incapable of good desires. They cannot

agree with Augustine, when he writes that man is under ‘a harsh necessity’ of committing sin,

and that ‘man’s nature was overcome by the fault into which it fell, and so came to lack freedom

(On the perfection of man’s righteousness, 4 (9)). The image of God is distorted by sin, but never destroyed;

in the words of s hymn sung by Orthodox at the Funeral Service for the laity: ‘I am the

image of Thine inexpressible glory, even though I bear the wounds of sin.’ And because he still

retains the image of God, man still retains free will, although sin restricts its scope. Even after

the fall, Godtakes not away from man the power to will — to will to obey or not to obey Him’

(Dositheus, Confession, Decree 3. Compare Decree 14). Faithful to the idea of synergy, Orthodoxy repudiates

any interpretation of the fall which allows no room for human freedom.

Most orthodox theologians reject the idea of ‘original guilt,’ put forward by Augustine and

still accepted (albeit in a mitigated form) by the Roman Catholic Church. Men (Orthodox usually

teach) automatically inherit Adam’s corruption and mortality, but not his guilt: they are only

guilty in so far as by their own free choice they imitate Adam. Many western Christians believe

that whatever a man does in his fallen and unredeemed state, since it is tainted by original guilt,

cannot possibly be pleasing to God: ‘Works before Justification,’ says the thirteenth of the


Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, ‘...are not pleasant to God ... but have the nature

of sin.’ Orthodox would hesitate to say this. And Orthodox have never held (as Augustine and

many others in the west have done) that unbaptized babies, because tainted with original guilt,

are consigned by the just God to the everlasting games of Hell (Thomas Aquinas, in his discussion of

the fall, on the whole followed Augustine, and in particular retained the idea of original guilt; but as regards unbaptized

babies, he maintained that they go not to Hell but to Limbo — a view now generally accepted by Roman theologians.

So far as I can discover, Orthodox writers do not make use of the idea of Limbo. It should be noted that an

Augustinian view of the fall is found from time to time in Orthodox theological literature; but this is usually the result

of western influence. The Orthodox Confession by Peter of Moghila is, as one might expect, strongly Augustinian;

on the other hand the Confession of Dositheus is free from Augustinianism). The Orthodox picture of

fallen humanity is far less sombre than the Augustinian or Calvinist view.

But although Orthodox maintain that man after the fall still possessed free will and was still

capable of good actions, yet they certainly agree with the west in believing that man’s sin had set

up between him and God a barrier, which man by his own efforts could never break down. Sin

blocked the path to union with God. Since man could not come to God, God came to man.

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