Chapter V -- 2
In the next chapter of the Exposition, II, 12,
Next, St John draws on a passage of St Gregory the Theologian that is found in both St Gregory’s Homily 38 on the Theophany and in his Homily 45 on Easter in order to develop his doctrine of the role of man as the link between the intelligible and sensible orders of creation. We saw in Chapter I, above, that this idea had its roots in Stoicism. This is what St John says:
…It was necessary that out of both [the sensible and the intelligible orders of creation] a mixing occur, and, as Gregory who was inspired by God says, ‘a sign of greater wisdom and of the wealth of the natures’, as a sort of bond of union ‘of the visible and the invisible natures’. The ‘it was necessary’ I say alluding to the will of the Creator, for his will is a most seemly institution and law; and no one says to the Creator: ‘Why didst thou make me thus?’ For the potter has authority to make out of his own clay various vessels towards the demonstration of his own wisdom [cf. Rom. 9, 20].
Since, then, these things were so, out of the visible and the invisible nature with his own hands God creates man in his own image (kat’ eikona) and likeness (homoiosin), on the one hand fashioning the body out of earth, on the other hand, giving to man a rational and spiritual soul (psuchen de logiken kai noeran) by means of his own inbreathing, which very thing, truly, we say is the divine image. For on the one hand, the ‘in the image (kat’ eikona)’ declares the spiritual nature (to noeron) and the self-rule (to autexousion); on the other hand, the ‘in the likeness (kath’ homoiosin)’, the likeness of virtue, as much as is possible.
The body and soul have been fashioned together, not, according to the foolish words of Origen, first the latter and then the former.
We see the distinction of the sensible and the intelligible both in the creation itself and in the creation of man. The significance of this distinction can be found in the doctrine, implicit in St Gregory the Theologian, that man is the connecting link between the visible or sensible, and invisible or intelligible orders of creation. St Maximos the Confessor repeats and develops this doctrine. Arguments that this doctrine of the dual nature of man—that man is both sensible and intelligible—is a remnant of Origenist thinking in the Church founder on the Patristic credentials of the authors cited: this is the doctrine of the Orthodox Church.
We here also see an explanation of the dual nature of man: his body was fashioned out of the dust of the earth, whereas his ‘rational and spiritual soul’ was given to him by the inbreathing of God himself. We have seen in the last chapter that St Thomas Aquinas retained this interpretation of the Genesis account of man’s creation.
St John places the image of God in man’s whole soul. More expressly, the ‘in the image (kat’ eikona)’ declares the spiritual nature (to noeron) and the self-rule (to autexousion) or free will. The phrase here translated ‘the spiritual nature’, to noeron, is etymologically related to the word nous, mind. Hence, the mental or spiritual nature of man and his free will constitute for St John of Damascus the image of God in man. The reader may recall from Chapter I that St Macrina herself posited that three powers constituted the image of God in man: the contemplative (theoretiken) power, the discriminating (diakritiken) power and the power of overseeing (epoptiken) existing things. If we consider that free will implicitly is included by St Macrina in the image of God in man, then St Macrina’s three powers can be considered to be an elucidation of the mental or spiritual nature (to noeron) about which St John is speaking.
St John goes on to make an explicit distinction between ‘in the image (kat’ eikona)’ and ‘in the likeness (kath’ homoiosin). St John most likely draws on St Maximos the Confessor for this distinction, but it is well to know that the distinction is already found in St Diadochos of Photike, writing about 450 in a work that we will discuss below. We have already seen St Macrina develop the notion that the likeness of man to God is found in man’s virtue, and that is how St John understands the matter: the likeness is a likeness of virtue to the extent that such a likeness is possible for man taken both individually as a man, and generically as a created, finite spiritual being. We discussed these matters in Chapter I.
As St John of Damascus will go on to make clear, although man’s soul is due to the inbreathing of God, it is not of the same nature of God; it is not God but a created spiritual nature.
Note the strong polarity, a polarity which will be emphasized by St John below as he continues his quotation from St Gregory, between the visible, sensible nature of man’s body and the invisible, intelligible nature of man’s soul. Although St John is an Aristotelian philosopher, on this point his treatment of the human soul by means of a quotation from the more Platonic St Gregory the Theologian accords even with the more Platonizing anthropologies of St Gregory of Nyssa and St Augustine, and it also agrees on this particular point with the strongly Aristotelianizing anthropology of St Thomas Aquinas.
St John of Damascus treats the body and soul as having been fashioned together. While certainly he is referring to the fashioning of the first man, Adam, his words are also to be understood as referring to the fashioning of each man at his conception: there is no doctrine in St John of Damascus of a succession of souls in the embryo such as St Thomas Aquinas teaches.
So God created the man innocent; upright; virtuous; without sorrow; without anxiety; having been made utterly to shine with every virtue; adorned with all good things; ‘as a sort of second world, a small in the large; … another angel; a mixed pilgrim; overseer of the visible creation; initiate of the creation which is apprehended in thought; king of those things which are upon the earth, being ruled over from on high; terrestrial and heavenly; temporal and immortal; visible and apprehended by thought; in the middle between greatness and humbleness; himself spirit and flesh—flesh on account of pride; spirit on account of Grace: the former, so that he suffer and, suffering, that he remember and be chastened; the latter, so that he abide and glorify the Benefactor—; aspiring to greatness; here, that is to say, in this life, a living being which is regulated, and, elsewhere, in the future Age, changed; and—the limit of the mystery—being divinized by the tendency towards God’, being divinized, however, in the participation in the divine illumination and not changed into the divine essence.
Not much more need be said. There is a series of polarities based on the fundamental polarity of man’s bodily, sensible nature as over against his spiritual, intelligible nature: the one arises from the dust of the earth; the other from the inbreathing of God.
We see that man is ‘a sort of second world, a small in the large’. This is the notion of man the microcosm. In the works of St Gregory as they have come down to us, this phrase reads ‘a sort of second world, in smallness great’. We cannot be sure that this inversion of smallness and greatness in the description of man is not due merely to the text that St John had before him, or to other problems in textual transmission, but there is indeed an inversion of the terms in St John.
The actual concept of man, the microcosm, ‘a sort of second world, a small in the large’, is most likely taken by St John from St Maximos the Confessor, who in developing his own doctrine of man’s vocation also quotes in the Ambigua (Peri Diaphoron Aporion) 7 part of this passage of St Gregory, although without the inversion of terms. Man the microcosm is an extension of the notion of man as the connecting link between the sensible and intelligible creations: containing in himself both the sensible and intelligible creations, man is a microcosm, ‘a sort of second world, a small in the large’, one whose role according to St Maximos is to act as the focal point for the divinization (theosis) of the whole creation. This notion of man the microcosm is the basis of St John’s own valuation of the contemplation of man’s own constitution as the highest natural contemplation, that contemplation which was provided to Adam and Eve by the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge: man is not merely an animal, a biochemical system fashioned out of the dust of the earth, but ‘another angel’ who links the dust of the earth to Heaven.
That man is both ‘dust of the earth’ and ‘another angel’ makes him ‘a mixed pilgrim’. A pilgrim is going somewhere.
Man was created ‘overseer of the visible creation’. This is much the same language as St Macrina used concerning the third of the three aspects of the human soul that preserve the image of God in man. But, according to St John, quoting St Gregory, man is also the ‘initiate of the creation which is apprehended in thought’, that is, of the intelligible, spiritual creation. As we have seen, the tradition of the Philokalia construes this to mean not that we can merely form propositions about that intelligible reality, but that we can attain to intuitive apprehensions of that intelligible reality. ‘Thought’ here is not to be construed to be ‘reason’ or ‘ratiocination’. For has not St John already discussed the contemplation of God and the ascent by Adam and Eve in Paradise to the contemplation of God through the contemplation of his creatures? And has he not in his other writings, notably Barlaam and Ioasaph, painted an icon of the Hesychast life here on earth after the Fall, which life matches his description of the life of Adam and Eve in
We next see a very important polarity concerning man’s relation to this world: he is ‘king of those things which are upon the earth, being ruled over from on high’. As concerns the things of the earth, man is king, but he is a king who is ruled over by the Lord. Both aspects of this polarity must be preserved. Man has divine authority to rule the earth, but as a vassal of God. In the Orthodox tradition, this implies that man must subordinate his kingship over the things of the earth to his spiritual vocation. For fallen man, this means that he must subordinate his use of the things of the earth to his return to God in dispassion (apatheia) and contemplation or gnosis of the Lord. The danger in the doctrine of the kingship of man over the earth arises today because that kingship is divorced, notably in the Protestant tradition, from the notion of the return to God in dispassion (apatheia): being ruled over by God is taken to mean the formal profession of the Lordship of Christ without any notion of a subsequent effort towards purification of the man from the passions, except insofar as regards adherence to certain external ethical norms, those ethical norms being interpreted according to the man’s own judgement. This is an extreme religious individualism. Hence, since the man who has accepted the Lordship of Christ has no obligation to purify himself from sin except on a simple, external level, he can use the things of the earth with avarice.
Curiously enough, St Augustine, to whom the Reformers turned for inspiration, was himself clear on avarice (cupiditas) in the use of the material creation as the fundamental motion of a sinful turning away from God. This is how Gilson puts it:
The exercise of the superior reason is therefore essentially submission of the individual to that which surpasses him and adherence of the mind (pensée) to the source of light which enlightens all thoughts (pensées). If we suppose on the contrary that a man opts for the exclusive exercise of the inferior reason, then he no longer turns towards the Ideas themselves, but towards the changing reflections, that is to say, towards sensible things, of which he makes himself the master so as to enjoy them and to exploit them to his own advantage: that is knowledge (science). In a word, in turning us towards the Ideas, wisdom orients us towards the divine and the universal; in turning us towards things (choses), knowledge (science) submits us to the created and encloses us in the limits of the individual.
Gilson continues with his paraphrase of Augustine: this movement towards objects is avarice, the root of every evil, and the source of avarice itself is pride, the beginning of sin.
That is not much different from what St John of Damascus, quoting St Gregory, is saying. What St Augustine calls the superior reason is what St John is alluding to: man’s acceptance of the Kingship of God over himself, not only formally as an act of public profession, but also spiritually, in his everyday life, in the actual ‘submission of the individual to that which surpasses him and [in the] adherence of the mind (pensée) to the source of light which enlightens all thoughts (pensées)’. What St Augustine calls the inferior reason is the kingship of man over ‘those things which are upon the earth’. While St Augustine strongly emphasizes the superior reason, man in this life indeed must make use of the things of the earth, but in the context of a turning to the things of God. Here, as we have said, the problem in the Protestant tradition is a limited notion of the things of God: the formal acceptance of the Lordship of Christ and the adherence to certain external ethical norms subjectively interpreted. Hence, the field is open to a rapacious exploitation of the things of this world, and to a complete turning of the spirit to the things of this world, much as St Augustine describes with his phrase ‘the inferior reason’—and all of this with a clear conscience.
St John, still quoting St Gregory, continues his text with a series of polarities based on man’s dual nature: ‘earthy and heavenly; temporal and immortal; visible and apprehended by thought’. These notions are similar to the notions of St Macrina concerning the nature of man that we saw in Chapter I. Note that the clarity of St John’s and St Gregory’s thought depends on the idea that man has two natures: the earthy, sensible nature of the body and the spiritual, intelligible nature of the soul. There is no sense in St John of Damascus, quoting St Gregory the Theologian, of the confusion of these two aspects of man that would be brought about by treating the inbreathing of God into Adam’s earthy body as a holistic phenomenon: St John and St Gregory are clear: the earthy, sensible nature is the body fashioned from the dust of the earth; the spiritual, intelligible nature is the soul conferred on Adam by the inbreathing of God.
St John, still quoting St Gregory, now draws his conclusions: Man is ‘in the middle between greatness and humbleness’. What do St John and St Gregory mean? Man’s greatness arises from his spiritual nature, from his partaking of and manifesting the invisible creation to which he is linked by his soul. Man’s humbleness, however, arises from his earthy nature, from his partaking of and manifesting the visible, material creation to which he is linked by his body. Hence man is ‘in the middle between greatness and humbleness’ because he links the spiritual and material creations in his own duality of being: he is both ‘spirit and flesh’. Why was he made thus? He was made ‘flesh on account of pride; spirit on account of Grace: the former so that he suffer and, suffering, that he remember and be chastened; the latter so that he abide and glorify the Benefactor’. The earthy body is both man’s humbleness—for he is dust of the earth—and his means of attaining humility: he was made ‘flesh on account of pride’, that is, so that he humble himself on account of the dust of the earth that he is and so that he not be puffed up by his kingship over the things of the earth and by his spiritual grandeur as the connecting link between the sensible and intelligible creations. That is why he was made flesh, ‘so that he suffer and, suffering, that he remember and be chastened’, in a word, that he be humbled. Note that this applies to Adam and Eve in
But man was also made ‘spirit on account of Grace … so that he abide and glorify the Benefactor’. There are two things: the humility of the dust of the earth and the spiritual grandeur of him who is spirit and who is able to ‘abide and glorify the Benefactor’.
We can say without equivocation that this image of man has been lost in the West today. For the relation to the flesh is all, even in
Moreover, the fundamental problem in bioethics is dying: while it is natural and normal for medicine to prolong life, the prolongation of earthly life has become all: for the spiritual dimension of man’s life having been lost in the West, it is ‘imperative’ for fleshly death to be conquered and for earthly life to be prolonged to the Age.
How does St John, still quoting St Gregory, see this? Man is ‘here, that is to say, in this life, a living being which is regulated, and, elsewhere, in the future Age, changed’. Man starts on earth ‘a a living being that is regulated’ by God, but he is a ‘mixed pilgrim’, and when he dies his fleshly death, he dies in the hope that in the future Age he will be changed. ‘Future Age’ has two senses here: In the one sense, the ‘future Age’ is the condition of man after death, in Heaven. In the other sense, it is man’s condition after the General Resurrection, when he will be changed ‘in the blink of an eye’ (1 Cor. 15, 52). As
It [i.e. the body] is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in infirmity; it is raised in power; the natural (psuchikon) body is sown; the spiritual (pneumatikon) body is raised. There is a natural (psuchikon) body; there is a spiritual (pneumatikon) body. Thus also it has been written: ‘The first man Adam became unto a living soul;’ [cf. Gen. 2, 7] the last Adam unto a vivifying spirit. But the spiritual (pneumatikon) is not first, but the natural (psuchikon), then the spiritual (pneumatikon). The first man was from the earth, made of dust; the second man, the Lord from Heaven. As the man of dust was, so are those who are of the dust; and as the heavenly man is, of such a kind will also be those who are heavenly. And just as we wore the image of the man of dust, so also we shall wear the image of the heavenly man.
How does St John of Damascus himself express this mystery? He continues with the last part of his quotation from St Gregory the Theologian: ‘and—the limit of the mystery—being divinized by the tendency towards God,…’. However, St John then adds his own phrase to clarify the nature of the divinization to which St Gregory is referring: ‘…being divinized, however, in the participation in the divine illumination and not changed into the divine essence’. This is the mystery of which St Paul is speaking. St Paul is referring particularly to the mystery of the General Resurrection, but the mystery of divinization (theosis) begins in Baptism, in this life. In the spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church, the mystery of divinization (theosis) comprises three phases: It begins in this life on earth at Baptism, in much the same way that we have seen Gilson to present St Augustine: man turns to God and submits himself by the superior reason to the divine illumination, turning away from the occupation of the inferior reason with the things of the earth. Of course, the Orthodox tradition of the Philokalia has its own language and doctrine. The next phase is the phase of man in Heaven after death. The third phase is the phase of man after the General Resurrection. While the context suggests that St John sees divinization (theosis) as taking place in the ‘future Age’ of Heaven or of the General Resurrection, divinization (theosis) has always been seen in the Orthodox spiritual tradition as something beginning right here on earth at the time of Baptism, and not as something reserved for the future Age alone.
Note St John of Damascus’ own phrasing: ‘divinized … in the participation in [or, ‘of’] the divine illumination’. Nowhere do the Greek Fathers speak of a vision of the essence of God. Moreover, St John speaks of the ‘divine illumination’. It is this divine illumination which is at the heart of divinization (theosis), at the heart of the Philokalia. It is this divine illumination by the uncreated operations (aktistes energeies) of God that is the goal of the method of spiritual ascesis of the tradition underlying the Philokalia.
 Homily 38, 11: Migne 36, cols. 321B–D; = Homily 45, 7: Migne 36, cols. 629C–32A.
 Exposition, II, 12—
 See Chapter IV.
 In ST Ia, 118, 1 and 118, 2, ad 2: see Chapter IV.
 Exposition, II, 12, cont’d.—Damascus p. 76, ll. 24–36. The passage in quotes continues the quotation from St Gregory the Theologian referenced above.
 The lacuna which in St John’s quotation immediately follows is of no importance, being a matter of a connecting phrase.
 Migne 91, col. 1096A.
 Gilson Aug p. 154.
 1 Cor. 15, 43–9.