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Chapter V -- 6

Man was created spiritual. He is both a body and a soul. With the body he belongs to the material order of creation and is subject to its physical laws just like the rest of the material creation. With the plants man shares certain basic biological functions such as nutrition, increase and generation. With the animals, he shares sense-perception, desire, temper and bodily movement.

With his soul, however, man belongs to the spiritual order of creation and by his soul he was created in the image of God. The dignity of man’s spiritual nature rests in the particular nobility of this image of God. In this, man transcends the whole of material creation, being created, as St John of Damascus says, quoting St Gregory the Theologian, a king over the material creation, but a king ruled over from on high. Moreover, man, the king, is the microcosm linking the material and spiritual creations. Indeed, St Makarios in Homily 15 even dares to say that man created in the image and likeness of God was made higher even than the angels.[1]

Modern science, following the anti-clerical and anti-Christian stance of the Enlightenment, has rejected the spiritual nature of man. This we have called the materialistic and mechanistic paradigm of modern biology. The battle between the two views of the nature of man has been intense since the Enlightenment.

In this work we have passed without comment from the language of science to the language of revelation as concerns the origin and the nature of man, and it is now incumbent upon us to explain our point of view.

We take the Genesis account of creation to be the word of God, inspired by God and expressing certain very profound truths about the nature of existence, the world and man. That is not to say that we accept the ‘literal inerrancy’ of Scripture in the sense, say, that the Constitution of the United States of America is a legal document with an ‘inerrant’ legal application. We believe that the scriptural account of the creation of man conveys certain very important truths about the nature of man. One of those truths is that man has a spiritual nature that is not encompassed by the explanations of physics—although in his body man is subject to all the laws of physics, just as the rocks and the stars are—; that is not encompassed by the biological explanations of plants and fungi and microbes and viruses—although, as any textbook of molecular biology will convince the reader, man’s body is similarly subject to the biochemical laws that govern the nutritive, augmentative and generative functions that these creatures possess—; and that is not encompassed by the biological explanations—still rudimentary at the time of composition of this study—of the functions of the animal nervous system: sense-perception, temper, desire and movement—although man shares with the dogs and the dolphins and the bears those powers, too. Something more is involved in man. He is not merely a particularly successful ape. That something else is expressed with precision in the scriptural account in this way: ‘And God made man, dust from the earth, and blew into his face a breath of life, and man became unto a living soul.’[2]

As St John of Damascus points out, man is ‘dust from the earth’ because he has a body; he ‘became unto a living soul’ in that the divine inbreathing or insufflation created in him a ‘rational and spiritual soul’ that gave life to that body. In the tradition of the Orthodox Church, and even, as we have seen, in the West in the theology of St Thomas Aquinas, the soul is that which gives life to the body: the Orthodox, and even the Roman Catholic, traditions do not consider that biochemistry itself provides life, although it certainly provides the material substrate which as body is vivified by the soul of the man. As we have seen, moreover, the teaching of the Orthodox Church is that both the soul and the body come into existence at the conception of each man.

The scriptural account and the Orthodox tradition emphasize the dignity of man: whereas for all the rest of recorded creation, God spoke a word and the thing came to be—whether the light or the birds of the air or the stars in the sky—, in the case of man, God himself stooped down to fashion his masterpiece: God himself stooped down to take dust from the earth and to fashion man’s body. Does this mean that we reject the theory of evolution? No. But it means that we do not think that the theory of evolution has the status that its adherents would like to claim for it. A reading of a modern controversialist will convince one that the theory of evolution—whatever scientific evidence there is for it—is not merely science but ideology: it is the rallying cry, the banner, for anti-religious sentiment that would allow man the freedom to pursue his every passion. Hence, it is difficult to speak of the theory of evolution objectively either from the point of view of science or from the point of view of religion: the theory of evolution is the litmus test of correctness among biologists; it is their own criterion of orthodoxy. But this is not science taken to be the dispassionate pursuit of truth; this is ideological commitment.

What must be understood from the scriptural account of the creation of man is that whatever relation man has to the rest of the material creation—and the Fathers were not loathe to adapt the psychology of Aristotle, the great biologist, to the Genesis account of creation in order to account for man’s relation to the rest of the material creation—, whatever objective truth there might be in the evidence for the evolution of man, there is something very different about man, something peculiar: at some point God himself stooped down, ‘took dust from the earth’ and fashioned man’s body. At some point, God himself intervened in the ‘evolution’ of man, so that man’s body became a fit receptacle for man’s soul, created by God.

And then God ‘blew into his face a breath of life, and man became unto a living soul’.[3] Here we ourselves follow the scriptural account: the peculiarly human aspect of man is due not to evolution but to the divine inbreathing which made man into an image of God. For it is in the divine inbreathing that Fathers such as St John of Damascus locate the image of God in man. Here, we depart from theology as expressed by practising biologists—for their doctrine is no less theology than our own—and we say that the scriptural account in Genesis of the creation of man is teaching man something about himself that he would not otherwise learn: that he was created in the image of God.

These remarks do not exhaust the content of the revelation of God in Genesis. We might further say that the word of God has been expressed in Genesis so as to contain truths in an absolute way that is valid in every time and place: whether we read the word of God in Genesis yesterday or today or here or there, that word conveys an ultimate truth about man’s nature and about the nature of the world. However, that truth is expressed in a form and language suitable to its subject: it is not intended to compete with the Newtonian theory of gravitation or even with the Einsteinian general theory of relativity. These are contingent human constructs that will pass away the one after the other. The account in Genesis is intended to convey in every time a truth about God, man, the world and man’s creation.

This is not to say that the Genesis account is a myth. That is already to relativize it, to dismiss its ultimate applicability to our salvation and to our lives, to make it a plaything for sociologists. The Genesis account speaks to the soul. It is a story of creation intended to be read by the wise in understanding, not by the child. It is a story. That story, given that it was written by God, written many years ago in Palestine, contains elements that bemuse the modern reader. However, the substance of the story is that God created man out of the dust of the earth and ‘blew into his face a breath of life, and man became unto a living soul’.

The Genesis account is not a story about creation in the sense of how pair formation might be the means by which fundamental particles came out of nothing. These are theories which have been advanced and which will be superseded, just as Newtonian mechanics advanced theories which have since been superseded. Human knowledge is continually an effort to bring order out of the chaos. It is always incomplete. It is always in process.

We are here not doing physics, nor even theology. The Bible speaks not to the child but to the wise in understanding. We mean this: the spiritual sense of Scripture is perceived spiritually, with the illumination that God gives to the mature in the Holy Spirit. This maturity is not intellectual. It is a matter of the growth of the man in the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church; it is not a matter of Protestant fundamentalist assertions. Hence, the Protestant fundamentalist asserts the literal inerrancy, the Orthodox the spiritual inerrancy, of Scripture. There is a difference, as much as Heaven is from the Earth of human thoughts.

Hence, in our view, the inerrancy of Scripture is real, but the sense of Scripture is to be discerned with the eye of the soul, the mind (nous), illumined by the Spirit of God. And, as we have seen, as St Barsanuphios has written, no man has the fullness of the Wisdom of God: every man is deficient in his grasp of the spiritual content of the word of God. We ourselves are deficient. Having been baptized, we accept the word of God as the inerrant spiritual truth of creation by God. Moreover, in our view, the best verbal expression of the inerrant truth of Scripture is precisely the verbal formulation given to that truth by Scripture. For what could explain more succinctly the nature of man than this: ‘And God made man, dust from the earth, and blew into his face a breath of life, and man became unto a living soul?’[4]

The soul functions through the body, and if the body is damaged, say in its higher brain centres, then the soul cannot express itself, without for all that having been lost.

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[1] Migne 34, col. 605A–B.

[2] Gen. 2, 7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


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