In the Image and Likeness of God

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gn 1:26)

Origen (185-253), who lectured at the catechetical school in Alexandria, taught that man received the dignity of the image of God at his creation, but that each person acquires the perfection of the likeness of God through his personal efforts, aided by the grace of God. In his De principiis (First Principles), Origen distinguishes between image and likeness. Here is what he says in Book Three, at the beginning of Chapter Six:

According to philosophers, he says, the highest good which a rational nature seeks is “to become as like to God as possible.” But he adds: “This definition I regard not so much as a discovery of theirs, as a view derived from holy Scripture. For this is pointed out by Moses, before all other philosophers, when he describes the first creation of man in these words: ‘And God said, Let Us make man in Our own image, and after Our likeness’ (Gn 1:26); and then he adds the words: ‘So God created man in His own image: in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them, and He blessed them’ (Gn 1:27-28).”

“Now the expression, ‘In the image of God created He him,’ without any mention of the word ‘likeness,’ conveys no other meaning than this, that man received the dignity of God’s image at his first creation; but that the perfection of his likeness has been reserved for the consummation,—namely, that he might acquire it for himself by the exercise of his own diligence in the imitation of God, the possibility of attaining to perfection being granted him at the beginning through the dignity of the divine image, and the perfect realization of the divine likeness being reached in the end by the fulfilment of the (necessary) works.”

“Now, that such is the case, the Apostle John points out more clearly and unmistakably, when he makes this declaration: ‘Little children, we do not yet know what we shall be; but if a revelation be made to us from the Saviour, ye will say, without any doubt, we shall be like Him’ (1 Jn 3:2). By which expression he points out with the utmost certainty, that not only was the end of all things to be hoped for, which he says was still unknown to him, but also the likeness to God, which will be conferred in proportion to the completeness of our deserts.”

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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Why Did Christ Delay?

The second-century Christian author of the Epistle to Diognetus discusses why Christ did not come sooner than He did. In the following excerpts from Chapter Nine, he suggests that Christ appeared so late in history because God wished to allow men time to become conscious of their weakness and corruption before sending them a Redeemer.

Concerning the time before the coming of Christ, he writes: “As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able.”

Concerning the day of salvation, he says: “But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. . . . By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God?”

He concludes: “Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.”

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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What Is a Christian?

The following excerpts are from two chapters of the Epistle to Diognetus, an anonymous apology of the second century addressed to the high-ranking pagan Diognetus. The author of this epistle calls himself simply “Mathetes,” meaning in Greek “a disciple.” As we hear him describe the Christian of his day, let us ask ourselves, Can this same description be given today?

Mathetes writes: “The Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. . . . They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.” (5)

“To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. . . . The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens.” (6)

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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Work and Play

St. Paul says, “If any man will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thes 3:10). Father Geiermann discusses work and its necessary counterpart, recreation.

Concerning work, he states: “A habit of industry is a disposition for work.” This habit is useful in at least three ways: it is conducive to happiness and to success, and it disposes us to live a Christian life.

“A habit of industry is conducive to happiness (1) by giving us an object in life; (2) by compelling us to take exercise, which is necessary for the preservation of health; (3) by supplying diversion for the mind; (4) by giving us profitable occupation for our time; (5) by imparting a relish to our recreation; (6) by insuring rest in our repose; (7) by keeping us from vice; (8) by disposing us to help a neighbor in need.”

“A habit of industry is likewise essential to success. It (1) teaches concentration of our energies; (2) imparts method to our procedure, and (3) insures perseverance in our efforts.”

“A habit of industry disposes us for a Christian life (1) by teaching us self-discipline; (2) by giving us the mastery over ourselves; and (3) by grounding us in natural virtue.”

Concerning recreation, Father Geiermann writes: “Recreation is relaxation after the strain and strife of duty. It is necessary to relax and renew our energies from time to time, if we are to bear the burdens that await us.” He says three things about recreation. First, he advises that “recreation should be an innocent relaxation, suited to our age and station in life.” Secondly, he cautions: “To balance the mind recreation should be taken with moderation. Over-indulgence will dissipate instead of recreating our energies, while a want of recreation will make us dull and mechanical.” Thirdly, he observes that “congenial surroundings contribute very much to our recreation.” Therefore, he surmises that “under normal circumstances the home is the best place for our recreations, though on special occasions we may take our recreation away from home without injuring home life.”

Lastly, he observes that cheerfulness, which is “the disposition of looking on the bright side of life,” has “a soothing influence on all present” and “a tendency to lighten our burdens, to sweeten our sorrows, and to give us a relish for labor, endurance, and prayer.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Charity in the World

Father Geiermann discusses how we can put fraternal charity into practice during our earthly lives. He writes: “The Saviour gave His followers a practical rule of conduct when He said: ‘Be ye wise as serpents and simple as doves’ (Mt 10:16). We must be wise or prudent without being crafty, and charitable without being foolish. To exercise this prudence we must avoid all rash judgments, words, and actions on the one hand, and on the other give no one our trust or confidence till they have shown themselves worthy of it.” Thus, we read: “Separate thyself from thy enemies, and take heed of thy friends” (Sir 6:13). Geiermann says that “we are simple as doves when (1) we do nothing in look, word, or deed to deceive our neighbor; (2) when we edify him by our self-possession, and by the integrity of our speech and deportment; and (3) especially by our forbearance and Christian charity.”

“Christian charity is that divine virtue whereby we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. The infallible test of Christian charity is our charity towards our neighbor. The noblest acts of fraternal charity are summed up in the Seven Corporal, and the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy.”

“The Corporal Works of Mercy are: (1) to feed the hungry; (2) to give drink to the thirsty; (3) to clothe the naked; (4) to ransom the captive; (5) to harbor the harborless; (6) to visit the sick; (7) to bury the dead.”

“The Spiritual Works of Mercy are: (1) to admonish the sinner; (2) to instruct the ignorant; (3) to counsel the doubtful; (4) to comfort the sorrowful; (5) to bear wrongs patiently; (6) to forgive all injuries; (7) to pray for the living and the dead.”

“Our divine Saviour Himself declares that at the general judgment He will pronounce sentence upon mankind according to the works of mercy they have performed.” For Christ said, “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Father Geiermann cautions against extravagance concerning shelter, clothing, and food.

Concerning shelter, he says: “The greatest slaves of the world make their dwellings places of luxury and cultivate a haughty reserve in their conduct. A true child of God, however, manifests his indifference to the follies of the world as well as his spirit of faith in the erection and furnishing of his earthly dwelling without violating the canons of taste or sacrificing his station in life.”

Regarding clothing, he writes: “The Scriptures tell us that our first parents invented clothing to cover their nakedness. In our day clothing is often a necessary protection against the inclemency of the weather. But the fashions of dress are indicative of Christian modesty, or of a worldly spirit. For this reason St. Paul wrote: ‘Let your modesty be known to all men’ (Phil 4:5). . . . As children of God we must therefore (1) remember that our clothes should indicate our Christian modesty; (2) dress according to our station in life; (3) prefer utility and modesty in dress to style or fashion; and (4) guard against taking scandal from the immodest clothing of the slaves of the world.”

Concerning food, he says: “The world deifies the flesh and worships it by ministering to its cravings. According to St. Paul those are the slaves of the world, ‘whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things’ (Phil 3:19). We must indeed eat to live, but we should not live to eat. The slaves of the world gratify their vanity and pervert their taste by serving costly viands, and they degrade themselves and court sickness and death by intemperance in eating and drinking. Plain fare on the other hand is more nutritious, more easily digested, and more conducive to health, happiness, and a ripe old age.”

“Life and health are gifts of God. In bestowing them upon us He also imposed the obligation of caring for our health and thereby prolonging life. Both extremes should be avoided in fulfilling this obligation. ‘Be not solicitous therefore,’ warns the Saviour, ‘saying, What shall we eat: or, what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?’ (Mt 6:31). On the other hand St. Paul says: ‘Know you not that you are the temples of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’ (1 Cor 3:16).”

On the one hand, “we would manifest an inordinate care of health (1) by unnecessarily thinking, talking, and worrying about it; (2) by developing fads and eccentricities in caring for it; (3) by neglecting our duty on account of it; (4) by being more solicitous about the body than about the soul.” On the other hand, “we would be wanting in the proper care of our health (1) if we did something positively to injure it; (2) if we did not use the ordinary means of preserving it; (3) if we wantonly exposed it to danger; (4) if we refused medical aid when sick.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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At Home and Abroad

The Lord commanded Abram, “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I will show thee. And I will make thee great and bless thee and magnify thy name” (Gn 12:1). Commenting on this, Father Geiermann explains that it is good for a person to withdraw from the world, at least in spirit, from time to time. He writes: “These words the Almighty addressed to Abraham of old. He repeats them to every soul of good will. To be His devoted children we must withdraw at least in spirit from that world which is at enmity with God. We hearken to this invitation of the Lord by cultivating a spirit of retirement. This spirit consists (1) in being indifferent to the follies of the world; (2) in shunning notoriety; (3) in appearing in public only when actuated by some good reason.”

But, a temporary withdrawal for spiritual solitude is no escape from the troubles of life. Father Geiermann notes: “It is impossible to escape all suffering in this valley of tears. Our only choice in the matter is between the patient endurance of the sufferings Providence sends us, or the enforced endurance of the greater sufferings of our own choice. Patient endurance of the sufferings of life (1) gives stability of character; (2) grounds us in self-knowledge; (3) dispels delusions; (4) detaches us from things of earth; (5) broadens our sympathies for struggling mankind; (6) disposes us for the grace of God; and (7) leads to solid virtue and true spiritual progress. Patient endurance in the trials of life is facilitated (1) by not wasting our energies about the past; (2) by not worrying about the future; (3) by not magnifying our present trials; (4) by recalling the sufferings of Christ and His saints; (5) by cultivating conformity to the holy will of God.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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