Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Trinity & Church VII - More on the Imago Dei

Continued from Part VI

The image of God cannot be reduced to the human individual possessing various faculties. Nor can the imago dei be individual humans as they are composed of "parts" (e.g., soul, spirit, body, or mind, will, emotions). Rather, humanity as a whole images God by mirroring God’s uncreated and eternal social life. Human life is theomorphic, and because God's being is irreducibly social so also humanity's being and life cannot but be social.
Long note: This social dimension of the imago dei was not absent from early church theologians. For example, although Augustine has been accused of reducing the image of God to faculties found in the individual soul, such a reading of Augustine is severely truncated. One might stop and consider whether a good deal of the theological angst over Augustine’s psychological analogies has more to do with modern Western readings of his work which assume that Augustine’s illustrative triads refer only to isolated individual (i.e., self-conscious) minds (Michael Hanby, “Desire: Augustine Beyond Western Subjectivity,” in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward, eds. [London and New York: Routledge, 1999], pp. 109-126). At any rate, upon closer examination, Augustine does not appear to understand the “image of God” in a modern individualistic sense. Curiously, most systematic presentations of his trinitarian theology take no notice of his exegetical and polemic works, concentrating solely on his De Trinitate. Pursuing a broader spectrum of Augustine’s works, one discovers that he did indeed understand that the individual alone could not adequately image the fullness of God’s eternal relational life. Individuals per se are not created in the image of God, but mankind, human beings, “male and female” (Gen. 1:27) image God. One wonders if Augustine has become the theological-whipping boy simply because modern authors can only with great difficulty fashion readings of him that would support their own radical social or political agendas; see Charles Sherrard MacKenzie, The Trinity and Culture (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1987); David S. Cunningham, “What’s [Not] New in Trinitarian Theology,” Reviews in Religion and Theology (1997): 14-20; idem, “Trinitarian Theology since 1990” Reviews in Religion and Theology (1995): 8-16; and idem, David S. Cunningham, These Three are One: The Practice of Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998). After all, it is more than a little ironic that Augustine himself is chiefly responsible for the shift in antique culture from private, mystical asceticism towards an understanding of the indelible communal nature of human life, especially Christian ecclesial living. Robert Markus calls attention to Augustine’s communal monastic rules as well as the vision of the City of God in order to argue that Augustine transformed Greco-Roman culture by steering it away from its concentration on the isolated self. Augustine held that “the most insidious form of pride, the root of all sin, was ‘privacy,’ self-enclosure” (Robert Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990], pp. 73-83). Similarly, Charles Norris Cochrane argues that it was Augustine’s “discovery” of trinitarian personhood that revolutionized life in the ancient world (“Nostra Philosophia: The Discovery of Personality,” chapter XI in Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine [London: Oxford University Press, 1957], pp. 399-455).
This “image.” then, is both an ineradicable structural feature of created human life and an essential aspect of mankind in need of redemption. Every human being is inescapably related to God and other human persons, but these relations, as a result of the fall, are perverse and abnormal. What this means is that if the image of God is not merely “located” within the human individual possessing various faculties, but also in humanity in its social relations as it reflects God, then the church must be included in any consideration of the renewal of the image of God.

Redemption restores both God’s relation with humanity as well as the warped relations that exist within post-fall human communities. The ecclesial community is the locus of this social dimension of the renewed image of God. “The church is the place where the recreation of human personhood in the image of Christ is acknowledged in faith as the reconstitution of the created sociality of human being as redeemed sociality” (Christoph Schwöbel, “Human Being as Relational Being: Twelve Theses for a Christian Anthropology,” in Gunton and Schwöbel, eds, Persons, Divine and Human, p. 158). This is why God, from the first announcement and application of the Gospel in Gen. 3:15, has always acted to renew not simply individuals, but marriages, families, and communities. Stanley Grenz nicely summarizes what we have discovered thus far:
It is not surprising that ultimately the image of God should focus on community. As the doctrine of the Trinity asserts, throughout all eternity God is community, namely, the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who comprise the triune God. The creation of humankind in the divine image, therefore, can mean nothing less than that humans express the relational dynamic of the God whose representation we are called to be. Consequently, each person can be related to the image of God only within the context of life in the community with others. Only in fellowship with others can we show forth what God is like, for God is the community of love—the eternal relationship enjoyed by the Father and the Son, which is the Holy Spirit (Theology for the Community of God [Broadman & Holman, 1994], p. 179. See also his recent work on the subject of the image of God: The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001).

God to Part VIII

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