Imago Dei, or the image of God, is the concept from the religious doctrine according to which people are created in God’s image. In fact, the image of God has been the subject of many theological debates. The doctrine emphasizes Christ’s presence in the world reflecting through humanity. Therefore, this basic doctrine becomes the primary teaching that states that people are made in the “imago Dei.”
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There is a single verse of scripture that put the basis for the concept of the Imago Dei. According to the verse, “God created man in the image of himself.” Therefore, at the beginning stage, it is crucial to examine the account of the image of God in Genesis to understand the history of the religious debate.
The verse is taken from the chapter that describes how God created the world, and, after that, he created humans in the image of himself. God created a humanity that became the climax of the created order. The environment in which man and woman would live was supposed to be his and her governed area.
In other words, God placed humanity in a unique position within himself. Therefore, people were established in friendship with their Creator. Only in free obedience to God, a man may live in harmony. Then, a well-known story of the Fall demonstrates that being created within the image of God, humans should recognize their insurmountable limits. According to the concept, people are primarily depended on their Creator, and human sins make the trust in God die. Hence, any subsequent sin may be considered as the disobedience toward Creator and the lack of trust and spirituality that is also greatly affected by the Fall.
There is also the passage from the Genesis that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God.” Love in an inevitable part of the Christian image of God. Besides, it should be mentioned that a foundation in Christ’s love for humanity represents a changing understanding of each human’s dignity, vocation, ability to love, and the mission.
One of the persons who greatly contributed to the development of the primary stage of the understanding of the Imago Dei was Augustine. According to his work, people have been created within the image with the interior ability to participate in Wisdom that is the life of the true image of Creator. Augustine believed that humanity is not primarily the image of God as one may think. Rather people are placed in a special form of relationship with the Creator. This peculiar relationship is what differentiates humans from all other creatures in the world. Besides, every individual possesses a kind of “likeness” to God. However, there is a basic intrinsic difference between creator and humans – while God is immutable, human beings are mutable. Therefore, in brief, at the very core of Augustine’s theory, humans are made with a particular dignity. Besides, all people have the potential to become close to God or distance oneself from him.
Aquinas greatly contributed to the next stage in the debate on the “imago Dei.” In general terms, Aquinas accepted and even promoted the thoughts once expressed by Augustin. He strongly believed that humanity is in a special relationship with the Creator. However, the writer focused not solely on the motif of the image of God but more on human “likeness” to God. Aquinas was much more interested in the scientific questions of how humans may know God. In his works, Aquinas states that humans are like God only in terms of analogy. Because of the well-known story of Adam’s sin, human likeness to God is colored by sins. Therefore, the likeness greatly decreased after the Fall.
It was primarily Aquinas who questioned the theological starting point. In fact, he tried to question not only the existence of humanity but also God’s existence. He concluded that the very essence of the Creator is to exist as he is an uncaused cause of all things in the world. Therefore, due to this reason God is true human identity. Also, Aquinas stated that people have a chance to participate in the life of God through the grace of Christ. Overall, according to the teachings of Aquinas, the likeness to God discussed above plays a crucial role in the special relationship people have with God.
Luther was another thinker who contributed to the next stage of the concept formation of the image of God. In fact, he believed that people’s creation in the image of God does not assume a human ability to prepare for God’s justice. Although his views on the topic are often compared to the views proposed primarily by Augustine, Luther tried to question the true teaching of scripture and tried to reconsider what does it mean that humans are made in God’s image. According to Luther’s teachings, the human ability to make moral choices is completely unconnected with God’s justice. He emphasized that a blind and captive man easily perpetuates things that are offensive to God. Therefore, not all humans should be considered as rational creatures.
Luther’s stage is important for the development of religious thinking. In fact, he puts a different emphasis, stressing the ways how human identities can be determined in terms of Christ’s justification. His new model cuts through the primary preoccupation with human ability with God’s grace to become once again like God.
The next stage is the teaching of John Calvin that states that all people are made in the “imago Dei.” However, when the Fall took place, the image and the likeness between Creator and humans were distorted to the ways that people became incapable of communicating directly with God. After the Fall, the distance between Creator and humans became more clear. The likeness between them decreased as, unlike God, people passively accepted their righteousness. He also mentioned that people should not doubt the existence of God. The main reason for that is that due to the existence of the “imago Dei,” his existence is indisputable, and it is something that cannot be understood completely by human perception. People may get the knowledge of the “imago Dei” and of God himself only through scripture.
As it was already mentioned, after the Fall, people became completely incapable of maintaining the right relationship with God. They became the victims of sins that were against any moral laws. The belief in the “imago Dei” states that the salvation for humans comes only through their faith. Only God may open human eyes to the moral laws and take away their sins. Although the faith itself has no power, it shows righteousness for people. Calvin stated that in case humans accept the concept of “imago Deo,” then they should be likely to know that God promotes salvation and condemnation.
Summing up, the teachings of Luther and Calvin represent an obvious shift in the understanding of how people are made in the “imago Dei.” Christ’s actions may be traced only in the life of a believed. Only having a strong faith people are likely to find their way back to God. Besides, their teachings open one’s eye to the fact that the fact that people were created in the “imago Dei” does not mean that they are involved in a reciprocal relationship with the Creator.