Presuppositions of Salvation in Christ: Man’s Fall and Its Consequences
The book of Genesis tells us of the creation of man: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (1:26-27).
In commenting upon these texts, the Greek fathers speculate that the image of God in man is the “great natural prerogative” of man, which makes man distinct from the rest of creation. Let me quote myself, as I have already summarized the doctrine in some other article: according to the Greek fathers, man, created in God’s image and likeness, has a very special place in God’s creation, called to be God’s proxy toward His creation.
Man is created as a psycho-physical unity: God ‘uses his hands’ to create man, to show special care about man’s creation. God takes dust from the earth, fashions man, and breathes into man’s nostrils the ‘breath of life’, man’s soul, of a spiritual nature. Man becomes, the link between the spiritual creation of God (angels) and the material one (earth), for he partakes of both. This is why ‘man’s mission will be to bring the creation into communion with God’ (Saint Maximos the Confessor).
Man is created in the image of God, with the specific call to become God-like. The fathers of the Church elaborate on this doctrine of Genesis. Man’s being in the image of God means that man has a spiritual soul reflecting God (the Father) as a person. Man is capable of knowing God and being in communion with God. Man belongs to God, for being God’s child and image makes him God’s relative. Man’s soul is endowed with God’s energies and life: one of these energies is love. Love, coming from God, is also directed toward God, creating union and bringing communion with God.
The fathers also make a distinction between the image of God in man, and his likeness to God: image is the potential given to man, through which he can obtain the life of theosis (communion with God). Likeness with God is the actualization of this potential; it is becoming more and more what one already is: becoming more and more God’s image, more and more God-like. The distinction between image and likeness is, in other words, the distinction between being and becoming.
Being in the image of God and called to likeness with God also means for man that God’s immortality is reflected in man, insofar as man continues to be in communion with God through God’s image in him, and that man is assigned God’s creation, to be God’s proxy in it, to have dominion over it and keep it in touch with the Creator.
Saint Maximos the Confessor gives this noble mission to man (to Adam, the first man): man has to overcome all kinds of distinctions within God’s creation, before man brings God’s creation back to God: man was called to overcome the distinction between male and female, inhabited earth and paradise, heaven and earth, visible and invisible creation, and, finally, the division between created and uncreated thus unifying God’s creation with the Creator. Since man failed to achieve this union (theosis), the ‘New Adam’, Christ, took it upon Himself to fulfill this original call of the first man (Adam).
In spite of man’s call to achieve theosis, life in communion with God, “in God’s likeness,” the “first Adam” failed God and failed himself. This failure, which is the essence of what in the theological language is called “sin” (missing the mark, hamartia, hatta), together with death, which is the “wages of sin” (Rom 6:23), the general deterioration of the human nature because of its separation from the “Source of Life,” God, and the submission of the fallen human nature to the “powers of darkness,” Satan and his “angels,” is the main presupposition of the saving and deifying work of Christ.
Man’s Fall and Its Consequences
“Unlike Saint Augustine‘s doctrine of ‘original justice,’ which attributes to the first man several excessive perfections, perfect knowledge of God and God’s creation, for example, that make the fall impossible, the doctrine of the Greek Fathers of the image of God in man as a potential to be actualized, allows the possibility of a deterioration, as well. Saint Irenaeus speaks of the first man (Adam) as an infant (nepios), who had to grow up to adulthood. Instead, man failed himself, by not ‘passing the test’ of maturity given to him by God.
In spite of God’s prohibition, man chose to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis). Being ‘good by nature’, man had to also become ‘good by choice’. Unfortunately, it did not happen that way. Following the ‘snake’s advice (the devil’s, that is), man also tried to do what the fallen angels did: to ‘become a god without God.’ Man’s imperfection and innocence, or, better, naivete, and his relative pride, cultivated by the ‘accuser,’ became the cause of man’s fall from God’s communion, due to his disobedience and rejection of God. Man put his purpose in himself, instead of put- ting it in God. Man’s free will is responsible for his own decline.
The consequences of this revolt against God, which the West calls original and the East ‘ancestral’ (propatorikon) sin, are that man lost his original innocence; the image of God in him was tarnished, and even became distorted; man’s reason was obscured, his will weakened, the desires and passions of the flesh grew wild; man suffered separation from God, the author and source of life. Heputhimselfinanunauthentic kind of existence, close to death. The Fathers speak of ‘spiritual death,’ which is the cause of the physical one, and which may lead to the ‘eschatological,’ eternal death: for ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom 6:23).
The state of fall, of unauthentic life close to death, this status of ‘spiritual death,’ continues to be transmitted to all of man’s progeniture, even those who are born of Christian parents. The personal guilt of the first man belongs to him exclusively. However, the results of his sin are transmitted to the entire human race. A personal commitment through an engagement of one’s personal free will is required, in order for things to turn around. Christ, who requires this personal commitment, made this change possible through His coming and His work upon earth.
The Case of Mary, the Mother of God
Does the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, participate in the ‘ancestral sin’? The question does not make much sense for the Orthodox, for it is obvious that Mary, being part of the common human race issued of the first man (Adam) automatically participates in the fallen status and in the ‘spiritual death’ introduced by the sin of the first man.
The fathers of the Church meditate on Luke 1:35, to conclude that Mary was purified by the Holy Spirit on the day of the Annunciation, in order for her to become the ‘worthy Mother of God.’ However, even after she gave birth to the Son of God, Mary was not exempted of less serious (‘venial’) sins. Saint John Chrysostom attributes to Mary the sin of vanity, in the context of the first miracle of Christ in Cana of Galilee.
Mary was also saved by her Son, for God is her Savior (Lk. 1:47) as well. It is unfortunate that the Roman Catholic Church promulgated the doctrine of the so-called ‘Immaculate Conception’ in 1854, which contradicts the traditional doctrine of the Church concerning Mary.
Source: Maximos Aghiorgoussis, In the Image of God