Installation in Gloucester cathedral of Portrait of a Young Man Standing

About this blog

The name of this blog comes from a phrase in the opening book of the bible, from the story of creation.

“God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

(Gen 1:27, NRSV)

I haven’t chosen the Latin to be pretentious. At a practical level it helps provide a web address that isn’t taken already. But it’s also more interesting at the linguistic level. The English “in” like the Hebrew prepositional prefix “be” (בְּ) leaves the reader some room to decide exactly how the image of God and the human being might be related. The Greek “kat’ ” (κατ̓ ) – Greek is the oldest translation and the one used by the early church – suggests the image of God acts as a kind of template for the creation, “according to the image of God.” But the Latin version doesn’t follow this interpretation and instead introduces a hint of dynamism: “ad” normally means “to”, or “towards” the image.

This translation suggests that ”the image of God” is about a work in progress. That doesn’t lessen its value as a shorthand for the inalienable dignity of human beings, although it does complicate it as more than a slogan to settle arguments. But it does open the phrase up to its use in later Christian writing, starting with St Paul’s letters, as a way of talking about Christ, who is presented there as providing a repristinated image as both template and goal for humanity.

The whole story set up in this opening chapter of the collection of books known as the bible is a story about growing into our humanity, which is also a story of growing into the love and life of God. There is a dynamism to it, there is direction, and there is destiny.

How we interpret “the image of God” continues to be debated. It can be little more than a slogan for some, while for others whole books are insufficient to explore its meaning. However, I take it to have something to do (among other things) with being relational, being creative and being rational: fundamental aspects of our nature that are alike to be valued.

  • Relational – it is men and women together who are made in the image of God, and this image includes the capacity, renewed in Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection, to relate to God.
  • Creative – made in the image of one who creates. The renaissance, where the idea of Christian humanism first flourished, was both an exploration of learning and an exploration of beauty. Some of its great artworks still endure. We know differently by painting, sculpting, writing poetry, making music, than we do by investigating, analysing, hypothesising and experimenting. But a true humanist surely holds both to be part of how our knowing and growing flourish.
  • Rational – the world is given its form and existence by the word or reason of God, and we image God in our rationality. Not only is the world open to investigation, but we approach it with a proper expectation that it should make sense, and that meaningful communication with one another is possible.

About the subtitle

I’ve subtitled this blog “musings of a Christian humanist”, aware that when I’ve used that phrase in the past I’ve confused some people. Quite commonly today, “humanists” seem to be what atheists call themselves when they want to be seen as holding a positive philosophy, despite the original humanism of the Renaissance being deeply Christian. So the last of my introductory posts is a defence and explanation of my subtitle.

I did play around with other more descriptive (and perhaps less provocative) subtitles, essentially variations on “faith, scripture, culture and photography”. In the end, though, I think my main title is better complemented by this strap line I’ve used elsewhere. For some people, Christian humanism is an oxymoron: a contradiction in terms. For me, it’s the essence of how I think of my faith.

Towards the end of the second century, the early Christian theologian Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyons, wrote this: “The glory of God is a living human being; and humanity finds life in the vision of God” (Against Heresies, IV.20.7 – my paraphrase). Any understanding we have of God is also – at least implicitly – an understanding of what it is to be human. One longstanding way Christians have had of thinking about the life of faith is as a journey into becoming more fully human, as reflected in this blog’s name. It’s for that reason that I choose to stress my approach as Christian humanism.

With other humanisms, the one I’m imagining shares a commitment to truth, to beauty and to the good. (It therefore embraces and values the sciences, the arts and the practices of ethical living.) Unlike many other forms of humanism, it sees that non-exclusive but traditional triad of Platonic values as ultimately derived from, underwritten by, and perfected in, the One who is fully goodness, truth and beauty. Our apprehension of those values in this life is limited, but Christian humanism holds that they exist in reality; they are neither illusory nor solely constructed by our human cultures.

Finally, I return to those scholars of the Renaissance to whom the word “humanist” was first applied. A key part of their work was to go back to the sources, especially the sources of classical Greece and Rome. This also led to a renewed appreciation of the Christian scriptures in their original languages of Hebrew (with some Aramaic) and Greek, and to the writings of the early Christian centuries. While I make no claims to scholarship or ability with languages, I hope to pay good attention to those sources as wisdom for today, although I make no great claim for linguistic expertise.

A bit about this blog and its comments policy

This is simply my space to think out loud in, while inviting you to join me in conversations you find interesting. You may have to wait for a response: I neither can spend all my time online, nor do I believe it’s good for my sanity, nor, indeed, for most other people’s if the welter of angst, wilful and inadvertent misinterpretation, and all round-shoutiness of X (the medium formerly known as Twitter) is taken into consideration.

All opinions expressed are mine and mine only (none should be attributed to anyone I work with or for). Most views expressed will be works in progress, on which I might well change my mind or develop my line of thought, rather than tidily finished articles, far less hills on which I want to die. I welcome comment and conversation to help me develop them.

Comments, however, are items published on a blog which is – effectively – my private plot of online real estate, not a public space where I am obliged to let any passing troll eat whatever goat they fancy. Deciding not to publish rude, offensive, irrelevant or ad hominem comments is not a suppression of anyone’s freedom of speech. It’s merely saying this house has its own rules. The world of social media is not exactly short of spaces where people can and do say whatever they want.

Finally, a bit about me

I’m a priest and trainer working in the Diocese of Worcester. I’m into photography, liturgy, the interpretation of texts (especially the biblical ones), the delights of language and how to play around with words, and trying better to understand faith and reason in today’s world.

I like reading, watching films, walking around with a camera, and having a drink down the pub with friends. I tend to read crime fiction, and occasional spy fiction, to relax, but am not that fond of the obsession too many modern crime writers have with serial killers. I’m a bit of a nerd about Harry Potter, James Bond and Doctor Who. I’m also one of those slightly geeky people who friends tend to ask for computing advice.

(This page’s featured image is from the 2010 Crucible exhibition in Gloucester Cathedral. It is an installation of Leonard McComb’s Portrait of a Young Man Standing in front of a window depicting aspects of the incarnation.)