Installation in Gloucester cathedral of Portrait of a Young Man Standing

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 meaning1. 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.2

  • 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.

That then, is a brief explanation of the blog’s title. In my next post, I will say something about what I mean by the subtitle.

(Today’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.)

Notes

  1. One of the better ones, in my view is Richard Middleton’s The Liberating Image. I’m still digesting the argument of the most recent one I’ve read Chris Kugler’s Paul and the Image of God which I may post on in the future, but while I found it stimulating, I’m not quite convinced on a first reading. Both these lean a bit more to the specialist than the popular I should add. ↩︎
  2. There are also more specific exegetical meanings in the various contexts the phrase appears which I’m not getting into here. ↩︎

By Doug

One thought on “Why call this “ad imaginem”?”
  1. Thanks Doug , I always enjoy your blogs. Gregory of Nyssa said, “It is not in a part of (human) nature that the image is found, but in its totality is the image of God.(On the Creation of Man.) Quite different from western modernity’s determination to individualise.

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