|"The image of the invisible God"|
Man made in the image of God
St. Paul wrote to the Colossians that, Jesus Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15)1 and further remarking on the power of Jesus who existed before all things and created all things. Now we know from our faith that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity and is God. We also know that at the Anunciation, Christ came down from Heaven and became incarnate, that is He became both man and God, without any detriment to being a man or to being God at the same time. What does it mean then that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God? How can you have an image of something that is invisible? The straightforward answer is that you can’t really have an image of something invisible, and so we must understand that when the St. Paul talks about Jesus being the image of the Father that St. Paul means that Jesus’ whole being and Person reflects the character of the Father. Jesus’ entire identity and being as the Son of God reflects the Father’s love and because the Father’s character of love is perfectly reflected in His image the Son, the Son cannot but give His love back to the Father. Traditionally, the love given back as Gift is identified as the Holy Spirit being within the communion and loving relationship of the Father and the Son. Man is made in the image of God in a similar way that Jesus is called the perfect image of the invisible God. This is at least some of the theological reflection from St. Augustine's, a 4th and 5th century Catholic bishop, book On the Trinity (De Trinitate)
And so as God made us in His image so that He could, “show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.” (Baltimore Catechism of the Catholic Church, Lesson 1, Question 3: Why did God make us?)2. God created us to share in His divine life, and so to have the image of God is to be created to reflect the nature of God. In many ways we, as human beings reflect God’s own nature. We are intelligent in a similar way that God is all-knowing. We are born and grow in strength and power to do different things in the world just as God is all powerful and able to do everything that He wills to do. We are able to reflect on ourselves, just as the Father is able to beget the Son who is His perfect image. And so God’s divine image implanted on us shows us how we are like God in that He has given us many abilities. We are also similar to Him in that we can love, and the way in which we can reflect God’s image best is in living a holy life where people can see God’s work through us. St. Paul lived his life in such a holy way that he could say of himself that it was not him acting about the world to convert the nations but rather Christ in him3. Our own lives are to be lived by becoming more and more like Christ, so that we too can come to reflect God’s own image of goodness, love, mercy, and justice.
To conclude, God made us into His divine image and chose us to be with Him since before the creation of the world. St. Paul writes: “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, 4 as He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him. In love 5 He destined us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of His will, 6 for the praise of the glory of His grace that He granted us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1: 3-6) The Lord has made us into His image so that we could reflect His goodness in the world and live a holy life without sin or anxiety. And so the divine image is naturally present within every human being as we all come to reflect God’s own being, and yet it is present in a more excellent way when we live our lives in a state of grace and friendship with God4. Those who bear the divine image in their hearts in this special way by being in a state of grace and friendship with God and with His Mystical Body, the Church, will ultimately be with Him in Heaven to love Him and enjoy His presence forever.
1. All translations of the Bible, except those given from quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website: http://www.usccb.org/bible/books-of-the-bible/index.cfm, unless otherwise noted.
2. The Baltimore Catechism is an older Catechism of the Catholic Church used in the United States. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website writes of the Baltimore Catechism: “Until the second half of the twentieth century, for millions of Catholics in the United States the word catechism meant the Baltimore Catechism, which originated at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884 when the bishops of the United States decided to publish a national catechism. The Baltimore Catechism contained 421 questions and answers in thirty-seven chapters and gave unity to the teaching and understanding of the faith for millions of American Catholics. Its impact was felt right up to the dawn of the Second Vatican Council in 1962.” (http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/)
3. “20 yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Here St. Paul is saying that it is him who is going about to try and bring people to faith in Jesus and yet it is not entirely left up to him alone, but rather Jesus who goes with him and helps him to complete his mission. Our own lives are to be filled with God’s presence and to go where He asks us to go all the while understanding that we rely on God’s grace to help us every step of the way.
4. English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America copyright 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc. –Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 357 and 359, “
357: “Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer Him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.
359: “ ‘In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear.’ (Gaudium et Spes 22, Section 1) …” The rest of the breath-taking Gaudium et Spes 22 from the Second Vatican Council can be seen at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html, and reveals even better than this article the relationship of man to God in mankind’s sharing in His divine image.