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Humans Are Created in the Image of God

1986, April 9

General Audience

The creed speaks of God, "Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible"; it does not speak directly of the creation of man. In the soteriological context of the creed, man appears in reference to the Incarnation. This is particularly evident in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which professes faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God, who "for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven...and became man."

However, we should recall that the order of salvation not only presupposes creation, but indeed originates from it.

In its conciseness, the creed refers us back to the ensemble of revealed truth about creation, to discover the truly singular and eminent position granted to man.

The Book of Genesis contains two accounts of man's creation, as we have already recalled in previous catecheses. From the chronological point of view, the description contained in the second chapter of Genesis is earlier, while that in the first chapter is later.

Taken together, the two descriptions complete each other. They both contain elements which are theologically rich and precious.

In Genesis 1:26 we read that on the sixth day God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."

It is significant that the creation of man is preceded by this kind of statement in which God expresses the intention to create man in his image, rather "in our image," in the plural (in harmony with the verb "let us make"). According to some interpretations, the plural would indicate the divine "we" of the one Creator. This would be, in some way, a first distant trinitarian indication. In any event, according to the description of Genesis 1, man's creation is preceded by the Creator's "addressing" himself, ad intra, in this particular way.

Then follows the act of creation. "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). In this phrase, the triple use of the verb "created" (bara), is striking. It seems to give a particular importance and "intensity" to the creative act. It would appear that this same conclusion should also be drawn from the fact that, while each day of creation concludes with the observation: "God saw that is was good" (cf. Gen 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), after the creation of man on the sixth day, it is said that "God saw everything that he had made and behold, it was very good" (Gen 1:31).

The "Yahwist" account of Genesis 2 is the more ancient description. It does not use the expression "image of God." This pertains exclusively to the later text which is more "theological."

Nonetheless, the Yahwist description presents the same truth, even though indirectly. It states that the man, created by God-Yahweh, while he had power to "name the animals" (cf. Gen 2:19-20), did not find among all the creatures of the visible world "a helper fit for him." This recognizes his uniqueness. Although the account of Genesis 2 does not speak directly of the "image" of God, it presents some of its essential elements-the capacity of self-knowledge, the experience of man's own being in the world, the need to fill his solitude, his dependence on God.

These elements also indicate that man and woman are equal as regards nature and dignity. While man could not find in any creature "a helper fit for him," he finds such a "helper" in the woman created by God-Yahweh. According to Genesis 2:21-22, God calls the woman into being, by drawing her from the body of the man, from "one of his ribs." This indicates their identity in humanity, and their essential similarity although they are distinct. Both have the same dignity as persons, since both share the same nature.

The truth about man created "in the image of God" is found also in other passages of Sacred Scripture, both in Genesis itself ("God made man in his own image," 9:6), and in the Wisdom Books.

The Book of Wisdom says: "God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own nature" (2:23). In the Book of Sirach we read: "God created man out of earth, and turned him back to it again...he endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image."

Man is created for immortality. He does not cease to be the image of God after sin, even though he is subjected to death. He bears in himself the reflection of God's power, which is manifested especially in the faculty of intelligence and free will. Man is an autonomous subject. He is the source of his own actions, while maintaining the characteristics of dependence on God, the Creator (ontological contingency).

After the creation of man, male and female, the Creator "blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds...and over every living thing'" (Gen 1:28). Creation in the image of God is the basis of the dominion over the other creatures in the visible world, which are called into being in view of man and "for him."

The people deriving their origin from the first man and woman share in the dominion spoken of in Genesis 1:2. The Yahwist account also alludes to it (Gen 2:24). We shall have occasion to return to this narrative later. In transmitting life to their children, man and woman convey to them the inheritance of that "image of God" conferred on the first man in the moment of his creation.

In this way man becomes a particular expression of the glory of the Creator. "Living man is the glory of God, but the vision of God is man's life," as St. Irenaeus wrote (Adv. Haer. IV, 20, 7). He is the glory of the Creator inasmuch as he was created in God's image and especially inasmuch as he has access to the true knowledge of the living God.

This is the basis of the special value of human life, and also of all human rights, which are so much emphasized today.

Through creation in the image of God man is called to become, among the creatures of the visible world, a mouthpiece of the glory of God, and in a certain sense, a word of his glory.

The teaching about man contained in the first pages of the Bible (Gen 1), links with the New Testament revelation about the truth of Christ. As the eternal Word, Christ is "the image of the invisible God," and at the same time "the first-born of all creation" (Col 1:15).

In God's plan, man created in the image of God acquires a special relationship with the Word, the Father's Eternal Image, who in the fullness of time will become flesh. St. Paul wrote: "Adam is the type of the one who was to come" (Rom 5:14). "Those whom (God the Creator) foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren" (Rom 8:29).

Thus, the truth about man created in the image of God does not merely determine man's place in the whole order of creation, but it already speaks even of his link with the order of salvation in Christ, who is the eternal and consubstantial "image of God" (2 Cor 4:4)-the image of the Father. Man's creation in the image of God, from the very beginning of the Book of Genesis, bears witness to his call. This call is fully revealed with the coming of Christ.

Thanks to the action of the "Spirit of the Lord," there opens up the perspective of the full transformation in the consubstantial image of God, which is Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18). Thus the "image" of the Book of Genesis (1:27) reaches the fullness of its revealed significance.