When this thought or contemplation visits the inner temple of our spirit this is filled with the light and majesty of God. The spirit’s rapture then is indescribable. All its bones, that is, all the smallest moving parts of its being give an irrepressible leap of deep inward joy. ~ Bishop Theophan the Recluse
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. ~ Mt 5:8
It is said that man is created in the image and likeness of God. Although the West tends to conflate the two terms, that is not quite correct esoterically. In what follows, please refer to the following schema.
|Exoteric Teaching||Esoteric Teaching||Source||Reality|
|Image||Intellect and Will||Real I and True Will||Intrinsic||Virtual|
|Likeness||Grace||“C”, or transcendent, influences||Acquired||Actual|
The image of God can only be perfected in a purified consciousness, freed of lower influences, by the action of Grace. “Pop” religion today regards the “image and likeness” as a fait accompli, asserting a certain dignity on those. However, the image of God in man is only virtual and needs to be actualized. That is the “likeness” of God, the process by which man becomes more god-like, or theosis. He becomes a “son of God”, which means sharing in the same nature. To become such a son by adoption is a privilege and is not at all universal. Pop religion, on the other hand, claims that everyone is a “child of god” no matter what. The opposite misconception is that God is “totally other” to man. While that may be true for profane man, it is not so for those in communion with God.
Now, following the Greek Fathers, the Eastern Church has been clearer about making this distinction. The failure to take this into consideration often leads to mischief in social policies.
The Image of God
So, to summarize, the “image” is what we are born with, but it is as yet only virtual. As the image of God, man has intelligence and free will. Of course, that is the higher intellect, not just discursive thought. This higher intellect is called the “heart” in Tradition. When the heart is purified, that is, purged of the distorting effects of negative emotions, disordered desires, and false doctrines, then the image of God will be more perfectly reflected in one’s consciousness. In that state, one is “pure of heart”.
The Likeness of God
As one overcomes the lure of the lower influences, one becomes open to “grace”, or transcendent influences. One’s nature changes to become more God-like. One is given the gift of understanding. One’s will becomes free, since it is not being driven by external forces. One hungers for impartial justice and so on. One becomes passionless and free of useless sentiment. Nevertheless, there can be the experience of great joy, as Theophan describes, and even flights of ecstasy.
Pop religion presumes we are by birth children of God. Misleadingly, they take this from John as an indication:
That was the true light, which enlightens every man that comes into this world. (John 1:9)
As such, it appears universal, however that is immediately followed by:
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13)
But that is not the case; we see only the “second birth” makes one “born of God” which can only come from the acceptance of the “true light”. In Tradition, to be “born of God” means to share the same nature, just as the son shares the nature of the father, i.e., he is a “chip off the old block”. The pop religion, on the other hand, interprets the phrase as referring to perpetual infantilism.
Valentin Tomberg in his Meditations teaches that the image and likeness of God refers to the human personality. He contrasts that with Oriental systems which lead to a depersonalization, which he rejects. Tomberg actually follows the Eastern Church in recognizing that growing in the image and likeness of God is actually a process of humanization, of becoming “truly human”, a fuller “realization of true human nature”. In effect, he has “more being” than he did before.
This is an alchemical process. As such, it transforms the base human into the image and likeness of God through “sublimation”. In Hermetic initiation, one penetrates into the depths of consciousness to awaken to the primordial Adamic state of the image and likeness.
While the contemporary Catechism of the Catholic Church shows the loss of any understanding of the distinction between the image and likeness, that was not also the case of the Nordic-Roman Medieval Tradition, which, like the East, had not forgotten that doctrine. Quoting St Bernard, Tomberg shows how the image and likeness separated after the Fall of Adam and the forgetting of the Primordial State. Bernard claims that while the image of God remains in man, the likeness has been lost “in the soul which sins”.
The consequence is that man is “free”, perpetually free through eternity. The likeness, however, is not essentially immortal. The Holy Guardian Angel acts to preserve the likeness that has been lost in man.
Distortions arise because of the lack of understanding about the distinction between the image and likeness. In particular, new age and liberal theory more or less adopt the notions of the “image and likeness” as well as the universalization of the “children of god”. For example, if the image of God is actual rather than virtual at birth, then it would follow that one’s weakness, faults, and foibles are in reality God-given attributes of one’s personality or nature. This is a reversion to pantheistic paganism as we showed in Esoteric Stoicism. Specifically, one’s “presuppositions” are seen as God given, while in the Christian view such presuppositions need to be examined and tested.
You will be hearing in the coming month about the “option for the poor”. It is said that there is an inherent “dignity of man” (i.e., worthy of respect) due to his being in the “image and likeness of God”. Of course, we treat everyone with the respect due him as a matter of justice. Even if a man has lost the likeness of God, “every sinner has a future” (Augustine). Similarly, the unborn is also due justice, even if his being is still virtual.
In economic policies, there is a religious left that makes common cause with the secular left. On a certain level, this is quite strange. The religious left basis its program on man as being in the image of God and a descendent of God. The secular left, on the other hand, regards man as a material being and a descendent of monkeys. When two incompatible premises lead to the same conclusion, then, by Occam’s razor, one is justified in accepting the simpler premise, which is the secular worldview. Hence, the religious left tends over time to get sucked into the secular, material view.
Now, economic solutions are not as simple as many want to believe. There are several alternatives, not necessarily incompatible with each other, to provide for the material needs of the poor. Moreover, the option for the poor should include cultural and spiritual components. This is where the secular worldview falls short, since only economic and material considerations matter. And the religious left, but accepting de facto the secular premise, becomes impotent.
By failing to recognize that the loss of the “likeness of God” has been lost (due to faulty understanding), the religious left has no solution to the cultural and spiritual issues. The secular left promotes contempt for religion, sexual license, drug use, gun violence, and so on. While in their personal lives, they are usually less affected by the consequences of that worldview, that is not true of the poorer elements which have fewer options. The religious left seems to say nothing about that.
This is not to say that the religious right has much better to offer. By glorifying capitalism and perpetual war, they create more problems than they solve. Even if they are marginally better on cultural and spiritual issues, there is a disturbingly mixed message.
At a recent protest of a Planned Parenthood clinic, the Evangelicals were yelling through a megaphone, presumably to harass the women. I don’t know if they checked first to determine if a woman was there due to incest or rape. In another section the Catholics gathered to say the Rosary. The Evangelicals then turned the megaphone onto the Catholics admonishing them “not to worship Mary.” Is there any wonder why the educated left regards the right as unhinged?