The Image and Likeness

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.

Hermetic Teaching

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.

Social Policy

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?

20 thoughts on “The Image and Likeness

  1. BR Giles Mary = “Certain potentialities of the soul are indeed freed up or activated in this form of life, for sure”

    …. by “form of life ” I’m presuming you refer to the celibate dedication ….
    I don’t want to seem invasive of your personal existence and experience , but the question that enters my mind from the above quote, is do you have experiential knowledge of a non-celibate period in your adult life that you can vis a vis with the celibate experience in the realms of these potentialities of the soul being activated ? but then again i suppose these activations could occur just by a progression through ageing experience in either non-celibate or celibate status
    My own current thinking is that celibacy is not for me at present, but more in line with my previous SW quote philosophy, although the key thing in that line of thinking is :- are your impulses or instincts to an attraction inspired by a higher or lower energetic frequency which will directly relate to what quality of experience you achieve in the potential coupling (:
    So then everything comes back to one point of concern which is know yourself , your thoughts , your needs , your weaknesses and distill only for the most earnest to make their way through for possible manifestation into the intimate realm of expressions and partnering conjunctions, after and during which , an encounter with the godhead is surely possible

  2. Alistair,

    ” do you feel that you contain a certain “contained” vitality or some extra energy as a result of the celibacy and cerebral vision you are commited too ?”

    It’s something like this. Certain potentialities of the soul are indeed freed up or activated in this form of life, for sure. An important point that I have to remind even myself of is that we can go too far in conceiving these things as extrinsic to our soul/body composite.

    “We are our bodies…” is, I believe, one of the phases Saint John Paul II drew from the tradition for his Theology of the Body catecheses. He also uses some phrase about our basic psychosomatic makeup in Love and Responsibility. This is a typically Aristotelian notion rather than Platonic, which the Church has pretty well invested herself into. The soul is the form of the body rather than something extrinsic to it.

    So, we even speak of spiritual progress in terms of growth into an integral and perfect human being. Perhaps, at first, it sounds quaint and modern. But, having grown up as a thoroughly truncated modern man, I’m often discovering anew what this means. So, if we’re created male and female, and not destined to leave that behind, I think it follows that we express our sexual differentiation with greater depth and clarity the closer we get to beatitude. Besides, who in their right mind would want to become less a man? It’s all about Christ and his Bride. Maybe in response, somebody wants to evoke the Adamic-androgyne or something… Anywho…

    Glory to God and Thanks for the discussion.

  3. “If people were told: what makes carnal desire imperious in you is not its pure carnal element. It is the fact that you put into it the essential part of yourself—the need for Unity, the need for God — they wouldn’t believe it.
    To them it seems obvious that the quality of imperious need belongs to the carnal desire as such. In the same way it seems obvious to the miser that the quality of desirability belongs to gold as such, and not to its exchange value”
    Simone Weil

  4. just wanted to tidy up my last paragraph from earlier …………..which leads to the shortening of any romance to the physical by the so called sex addict, they crave the physical orgasmic sensation in conjunction with this discombubulated aftermath reset of thoughts ,which sort of short cuts them out of their depressive cycle and then they get to do it all over again ……..but with the descent into addiction, the thoughts lessen and stagnate, the depression increases and the physical sensation lessens , and just like the gambler and cocaine addict , they keep believing , next time it will be different , Wake up time or deterioration into the abyss.
    BR. GILES MARY – your input is valued in extending the understandings , , the puritanical is also over this side, but maybe not so fanatical as over your way in todays times .
    you stated “but my being is more sexual than ever.” which is an interesting expression in the celibate status , do you feel that you contain a certain “contained” vitality or some extra energy as a result of the celibacy and cerebral vision you are commited too ?

  5. Alistair,

    As a quasi-celibate (I say quasi because our community is normal in the Church but not yet a canonical “religious institute” not as if I only practice celibacy occasionally. Gospel purity of heart is of course another matter altogether…) I would like to add my two cents… The Christian celibate, at least, is not consciously transforming raw sexual energy (at least none that I know of) like a practitioner of tantra (I don’t think you implied as much, but I only say it for context.) The goal is rather a transformation of vision.

    Christopher West has made a name for himself in the mainstream by popularizing John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” catecheses. He well makes the point that consecrated celibacy is ideally not like caging a lion. In fact, perhaps things are different in your country, but in America puritanical vision of sex has deep roots and is a major cause of much of our sexual distortion. It seems to be the mainstream wisdom of the Church that the attempt to cage the lion, as you said, is almost certainly doomed to fail. I would like to say a lot more, but I’m short on time. Suffice to say that a full-fledged life decision for a celibate form of life is essential to bearing the proper fruit. Aquinas explains this well in the Summa Theologica. Also, speaking from my own experience, as a sort of quasi-celibate I don’t engage in any sexual activity and try to diminish and avoid impure phantasies, but my being is more sexual than ever. Although we’re not given in marriage in the Kingdom, nonetheless we are created male and female. There are relevant metaphysical topics regarding nature and grace that would also be interesting…

    Also, to the broader thread… We pray at abortion clinics and try to counsel women. I’ve had some of the most profound and thoroughly dry-unspectacular spiritual experiences there. There is a definite difference between the typically protestant and catholic approaches. It probably has to do, on the one hand, with protestant notions of imputed grace, in contrast to a catholic renovation of the soul. Many can’t see beyond their troubled consciences and feel the need to draw some sharp moral lines. It’s a self-serving tendency…

  6. another thought was arrived at in my mind as i drank tea with an oatcake and cheese , which also links into sex addict , celibacy , even porn stars , the sexual orgasm , as everyone will know , can vary in intensity , which gives evidence of how some people can become purely physically addicted to that feeling in itself , no one knows for sure how evolved that orgasm can go to , unless from direct experience , or from recorded data from others which is always ltd to these peoples own limitations of that phenomena ,and not necessarily a definitive bible, but also there is some form of cerebral addiction / transaction occurring on the shallowest level to the more deeper potential spiritual . And on the shallowest level i think what is occurring is that in everyday existence, peoples thoughts in general will tend to lead into a cyclical cul de sac in which they either try alcohol or extreme exercise or work, or other stimulant in order to transcend that hick up, but within the modern day action of romancing or getting off with someone , there takes place a communication of varying levels of intimacy that then often leads up to a physical orgasm during sex … at least for the men more often (: , and during this , lets say average orgasm , the mans goes through a form of “discombobulation” which end result is a form of resetting their thinking patterns like a computer reset button. but on closer examination , this is not exactly the moment for reset , the complete intimate experienced engagement with the female or male then the physical coupling climax of that meeting on that day or evening all contribute to this reset of the thoughts, but the shallow mind tends to only recall the highlight and identifies that only as the essential experience for reset , which leads to the shortening of any romance to the physical by the so called sex addict, they crave the reset of thoughts , and then they get to do it all over again ……..

  7. Exu, On white rabbit mention of brahmacharya and my response , i can see the meaning is more profound than purely sexual continence , but i deduced their context was from this ripple ” In modern literature, it is commonly translated to mean celibacy for those unmarried, and fidelity to one’s partner when married” which is what i responded to in kind .
    Cologero , “Fun” can never be underated (:
    Will you “devote yourself” to Brahman or to your sex life? You cannot serve two masters = What an ultimatum for total commitment
    I still looking for synergistic incorporation …. with the “dreams” that is

  8. Of course you can have an active sex life, Exu, at least in your dreams. And then when you never actually “find the self”, at least you may have had some fun along the way. On the other hand, just look at all the porn stars and playboys who have merged with Brahman, without even trying sometimes.

    Yet you never responded to my clarification of your clarification. Will you “devote yourself” to Brahman or to your sex life? You cannot serve two masters.

  9. Cologero

    I was only clarifying
    the meaning of the word
    “Brahmachari”,since some
    people think it has to do
    necessarily with sexual
    continence.One can have
    an active sexual life
    and use this as part
    of the search of the self!!!

    Brahmachari=”Devoting oneself to Brahman”.

  10. Exu, it has to do with the path you will follow. You can choose to “live in Brahma”, as you call it, or you can choose to follow your appetites.

    No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

  11. Brahmachari means living
    in Brahma,and has nothing
    to do necessary,with sexual

  12. I personally adhere to celibacy, though that is like flying with the winds when you are an extreme recluse (as I am).

    I will try to make a useful comment about this article.

    “Specifically, one’s ‘presuppositions’ are seen as God given, while in the Christian view such presuppositions need to be examined and tested.”

    In other words “liberal” theory is actually the antithesis of critical thinking, contrary to what “they” say. This may be the defining split between the right and the left. Instinct vs. reason. I think if I went to the left I wouldn’t choose to live.

  13. brahmacharya is another option indeed white rabbit , i haven’t been married so can’t make any experiential judgement , What do you recommend yourself or adhere to in principle , if any conscious code ? or you just fly with the winds

  14. I wonder which would have the more effective approach; the Evangelicals or the Catholics? They say you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but scientifically speaking that is actually untrue.

    Alistair: interesting opinion, but I hear that the sages recommend total brahmacharya.

  15. Please excuse this final comment on celibacy as im not intending to be a serial poster here, but these thoughts concluded in that the devoted static celibate is attuned to putting the LION in a zoo , whereas the sex addict is like the LION on steroids. Both states lead to the absence of 2 key check-chimes on ones state of being . they are devoid of harmony and tranquility , Sexual consciousness is very very important and here for a reason , a defining discriminatory essential reason for each person and so it is always requiring quality control

  16. The image of god paragraph on the heart is perfecto, i find myself aligning with tombergs theory , on the purification of consciousness , there are alchemical stages set forth for this and other recorded techniques im sure everyone knows of reading this, but the effects of an achieved evolving purified consciousness are transmitted to another being by emanations and expressions of grace and empathy and other higher communicable conditions of the human being , these traits can also be displayed by many people of a lesser purified consciousness in staccato moments of time where their higher qualities conjoin in a momentary apex of expression through various noble endeavours and as they progress in their purification, a stronger signal of such traits is emanated and received by others through the psychic reception network

  17. There are very clever insights above as always and it covers so many areas, but i will just say a short note which does actually tie into the notion of “image and likeness” If a man were to devote himself to celibacy , then there would be 2 candidates for this undertaking. The first type would be the pure static devotee whom will devote themselfs to the task at hand regardless for a specified duration dictated by past knowledge on such actions and endeavours, the second type would be the dynamic devotee whom would dedicate themselfs to a set period of resistance with awarenes of past comments on such but also with an upgrading awareness of how this action affects their existence. Now what i determine as one main area of the separating parameters of celibacy and its opposing state which would be sexual addiction , is for the former, the sexualisation perception is subliminated possibly to an ever increasing depth depending on the duration (i have made comments on some 3 year duration effects previously) and for the latter , the sexualisation perception is always foremost , ie it is insatiable and always perceiving phenomena primarily by its sexual arousal intensity. What this amounts to is that the celibate person will tend to judge a new person they encounter using different tools of value than the sex addict . And to cut this short, the celibate person will perceive more beyond the appearances whereas the sex addict will perceive purely on the initial physicality projection . And this observation also ties in very nicely to the modern society in that we have a growing number of beings that are willing to be mutilated by plastic surgery etc in order to appear to other beings as “more attractive” even although , in most cases they are actually made more repulsive , but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and at this moment in time it is becoming more skin deep than ever before . But it is not just a black and white case, the truth lies somewhere in between these extremes and always changing balance with the times, And the pure celibate devotee must just get on with it because they have to close down one part of their senses in order to conform to the absolute task, whereas the dynamic devotee knows as time goes on that an equal and ever growing counter feeling is cultivated within that this absolute celibate act is not how things are supposed to go, and at some stage , the celibate begins to be dumbed down as their perception muscle stagnates because it has been trained to actually desexualize the perception , so this shows that every extreme holds its own eventual trap , therefore devoted celibacy is not a higher state of being but i believe its something very valuable that can be used as for purging the soul of bad learned habits etc . But to conclude, the crux of this comment is that there is a direct link between the quality of ones perception and management of sexual energy

  18. may the supreme power
    guide us who can hear him

  19. the big turbulence is near
    the separation of the gold from garbage
    is near!!!!

  20. the question is
    how much have you
    improve in the cleaness
    of your souls???
    Which means had you use to
    do the right job???Marijuana
    pleasures of all types???
    If you dont face fear
    guilt and hate
    how in heavens name would you be ready
    to blow yourself off???And be capable of dying to be reborn???

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