JOHN CHRYSOSTOM - LET US MAKE MAN IN OUR OWN IMAGE
On what follows the verse, “ ‘Let us make a human being in our image,’ ” and against those who ask, Why were the wild beasts created? and, What good comes from their being made? And to prove that this most of all shows regard for the human being and God’s unspeakable love.
To begin (76b) by an analogy with hardworking farmers. Whenever they see a rich pasture with great depth of soil, they sow the seed liberally and give it their constant and undivided attention, surveying the scene each day in case somewhere some useless thing capable of damaging the seeds should thwart the efforts they have put into it.
Now, in exactly the same way we too have seen your spiritual hunger and your great readiness to listen, and each day we have been exerting ourselves to have the thinking of the Holy Scriptures enter your mind; we have also shown to you what can harm this spiritual seed, lest you be caught out and the sound teaching of the dogmas be undermined by the assaults of people endeavouring to infiltrate the Church’s dogmas with notions from their own reasoning.
(76c) To you falls the task of scrupulously safeguarding what has been entrusted to you and preserving the memory of it intact so that you can follow with ease the sequel. You see, if the present opportunity is not taken for us to go rather deeply into the meaning, and for you to develop your understanding, now that it is the season of Lent, now that our limbs are more nimble for swimming and our mental vision sharper, without the hindrance of the evil current of luxury, but with our spirit strengthened against drowning, when on earth will it be possible for us to achieve it?
When luxury, drunkenness and gluttony are rampant, and the evils they spawn? (2)
Don’t you see that people wanting to find the gems that come from the sea don’t make the discovery just by sitting down at the water’s edge and counting the waves, but cast themselves into deep water, descend into the very bosom of the deep,
(76d) as you might say, and in this fashion chance upon the things they’re looking for? Yet what great benefit would the discovery of these gems bring to your life? Hopefully they would bring no great harm or injury. From this source, after all, spring a multitude of troubles, from the desire for money and the frenzy these things cause.
Still, despite the great harm arising from them, people obsessed with these things stop at nothing: they expose themselves to danger and undergo great effort so as to be able to find what they’re looking for. In the case of the Holy Scriptures, on the contrary, and these spiritual gems of great value, there is no cause for suspecting danger, the effort is not great whereas the gain is beyond telling, provided we enthusiastically put into it what lies in our power. Grace, you see, is always active, seeking those
(77a) that welcome it with readiness. Such, after all, is our Lord: when he sees an alert soul and fervent desire, out of his own prodigality he lavishes upon it riches of his that surpass the request being made. (3) Accordingly, dearly beloved, knowing this as you do, purify your thinking of the affairs of this life, open wide the horizons of your mind, welcome with great enthusiasm what the Spirit furnishes us with, so that like rich and fruitful soil you may produce a crop in excess of what is sown—in one case a hundredfold, in another sixtyfold, in another thirtyfold. You heard on the previous days of the ineffable wisdom of the artificer of all visible realities, and how he produced everything solely by his word and desire. He said, remember, “ ‘Let it be made,’ ” and it was made, and immediately all the elements were produced;
(77b) his word sufficed for the sustenance of all created things, not simply because it was a word but because it was God’s word. (4) You recall the arguments we brought to bear against those saying that existing things came into being from underlying matter and substituting their own folly for the dogmas of the Church. You learnt why, on the one hand, he produced the sky in finished form, but left the earth shapeless and incomplete. We gave you, remember, at that point two reasons for this: firstly, so that you might learn the power of the Lord from the more complete thing and not waver in your reasoning with the thought that it was created out of lack of power; and secondly, since the earth has been created as mother and nurse for us, and from it we are nourished and enjoy all other things, and to it we return in the end, being as it is for us all both homeland and tomb,
(77c) he shows it to us shapeless from the beginning in case the very pressure of necessity, if nothing else, should lead us to conjure up some grandiose ideas about it, instead of learning even through these very things that all the above-mentioned advantages are to be attributed no longer to the nature of the earth but to the power of the Creator. Again, you learnt how he effected the separation of the waters by providing for the creation of this visible firmament; you saw the living beings arising both from the waters and from the earth. (5) We now feel the need to rehearse these details and repeat them for you, brethren, not idly and to no purpose, but that the listeners may have a stronger basis of belief and the details may be riveted more surely in your mind; thus the instruction may be adequate also for those not present on the first occasion, and they may not suffer any handicap from their absence. The reason is that a loving father keeps the leftovers from the table for his absent children so that when they come
(77d) they may find the leftovers kept for them as a consolation for their absence. Accordingly, we too have as much care for everyone of you coming along here as for our own limbs, and we make your progress our own pride and glory, wanting you all to be shown to be perfect and mature for the glory of God, the credit of the Church and our boast. (6) And at the risk of seeming to be a nuisance, come now, I would like briefly to refresh your memory of what was said to you yesterday. You saw the difference between the shaping of the human being and the creation of the other things; you heard the degree of importance he imparted to that founder of our race, and how in the course of that very shaping he manifested by the down-to-earth quality of the words and expressions the esteem he had for the being about to be created when he said, “ ‘Let us make a human being in
(78a) our image and likeness.’ ” You learnt what is the meaning of “in our image,” that it is not in the order of being but a similarity of command, that he spoke not in terms of a formal image but in terms of command—hence the postscript, “ ‘Let them have control of the fish of the sea and the birds of heaven, the wild beasts and the reptiles of the earth.’ ” (7) Now, on this matter pagans make a rejoinder to us with the claim that the truth of the sentence is not confirmed in practice; we do not, in fact, control the wild beasts, as was promised, but they control us. But this isn’t true, either: whenever a human being comes on the scene, at once the wild animals take to flight. On the other hand, if at some time we are harmed by them when they’re under the pressure of starvation or we attack them, this evidently happens not because of their control over us but from some fault of ours. Likewise when brigands attack us and find us not slothful
(78b) but armed to the teeth, it’s not an example of their power but of our care for our own welfare. Meantime let us listen to the words of the text; it says, “ ‘Let us make a human being in our image and likeness.’ ” As the word “image” indicated a similitude of command, so too “likeness,” with the result that we become like God to the extent of our human power—that is to say, we resemble him in our gentleness and mildness and in regard to virtue, as Christ also says, “Be like your Father in heaven.” You see, just as on this wide and spacious earth some animals are tamer and others more ferocious, so too in the wide spaces of our soul some of our ideas are more lethargic and resemble brute beasts, others more ferocious and savage. So there is need to control (78c) and tame them and submit them to the rule of reason. How do you get control of the wildness of thought, you ask? What are you saying, human being that you are? We subdue lions and tame their spirit, and do you doubt if you’re able to transform the ferocity of your thinking into mildness? Further, ferocity is naturally proper to wild beasts and mildness unnatural, whereas the opposite is true in your case: mildness is natural, ferocity and savagery unnatural. Are you, then, who expel the natural and induce the unnatural in wild animals, unable yourself to maintain what is natural? What great condemnation this brings against you! Something in fact that is more remarkable and surprising still is this: Although in a lion’s nature there is the added difficulty that the lion is a wild beast deprived of reason, we still often see lions led meekly through the market place, (78d) and many people often throw money from their shops to the person getting some reward for skill and cunning in taming the wild beast. However, in a person reason is present, and the fear of God, and many other advantages from other sources—so don’t adduce excuses and pretexts. It is, after all, quite within your capabilities to be meek and mild and gentle, if you have the good will. The text says, “ ‘Let us make a human being in our image and likeness.’ ” (8) But let us return to the question proposed before. It emerges, you know, from what we’ve said that the human being from the very beginning had complete control of the wild beasts; the text says, remember, “ ‘Let them have control of the fish of the sea and the birds of heaven, the wild beasts and the reptiles of the earth.’ ” The fact that now we have fear and dread of the wild animals and have lost control of them, I personally don’t dispute; but this doesn’t (79a) betray a false promise on God’s part. From the beginning, you see, things weren’t like this; instead, the wild beasts were in fear and trembling, and responded to direction. But when through disobedience human beings forfeited their position of trust, their control was also lost. As evidence, after all, that everything was placed under the human being’s control, listen to Scripture saying, “He brought the wild animals and all the brute beasts to Adam to see what he would call them.” And seeing the animals near him, he didn’t shrink back, but like a master giving names to slaves in his service, he gave them all names; the text says, “They each bore the name Adam gave them,” this being a symbol of his dominion. Hence God was wanting to teach him through this the dignity of his authority, so he entrusted to him the giving of names. (9) So this instance (79b) suffices to demonstrate the fact that from the beginning the wild beasts were not an object of terror to the human being; yet there is another instance no less significant and much clearer. Namely? The serpent’s conversation with the woman. You see, had the animals been frightening to human beings, the woman at sight of the serpent would not have stood her ground, would not have taken its advice, would not have conversed with it so comfortably; instead, she would have been terrified by its appearance and taken flight. In fact, however, she both converses with it and shows no fear; this fear, after all, is not yet to the fore. (10) But once sin came on the scene, there was evidently loss both of esteem and of authority. Just as in the case of servants those that enjoy a good name are held in fear by their fellow servants whereas those that have given offence fear the others, so too in the case of the human being: while they enjoyed God’s trust (79c) they were an object of fear even to the animals, but when they fell they eventually had to fear even the least of their fellow slaves. If you don’t hold with what we’ve said, show me that before sin the beasts were an object of fear to the human being. But you couldn’t. If, however, fear came on the scene afterwards, this is also an extraordinary token of God’s loving kindness. I mean, if after the commandment had been broken by the human beings the esteem accorded them had remained unimpaired, they would not easily have risen from their fall. You see, when obedient and disobedient people enjoy the same esteem, they are more inclined to evil and don’t quickly recover from evil. After all, if under the pressure of fear, retribution and punishment they do not come to their senses, what condition would they be in if they suffered nothing for the terrible mistakes they made? (79d) So it is out of his providential care for us that he has removed us from our position of control. (11) Consider now, I ask you, dearly beloved, in this instance God’s ineffable love as well, how, on the one hand, Adam infringed the whole commandment and completely broke the law, while, on the other hand, God in his loving kindness proved his goodness superior to our transgressions and did not cancel all our esteem nor remove the human being from all control. Instead, he withdrew from their control only those beings that did not have the greatest contribution to make to their livelihood, whereas the most necessary and useful creatures which performed great service to our living he allowed to remain in subjection and servitude. He left at any rate herds of cattle to draw the plough, to till the soil, to sow the seed; he left the beasts of burden to assist our efforts in transporting heavy loads; he left the flocks of sheep (80a) so that we might have sufficient supply of garments for clothing; and he left other kinds of animals to supply us with plenty of resources. You see, though in punishing the human being for disobedience he said “ ‘In the sweat of your brow may you eat your bread,’ ” he took care, lest this sweat and toil be unbearable, to lighten the pressure and burden of work with the multitude of beasts sharing with us the labor and distress. He acted in precisely the way a loving and caring master would in punishing his servant, following the punishing with some healing; in just this way God brings condemnation to the sinner and then wants to render this condemnation lighter in every way, condemning us to ceaseless toil and sweat, on the one hand, and providing many kinds of brute beasts to share the labor with us on the other. (80b) The result is that you have the bestowal of esteem, and its being taken back, the implanting of fear of wild beasts—all done, if you study it precisely and in a spirit of gratitude, with an abundance of wisdom, of care, of love. (12) Now, let us give thanks to him for all these favors and be grateful to him for doing us all these kindnesses. He is, after all, not looking for anything heavy and burdensome from us—simply acknowledgement of such favors and thanksgiving to him for them. Not that he needs it, being self-sufficient as he is, but for us to learn to win over the supplier of good things, and not to be ungrateful, but to give evidence of virtue that is worthy of these kindnesses and such great care. This is the way, after all, for us to prompt him to even greater care of us. So let us not grow slack, I beseech you; instead, let each of us, as each hour passes and to the extent of our capabilities, (80c) take stock within himself of the favors done to us, not only those shared with others but also personal ones, not only those acknowledged and obvious to all, but also individual ones that have escaped most people’s notice, such being the way to render unceasing thanks to the Lord. This is the highest form of sacrifice, this is a perfect offering, this will prove the basis of confidence for us—just how, I will tell you. (13) You see, people who constantly rehearse these things in their own mind come to gain a precious knowledge of their own unworthiness, on the one hand, and on the other to realize God’s unspeakable and surpassing love, as well as to focus not on what their sins deserve but on his goodness. They then conduct their affairs in the following way: they form a humble opinion of themselves, keep a tight control on their reasoning, suppress any conceit or arrogance, learn to stay within limits, to rise above worldly opinion, to set all visible realities at nought, (80d) to ponder future goods and the life that has neither limit nor end. The person so disposed in soul offers to God a true and acceptable sacrifice, as the biblical author says: “A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; a contrite and humble heart God does not despise.” It is not, after all, sanctions and punishments that win over right-minded servants so much as acts of kindness and the knowledge that they have not been punished according to their deserts. (14) Let us accordingly keep a tight control on our reasoning, I beseech you, and form a humble opinion of ourselves, especially at this time when the season of fasting provides assistance to that end. You see, if we have this disposition, we will be able both to pray with mind unfettered and win grace from above by confessing our sins. To learn that (81a) the Lord is pleased with such souls, listen to his words: “ ‘On whom shall I look with favor if not on the person of meekness and peace and the one who trembles at my words?’ ” Hence Christ had this to say as well: “Learn from me that I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” After all, people of humble disposition could never be swept into a rage or become angry with their neighbor, since their spirit is so much at peace and occupied only with its own concerns. What could be more blessed than a soul disposed like this? Such a person rests continually in the shelter of harbor far from every storm, revelling in the calm of reason. Hence Christ also said: “You will find rest for your soul.” Just as therefore the person who has reduced to calm all these passions enjoys much rest, so slothful and diffident people, unable (81b) to keep in due control the passions rising within them, are exposed to continual storms, have war on their hands at the home front, can be thrown into disarray without anyone needing to be present, and have to endure much buffeting from tempests; hence, with the impact of the billows and the onset of the hurricane of evil blasts, they often go under, as their craft sinks under them from the helmsman’s ineptitude. (15) So, we ought stay alert and clear-headed, and pay constant and unremitting attention to the salvation of our soul. The Christian, you see, must be ever equipped to deal with the passions of the flesh, keep fresh in mind the laws given us by the common Lord of all and shelter behind the protection they give, take advantage of his long-suffering in our regard no more than is necessary, and not postpone humbling ourselves till harsh experience comes, lest it be said about us also, (81c) “When he brought them to the point of death, then they turned to him.” Having fasting as our ally, therefore, dearly beloved, let us all hasten to the confession of our sins, refrain from all wickedness, and practice every virtue. This, after all, is what the blessed author David teaches when he says, “Turn from evil and do good.” Provided we conduct ourselves in this way, and demonstrate along with abstinence from food likewise abstinence from evil, we will ourselves be able to enjoy greater confidence and be found worthy of a more generous share of loving kindness from God both in this life and on that fearful day yet to come, thanks to the prayers and intercession of those acceptable to him and the (81d) grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, power and honor, now and forever, for ages of ages. Amen.