One of the concepts of Catholicism that often gets overlooked is Imagio Dei, namely the belief that the human person is created and exists in the Image of God. The belief is reflective of the narrative which unfolds in Genesis, namely the creation of Adam and Eve as the representative manifestations of God’s act of Creation. They are the seminal act of the establishment of the Kingdom of God, namely The Father is sharing existence with His Creation and extends the invitation to participate in His divine life to both Adam and Eve.
The Imagio Dei is critical to understanding the relationship between God and mankind and serves as the quintessential anthropological and theological touch stone that uniquely links the mystery of God’s existence with the human existence and existential development of all mankind. The Second Vatican Council revived the study of the notion of Imagio Dei and through its documents and subsequent teachings understood the fertility of this notion as an integral theme in articulating not just the entire understanding of salvation history, but also as a critical component which clearly articulates the mysteries of the Christian faith throughout human history.
Mankind as a result of the restored pursuit since the Second Vatican Council towards understanding Imagio Dei is uniquely linked with the unfolding mysteries of God’s existence. Man’s existence is existentially linked with the Deity and as a result of this unique and unprecedented manifestation of God’s gift of participation in His existence this communio presents itself as the essential definition of man’s existence. Without relationship with God, man cannot exist and he exists entirely because of God’s gift of life in a unique and distinctive harmony and participation between the eternal life of God and the terminal existence of mankind. God and man are in a symbiotic relationship with each other through the mystery of both God’s love and His benevolent gift of all Creation through which man is both reflective of God and His physical manifestation in the cosmos. In presenting mankind with this distinctive role in Creation, God essentially mandates humanity with the task of cultivating the world and making God’s creation bountiful and fruitful. Most observantly, the task of determination given to mankind is not exclusive to just one specific group of men and women. God extends this mandate as a universal call to participate in the stewardship of the planet to everyone, not just those that participate in the faith of Abraham as defined in the Old Testament. All faith and all peoples equally share in God’s creation and have the obligation to provide human skills in order to both cultivate and sanctify the world through the works of their hands as the ultimate form of worship and thanksgiving for the gifts which God has given to all of humanity.
In understanding the relationship between the Imagio Dei and mankind we should always recognize and acknowledge the fact that the call to stewardship of the planet’s resource is incumbent to all peoples of the world. As a result, perhaps this should be a common point of discussion between Christians, the Jewish people and the followers of Islam as the principle that most unites our three monotheistic faiths. Imagio Dei does not divide the world’s population, but inspires and promotes unity between all peoples, not because we are all theologically different in our faiths; rather we are anthropologically the same, united through our universal participation in the likeness of God and the manifestation of His presence in all of our lives and earthly occupations.
The human experience as a result of the Imagio Dei is not just a creature without a sense of depth and intellectual abilities. Mankind is rather both spiritual and intellectual, human, but yet divine, spiritual and temporal, alone but yet united with others in the collective experience of participation in the human race. Imagio Dei, provides both an epistemological and ontological relationship that unites all of mankind with God and also with all other humans that share and participate in the temporal and eternal existence that is incumbent to mankind as part of God’s plan of Creation and salvation history.
The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed, Imagio Dei in Gaudium et Spes and affirmed that mankind’s essential orientation was towards God. That orientation fundamentally is the foundation of all human dignity and collectively is the right of all humans to transcend themselves through their lives and vocations towards fulfillment with God in and through Creation. For us faithful believers in the 21st century, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council restored the rich tradition of understanding the Imagio Dei, breathing new life in the pursuit of man’s relationship with not just God, but our relationships with each other, other faiths and indeed all peoples that seek a transcendent understanding of human existence with its foundation in Creation and God’s participation in the existence of not just the temporal world, but all aspects of cosmological existence for mankind. Being made in the Imagio Dei, the Image of God provides all of humanity a conceptual and tangible understanding of God’s sovereignty within the universe and His ability to interact socially with humanity and humanity with the life of the deity.
This relationship between God and mankind is most tangibly manifested in the Incarnation of Christ. The Christological manifestation of the invisible God is Jesus Christ. Not only is Jesus the manifestation of God’s image and presence with mankind, He is the manifestation of the perfect man who restores the God’s divine likeness to mankind which was the result of the transgressions of both Adam and Eve in Genesis. Christ restores mankind’s understanding and comprehension of their participation in God’s divine life by restoring their understanding of the creation of man as the ultimate participation in the Imagio Dei, the life of God.
In the Incarnation, God also reveals another image, namely Imagio Christi, the Image of Christ who is also fundamental to the origins of all mankind. Christ is the ultimate expression of the Imagio Dei, because he reveals the great love the Father extends to mankind through Creation and presents Christ as the ultimate example of service for others and love for others which should characterize all of human existence as those that are participants in the Father’s existence. Christ as the ultimate Imagio Dei reflects not just the Father, but what the Father expects all of us to become through the exposition of the Imagio Christi through the Incarnation.
Perhaps the study of Imagio Dei and Imagio Christi are essential to understanding the roles we all collectively share as participants in the world, in our faiths and in human society. Understanding the participation in God’s divine life and the manifestation of His life through Christ should inspire the global community towards a collective spirit of collegial understanding, mutual stewardship and ultimately peaceful understanding not merely of our respective faiths, but ultimately our existential foundations that are rooted in both Christ’s image and ultimately God’s image.
Regardless of category, Christian, Jewish or Islamic the peoples of the world are collectively called to stewardship, participation and unity by a deeper understanding of the nature of our participation in the Imagio Dei and the Imagio Christi which is ultimately a theological, anthropological and sociological manifestation of our human origination and the final eschatological destination for all of us regardless of those points that divide us, rather that unite us as human beings and reflective images of Imagio Dei. The world’s great monotheistic faiths have an obligation and responsibility to impart a deeper understanding of what it means to be part of the Imagio Dei. It is only when the transmission and comprehension of this magnificent participation in God’s plan of salvation history is understood and realized through our human faith will the entire world then unite in a responsible obligation of stewardship, cooperation and understanding of not just each other but ultimately the mysteries of our human existence that are intertwined with the mystery of God’s life and existence which is part of the journey towards an understanding of ourselves but ultimately the Imagio Dei which unites all of us in both our faiths and our humanity, with a transcendent destination as our ultimate goal.