I will argue that Christ is perfect man, Who lives perfectly, showing us what it means to be human. Not only does He reveal God to us; he also reveals humanity to us. Thus, Christology should be central to Theological Anthropology, as Christ rebuilds the bridge between humanity and divinity. He not only reveals God’s character and will to us, but also simultaneously reveals what it means to be fully human, in communion with our Creator. In arguing this, I will concentrate on patristic writings such as St Maximus the Confessor, St Athanasius the Great and other writings centred on the fundamental link between Christology and the understanding of man and his salvation. The essay will also highlight how Jesus Christ, through His teaching, acts, and example, found in the Gospels, shows us who we are, and who we aim to be. He does so by being identifiable to us, as flesh, and by going through human pain, suffering and death on the cross. However, the essay will also emphasise how Christ, as our Risen Lord and God, exalts man and directs Him to his divine capabilities and purpose.
Saint Athanasius, Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria proclaim, that ‘God became man so that men might become gods.’ In other words, the incarnation of the Word - God descending down to humanity, dying on the cross, raising from the dead and granting us life - is essential in understanding that the goal of man is, to have complete unity with our Creator. From a Patristic point of view, we cannot separate Theological anthropology from Christology. Our faith and life in the Θεάνθρωπος (God-Man) leads to a fuller understanding of who we are. St Maximus the Confessor for example, stresses that all human beings participate in Christ, insofar as they come from, and have been created by Him, in His image. It is only through our participation in Jesus Christ that we are who we are. The Risen Lord frees man from death, slavery and sin; and our human freedom is nothing less than an expression of our participation in His divine life. He has taken on human nature, as both a priest and victim, out of love, re-establishing our relationship with God. ‘The body of Christ was of the same substance as that of all man.. and he died according to the common lot of his equals..’
Within the Gospels and Saint Paul’s epistles we are frequently reminded that, in Christ, we see the first true man - not broken, nor fallen, but without sin. Pontius Pilate, perhaps without realising it, proclaims this truth, when condemning the Lord to death: ‘Behold the Man.’ (John 19:5) Similarly, we see that Jesus is indeed the true image, (Col 1:15) as ‘He reflects the Glory of God.’ (Heb 1:3) This is precisely what we are called to be; by growing in faith, and following His commandments, we ‘are changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.’ (2 Cor 3:18) Saint Maximus the Confessor clearly believes that Christ, as the archetypal image, is essential in understanding God’s greatest and most powerful gift to man - freedom. Freedom is of course fundamentally important to our understanding of man within theology. For Maximus, it is only through Christ, the Word, that man possesses ‘η κάτα φἠσιν αυτοεξουσιότης,’ a freedom of nature, in conformity with divine freedom. This divine freedom can only lead to goodness, as it comes from the resemblance of God. Man is inseparable from God because he reflects Christ’s ‘cosmic role.’ We, as human beings, created in the Lord’s image, receive our very free existence from the Word, according to Saint Maximus. Without the Logos, a creature would be in a state of non-being. The Word gives each man a κίνησις, something to move towards, or an aim and direction; and it is only in this striving to find our Creator, through the true image, that man can succeed.
‘If you wish to know how great man is, do not turn your eyes towards the thrones of the kings or the places of the great man, look towards the throne of God and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Glory.’ St John Chrysostom
If we desire to understand humanity’s holiness, worth and potential, then let us not look to the cares and possessions of this world, but to Christ, Who points us to our divine purpose. All academic fields point to humanity’s evolvement and development. Man, as raw material, is always in the process of becoming; for natural science this is known as natural evolution, and for social science this is our evolving society. We, as human beings, therefore constantly strive to grow, and are set up against certain visions for the future. Christianity, as Metropolitan Anthony argues, also sets man with future visions, and the desire to continuously improve, renew and evolve towards an end. However, the difference (in centring our understanding of man on Christ, rather than other methods) is that Christianity does not do this idealistically or abstractly. We have a real man before us - Jesus Christ. Metropolitan Anthony writes, ‘in Christ we have a vision - concrete, real, historical.. of what we are called to become in our reality, in our historicity and in our becoming.’ Without having the Saviour of mankind at the centre of theological anthropology, our understanding would be, to say the least, limited. One reason for this, would be the fact that as human beings, we often have our sights solely set on material, bodily pursuits. The ‘compassionate and gracious’ (Ps 103:8) Lord, as ‘God and Father of all’ (Eph 4:6) grabs our attention and offers salvation through His instrument - the incarnate Word; a physical person. He takes on a human body in order to make Himself known to us; and for us to unite with Him. Crucially, it is only through the incarnation that man can truly relate to God. This is what Saint Athanasius the Great calls God solving the ‘Divine Dilemma’ of our salvation. It is only through Christ, the incarnate Word of God, that man is saved. This was the solution of the dilemma; the Word of God taking on a human body, as the instrument in order to offer it to death, and in this way conquer death, offering us everlasting life:
‘The God Word of the all-good Father did not neglect the race of human beings, created by himself, which was going to corruption, but he blotted out the death which had occurred through the offering of his own body, and correcting their carelessness… restoring every aspect of human beings by his own power.’ St Athanasius the Great
Man, created by God for union and eternity, is brought out of his fallen state of death by Christ. According to the Church Fathers, such as John of Damascus, the restoration of the lost image takes place only through Christ. John’s Christology, affirms that Christ is required to take on all limitations of human experience in order to heal what had been damaged by death and sin. The Lord endures a broad range of human experiences and limitations, such as hunger, pain and of course ultimately, death. Through the incarnation of the God-Word (Θεού Λόγου), death itself is trampled upon, and we are granted the resurrection of life, ‘for as by a human being came death, by a human being has come also the resurrection of the dead; for as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1 Cor 15:21-22) For this reason, it is undoubtedly crucial to place Jesus Christ, as the fulfiller, renewer, and humanity’s source of life, at the centre of theological anthropology. Rowan Williams in fact states that if the dogma of Christ’s life, death, and rising, does not offer us the discovery of who we are, then it will have ‘failed to do its job.’ Each and every man is seen in his fullness of being, through the Word. Theological Anthropology needs a mutual understanding of both God, and of man; Christ alone provides unity between us, bringing us both ‘to friendship and concord.’ Saint Irenaeus, like John and Athanasius, affirms the teaching of the Church’s fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, by stating that the incarnate Word of God passes through all stages of human life, restoring to all, communion with Him.
Here we see the connection between Christ’s act, His teaching, and how they can transform our own acts and mentality, in our struggle to becoming fully human like Him. Jesus, offering us this potential, restores the image of fallen humanity (Luke 19:10), emphasising that a fulfilled human life, is a divine, theocentric life, following God’s commandments of love. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart..’ (Luke 10:27) Christ’s entire life is a life of humility, self-sacrifice, and kenotic (Phil 2:7) love; so His human life is certainly the ideal, example to all. His temptations, as well as His suffering and death, are a reminder that our struggles, pains and afflictions lead to resurrection and joy. Man is taught to defeat, and rise up against all evil and death, through Christ. Saint Nikolaj Velimirović underlines the fact that the Lord, through His incarnation had to show man four things, in order for man to realise his potential and true purpose, in relation to God. The first is humility, followed by the fatherly love of God towards man, the royal freedom He has granted us, and His power. The Lord, as perfect man, therefore teaches and shows us what it means to be human, in that man is truly bound to God, and can share in Christ’s relationship with the Father. With Him, and in Him, we are God’s children. To be human, in light of Christ, means to be reconciled, forgiven and renewed; as He puts sin upon Himself, placing us back in communion with our Creator.
The salvation of man (yet another important theme within theological anthropology), fully relies on Christology. As previously mentioned, the fathers speak of the ultimate aim of God’s plan as man’s deification; that man ‘might participate in the whole God..by God becoming man’ Salvation and deification supposes a double movement: a divine movement towards man, requiring God to be partakable of by creation, and a human movement towards God. The essence of Maximus’ Christology is that this synergy only takes place through Christ, as ‘The hypostatic union of these two movements’ is in the incarnate Word. Thus, the hypostatic union (the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity in one hypostasis, as the reality that supports all else) has not only to do with Jesus’ two natures, but to do with how we understand man and his salvation. The perfectly human ‘mode of existence’ is restored and brought to salvation and fullness in Christ alone. Our understanding of Christ, and life in Him, implies and emphasises that man is fundamentally good. Essentially, for Saint Maximus, man’s salvation and deification is natural; not in the sense that we can achieve it on our own, but in the sense that man is created to be united with God, of Whom he is the image. Crucially, for us to have this good, divine inclination as human beings, and to be able to know the transcendent God, means He Himself has descended to us. ‘The meeting of the two movements is fully and hypostatically accomplished in the Incarnate Word.’ It is, then, through the acceptance of this meeting between humanity and divinity that we are able to come to a clearer understanding of theological anthropology; our understanding of man in relation to God.
Metropolitan Anthony, the former head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain, interestingly points out that an important part of claiming Christ to be the perfect man, is the fact He identifies Himself with every human being. Jesus Christ, in His acceptance of our human situation, accepts us in our frailties, and in our miseries. He Himself was born, rejected, tired, abandoned and hated - but of course most importantly, died. Although many may romantically cover up His violent and harsh death, the truth is that it was very real, and reflects our own prayer in pain; ‘My God, my God why have thou forsaken me?’ (Matt 27:46) The tragedy of man is Godlessness, but God Himself, through His incarnation and death participates in this. Jesus becomes one of us, in the most horrid, dark sense. This is the measure of His solidarity. He accepts everything that we are, even our Godlessness and death. Only through this bold realisation of Christ’s true humanity, can we understand man in relation to God. Without Christology, and in particular the understanding of Jesus’ humanity, we are unable to explain human pain, suffering and death in light of God. Moreover, we are unable to speak of our ability to rise above mortality and death, living in eternal communion with God, without His divinity.
Christology should be central to Theological Anthropology, as Christ, the incarnate Word ‘accomplishes the true human destiny..He unites man to God.’ The essay has argued that in Christ, we have anthropophany; the true revelation of man. Only in the person of Jesus, we find unity between humanity and divinity; and the true meaning and purpose of human life. John Zizioulas, the Metropolitan of Pergamon, writes that ‘man exists truly in unbroken relationship with God,’ but as the essay has highlighted, it is Christ Who offers man this relationship and understanding of His Creator. I have expressed the position that God’s will, purpose, and nature are made known through the person of Jesus; with His incarnation, His death and resurrection, as well as His human life, teaching and acts, offering us a clearer understanding of who we are, and who we ought to be as men.
Βελιμίροβιτς Ν 2010, Θεός επι γης, Άνθωπος εν ουρανώ, Athens, p.69-70.
Bloom, A 2004, God and Man, London : DLT, p. 81-89.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.19.6, in A New Eusebius 1987, London: SPCK, p.119.
Meyendorff, J 1969, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, Washington: Corpus, p.104-115.
Saint Athanasius, 2011, On the Incarnation, New York: SVS, p.37-39.
Saint Philaret, The Longer Catechism of the Orthodox Catholic Eastern Church, p.211.
Twombly, C 2015, Perichoresis and Personhood, Eugene: PTMS, p.97-99.
Williams, R 2007, On Christian Theology, Oxford: Blackwell p.82.