Many today believe that men are just so many atoms, having nothing in common, defined only by time, place, and skin color. However, this is contrary to the wisdom of the Jews, the wisdom of the Christians, and the wisdom of the pagans. Unless we get our anthropology correct, we’ll never have order or justice or freedom or beauty or truth or goodness.
At our current moment in 2020, we have lost sight of the human person as a distinct being. Rather, we have focused on the distinctions, not on the being. We have—gradually, beginning in the late 1960s, and then suddenly, and then, as of today, violently—focused instead on the aspects of the human person: gender, race (though, really, there is no such thing as race; there is only one human race), skin tone, ethnicity, etc. Rather than understand, we divide and divide and divide some more, breaking everything down to its parts rather than acknowledging the whole.
Such a cultural movement over the last fifty-plus years is contrary to all Christian teaching, of course. In the first chapter of Genesis, we learn—with absolute clarity—that man is made in the image of God. Male and female were made in His image.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Thus, we bear the Imago Dei, and, as image bearers, we must uphold the responsibilities and duties with which God has entrusted us.
In the New Testament, St. Paul reminds us again of our wholeness, made in the image of God, this time focusing on the Second Person of the Trinity.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
These are not mere asides; these are central tenets of the Christian faith. Man, as a whole (male, female, black, white, Asian, Amerindian, etc.), is made in the Image of God. Not white men, not black men, not Asian men. Men, male and female.
Over the past century, Christian humanist scholars—ranging from Willa Cather to T.S. Eliot to Jacques Maritain to Christopher Dawson—strove to understand the dignity and uniqueness of each human person within the context of the Imago Dei and the universality of the creature known as man. “No man, and therefore, no human type, is outside the universally human,” Theodor Haecker proclaimed in 1934. He continues:
Man when solitary is not man, nor can he by himself make unity out of his diversity. The gulfs which separate man from man are innumerable, and even within that first and ultimate natural unity, the family, they may be desperately deep. But however mysterious the grounds for them may be, it is nevertheless within his power to bridge them superficially by a hundred technical means and inwardly to overcome them through heroic love and self-denying sacrifice, through a voluntarily casting of himself into the abyss, and through a grace-given rediscovery there of some yet profounder common ground.
And yet, when God sees us, he does not see merely what is common, but He sees within each of us the uniqueness and excellences He Himself bestowed. Thus, if God levels, He levels up. “It is not required of us that we should denationalize, and thereby renounce, our individuality, our uniqueness. Leveling in the spiritual realm is anti-Christian,” Haecker understood.
J.R.R. Tolkien, another profound Christian humanist, argued in a similar fashion to Haecker in understanding the particular and the universal within each individual human being, when in a letter to W.H. Auden he claimed that each person is an allegory, “each embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life.”
Long before Tolkien, Cicero made a similar point, explaining that Reason was the language not just of God, but of God to man, and man to man, tying all men and women together in a sort of Cosmopolis, a universal city.
And long before Cicero, Heraclitus argued the same. “The most beautiful of apes is ugly in comparison with the human race,” he stated in one of his fragments. Regretfully, he continued, too many forget who and what they are and what holds them together. “For this reason it is necessary to follow what is common,” he wrote, “but although the Logos is common, most people live as if they had their own private understanding.”
Is this not where we find ourselves today—as if there was nothing common, and men were so many atoms, defined only by time, place, and skin color? Wisdom remains, however. The wisdom of the Jews, the wisdom of the Christians, and the wisdom of the pagans are all greater than ours. Each understood that man is man. If only we could once again attain such knowledge and such wisdom. If only we could remember and act. If only we could simply get our anthropology correct. For, once we have a proper definition of man, we can properly define men. Not before, however. Never before.
Unless we get our definitions correct, we’ll never have order or justice or freedom or beauty or truth or goodness.
The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.
The featured image is “Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea” (c. 1886–1894) by James Tissot (1836–1902) and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. It has been brightened slightly for clarity.