Earthy-ing the Imago Dei

I read Van Til, Dooyeweerd, and Rushdoony for reasons most other people don’t read them.  I couldn’t care less about specific apologetic methodologies.  Their true genius is in the fact that they–more than anyone else–allowed the Creator-creature distinction to inform their understanding of creation and imago Dei.

Any discussion of the imago-dei is better served, not by speculating on essences and accidents, but on man’s role as priest-king-prophet in creation and New Creation.  We must firmly resist any scheme that says the higher part of man is the soul while the lower part is the body (John of Damascus and Aquinas say exactly that).

16 comments on “Earthy-ing the Imago Dei

  1. Craig French says:

    Here are a couple of quotes from Charles Williams which I think are helpful (though provocative to some):

    “She (Julian of Norwich, I believe) followed the Church, which, ever since it had rejected the Nestorian idea of a merely moral union of the two natures in Christ, had been committed to a realistic sense of the importance of matter: ‘our soul with our body, and our body with our soul, either of them taking help of other’…The operations of matter are a means of the operation of Christ, and the body has not, in fact, as some pious people suggest, fallen a good deal farther than the soul…The result of our unofficial Manicheism has been that when the official representatives of the Church have talked about such things as sexual love (to take one example), they may have said the right things, but they have said very few of them and they have generally said them in the wrong style. The great world and energy of the body have been either deprecated or devotionalized; and by devotionalized I mean turned into a pale imitation of ‘substance’, of spirit; thus losing their own powers and privileges without, in general, gaining any others. There has been a wide feeling that the more like an indeterminate soul the body can be made the better.”

    “I am anxious not to use words which seem too much to separate the physical structure from the whole. The fact of death, and the ensuing separations of ‘body’ and ‘soul’, lead us to consider them too much as separate identities conjoined. But I hope it is not unorthodox to say that body and soul are one identify, and that all our inevitable but unfortunate verbal distinctions are therefore something less than true. Death has been regarded by the Christian Church as an outrage – a necessary outrage, perhaps, but still an outrage. It has been held to be an improper and grotesque schism in a single identity – to which submission, but not consent, is to be offered; a thing, like sin, that ought not to be and yet is. The distress of our Lord in His Passion may perhaps not improperly be supposed to be due to His contemplation of this all but inconceivable schism in His own sacred and single identity. If our manhoods were from the first meant indivisibly, how much more His!”

  2. Jeremy Chen says:

    Interested in hearing more.

  3. […] Jacob Aitken writes, “Any discussion of the imago-dei (“Image of God” in man) is better served, not by speculating on essences and accidents, but on man’s role as priest-king-prophet in creation and New Creation”. […]

  4. Jacob,
    Do you believe that the creator/creature distinction is derivable from natural theology etc.?

  5. I haven’t bothered to develop a imago-dei based natural theology. I was content with the Scriptural revelation and in examining Romanist and EO positions. That’s about the extent of it. I am not really excited about natural theology–Scripture is just more interesting to me–but I don’t have an axe to grind against it.

    • I am excited about it because I believe if there is agreement there, then the disagreements about Scripture will mainly disappear because Special Revelation is built upon Natural Revelation/Natural Theology

  6. olivianus says:


    “We must firmly resist any scheme that says the higher part of man is the soul while the lower part is the body”

    >>>Well then, welcome to the Hebrew Roots Movement Jacob because I know of no Christian Theologian that denies it.

    John Calvin,

    “2. Moreover, there can be no question that man consists of a body and a soul; meaning by soul, an immortal though created essence, which is his nobler part. Sometimes he is called a spirit. But though the two terms, while they are used together differ in their meaning, still, when spirit is used by itself it is equivalent to soul, as when Solomon speaking of death says, that the spirit returns to God who gave it (Eccles. 12:7). And Christ, in commending his spirit to the Father, and Stephen his to Christ, simply mean, that when the soul is freed from the prison-house of the body, God becomes its perpetual keeper. ”

    Institutes of the Christian Religion
    CHAPTER 15

    • John says:

      This note from Calvin is interesting in light of the Reformation’s rejection of relics. Whatever John of Damascus says, even if we assume that it is normative in Orthodoxy, we still have a highly developed theology of the body in that even after death, the soul being separated from the body, it is loved and cared for because it is still that person who has died. In fact, Orthodoxy does not cremate their departed loved ones. And those that have lived a life in the Spirit, His presence remains with that material portion of the deceased (hence relics).


      • Yeah, the Calvin quote is pretty awful and many Reformed today reject it (or cringe at it). The Amsterdam school–Vollenhoven, Stoker, Nigel Lee, Bavinck, Berkower, Dooyeweerd–all reject the aforesaid dualism (or trichotomism, per Orthodoxy).

        I agree with you on cremation and life in the Spirit. I have my own thoughts on relics which I won’t go into here.

      • Would you be willing to allow some sort of priority of the soul over the body while rejecting the view that the body is lower/prison etc.?

      • John says:

        Is Trichotomism Orthodox? I’ve read that a number of Church Fathers, whose orthodoxy is not in question by the EOC, have also used a dualistic approach to the make-up of man. Is there a council of the Orthodox Church that has dogmatized the tripartite nature of man that you attribute to Orthodoxy?

  7. Yes. Jesus does talk about “he who destroys the body…he who destroys the soul.” I am still fleshing (pun intended) it out at the moment.

  8. A number of Fathers speak that way–or at least speak in terms of higher and lower faculties.

    • John says:

      Well, yes, I agree. A number of Fathers do speak that way. What of it? Some Fathers use a dualistic approach while others use a tripartite approach. Our dogma comes from the Ecumenical Councils and I am unaware of any that dogmatize Trichotomism, as you seem to suggest in that you state that Trichotomism is, de facto, Orthodox, to the exclusion of the other.

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