How does Church teachings manage to integrate an understanding of both the graced and the flawed nature of the human person?


Bishop John asked Dr. Fran Colie, the Assistant Director of the Religious Education Department to field this question. Here is Dr. Colie’s response:

Man is created in the “image and likeness” of God (Gen1:26). He is created with the “image” or seed of divine filiation with God and the potential to bring that “image” to the “likeness” of God by the exercise of free will.

We integrate our understanding of both the ‘graced and the flawed nature of the person’ as you state in your question, by accepting ourselves and our true nature which is that of “man the divine icon” made according to the archetype of man, Jesus Christ., and grow synergistically in a relationship with God. That nature may become flawed only by our free choice, but the ‘image’ can never be taken away. Man may choose God or remain self centered and carnal minded which limits growth in the ‘likeness’ of God. Man is most like God when he exercises his free will to choose to become like God. Being made in the “image of God” he has the potential to become like God. This potential can never be taken away even though it might be tarnished by sin (which in essence is a conscious refusal to grow in the ‘likeness’ of God; a denial of God.

The “image” of God” in us is our true nature and it is good, not flawed, all that is made by God is good. In the Eastern Church “grace” is called “uncreated energy” because it is God’s energy – all other energy is created energy because God is the only uncreated one. After the fall of Adam, the world created by God was thrown into chaos, making it necessary for man to struggle to bring this “image” to fruition or ‘likeness’ by overcoming or transcending the temptations of this worldly life.

In western theology, the spiritual man is a ‘natural’ man to whom grace has been added. Human nature (natura pura) includes the intellectual and the animal life and to this the spiritual life (the supernatural) has been added and somehow superimposed on a purely human economy. In the East, the expression, man ‘in the image of God’ (that is, with the grace of the Spirit) defines exactly what man is by nature, ‘By his creation man shares the nature of God” and so charismatism is intrinsic to human nature’ Evdikimov states, What the West calls supernatural-natural’ is simply called ‘human-divine’, or created-uncreated’ by Eastern authors. Consequently, for man the natural (kata physin) consists of whatever is for him a pure good: charity, faith, the virtues, gnosis, and so on. Wickedness is sin, evil thoughts the passions – all these are ‘against nature’ (para physin). Ephram explained that it is not man’s nature which is corrupted, but his habits, and that this corruption has altered nature. Only deliverance from sin allows the appropriate use of nature”. And we read in Evagrius: “When we were created at the beginning, seeds of virtue existed naturally in us but no malice at all . . .”