The likeness to God makes men and women different from animals. Moreover, being made “in the image and likeness of God” involves a similarity of nature with God who is spirit. Men and women have an intellect to think things through ‘in the tangle of their minds,’ a will to decide freely, even against God, a memory which links the present to the past, and an imagination which opens the door to creative activity.
Animals can perform amazing feats: birds fly, amphibians live in water and on land, dogs, so keenly attuned to human beings, are man’s best friend. But none of them can do mathematics or make consequential life decisions. None can make a work of art or wonder at and enjoy beautiful things. While animals glorify God simply by being who they are, only men and women can commune with God in prayer. This last point is true because, at heart, we long for communion with the God of life (Ps 84:2, 42:2 ).
What does all this say? It paves the way for a higher revelation: Men and women share in the divine nature. God’s gracious activity prompts us to reach out higher and higher, to stretch ourselves toward divinity. This is what is known as grace, the active receptivity of the soul to say yes when yes is needed and no when no is needed.
Focus of the Church Fathers
The early Church Fathers used another way of describing the phrase, ‘born for beauty.’ They spent their entire lives teaching and preaching one of the best loved verses, given here with the fullness of poetic prose: “God became man that man might become God.” Such a bold, imaginative, and powerful statement! (The original Hebrew seemed blasphemous, so instead, translators substituted the word angels for God. Moreover, with the expected use inclusive language, the poetic balance of the phrase is lost.)
Still, the point is clear. We were made to be exalted high above the angels. The body-soul unity far exceeds the spiritual beings of angels. Church Fathers like Sts. Irenaeus (d ca 202), Athanasius (d 373), Gregory Nazianzen (d 390) and Gregory of Nyssa (d ca 395) developed the doctrine of image and likeness and taught salvation history from the this all-encompassing view of God. They spoke of man and woman being divinized – the process of becoming godlike. Christ seeks out humanity and deigns to assume the frailty of human nature that it might be ennobled, transformed into a new creation, and brought to life in full measure. Put another way, he abased himself to become one of us in order to raise us up to divinity. In the Offertory Rite too, the priest mingles water and wine to symbolize our sharing in the divinity of Christ. God became man that man might become God!