Athanasius of Alexandria – 20140119

To gain a proper perspective on the Eastern view of salvation, we have to be aware of its distinctive ideas about humanity and its implications. For the most part, the Eastern view of humanity looks forward to the renewing of the image of God. The underlying anthropology is not necessarily more positive put, instead of operating mainly in guilt-concepts, its looks upward, so to speak, to the image of God to be fulfilled in mortal human beings. This sets the tone for the rest of its beliefs about salvation and theology in general.

The view of the human being in the Christian East is based upon the notion of participation in God. This natural participation, however, is not a static given. Rather, it is a challenge and the human being is called to grow in divine life. Divine life is a gift, but also a task, which is to be accomplished by a free human effort.

A person becomes the perfect image of God by discovering his or her likeness to God, which is the perfection of the nature common to all human beings. The Greek term homoiousios, which corresponds to likeness in Genesis 1:26, means precisely that dynamic progress and growth in divine life and implies human freedom. In Greek patristic thought there is no opposition between freedom (likeness) and grace (i.e., God’s image in human beings): the presence in man of divine qualities, of a grace (God’s image) which makes him fully man, “neither destroys his freedom, nor limits the necessity for him to become fully himself by his own effort: rather it secures that synergy or cooperation between the divine will and human choice which makes possible the progress from glory to glory and the assimilation of man to the divine dignity for which he was created.

I think that this is one or the clearest descriptions I have seen. Think about it. It preserves God’s presence in our lives and also our freedom. It asserts that God created us with the capacity to cooperate with Him in gaining a unity with Him. This unity is achieved by our work to allow ourselves to think and act in the image and likeness of Jesus, the God-Man.

Unlike much of classical Western theology, the Eastern fathers never viewed the creation of human beings as perfect even before the Fall. Humans are created imperfect and, as free rational beings, they have to go through the stages of growth necessary to bring them to a maturity which allows them to see that they have been made in the image and likeness of God.

It is important to assertindex that this Eastern approach is as correct as the Western approach, although often people think that the Western approach is the whole truth and the absolute truth. There is no dogma that says we have to adhere to one or the other approach.


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