Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Et Creavit Deus Hominem ad Imaginem Suam

GOD CREATED MAN, BOTH MALE AND FEMALE, in his own image. These are some of the first words in the Scriptures, found in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. They are at the foundation of any Jewish or Christian anthropology. Man is b'tzelem elohim (בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים) (Gen. 1:27), the image of God, imago Dei. It is a revealed truth, surely one that has its counterpart in reason. For man is able to perceive through the use of his reason that he shares in some dignity as a result of his creation, and as a result of his knowing that his end is the contemplation of God, the First Cause. This notion shows itself, in very corrupt form, in the anthropomorphic concepts of the gods that the pagans had. Man made the gods in his own image, which is a back-handed way of acknowledging the real truth: that man was made in God's image. No inkling or hunch that might be obtained by the use of reason of man's personhood and dignity, however, reaches the cardinal truth of human anthropology: man as imago Dei. The dignity of man seen as a fellow intellector of being and a fellow doer of good is different from the dignity of man as the very image of the Source of all reality, all reason, all love, in fact the Source who is Reality, Reason, and Love. To see only man and not the one in whose image he was made is like wearing blinders. "Trying to understand man without recognizing him as the imago Dei is like trying to understand a bas-relief without recognizing it as a carving." Budziszewski (2003), 70.

It is not that some semblance of man's dignity cannot be gleaned from reason; it can, but it is arduous and rarely something compelling. "Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk," said John Henry Cardinal Newman in his Idea of the University, "then you may hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man.” And so the history of man is replete with man abusing his own fellows, of man being a wolf to man; homo homini lupus, said Plautus. Reason alone seems an ineffective governor. It is too easily circumvented. There is too much static in hearing its insistence that man has a special dignity we call personhood.

Man is B'tzelem Elohim

In every man--it matters not his stage of development, the color of his skin, the tribe or people from whence he came, the language that he speaks, or the God he worships or fails to worship--is made in the image of God. Man is therefore impressed by the seal of God, as it were, and those who claim to love God will perceive the very image of God in their neighbor. This linkage between God and his image is what leads St. John to say succinctly: "If any man says I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar." (1 John 4:20). It is not that believing that man is made in the image of God infallibly assures we will treat our fellow man properly, but it constitutes a great bulwark, nevertheless. "For the most part," notes Budziszewski, "the ones who stay on the trail [and accord man his proper dignity] are the same ones who acknowledge the biblical revelation of the imago Dei." It was the imago Dei the abolitionist saw in the black slave that compelled him to institute the reforms to banish that "peculiar institution." It was the imago Dei that Hitler suppressed that compelled the Nazis to place the Jew in the concentration camp.

The notion of man as imago Dei is encapsulated in the philosophical notion of man as a person. Man is a person, not unlike God, who is three persons in one God. Unfortunately, the philosophical concept of a person has undergone corruption at the hands of secularists, who, beginning with John Locke, began to define human personhood as a matter of function, and not as a matter of being or nature.* But defining personhood in terms of function (memory, ability to communicate, concept of self, whatever it may be) is a contradiction in terms. It is a bizarre hijacking of a philosophical term. "In short, a person is by nature someone whom it is wrong to view merely functionally . . . . And so the functional definition of personhood does not even rise to the dignity of being wrong. It is incoherent." Budziszewski (2003), 72.

There is a certain ominous characteristic in the loss of the sense of man as imago Dei, something that hints at a future far worse than merely a new paganism with new gods and idols of man's own making. A dog who has vomited the toxic contents from its stomach is one thing. A dog who returns to it to eat it after having had the taste of a hale meal is quite another.

*For a short description of the change of the meaning of person from one based upon intrinsic qualities to one based upon functionality, see Tribute to Moloch: Beethoven from Zygote to Death.

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