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Ryan T.

Dr. Steven Blackburn
SC-634: Major Themes of the Bible and the Quran
4 May 2012
Imago Dei: The Ontological Foundations and
Implications of the Creation of Man

...Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...

Genesis 1:26
We shall show them Our signs upon the horizons and within their souls...
Quran 41:53

In Genesis 1:26, it is said Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.
Within this same verse follows the injunction of God that man have dominion upon all the
creatures of the earth, firmly linking imago, an evidently ontological description, with man's role
upon the earth a clearly practical prescription. A comparison of this ontological imperative1
will be made with its parallel in the Islamic tradition. A rough overview of Christian and Islamic
cosmology will be necessary in order to contextualize humanity metaphysically and discuss
conceptions of its relationship with God from pre-modern perspectives. The work of Seyyed
Hossein Nasr and William Chittick, contemporary scholars with significant research in this area,
will be very helpful in making this discussion possible, particularly as used to provide an Islamic
complement and analysis of various components of Christian theology as they pertain to the idea
of img Dei or image of God both ontologically and ethically speaking. Laying the framework
for a theoretical, theological dialogue, it is hoped something might be discovered in terms of the
particular importance of revisiting the principle of img Dei, from both Christian and Islamic
sources, in the modern context.
1 By ontological imperative I am borrowing here the terminology of W. Chittick and others, particularly as it
appears in the title of the latter section of Chittick's Worship in Winter, Tim, ed. (2008) The Cambridge
Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (pp. 218-236) New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

According to J. Milburn Thompson, the biblical notion of human domination has led to
an anthropocentric conception of the earth, and by extension we may allude, the cosmos
(Thomspon 63). It may be argued, however, that a totally anthropocentric vision of the cosmos is
a specifically modern transformation from a traditionally theocentric cosmology (Thompson 63).
Nonetheless, the explicit notion of the authority of man upon the life of the earth in the book of
Genesis has left Christianity a central culprit in the eyes of many looking for an epistemological
cause for the modern environmental crisis (Thompson 63). It is the perspective of this analysis
that this view is anachronistic, in part as it ascribes a modern, desacralized notion of the earth to
a pre-modern, pre-industrial, and pre-Cartesian2 tradition; the question of humanity's privileged
status in scripture, however elevated and however central, cannot be taken out of the context of
its unquestionable ontological as well as functional subordination to God.
The Christian framework for the discussion of humanity's having been made in the image
of God lies in the biblical account of the creation of Adam:
Then God said, Let us make adam [humankind] in Our image, according to Our
likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the
air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping
thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created adam [humankind] in His image, in the
image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
Adam, we are informed, was created in the image of God. Adam in this context is understood in
its broadest sense, that is man and not merely Adam, and in the sense of humankind and not
merely the male.3 As mentioned already, this verse continues beyond the discussion of image
2 This matter will be visited in greater detail in the concluding section of this paper.
3 While there has been historical discourse among Christian theologians as to whether img Dei applies to man
in the inclusive or exclusive sense, it is safe to say that the inclusive understanding is at least one traditional
point of view, and it is used as an underlying assumption in this paper. For more on img Dei and gender, see
Hayter, M. in McGrath 2007 (pp. 483-487). Likewise, the parallel themes in the Islamic tradition apply to both
men and women, and the creation of men and women from a single archetypal soul is quranically justifiable (see

with the injunction of God that man have dominion upon all the creatures of the earth, affirming
a link between humanity's ontological distinction and a relationship of authority upon in world,
to be understood or prescribed by Christian scholars in various ways (Thompson 63). It is in this
way that the image of God has been seen as both functional and substantial in meaning,
corporeal and supra-corporeal. It is also important to note as well that in the Latin Vulgate, the
phrase in our image, according to our likeness from Genesis 1:26 would in fact be better
rendered as ...according to our image and likeness, that is, ad imaginem et similitudinem
nostram. This version of the text in particular alludes to a distinction between these two
complementary terms, a distinction which indeed has been a part of theological discussions on
this matter among Christians from the earliest centuries onward whenever the Latin Vulgate was
used. The implications of this distinction for Christian theologians will be analyzed later.
While similar ideas are found in the quranic account of the creation of Adam, the closest
direct parallel to img Dei in the Islamic tradition is to be found in the hadith. According to a
well known saying of the Prophet of Islam, God created Adam al sratihi (Steppat 163), or in
His form (Nasr 15). While some scholars have avoided the discussion of God's form by
advocating varying interpretations of this hadith (Steppat 163), the conventional interpretation of
this verse as understood here does not attribute an anthropomorphic form to God; in this context,
sra refers to God's names and qualities, not a physical image (Nasr 2004, 15). At the same time,
Nasr notes that one may be said to reflect the Absolute not only in [one's] spiritual and mental
faculties but even in [one's] body (Nasr 1989, 171). It is possible then, to acknowledge body
and spirit as having a common origin in Divine manifestation, rather than the image of God
Nasr 2004, pp. 12-14). Riffat Hassan has written on this topic and others with a strong scriptural basis to her
arguments, analyzed in Barlas, A. "Women's Readings of the Quran" in McAuliffe, J. D., ed. (2006). The
Cambridge Companion to the Quran. (pp. 255-272). New York, NY: Cambridge. Both inclusive and
conventional language are used in this paper; when the latter is used (e.g. man for humankind), it is with the
explicitly inclusive denotation in mind.

being simply reflected as a spirit surrounded by inherently profane matter. Man, it must be
remembered, is of a spiritual as well as material mold, and conventional Islamic conceptions of
humanity in the Islamic tradition generally agree in this regard (Nasr 1989, 168).
Regardless of whether one is speaking of the Christian or Islamic tradition, and one may
perhaps even apply this statement more broadly, one is unlikely to do any justice to the
discussion of man ontologically without so too speaking of the cosmos, or creation more
generally. There is a metaphysical notion once common among Christians and Muslims that the
human body is a microcosm, a small version of the universe at large (MacDonald 70). This
idea has arguably among its many origins the works of Plato and Neoplatonic philosophers.
These ideas are complemented and reinforced, however, by parallel notions in Islamic and
Christian scripture, together having had a strong impact on pre-modern conceptions of the
cosmos in both civilizations. While the traditional microcosm-macrocosm framework has been
largely forgotten and replaced by modern, scientific conceptions of space, certain contemporary
scholars have endeavored to resurrect pre-modern cosmology into the modern consciousness.
One of the last publications of the accomplished university professor C.S. Lewis, who is also
well remembered as a high fantasy novelist, was an academic book titled The Discarded Image.
Presented as an introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, it was in fact an exhibition
of pre-modern cosmology, to which the notion of a discarded image specifically refers
(Consolmagno 21:40).
As may be deduced from the example of Lewis's work, one can endeavor to deeply
understand pre-modern literature only when one also understands its cosmological context
(Lewis 12). Pre-modern notions of the cosmos, like their modern equivalent, were paradigmatic,
reflecting widely held assumptions pre-modern writers would have shared with their audiences.

Being common sense, as it often was, many of these notions would inevitably remain unspoken
in the text themselves. As a professor of medieval literature, it makes sense that Lewis wanted to
present the discarded image of traditional cosmology so that a modern audience, his students,
could better understand the ideas and concepts taken for granted by earlier and particularly
medieval peoples in their writings.
Among the material discussed in Lewis's work was the notion of man and his place in the
cosmos, particularly as understood through his substance. Lewis describes the human being from
the perspective of medieval Christendom as follows:
Man is a rational animal, and therefore a composite being, partly akin to the angels who
are rational but [...] not animal, and partly akin to the beasts which are animal but not
rational. This gives us one of the senses in which he is the little world or microcosm.
Every mode of being in the whole universe contributes to him; he is a cross-section of
being. As Gregory the Great says, because man has existence (esse) in common with
stones, life with trees, and understanding (discernere) with angels, he is rightly called by
the name of the world. (Lewis 152-153)
From this perspective, humanity, or the microcosm, is inseparable from the totality of creation,
the macrocosm. Gregory the Great's description of humankind as a uniquely privileged
composite of attributes or substances that are ordinarily ontologically separated is especially
significant here and will appear again while investigating the distinction of mankind from the
point of view of the Islamic tradition. While the cosmos contains occurrences of physicality,
spirit, and intellect, as well as countless other elements and virtues, it is only in man that they all
appear in one place. Humanity, as explained here, is a sort of focal point wherein all the possible
kinds of created beings converge.

The contemporary academic William Chittick, paralleling Lewis, has also striven to
unveil pre-modern conceptions of the cosmos for the benefit of contemporary discussion, in his
own case that of the study of religion. Drawing heavily from the sources of Ibn Arabi,
particularly the Meccan Openings, much of Chittick's work has helped to reintroduce general
conceptions of what the cosmos is and most importantly the ontological position of man within
it. As Chittick says:
According to Islamic cosmology in general and [Ibn Arabi's] teachings in particular, God
created the human being as the last creature, having employed all the other creatures to
bring him into existence. As the final link in a great chain of being, people bring together
and harmonize all previous links. Not only do they have mineral, vegetal, and animal
components, they also replicate the invisible and visible cosmic hierarchy, beginning with
the First Intellect and including the Universal Soul, Prime Matter, the Universal Body, the
Throne of God, God's Footstool, the starless sphere, the sphere of the constellations, the
seven planets, and the four elements. In some mysterious way, every human being
contains everything in the cosmos. (Chittick 31)
While a detailed discussion of Islamic or Christian cosmology is beyond the domain of the
present examination, Chittick's description of the human being and the cosmos is an important
one in recognizing how Muslims have traditionally understood the ontology of humankind and
its place in the hierarchy of creation. As the twentieth century philosopher Frithjof Schuon said,
man reflects the cosmic totality, the Creation, and thereby the Being of God (Schuon 387). In
order to successfully link humanity's place in the cosmos to its relationship with God as His
image, one must explore, in the context of these metaphysical perspectives, the relationship of
the cosmos with God. If man reflects the totality of creation, and man is made in the image of

God, does this not imply that creation, or the cosmos itself, is also made in the image of God?
The Orthodox Christian Scholar James Cutsinger has given particular attention to the
notion of the cosmos as a theophanic expression, that is creation as emanation.
Theologians who mistrust metaphysicians for fear that the necessity of manifestation,
unlike the gift of creation, will compromise the absoluteness of God, and thus His
freedom from determination, seem not to have recognized that absoluteness imposes its
own limits, not extrinsic to be sure, but intrinsic and proceeding from the essence of the
Divine Reality Itself. [] It is [...] certain that God cannot but manifest Himself, whether
we call the result of this Self-expression an emanation or a creation [...] the necessity
flows from the essence. If absolute, God is loosened or freed from all limits; He is
unbounded and infinite. But having no bounds, nothing being able to contain or enclose
Him, God cannot but pass outside of Himself and into the nothing, from which, as it
were by displacement, He makes His creatures come into being. None is good but God,
and it is the very nature of the only Good to communicate Itself (St Augustine).
(Cutsiner 3)
Drawing off the words of Origen, that it is alike impious and absurd to suppose that there was a
time when Goodness did not do good and omnipotence did not exercise Its power, Cutsinger
proposes creatio ex deo as a possible reconciliation between creatio ex nihilo and creatio ex
materia, in part by means of means of proposing a tense of creation that is not simply lodged in
the past (Cutsinger 4). From this point of view, noting what has already been said about mankind
and the cosmos, a quality similar to ontological or theophanic conceptions of img Dei might
then be ascribed to the cosmos, with man its central or focal being (Nasr 15). Chittick provides a
similar perspective from Ibn Arabi:

[Ibn Arabi] points to the infinity of [Being] and cites the axiom, Self-disclosure never
repeats itself. God in His infinite effusion is under no constraints. Hence no two things
and no two instants are exactly the same. This is the Shaykh's famous doctrine of the
renewal of creation at each instant. As he writes concerning the cosmos []
Everything other than the Essence of God is intervening imagination and vanishing
shadow, . . . undergoing transformation from form to form constantly and forever . . .
(Chittick 28)
It seems we are presented here with the perspective that the material of any given instant is as
ephemeral as the instant itself, at least relative to the continuous reality that is God. Man and the
cosmos, it has already been established, are made of the same substance. We arrive then, at the
possibility that one may attribute the quality of being made in God's image not only to man but
the cosmos more inclusively. This is, however, potentially problematic, as it is man that is made
in the divine image or form in the Bible and Hadith, and both the Bible and the Qurn attribute
to man a special distinction from the totality of creation. Nonetheless, both the New Testament
and the Quran propose a cosmos that is intrinsically connected to God.
By taking note of various scriptural passages, one may consider the traditional notion of
witnessing the signs of God through the act of witnessing creation. According to Romans 1:20,
the invisible things of God are made known by those things that are made. The invisible, then,
is perceivable through the visible, or the cosmos in as much as it is in range of human perception.
A parallel verse appears in the Qurn: We shall show them Our signs upon the horizons and
within their souls... (41:53). Both serve particularly as a warning for disbelievers as well as, it
may be said, an aid for curious seekers. The cosmos can in this manner function as somewhat of
a map to God; His yt, or signs, appear visible to man in God's self-disclosure, whether we call

it creation or emanation. In regards to the theological suspicion of metaphysical approaches to

the study of creation, as alluded to by Cutsinger, whatever notion of emanation is proposed must
remain faithful to monotheism; in the Islamic context, it must maintain a proper balance of
transcendence and immanence (98). In the terminology of Islamic kalm, there is a notion of the
incomparability of God which is referred to as tanzh; God's similarity, by contrast, is known
as tashbh (98). If the Islamic tradition is said to contain a concept of emanation or illumination,
which strongly implies a relation of similarity between God and creation, it must be understood
in the context of a framework that all the while emphasizes a notion of divine incomparability.
This apparent paradox is addressed significantly by Ibn Arabi.
As Ibn Arabi has had a widespread influence upon Islam in general and Sufism in
particular, upon multiple intellectual domains as well as much of popular religious belief, a
discussion of Ibn Arabi's work on this matter as presented here may be said to be largely
reflective of a normative Sufi perspective4 (Chodkiewicz 2-3). Central to the discussion of man
and the cosmos as reflections of God from an Akbarian5 perspective is the strict proscription of
any affirmation of man as an ontologically independent entity, such an affirmation very likely
bordering on polytheism (Ar. shirk). Existence, or Being (Ar. Wujd), cannot be attributed to
anything in the cosmos in the same way that it can be attributed to God (Chittick 18). As God is
Ultimate Reality (Ar. haqq), all else can only be attributed the quality of existence in as much as
this articulation of the quality is relative or relational. Seen from another perspective, existence
as a quality implies being not quite else. In as much as Wujd can only be attributed to God,
God is transcendent, implying incomparability. In as much as humanity and the cosmos may be
4 Numerous researchers have pointed out the extent of Ibn Arabi's influence in geographical space, from the
Maghreb to the Far East. But it is even more important to measure and to understand the depth of this influence:
Ibn Arabi's mark was not left only on intellectual Sufism. It is also detected in a universe of brotherhoods that
touched the most diverse social classes and levels of culture... Chodkiewicz, Introduction (pp. 2-3).
5 That is, the loosely identified school of Ibn Arabi, the Great Shaykh

said to exist, borrowing their Wujd from the Transcendent, God is also by ontological necessity
very immanent and in a manner of speaking partially visible (Chittick 16-18).
In the Quran, God identifies Adam as His khalfah or vicegerent, that is to say, His
representative upon the earth (2:30). It is said, furthermore, wa allama dam al-asm
kullah..., which is translated and We taught Adam [that is, man] all the names (2:31).
Chittick notes the importance of the modifier kullah, that God distinctly taught humankind all
the names and not simply one or some of them (Chittick 32). In creating man in His own form,
as the hadith accounts, God created man in the form of all of God's qualities (The All-Merciful,
Forgiving, Just, etc.), traditionally said to be ninety-nine in number (Chittick 32). From Ibn
Arabi's perspective, human beings are distinguished from the rest of the cosmos in that each
individual reflects particular divine attributes to one degree or another, with the potentiality to
reflect all of them in equal balance; by contrast, all other creatures are created within known and
fixed stations or maqm malm (Chittick 32). As with other beings in the cosmos, a limited
number of divine qualities tend to dominate over others in most human beings. While a person
may be wrathful or loving, the ideal human being is defined by his or her realization of all
the names in perfect balance or equilibrium (Chittick 32). This, however, is a feat reached by
none in this world but the prophets and saintliest persons (Nasr 1989, 166).
Chittick notes that Ibn Arabi's work is more often anthropological than ontological in any
pure sense of the term (Chittick 29). Rather than referring to man and the universe as the
microcosm and macrocosm, respectively, he more frequently employs what may be translated as
microanthropos and macroanthropos, that is, the small human being and the great human
being, indicating the elevation of man as the standard reference point for all that exists in the
realm of the created order (Chittick 33). As has already been noted, moreover, the metaphysical

distinction between man and the cosmos in as far as they result from divine manifestation is not
simply a matter of largeness and smallness, as such terminology may lead one to infer. The
microcosm is not simply a small equivalent to the macrocosm; on the contrary, as the
embodiment of all of the elements, each and every person possesses in his or her potentiality the
convergence of all divine names and qualities in one place (Chittick 33). Humans experience the
names of God in a relatively undifferentiated way, while the macrocosm by contrast represents
an infinitely vast panorama of existential [e.g. static] possibilities (Chittick 33). As such, man
experiences existence consciously and actively while the cosmos experiences existence passively
and unconsciously. It is in this way that human beings exclusively are made in the image of God,
img Dei, and the cosmos may be recognized as the traces of God, or vestgia Dei (Kalin 3).
Finally, when Ibn Arabi speaks of human beings, he ordinarily has in mind the Perfect
Man, a Prophet or Saint, who has embodied the names and qualities of God in proper measure
and equal proportion (Chittick 31). The very idea of a perfect man necessitates discussion of the
Fall, its necessity, its consequences, and its implications for an understanding of img Dei. As
Schuon has said if there is a cosmos, a universal manifestation, [then] there must also be a fall
or falls, for to say 'manifestation' is to say 'other than God' and 'separation' (Schuon 393). In
other words, it is possible that some notion of a fall is necessary and unavoidable so long as we
are discussing creation. Some Muslim modernists6 have rejected notions of the Fall altogether on
the grounds of rejecting Christian notions of original sin. This is in contradiction to the quranic
account which indeed discusses some sort of fall. That man has in some way been reduced from
a primordial perfection to a lesser externalization is expressed among the accounts of the creation
of Adam as well as quite clearly in the ninety-fifth chapter of the Qurn. Verily, it is said We
created man in the best of statures. Then, We reduced him to the lowest of the low... (95:4-5). It
6 See, for example Ziauddin Sardar or Riffat Hassan

is true, nonetheless, that the Islamic image of the Fall is different than that of traditional
Christianity, in that as opposed to original sin, the cardinal sin of man in the Islamic tradition is
his forgetfulness of who he really is (Nasr 185).
The discussion of the Fall or falls as an inherent necessity of divine manifestation
imposes, ultimately, an analysis of the traditional Latinate distinction of imago and similitudo
and its implications in understanding mankind as being made in the image of God more
generally. The second to third century Christian theologian Tertullian wrote of the necessary and
observable impact of the Fall upon man's metaphysical relationship with God. This is
demonstrated through his understanding of the terms imaginem and similitudinem in the Genesis
[In baptism] death is abolished by the washing away of sins: for the removal of guilt also
removes the penalty. Thus humanity is restored to God into his likeness, for he had
originally been in his image. The state of being in the image of God relates to his
form: in the likeness refers to his eternity: for humanity receives back that Spirit of
God which at the beginning was received from God's inbreathing, but which was
afterwards lost through falling away. (McGrath 407)
Here, Tertullian cites the biblical passage of Genesis 2:7 in which God breaths his spirit into
Adam: then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:7). This verse, in
addition to its quranic parallel, once again calls to mind the notion that archetypal man is both
matter and spirit. Linking the notion of God's likeness to this animation by the Spirit, he suggests
this quality, which was lost in the Fall, can be returned to the devotee through the rite of baptism.
While man is permanently and ontologically crafted into the image of God, his relationship

with God as it may be deemed likeness has conditionally ended. Human beings received life
by receiving the breath of the Spirit, and in losing it they are only alive in a lesser, relative way
in the present age. It appears in this passage moreover, to the fallen humanity's fortune, that a
return to likeness is a possibility available to every person.
A similar distinction between image and likeness is described in the writings of
Origin. Like Tertullian, Origen does not appear to have found this likeness to be inaccessible
or beyond the reach of living man:
And God said, 'Let us make man in our image and likeness' (Genesis 1:26). He then
adds: In the image of God he made him (Genesis 1:27), and is silent about the likeness.
This indicates that in his first creation man received the dignity of the image of God, but
the fulfillment of the likeness is reserved for the final consummation; that is, that he
himself should obtain it by his own effort, through the imitation of God. The possibility
of perfection given to him at the beginning by the dignity of the image, and then in the
end, through the fulfillment of his works, should bring to perfect consummation the
likeness of God. The Apostle John defines this state of things more clearly when he
declares: My little children, we do not yet know what we shall be but if it shall be
revealed to us concerning the Savior, without doubt you will say: We shall be like him (1
John 3:2). (McGrath 408)
For Origen, humanity, having lost its likeness of God in the Fall, retains within it enough of its
original predisposition, that is, the image itself, that it may return to God. This, it is said, is
made possible through the imitation of God, whereby the holy likeness may be restored.
Origen seems here to advocate the restoration through works, that man may through his own
effort reacquire the dignity of God's likeness. Ultimately, however, this is made possible by the

appearance of Christ who, demonstrating the ontological link of the angelic and corporeal order,
serves as the perfect man and the principle model of emulation for salvation. As is said in 1
Corinthians 15:22, for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. As St. Irenaeus
said, humanity lost its likeness of God when Adam lost his likeness of God, severing likeness
from image and image from likeness. These qualities were re-paired, so to speak, only in the
recapitulation of primordial creation in its pristine state by Christ, who has become the new
Adam and untainted image of the Divine.
In the Christ hymn of Colossians 1:15-20, we are told that Christ is the eikon (imago) of
the invisible God. In him and for him, the verse continues, all things in heaven and earth, visible
and invisible, were created. In him all things hold together, and in him all the fullness of God
was pleased to dwell. In other words, it was for the perfect human being or image of God that
the cosmos was created. In attempting to elevate the Colossian understanding of Christ, and by
identifying him as the image of God, so too did the author of the epistle elevate the potentiality
of man. To describe Christ's body as the locus for the reconciliation of the universe in
Colossians 1:20 was not merely pious sentiment. It was and is a recognition and affirmation of
the metaphysical harmony and unity of believers (MacDonald 69-70). The human body was a
microcosm, not according to the body or the spirit in artificial isolation but in a total ontological
Several early Christian figures propose the notion that something of the more general
understanding of img Dei has been lost, but that with the event of Christ it is within the reach
of man to reclaim it. The distinction between image and likeness has been a part of mainstream
Christian theology from early centuries. In the very brief samples given of Tertullian and
Origen's writings, we see that there are two dynamics involved in humanity's likeness to God.

Likeness is, first of all, something that humanity had from its beginning but lost. Secondly,
likeness is something that can be achieved or restored. It must be acknowledged at this point that
humanity, while made in the image of God, has lost something of its manifestation. Finally, we
can ask, what does this loss matter in the modern age, and how do we recognize it? This issue
has received particular attention from Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who seems to attribute to these
traditions a particular importance today.
While God bestowed upon man His form, names, and qualities, he also gave human
beings the freedom to rebel against God (Nasr 2004, 15). This was the focus of Man, Pontifical
and Promethean, the middle section of Nasr's Gifford Lecture (Nasr 1989). Nasr invokes the
pre-eternal covenant (170) in which God brought forth all the progeny of Adam, asking Am I
not your Lord? to which they, that is all of humanity, testified Yea, verily (7:172). Pontifical
man is therefore the bridge between Heaven and earth (167). This primordial man is the
source of perfection, the total and complete reflection of the Divinity and the archetypal reality
containing the possibilities of cosmic existence itself (Nasr 1989: 165).
Since the Fall, Nasr suggests that Pontifical man has been plagued by the hint of a
mischievous double:
Promethean man, on the contrary, is a creature of this world. He feels at home on the
earth, earth not considered as the virgin nature which is itself an echo of paradise, but as
the artificial world created by Promethean man himself in order to make it possible for
him to forget God and his own inner reality. (Nasr 161)
Calling Promethean man a recently born creature, Nasr suggests that in fact the modern demise
of tradition has been largely responsible for the Promethean takeover (Nasr 1989: 162). While
Pontifical man is still the inner reality of every man, the reality which no human being can deny

wherever and whenever he lives, the philosophical and specifically epistemological thought of
the seventeenth century brought with it a certain scientism that rendered man no more than a
mammal walking upright within a mechanized conception of the world and space (Nasr 1989:
162-164). These changes were contemporaneous with, conversely, the divinization of time and
historical process (Nasr 1989: 163-164) as well as the decomposition and disfiguration, in the
history of the West, of the image of man as being himself img Dei (Nasr 1989: 162). The
human being, torn from the canvases of tradition and redrawn only within the limits of
materialist epistemology, has become but a purely biological specimen with a somewhat larger
brain than the other primates (Nasr 1989: 185).
Particularly problematic from this perspective is the rise and prevalence of Cartesian
dualism in modern philosophy, in which there is an ontological and epistemological separation
between res cogitans and res extensa, that is, the knower and the known (Kalin 9). Kalin,
explaining the historical background of the object of Nasr's criticism, explains:
With this rupture, the knowing subject is veiled ontologically from the world surrounding
it and bound to look at everything as an 'other' including nature and 'other minds'.
Historically, the epistemology of 'othering', the inevitable offshoot of Cartesian dualism,
has been one of the key factors for the alienation of man from nature and the destruction
of the natural environment. (Kalin 11-12)
It is not difficult to relate this sort of ontological veiling with the eradication of img Dei and
pre-modern conceptions of the sacred in general. Forcing the notion of a God that is distant,
other, and deistic, there can therefore be no ontological or epistemological unity, no microcosm
or macrocosm, and no img Dei except perhaps in some reductionist and exclusively
metaphorical sense completely removed or separated from its original context.

As alluded to previously, J. M. Thompson sees the Genesis account of creation as the

explicit culprit of the contemporary environmental crisis (Thompson 63). This anthropocentric
(human-centered) perspective, he argues, encourages the exploitation of the earth, and Western
cultures have done just that. Nasr, however, would and has argued that the contemporary
systematic exploitation of the earth need be traced no further back than the dawn of modern
philosophy itself. Likely, he would argue, as he says in one footnote:
Certain modern observers of the environmental crisis, who want at the same time to
defend the misdeeds of modern man, seek to extrapolate the devastation of the planet to
earlier periods of human history in order to decrease the burden of responsibility of
modern man by including even goats to explain why the ecological balance is being
destroyed. While one cannot deny the deforestation of certain areas or erosion of the soil
during the Middle Ages or even earlier, there is no doubt that there is no comparison
between the intensity, rapidity, or extent of destruction of the natural environment during
the past few centuries and what occurred during the previous long periods of history
when traditional man lived on the surface of the earth. (Nasr 1989: 183)
Given the epistemological background implicit in Nasr's arguments in other contexts, it seems
likely that his perspective here is not merely that the difference between pre-modern and modern
consumption of the earth is a matter of magnitude. On the contrary, it is an intrinsically
ontological distinction. To impose the problems of a Cartesian desacralization of man and the
Earth upon an pre-industrial tradition that relates man and the cosmos with the Sacred through an
inseparably bound sacred order is anachronistic at best and perhaps from Nasr's perspective
irresponsible. Finally, to call the biblical or for that matter quranic account of humanity's
theophanic distinction (even with its direct connection with dominion upon the Earth)

anthropocentric as opposed to theocentric as Thompson and others have done (Thompson 6364), is to isolate imago from Deus, and to discuss the authority and ontology of humankind
through a modern lens that separates it from its traditional cosmological context, including but
not limited to the traditionally unquestionable responsibility of servitude.
As Nasr says, Promethean man has set out not only to steal fire from the gods in the past,
but in the present age he has endeavored even to murder them (Nasr 1989:165). Instead of
recognizing himself as the image of God, modern man has come to regard God the image of
man. In such, Nasr suggests, man has proven little aware that one cannot destroy the image of the
Divinity without destroying oneself totally (Nasr 1989:165). The cry of Nietzsche that 'God is
dead,' Nasr says, could not but mean that 'man is dead. Fortunately, this death can refer to
none but Promethean man himself; The other man, the pontifical man, although forgotten []
continues to live in all human beings. He continues to live and will never die (Nasr
The notion of img Dei is not merely a privilege; it contains the metaphysical basis for
all that the ideal human being is and does. It is a standard set high, toward which all men and
women must strive in their worship, character, and behavior. Perfection, however, need not be
seen as an unachievable goal sought only in vain. Perhaps human nature must be defined in
roughly two ways, that of which human beings are ultimately capable through the fulfillment of
an existential potentiality opened by whatever divine provision, or that to which human beings
seem to have naturally resorted. Human nature as understood in the former case makes not
only for useful optimism, but calls to attention the scriptural reality that whatever practical
likeness has been lost in a given moment, human existence is still eternally bound to the Divine
as Its image. By recalling the importance of emulating archetypal man in his pristine state

through the example of the prophets and the saints, or by imitating the recapitulation of Christ,
Christians and Muslims might serve as a beacon into the consciousness of modern man,
reminding him he has never been alone in the universe. By tearing man out of God, Promethean
man has perhaps sewed the seeds for his own destruction, leaving Pontifical man, who lives on in
the heart of every human being, to rise up elegantly from ashes.

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