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Man Is Created in the Image of God

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 9 April 1986 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Symbol of faith speaks of God, "Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible"; it does not speak directly of the creation of man. In the soteriological context of the creed, man appears in reference to the Incarnation. This is particularly evident in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which professes faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God, who "for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven...and became man."

However, we should recall that the order of salvation not only presupposes creation, but indeed originates from it. In its conciseness, the creed refers us back to the ensemble of revealed truth about creation, to discover the truly singular and eminent position granted to man.

2. The Book of Genesis contains two accounts of man's creation, as we have already recalled in previous catecheses. From the chronological point of view, the description contained in the second chapter of Genesis is earlier, while that in the first chapter is later. Taken together, the two descriptions complete each other. They both contain elements which are theologically rich and precious.

3. In Genesis 1:26 we read that on the sixth day God said: "Let us make man in our image, after 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 earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."

It is significant that the creation of man is preceded by this kind of statement in which God expresses the intention to create man in his image, rather "in our image," in the plural (in harmony with the verb "let us make"). According to some interpretations, the plural would indicate the divine "we" of the one Creator. This would be, in some way, a first distant trinitarian indication. In any event, according to the description of Genesis 1, man's creation is preceded by the Creator's "addressing" himself, ad intra, in this particular way.

4. Then follows the act of creation. "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). In this phrase, the triple use of the verb "created" (bara), is striking. It seems to give a particular importance and "intensity" to the creative act. It would appear that this same conclusion should also be drawn from the fact that, while each day of creation concludes with the observation: "God saw that is was good" (cf. Gen 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), after the creation of man on the sixth day, it is said that "God saw everything that he had made and behold, it was very good" (Gen 1:31).

5. The "Yahwist" account of Genesis 2 is the more ancient description. It does not use the expression "image of God." This pertains exclusively to the later text which is more "theological." Nonetheless, the Yahwist description presents the same truth, even though indirectly. It states that the man, created by God-Yahweh, while he had power to "name the animals" (cf. Gen 2:19-20), did not find among all the creatures of the visible world "a helper fit for him." This recognizes his uniqueness. Although the account of Genesis 2 does not speak directly of the "image" of God, it presents some of its essential elements: the capacity of self-knowledge, the experience of man's own being in the world, the need to fill his solitude, his dependence on God.

6. These elements also indicate that man and woman are equal as regards nature and dignity. While man could not find in any creature "a helper fit for him," he finds such a "helper" in the woman created by God-Yahweh. According to Genesis 2:21-22, God calls the woman into being, by drawing her from the body of the man, from "one of his ribs." This indicates their identity in humanity, and their essential similarity although they are distinct. Both have the same dignity as persons, since both share the same nature.

7. The truth about man created "in the image of God" is found also in other passages of Sacred Scripture, both in Genesis itself ("God made man in his own image," 9:6), and in the Wisdom Books. The Book of Wisdom says: "God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own nature" (2:23). In the Book of Sirach we read: "God created man out of earth, and turned him back to it again...he endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image."

Man is created for immortality. He does not cease to be the image of God after sin, even though he is subjected to death. He bears in himself the reflection of God's power, which is manifested especially in the faculty of intelligence and free will. Man is an autonomous subject. He is the source of his own actions, while maintaining the characteristics of dependence on God, the Creator (ontological contingency).

8. After the creation of man, male and female, the Creator "blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds...and over every living thing'" (Gen 1:28). Creation in the image of God is the basis of the dominion over the other creatures in the visible world, which are called into being in view of man and "for him."

The people deriving their origin from the first man and woman share in the dominion spoken of in Genesis 1:2. The Yahwist account also alludes to it (Gen 2:24). We shall have occasion to return to this narrative later. In transmitting life to their children, man and woman convey to them the inheritance of that "image of God" conferred on the first man in the moment of his creation.

9. In this way man becomes a particular expression of the glory of the Creator. "Living man is the glory of God, but the vision of God is man's life," as St. Irenaeus wrote (Adv. Haer. IV, 20, 7). He is the glory of the Creator inasmuch as he was created in God's image and especially inasmuch as he has access to the true knowledge of the living God. This is the basis of the special value of human life, and also of all human rights, which are so much emphasized today.

10. Through creation in the image of God man is called to become, among the creatures of the visible world, a mouthpiece of the glory of God, and in a certain sense, a word of his glory.

The teaching about man contained in the first pages of the Bible (Gen 1), links with the New Testament revelation about the truth of Christ. As the eternal Word, Christ is "the image of the invisible God," and at the same time "the first-born of all creation" (Col 1:15). In God's plan, man created in the image of God acquires a special relationship with the Word, the Father's Eternal Image, who in the fullness of time will become flesh. St. Paul wrote: "Adam is the type of the one who was to come" (Rom 5:14). "Those whom (God the Creator) foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren" (Rom 8:29).

11. Thus, the truth about man created in the image of God does not merely determine man's place in the whole order of creation, but it already speaks even of his link with the order of salvation in Christ, who is the eternal and consubstantial "image of God" (2 Cor 4:4)—the image of the Father. Man's creation in the image of God, from the very beginning of the Book of Genesis, bears witness to his call. This call is fully revealed with the coming of Christ.

Thanks to the action of the "Spirit of the Lord," there opens up the perspective of the full transformation in the consubstantial image of God, which is Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18). Thus the "image" of the Book of Genesis (1:27) reaches the fullness of its revealed significance."

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ad alcuni gruppi di espressione francese 

Je suis heureux de vous accueillir dans la joie de Pâques, chers Frères et Soeurs de langue française: religieuses, groupes de pèlerins adultes, de jeunes. Je vous salue spécialement, chers amis de 1’“Ecole de la Foi” de Fribourg, qui appartenez à de nombreux pays: vous faites l’expérience de la Bonne Nouvelle, dans l’écoute savoureuse et l’étude de l’Evangile, dans la prière et dans la vie fraternelle, pour en témoigner mieux encore dans vos milieux et vos communautés, suivant la consigne de Jésus: de toutes les nations, faites des disciples. Contribuez à édifier l’Eglise dans la communion.

* * *

J’ai remarqué aussi la présence de directeurs et professeurs de centres de formation professionnelle, provenant surtout de pays africains: je leur souhaite un stage enrichissant et le bonheur de bien servir leur pays.

Aux pèlerins de ces nations comme à ceux de France, de Belgique, de Suisse, de Monaco, je donne de tout coeur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

I extend a special word of welcome to the group of Lutheran pilgrims from Vadstena, Sweden, who are visiting the shrines of Saint Birgitta. And I offer warm greetings to those taking part in the Anglican Seminar in Rome. To all of you I express the hope that your visit to the holy places of this city will inspire and encourage you in the Christian faith. Your brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church join you in working and praying for the unity of all Christians.

* * *

It is a particular joy to welcome the students from the North American College who will be ordained deacons tomorrow. I assure you of my prayers as you begin your ordained ministry. I know that you desire to be generous and loyal messengers of the Good News of Salvation. Remember that Jesus calls you to be both servants and friends. He wants you to live in his love and to be men of faithful service and praise. To you and to all your friends I impart my Apostolic Blessing.

And I greet all the English-speaking visitors from England, Sweden, Finland, Australia, Canada and the United States. May the Risen Saviour bless you with peace and joy.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Mit dieser kurzer Betrachtung über die hohe natürliche und übernatürliche Berufung des Menschen Grüße ich sehr herzlich alle heutigen deutschsprachigen Audienzteilnehmer, die zahlreichen genannten Gruppen sowie jeden einzelnen Pilger und Besucher; besonders die anwesenden Priester und Ordensleute. Stellvertretend nenne ich namentlich die Gruppe der Theologiestudenten der Universität Osnabrück, die Studentengruppe der Pädagogischen Akademie in Innsbruck und die Mitglieder der Vereinigung der Exgardisten der Sektion Bern. Dem Kinder- und Jugendchor St. Aegidien aus Braunschweig danke ich Für seinen schonen Gesang. Von Herzen erteile ich allen Pilgern Für reiche österliche Gnaden meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Me es grato saludar ahora cordialmente a todos los peregrinos procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, a los sacerdotes del Pontificio Colegio Mexicano de Roma. Os exhorto a que el Señor Resucitado sea el centro de vuestra vida sacerdotal y religiosa.

* * *

Deseo asimismo dar mi cordial bienvenida a los representantes de los organismos de radiodifusión de Alemania Federal, Austria, España, Francia, Italia, Países Bajos y Reino Unido. Ruego para que el Altísimo os asista siempre en vuestras tareas informativas al servicio del hombre y de la verdad.

* * *

Igualmente saludo a los miembros del Colegio de Abogados de Guayaquil (Ecuador) y a los componentes del “Coro Upsala” de Uruguay.

Finalmente, vaya mi saludo a los numerosos alumnos y alumnas aquí presentes, provenientes de España.

A todos imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua polacca 

Witam serdecznie pielgrzymów z Polski: Księdza Kardynała z Wrocłavia, Księdza Biskupa z Włoclawka. Pozwolę sobie także xv irmieniu wszystkich Polaków povitać Księdza Arcybiskupa Povilonisa z Kowna (Kaunas) na Litwie; witam kapłanów z diecezji włocławskiej oraz kapłanów diecezji lubelskiej - “srebrnych jubilatów”; wszystkich innych pielgrzymów z diecezji lubelskiej; z archidiecezji krakowskiej: pielgrzyluóxlvT z parafii św. Stanisława Kostki na Dębnikach w Kraliowie oraz z Poronina, z parafii św. Marii Magdaleny: chór z archikatedry warszawskiej; pielgrzymów z diecezji łódzkiej; z Gdanska - pielgrzymów z parafii Wniebowzięcia Matki Bozej oraz duszpasterstwa rzemieslników; z archidiecezji wrocławskie; - pielgrzymów z parafii św. Maksymiliana Kolbe z Lubina-Przylesie; również Polaków z Burgundii, z Francii oraz uczestników grupy turystycznej Turysty.

Ad alcuni gruppi italiani 

Saluto ora cordialmente il gruppo di pellegrini della comunità parrocchiale di S. Lucia in Magliano dei Marsi, guidati dal Vescovo del luogo Monsignor Biagio Terrinoni. Essi sono giunti per rendere omaggio alla Sede di Pietro e chiedere una benedizione per loro e per la sacra immagine della “Madonna del Ravone”, titolo sotto il quale, in quelle zone, è recentemente fiorito nel popolo il culto alla Vergine Madre di Dio.

Desidero esprimere, cari fratelli, il mio compiacimento per questo vostro attestato di sincera devozione a Maria Santissima, che si pone tra i consolanti segni di ripresa del culto mariano, ai quali oggi stiamo assistendo. Auguro fecondi e salutari incrementi a questa nuova devozione, in uno spirito di piena comunione ecclesiale e di ferventi opere di carità e giustizia. E ben volentieri benedico tutti voi e la sacra icona che avete qui portato.

* * * 

Saluto anche con vivo affetto il gruppo di alunni liceali del Seminario di Verona, guidato dal Vicerettore. Vi ringrazio per essere venuti e vi rivolgo il mio caldo augurio che la vostra attuale esperienza, condotta nella luce della verità e della carità, vi valga a chiarire con gioiosa certezza il senso spirituale ed ecclesiale del vostro futuro. Vi accompagna la mia Benedizione.

Ai giovani 

Desidero ora porgere un affettuoso benvenuto a tutti i giovani che partecipano a questa Udienza, provenienti in gran parte da Parrocchie e da Scuole d’Italia. Saluto in particolare le numerose alunne dei corsi Regionali e delle classi elementari della Scuola San Giovanni Bosco di Via Appia in Roma; il folto gruppo degli alunni ed insegnanti delle Scuole Elementari della Valle di Comino; gli Allievi e i Professori dell’Istituto Tecnico Statale Commerciale “Gaetano Filangieri” di Formia; gli alunni della Scuola Media Cattolica “San Massimiliano Kolbe” di Legnano e della Scuola Media “Dante Alighieri” di Sammichele di Bari con i rispettivi accompagnatori.

A voi tutti, carissimi giovani, che recate nei vostri cuori fervidi ideali di fede, di giustizia e di progresso, io dico in questo clima pasquale: “Cercate le cose di lassù”, sappiate cioè dare un senso veramente cristiano alla vostra vita e alla realtà che vi circonda e nella quale siete coinvolti. Guardate alla luce del Vangelo il vostro Studio, il vostro lavoro e anche il vostro divertimento, in maniera da essere testimoni attendibili del Cristo morto e risorto, e da saper diffondere sempre e dappertutto il senso cristiano della vita e la gioia pasquale, che ne è il segno distintivo.

Agli ammalati 

Rivolgo poi un pensiero benedicente agli ammalati, fra i quali desidero menzionare il gruppo dell’associazione Volontari della Sofferenza dell’Arcidiocesi di Udine.

Voi siete qui in prima fila in questa piazza, ma lo siete anche e soprattutto nel mio cuore, per l’affetto che nutro per ciascuno di voi che soffrite. In questo tempo pasquale, abbiate davanti agli occhi l’episodio dei due discepoli di Emmaus, ai quali il Signore risorto, fattosi compagno di viaggio, rivela il senso cristiano del dolore: “Non bisognava che il Cristo sopportasse queste cose per entrare nella sua gloria?”. Tutti siamo chiamati alla gloria, ma ciò avviene per la via della sofferenza, la quale, se unita a quella di Gesù, conduce certamente alla salvezza e alla gioia della trasfigurazione con Cristo.

Agli sposi novelli 

Anche agli sposi novelli, qui presenti, che hanno da poco consacrato il loro amore col vincolo sacro del matrimonio, rivolgo i miei saluti e i miei auguri per una felice vita coniugale in un amore sempre crescente e nella fedeltà cristiana. La vostra nascente famiglia sia illuminata dalla presenza di Dio, che non nega la forza e la gioia a chi vive secondo i suoi comandamenti. Il Signore vi mantenga nell’entusiasmo e nella freschezza di sentimenti che nutrite in questi giorni l’uno per l’altra. A conferma di questi auspici vi benedico di cuore.

© Copyright 1996 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana