“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
Romans 8: 26,27
We have established that the Image of God in which we are created is the sine quo non of being human. That we are made in the Image of God does not mean that the Image of God is something we human beings possess like a personality or the “spiritual part of ourselves.” The fact is you are the Image of God. This is why knowing the Image of God is something you grasp when you increase the human activities known as the transcendental imperatives: Be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, and be responsible. You will grasp the Image of God as you consciously and intentionally perform these activities. You move from being human to implementing exclusively human activity, from being to doing, from potency to actuality. As you perform these activities you know the Image of God and furthermore you then possess the human way of being in the world. To grasp the Image of God is to grasp yourself and to appropriate the Image of God for living in the world is to appropriate yourself for living in the world. It is important to understand that the Image of God has not been destroyed by the fall nor is the Image of God marred as a result of the fall because if it were destroyed or shattered or even marred the result would be that human beings would no longer exist – take away the Image of God and human beings are just hairless primates that stand upright and possess big brains and bigger brains or even highly complex, big brains do not effect self-consciousness and human intentionality – that would only make such a creature all the more dangerous.
But there are two important questions we have to answer: “If every human being that comes into the world is the Image of God, it would seem that human beings simply need to know that and act on it. Furthermore why do we need Jesus and the Church if we already are the Image of God?”
These are important questions for our study of Romans and in order to answer them let us begin with a statement from St. Thomas Aquinas: “Since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature. Now the intellectual nature imitates God chiefly in this, that God understands and loves Himself.”
What this means is that we are Image of God by reason of our “intellectual nature.” What that means for humanity is that because we are the Image of God we can know and understand the truth about men and things, we can understand ourselves, we can understand the rest of creation, things visible and invisible and we can build upon our understanding in wonderful ways. We can understand and love ourselves. We can grow, develop and mature as individual persons; our families can grow, develop and mature; our parishes can grow and mature as well. But what I want you to understand is that the finality, the final cause, of human understanding is to understand and love God.
And right here, understanding and loving God, is where we may identify the problem and answer our questions for since the fall we have lost the supernatural grace of the Holy Spirit and our souls have suffered four wounds. This is the condition of original sin and because of it we are in a state of perpetual alienation from God. It is not that the Image of God has been destroyed, but rather that our interior life, our souls, are fundamentally disordered as a result of our infirmity and the loss of the supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit awakened, reawakened and unified Adam’s powers and faculties in a free and godly harmony. Thus Adam’s activity was ordered around God who was the center of his life. Thus the love of God ordered his life. But that is not our state of being. Instead of the love of God, which is true reason, ruling from the center of our being and uniting our faculties around that one great love, we now have our wounded souls and hungering bodies at the center of our being.
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities…”
I would like to suggest that at least some of these infirmities that Paul cites in Romans 8 are the wounds of the fall. Though man’s nature is essentially good and he is the Image of God, he is not capable of realizing that good, of saving himself from sin because of the wounds to man’s interior life and the deprivation of the Holy Spirit. There are four infirmities or wounds that the Church has acknowledged from the beginning.
Because of the wounds of the fall the Image of God that may be appropriated by each one of us is ignored, overlooked, discredited, frequently abridged and of course misused. The four wounds of the fall are these: weakness, ignorance, malice, and concupiscence and they do in fact come to bear upon our appropriation of the image of God because they are also opposed to specific virtues that operate in common with the Image of God. The wound of ignorance, which is an assault against reason, is manifested in our intellectual laziness and our biases that we substitute for knowledge and understanding. Malice is the wound to our volitional life and the result is that we are born with our wills turned inward upon ourselves and turned away from God. The wound of weakness inclines us to give up the pursuit of the good when it becomes difficult; weakness works against the virtue of fortitude. The wound of concupiscence is manifested in our disorder love of sensitive stimulation, sensual pleasures like over-eating and most addictions including emotionalism, anger, and self-pity. These are the wounds of the fall or what others call original sin. St. Thomas Aquinas summarized the four wounds: “In so far as reason has lost the way to truth, there is the wound of ignorance. In so far as the will has lost its inclination to good, there is the wound of malice. In so far as the irascible power has lost its aggressiveness towards the difficult, there is the wound of weakness. Finally, in so far as desire is no longer directed to the delectable under the restraint of reason, there is the wound of desire.”
Once our inclinations to ignorance, weakness, malice, and concupiscence are acted out the result is actual sin and actual sin also wounds us and as you well know the result of our sins come to rest upon others. So our actual sins inflict more wounds upon our selves, our families, our parishes, and other communities in the world. There have been communities and even nations that acted out of ignorance, weakness, malice, and wildly disordered desire and such a community has embraced untruth, non-being as a way of life and there is no direction to go but down and finally that community will disintegrate. But that is obviously not the whole story because we know that individual persons, families, parishes, villages, cities, and nations rise from ashes, they sometimes learn to grow, to develop and sometimes to mature. From chapter 8 onward in Romans the nations of Israel and Rome looms large for Paul as he sought to explain the failure and decline of Israel while finding a way to live for Christ in Rome. What made that possible for Paul and the rest of us are the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the City of God, the Church. Nations and cities are composed of their citizens and the Church, the House of God, is composed of the children of God. But how does that happen? This is the way Paul saw it:
We are all born as branches upon the same Vine, Adam, the father of us all and when he disobeyed God, he died spiritually: he was deprived of the supernatural grace of God, and as we have seen, he suffered the four wounds of the fall. Adam and Eve were not created to die. They were created to love God with their whole heart, soul and mind. Not only can we not love God, we cannot love anything rightly without God’s help. Now, by nature self-concern is never far off. We desire the good, but for the wrong reason and in the wrong manner. By virtue of our natural birth we are born as branches upon this dying Vine called Adam and though we receive from him true humanity, the true Image of God, we also receive all the deadly consequences of the fall.
But the good news is that there is another Vine, the Vine of the Church, the Body of Christ, the New Israel. The Church is the Vine because Christ planted this Vine. To be a member of the Church is to be a member of the New Israel, the New Adam, a member of Christ. The Vine of Christ is living; in fact the Vine of Christ is true life. Christ is the very root and head of this Vine and we partake of that Root and its life-giving fatness. In older days the sap of trees, plants, and vines was called fat. Fat is the sap, which is the life of the vine or the tree. In Romans 11:17 St. Paul writes that we have been grafted into God’s olive tree — which is the true Israel, Jesus Christ — and we now feed upon the “fatness” of that olive tree. In other words God’s olive tree is saturated with the life of God himself according to the logic of St. Paul’s imagery. To be a member of the Vine of Christ is to have the privilege of feeding upon the life of God. So on the one hand we are born as branches upon the Vine of Adam and if we continue to feed upon him we are ultimately feeding upon death. On the other hand, we have the New Adam, the New Israel, Jesus Christ, who is full of life and the richness of all the privileges God has given his Son. Therefore the only question remaining is “How do we get ourselves attached to this new Vine of Christ?” The answer is that we have to be grafted in. That means that we have to be broken off the old Vine of Adam and grafted into the New Vine of Christ, which is his living Body the Church.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
The Church is the visible body of Christ where the word of God is truly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. Baptism is the initial and foremost sacrament of the Church. This process of breaking a branch from the old Vine of Adam and grafting it into the new Vine of Christ is precisely what happens in Holy Baptism.
My intention this morning was to answer the questions: “If every human being that comes into the world is the Image of God, why would not human beings simply need to know that and act on it? Furthermore why do we need Jesus and the Church if we already are the Image of God?” I have answered those questions.