Who is Man?
Volume 20 Number 4
- Winter 1997/1998
Bishop Kallistos Ware
kind of an animal is man? What is
it that, without separating us from the other
animals, yet serves to distinguish us from them?
say “without separating,” because several of the characteristics that we
commonly choose to designate as uniquely human turn out to be present, at any
rate in a less developed form, in many of the other animals. For example, many
animals think, in the sense that, when confronted with an obstacle, they puzzle
over it until they work out a solution.
animals have a memory, recalling the past with fear or joy: a horse, separated
from its human owners for weeks or years, on meeting them again will show alarm
or happiness, depending on the treatment it has once received. Some animals form
lifelong monogamous unions, and show grief—or something very similar to
it—when they lose their partner; and so on. Yet, despite all this, can we not
identify a specifically human vocation set before us?
[characteristics] of the human animal, each expressing part of the truth, will
help us in our enquiry.
1) The ability to laugh and weep.
human animal is an animal that laughs and weeps. Essential to our humanity is a
sense of humor, and also a sense of tragedy. If so, we may well weep over what
we are doing to the other animals and to the earth which feeds both them and us!
2) The ability to reason.
human animal, according to the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus (+207 B.C.), is a
logical or rational animal, logikon zôon,1
an animal endowed with self-awareness, an animal
that speaks and thinks in an articulate and sequential manner. This is certainly
a significant element in the truth about our humanness, but it is far from being
the whole truth. I am more than my reasoning brain, very much more. Indeed, the
narrow concentration upon rational self-awareness that has dominated the Western
philosophical tradition from Descartes onwards—Cogito,
ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”—is one of the factors that has directly
contributed to the present ecological crisis.
3) The ability to relate.
human animal, states Aristotle (+322 B.C.), is a political animal, politikon
zoon.2 This comes closer to the heart of the matter, provided
that the word “political” is understood—as it is by Aristotle himself—in
its original and wider sense: the human animal, that is to say, is by nature
communal, created for interpersonal relationship, and so uniquely suited to live
in a polis, in a city, in an ordered
and organized society.
as we are in the image of the Trinity—in the image of a God who is reciprocal
love—we express our humanness through mutual coinherence, “dying in each
other’s life, living each other’s death,” to quote Charles Williams.3
The basic principle of the city, as Williams reminds us, is “the
doctrine that no man lives to himself or indeed from himself’; its life is
“unexclusive” and its proper and typical features are “substitution” and
“the exchange of pardon.”4 “What is the characteristic of any
City? Exchange between citizens.”5
disastrously has the symbolism of the city altered in the past half-century!
What in so much European literature is an image of protection, reassurance,
and glory—”I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven
from God. ... the city is pure gold, clear as glass” (Rev. 21:2, 18)—has now
become an image of selfishness, danger, and corruption. One of the gravest
aspects of the present degradation of the environment is precisely urban
pollution, in all its varying forms. Yet at the same time we are conscious as
never before of our interdependence as “political” animals. The slogan
“One world or none” is not the less true for having become a commonplace.
The ability to look upward.
speak of the human animal as political is to emphasize the horizontal dimension:
our relationship, that is to say, as humans with the other members of our own
kind. But, complementing the horizontal dimension, there is also the vertical
axis: our relationship with God. It is this fourth characteristic of human
personhood to which Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (+c.390) draws attention when he
describes the human being not as politikon
zôon but as zóon theoumenon, “an
animal that is being deified.”6 Made in God’s image, as humans we
are capable of sharing in the divine life, of becoming “partakers of the
divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).
the Orthodox Christian understanding of human personhood, the line of demarcation
between creature and Creator is never abolished; yet, as humans fashioned in the
divine image, as living icons of the transcendent God, we have the possibility
of becoming like God, of attaining theôsis,
“deification” or “divinization.” In this context Christ quotes the
words of Psalm 81 :6: “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are
gods’?. . . Those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’; and the
scripture cannot be annulled” (John 10:34, 35).
“an animal that is being deified,” then, our human vocation is self-transcendence
and unification. We are called by God’s grace to reach out beyond space into
infinity, beyond time into eternity. It is our task to mediate between the
created world and the Uncreated. As icons of God, we have the capacity to unite
earth and heaven, and thus “to make of the earth something heavenly,” in the
words of the Hasidic teacher Rabbi Hanokh.7
unifying role is exactly illustrated in the etymology of the words for the human
person in Greek and Latin. The Greek word anthrôpos
is connected with the verb anarthrein,
meaning “to look up”; unlike most of the other animals, humans stand
upright, with their eyes towards heaven and their gaze directed towards the
stars. In Latin, on the other hand, the words homo
and humanus are linked to the noun
humus, “earth.”8 Such,
then, is the human being: an animal that looks up to heaven, an animal endowed
with a conscience, with a sense of the numinous, an animal capable of mystical
union with the Divine; but at the same time an animal with its feet set firmly
on the ground, an animal with a physical body, an animal that eats and drinks,
that expresses interpersonal love through sexual union in “one flesh” (Gen.
2:24; Matt. 19:5).
yet earthly, spiritual yet material, we human persons are each a microcosm; and,
as microcosm, it is our high privilege to act as mediator. Our human task, as
Saint John Chrysostom (+407) expresses it, is to be syndesmos
and gephyra, the “bond” and
“bridge” of God’s creation.9 Uniting earth and heaven, making
earth heavenly and heaven earthly, we reveal the spirit-bearing potentialities
of all material things, and we disclose and render manifest the divine presence
at the heart of all creation. Such was the task assigned to the First Adam in
Paradise, and such—after the Fall of the First Adam—is the task eventually
fulfilled by the Second Adam, Christ, through His Incarnation, Transfiguration,
Crucifixion, and Resurrection.
The ability to give thanks.
precisely do we human animals exercise this unifying and mediatorial role? The
answer is: through thankfulness, doxology, Eucharist, offering. This brings us
to a fifth characteristic of the human animal: it is a eucharistic animal, an
animal capable of gratitude, endowed with the power to bless God for the
creation, an animal that can offer the world back to the Creator in
Alexander Schmemann (1921— 1983) illustrates this aspect of human personhood
by referring to the opening part of the evening service of Vespers. In the
Orthodox Christian understanding of time, as in that of Judaism, the new day
begins, not at midnight or at dawn, but at sunset. “There was evening and
there was morning, the first day” (Gen. 1:5): the evening comes before the
morning. By the same token, the Church year in Orthodox Christianity begins,
not in midwinter on January 1, nor in spring on March 25,
but at the start of autumn on September 1; once more, there is a parallel
with Judaism. Thus Vespers is not an epilogue or conclusion, but it is the first
act of prayer in the new day.
then, do we commence our daily cycle of prayer? Vespers starts with the reading
or singing of Psalm 103 , which is a hymn of cosmic praise:
the Lord, 0 my soul. Blessed art Thou, O God.
Lord, my God, Thou art exceeding glorious:
art clothed with majesty and honor.
Lord, how manifold are Thy works: in wisdom hast Thou made them all.
earth is full of Thy riches: so is the great and wide
will sing unto the Lord as long as I live:
will praise my God while I have my being.
this way, writes Father Alexander, the daily vesperal service “begins at the
begins at the beginning, and this means in the “rediscovery,” in adoration
and thanksgiving, of the world as God’s creation. The Church takes us, as it
were, to that first evening on which man, called by God to life, opened his eyes
and saw what God in His love was giving to him, saw all the beauty, all the
glory of the temple in which he was standing, and rendered thanks to God. And in
this thanksgiving he became himself. .. . If the Church is in Christ, its
initial act is always this act of thanksgiving, of returning the world to
then, is a fifth aspect of our human personhood. In thanksgiving we become
ourselves. Without gratitude we are not human but subhuman, or rather antihuman.
Only in the attitude of offering and blessing do we attain authentic personhood.
this fivefold delineation of the human animal, we can now attempt to specify our
responsibility as humans towards the world around us. Our human vocation,
briefly expressed, is to be priest of the creation. As logical animals, possessing
self-awareness and free choice— and at the same time as eucharistic animals
who are being deified—it is our supreme privilege, consciously and gratefully,
to offer the created world back to God the Creator. This distinctively human
function is precisely indicated just before the Epiclesis or Invocation of the
Holy Spirit in the Divine Liturgy, when the celebrant elevates the gifts of
bread and wine, saying: “Thine own from Thine own we offer to Thee, in all
things and for all things.”
of the creation” and “offerer”: what do these two terms signify?
we say in the Liturgy, “Thine own from Thine own.” That which we offer to
God is nothing else than what He Himself has given to us. Unless God had first
conferred the world upon us as a free gift, we could make no offering at all.
The offering is His rather than ours; without Him our hands would be empty.
Indeed, in the Divine Liturgy it is Christ Himself who is the true Offerer, the
unique High Priest; we, the ordained ministers and the people present at the
Eucharist, can only act as priests by virtue of our unity with Him. He alone is
Celebrant in the true sense; we are no more than concelebrants with him. Indeed,
not only is this true of the primary act of offering that is made in what
Charles Williams called “the Operation of the Mass,” but it applies to every
act of offering throughout the whole of human life.
in the Divine Liturgy we say not “I offer” but “we offer.” As offerers,
whether in the Eucharist or in other ways, we do not act alone but in union with
our fellow humans. As political animals, our thanksgiving is social and
corporate. Whenever we offer, we are acting as persons in relationship: in John
Donne’s words, “No man is an Island, entire of itself.” This corporate
character of our humanness, as we have already emphasized, is more important
today than ever before. Unless we can learn to share the world, we shall destroy
the world, and ourselves in it. “One world or none.”
when we offer, we are ourselves part of that which we offer.
As cosmic priests, we stand within nature, not above it. In Kathleen Raine’s words:
Seas, trees and voices cry,
“Nature is your nature.”
we are offerers rather than rulers or even stewards. The language of ruling, and
also sometimes of stewardship, can easily be misinterpreted to signify arbitrary
control and exploitation, as if the creation were our exclusive property rather
than a gift that we hold in trust for the Creator.”11
All too often we Christians have tragically misapplied God’s words to the
newly created Adam, “Fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion. . . over
every living thing” (Gen. 1:28). Let us remember that “dominion” does not
signify “domination.” And let us remember also that this dominion is given
to us specifically because we are made in the divine image. It is therefore a
dominion that we exercise in obedience to Christ and in imitation of His own
example. Since He said, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor.
12:9), since He exercised His power by “emptying” Himself and accepting
death on the Cross (Phil. 2:7, 8), it follows that our dominion within the realm
of nature is essentially kenotic, after the divine example, a dominion of humble
love, compassion, and self-sacrifice.
human vocation, briefly expressed, is to be priest of the creation. It is our
supreme privilege, consciously and gratefully, to offer the created world back
even though we humans are called to co-operate with nature rather than to
control it, at the same time God has given us the ability to alter and refashion
the world. This brings us to a fifth point. As rational or “logical” animals
endowed with self-awareness, we humans do not offer the world back to God simply
in the form in which we received it, but through the work of our hands we
transform that which we offer. At the Eucharist we offer to God the fruits of
the earth, not in their initial state, but reshaped through our human skills; we
bring to the altar not grains of wheat but bread, not bunches of grapes but
wine. And so it is throughout all human life.
is true that, here as elsewhere, there is no absolute line of division between
us humans and the other animals. Beavers build dams, bees construct honeycombs.
on the whole the other animals simply live in the world, glorifying God
through their instinctive actions, whereas we humans consciously reshape our
environment, glorifying God through art and technology.
humans, then, we modify and refashion the creation. The world is not only a
gift but a task. In the words of the Romanian theologian Dumitru Staniloae
(1903—93), “Man puts the seal of his understanding and of his intelligent
work onto creation, thereby humanizing it and giving it humanized back to God.
He actualizes the world’s potentialities.”12 Formed in the image
of God the Creator, we are in J.R.R. Tolkien’s phrase “sub-creators,”
appointed not only to preserve but to transfigure.
our power of self-awareness, and through this ability to alter and restructure
the world, we humans are able to give creation a tongue, rendering it eloquent
in praise of God. As the Dalai Lama said at the inter-faith meeting in Assisi,
“The universe has no voice, and the universe needs to speak. We are the voice
of the universe.” It is through us humans that the heavens declare the glory
of God (cf. Ps. 18 : 1), through us that the moon and the stars, the rocks,
trees, flowers and animals, give Him praise and worship. 13
In his book Byzantine Aesthetics, Father Gervase Matthew develops this point
with particular reference to liturgical worship and iconography, but what he
says can be applied more widely to all forms of craftsmanship and agriculture:
Man is body he shares in the material world around him, which passes within him
through his sense perceptions. Because Man is Mind he belongs to the world of
higher reality and pure spirit. Because he is both, he is in Cyril of
Alexandria’s phrase “God’s crowned image”; he can mold and manipulate
the material and render it articulate. The sound in a Byzantine hymn, the
gestures in a liturgy, the bricks in a church, the cubes in a mosaic are matter
made articulate in the Divine praise. 14
Kallistos Ware is the author of the two classic
books, The Orthodox Church and The
preceding article was excerpted from Through the
Creation to the Creator, a talk delivered
by Bishop Kallistos in 1995 for the third Marco Pallis Memorial Lecture series
(U.K.). Copies of the complete text in booklet form may be obtained in North
America through Mr. Vincent Rossi at Rose Hill College, P0. Box 3126, Aiken, SC
29802. $8.00 individually (plus $1.50 P&H) or when purchasing 10 or more,
$5.50 each (plus 10% P&H).
H. von Arnim. “Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta,” vol. iii (Leipzig
1903), p. 95, § 390.
Polities 1. i, 9 (1253a).
“The Founding of the Company,” in The
Region of the Summer Stars (London, 1950), p. 38. Williams puts the phrase
in quotation marks, but I do not know whom he is citing here.
“The Redeemed City.” in Charles Williams, The
Image of the City and Other Essays, ed. Anne Ridler (London. 1958). pp. 104,
“Anthropotokos.” in Williams. op. cit., p. 112.
Oration xxxviii, 11.
Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim:
The Later Masters (Schocken Books: New York, 1966). p. 317.
See Kallistos Ware, “The Unity of the Human Person According to the
Greek Fathers,” in Arthur Peacocke and Grant Gillett (eds.), Persons and Personality: A Contemporary Inquiry (Oxford. 1987), p.
For the Life of the World:
Sacraments and Orthodoxy (New York, 1973). pp. 60-61.
This point is well made by Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios. The Human Presence: Ecological Spirituality and the Age of the Spirit (New
York, 1987), chapter 7. “Mastery and Mystery.” This book was originally
published by the World Council of Churches under the title The Human Presence: An Orthodox View of Nature (Geneva, 1978).
“The World as Gift and Sacrament of God’s Love,” Sobornost,
The Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 5:9 (1969). p.
Compare St. Leontius of Cyprus, “In Defense of the Icons of the
Saints” (PG 93: 1604AB), cited in Kallistos Ware, The
Orthodox Way (revised edition, New York. 1995), pp. 54-55.
Byzantine Aesthetics (London.
1963), pp. 23-24.