Icon of God
The knowledge of God, given in the realm of faith as experience – the corporate experience of the Church – implies knowing God in the true sense of the root meaning of “know”, which is to become one with the object of knowing. To know God in this sense is to rest in God, which St Augustine said is the end of man. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart can never rest, until it rests in you.” To be truly human, man must live in God and God in him, to which the Incarnation testifies. His life, if it is to be fully human, is to be a practical, dynamic, and a concrete way of life in God. “The glory of God is a living man, and the life of man is the vision of God,” how St Irenæus expresses it. The nature of man derives from spiritual vision and spiritual understanding; and is fused, though not confused, with this spiritual content. Man is not a self-contained whole complete in himself. His full nature cannot be understood, except within the context of a communion of life with God in which he partakes of the divine nature, and becomes the likeness of the image in which he is made. St Athanasius describes it in these words: “God became man in order that man might become God.” Humanity is to be fused – though not confused – with divinity: man’s destiny is to be divinised. The worship of God is alone the life in which man comes to himself and achieves his destiny.
Man in this sense is to be an icon of God, and his full nature cannot be understood unless he is seen in relationship to the organic whole of the spiritual reality of which he forms a part. He is to live within a particular framework of belief and worship, in order that he might manifest, convey, and give support to the spiritual facts undergirding human existence and underlying the liturgical drama of the Eucharist. The Liturgy conveys the Gospel lifestyle in a Eucharistic shape, that man may participate in it and manifest it. As the destiny of Jesus was bound up with the Eucharistic Bread, so too is man’s. The bread – taken, blessed, broken, and given – is, Jesus says, ‘my Life’; but he also says that “this is your Life, this is what Life is all about”. Our identity and destiny is also bound up with that piece of bread, the Bread of Life. To be the Body of Christ means that we too must be taken, consecrated, broken, and given, so that each of us may become a means of grace, and a vehicle of the divine life. What happens in the Eucharist must happen in us.
Sacrament of Life
The Bread that comes down from heaven is, for us, the nourishment and sacrament of Life; because such Life gives us the capacity to give visible shape to death, suffering, love, fear, and grief. It gives us the power to take these things into ourselves, to draw them back into life, that they may be reshaped by Life itself. Life for man is more than survival. Are we not the Easter people? Like Ezekiel before us we know that these dry bones can live again, for the vision in which we live is the reality of the Resurrection, the only event in history which is ultimate.
The Eucharist is to convey this experience of reality as the consummation of Incarnation and Transfiguration: the two poles of the Christian scheme of salvation. As the Incarnation signifies the entry of Spirit into matter – into human and natural existence – so the Transfiguration signifies the consequence of this, the sanctification or spiritualisation of human and natural existence. The Eucharist imitates and repeats this scheme. “God became man, that man might become God” expresses what this scheme of salvation is, and the Eucharist becomes the vehicle of this divine life, continuing through time the redemptive activity of Christ: an image of reality, of Christ, with the capacity to bring about man’s salvation.
The nature of this image is something more than a mere indication of something else, by virtue of sharing in the nature of the object of which it is an image. There is an interpenetration of the one in the other, a physical fusion, though again not confusion. Hence, to know the image instantly makes one aware of the object it reveals, effecting rather than merely indicating what it signifies; and thereby – to the extent that one is open and receptive to its influence – one actually experiences the life which it mysteriously mirrors and enshrines.
From Prayer in the workaday World (Gracewing), by Arthur Middleton