The form of the pre-incarnate logos, the image of God, and Adam

Hi guys,

I was wondering if I could share some thoughts with you that have caused me some stress, confusion and difficulty regarding the image of God. Maybe you can help me find some clarity. I really appreciate your time and effort.

I think it’s important to understand Adam as the image of God in the ancient near eastern context of the Hebrew bible. And one of the things I focused on in the past was what it meant for God to be both invisible and manifest, spirit and transcendent. There’s a tradition that the pre-incarnate Logos/the Kabod (glory) in second temple Judaism, being the image of the Father, had the form/outline of a macrocosmic man of light/fire. And Adam’s form was a microcosm, made according to that image. With sin, Adam lost glory, and the image became marred and broken, subject to death.

Discovering this made me so happy. But when I came into the catholic church (I never had a magisterium before!), I had reservations from my past about the influence of philosophy, and what it did to the manifest aspect of the God of the Bible. When I heard Catholics talk of God being pure spirit, and a divine simplicity, I assumed I had to go to the other extreme, and force myself to abandon the Semitic understanding. This tension has really made me struggle insofar as how this tension is resolved.

Well, I’ve discovered a dissertation from Marquette by an eastern orthodox deacon on the noetic divine anthropos, and it made me so happy, because if this info is correct, I don’t have to abandon the truth I’ve held so dear - the Semitic understanding - and the Greek philosophical tradition doesn’t oppose it. Each clarifies the other.

The whole thing is free online. It’s amazing. Teritullian, Origen, Hippolytus, clement of Alexandria, and others taught that before the incarnation, the logos had a form like a man, but light. And when they say He is invisible, they mean human eyes are incapable (too weak to stand; our constitution isn’t fit or able) of seeing the divine glory. In that sense, we can’t see him so he is invisible to us, due to our limitations and frailty.That’s why context is so important. They mean something else by invisible than we assume; we assume “form-less.”

I was shocked to find this and pleasantly surprised, because it confirms the church’s continuity with the Hebrew Scriptures and worldview; and just as Christ makes Jew and Greek one new man, the Greek and Hebrew traditions, when rightly understood, inform and deepen each other in the one deposit of faith.

This is also a great connection with the OT theophanies where God/the Logos manifests as a man of glory; it is a reflection of the macrocosmic image of the Logos and it points to the fullness of time when he would become man in the likeness of the one in whose image man was made, to save and restore his image on earth and recaptulate creation to a glorious Eden.

Here is a link to the paper:

Statements from the fathers are illuminating, as well as the discussion of what “formless” or “incorporeal” meant to them, vs the assumptions we might read into those terms.

God bless guys! I could really use help here!

Will follow your thread to see what comes up!


Thanks, man. Can I get your prayers too? I’m being assaulted and tempted like crazy with thoughts that the Church could be wrong, having adopted a God of Greek Philosophy, which has replaced the God of the Bible. I feel like I’m losing it.

One of my favorite interests is Genesis 1: 26-27. I do not view Adam as the image of God. I view Adam as being in the image of God. With sin, Adam did not lose the glory of his human nature according to Genesis 1: 26-27. Catholicism teaches that human nature per se was not totally corrupted by Adam’s Original Sin; it was wounded.

I am not familiar with a lot of what you posted. Part of that could be because my Catholic education was first based on Catholic doctrines per se and the initial major church councils. I have forgotten a lot of the details, :o but not the general protocol and general logic (deduction) of the visible Catholic Church on earth.

Because I learned the Catholic doctrines first without the benefit of actual Scripture, I am continually amazed by what I am now studying. The author of the first three chapters of Genesis may not have been a Ph.D scientist; yet, he had an understanding of some basic Thomistic philosophy and the theology which would eventually become Catholic doctrines properly defined with the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. (Chapter 14, Gospel of John)

With that above confession, I am interested in what you are saying and replying to you.

Ephesians 3:14 This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, 15 from whom every fatherhood, in heaven or on earth, takes its name. 16 In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self, 17 so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, 18 with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth;19 so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.


I downloaded
The Noetic Paschal Anthropos: Genesis 1:27 and the Theology of the Divine Image in Early Paschal Literature.”

It is 352 pages on my computer. Thus, I would appreciate your sharing what you saw regarding Adam. I did see reference to Adam, but it seemed to me that it was referring to a picture(s) of Adam. Did I misinterpret that?

Were there references to the actions of Adam? Some of Adam’s basic actions flow from Genesis 1: 27 and I am interested if they were explored.

The references to “the pre-incarnate logos” – at least what I spotted – were fascinating. Did I see a connection of the logos to a picture of Adam?

My apology, but there were places in the dissertation which were beyond me. That is why I am interested in your talking points.

Have you resolved how Adam, himself, is in the image of God within the important context of the first three chapters of Genesis?

Yes, basically, the “Picture” of the (pre-Incarnate) Logos is directly related to the “picture” of Adam. Not much reference to a comparison of actions/attributes.

Essentially, the jist is this:

  1. The Logos is the manifest image of the Father.

  2. When God said, “Let Us make Man in our Image,” the image/“picture” of the Logos was used as the pattern or template for the outward form of Adam’s body.

  3. Adam’s body/form is material, fleshly, and limited

  4. The form/body of the Logos is spiritual, noetic, and unlimited/transcendent

  5. The form/body of the Logos is invisible, but invisible doesn’t mean formless; invisible means of fallen/limited nature - our eyes - cannot “see,” with our “material” bodies, the noetic/spiritual form/substance of God, under ordinary circumstances in this life. But because we can’t see the form of God, doesn’t mean he is form-less.

This is what Tertullian taught, as well as Iranaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others.

Thus, to say “image of God” only refers to things like will, intellect, relationship - while all these are true - are not the whole picture: they are missing God’s form.

Does that make sense for now?

Sorry - I don’t have time to go into more detail right now!

God bless.


What I would like to do is to use the subsequent Scripture to verify the points you expressed above. Most likely, the Church Fathers you referred to would have used the Scripture below as their evidence. ??

The exception is point 1. “The Logos is the manifest image of the Father.” It needs clarification that the Logos is a separate Person in the Most Holy Trinity. The “image of the Father” would then refer to their nature which is divine.

It is my guess that the pictures of Adam come from St. Paul’s 1 Corinthians and they could refer to the time before the Incarnation and/or from the mission of Jesus.

One question. Is “God’s form” in your comment below God’s Divine Nature? Comment at end of post. “Thus, to say “image of God” only refers to things like will, intellect, relationship - while all these are true - are not the whole picture: they are missing God’s form.”

I am now wondering if the “image of God” refers to the internal workings of the Divine nature. By “workings” I am thinking about the Three Persons Creator, Savior, Advocate.

It now looks to me that your concept of “in the image of God” is coming from the God’s point of view. While my concept of “in the image of God” comes from Adam’s position. Can that make sense?

It is my understanding that Logos is Word in the Gospel of John. Nonetheless, there are other meanings for Logos such as rational principle, etc. We can figure that out later.
Link to Scripture, John, chapter 1.
In the beginning* was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.a

And the Word became flesh*
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.k

When we look at Jesus Christ, His divine nature is in verse 1 and His human nature is in verse 14. He is one Person with two natures.
Link to Scripture, 1 Corinthians, chapter 15.

So, too, it is written, “The first man, Adam,* became a living being,” the last Adam a life-giving spirit.w

But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual.

The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven.

As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly.

Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image* of the heavenly one.x

That makes sense. I know some fathers, such as Augustine, Iranaeus, and Athanasius said that the last Adam was the pattern for the first. Essentially, Adam was made in the image of the incarnate Christ, since He is perfect God and man. When the first Adam falls, Christ Jesus goes on a mission to rescue and restore “His own image” and reconcile him (Adam, and all his descendants) back to the father.

Look what St Iranaeus says in Against Heresies:

5.6.1. Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to be conformable to, and modelled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God. Now the soul and the spirit are certainly a part of the man, but certainly not the man; for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul receiving the spirit of the Father, and the admixture of that fleshly nature which was moulded after the image of God…For if any one take away the substance of flesh, that is, of the handiwork [of God], and understand that which is purely spiritual, such then would not be a spiritual man but would be the spirit of a man, or the Spirit of God. But when the spirit here blended with the soul is united to [God’s] handiwork, the man is rendered spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and likeness of God. But if the Spirit be wanting to the soul, he who is such is indeed of an animal nature, and being left carnal, shall be an imperfect being, possessing indeed the image [of God] in his formation (in plasmate), but not receiving the similitude through the Spirit; and thus is this being imperfect. Thus also, if any one take away the image and set aside the handiwork, he cannot then understand this as being a man, but as either some part of a man, as I have already said, or as something else than a man. For that flesh which has been moulded is not a perfect man in itself, but the body of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the soul itself, considered apart by itself, the man; but it is the soul of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the spirit a man, for it is called the spirit, and not a man; but the commingling and union of all these constitutes the perfect man.


In that above section, see how he clearly includes the outward form of man as in the image of God, and speaks against the idea that only part of man is in the image, eg, the soul? But I believe he’s saying the outward form after which man/Adam was made is the form of the incarnate word!

5.16.1-2. And since Adam was moulded from this earth to which we belong, the Scripture tells us that God said to him, “In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat thy bread, until thou turnest again to the dust from whence thou wert taken.” If then, after death, our bodies return to any other substance, it follows that from it also they have their substance. But if it be into this very [earth], it is manifest that it was also from it that man’s frame was created; as also the Lord clearly showed, when from this very substance He formed eyes for the man [to whom He gave sight]. And thus was the hand of God plainly shown forth, by which Adam was fashioned, and we too have been formed; and since there is one and the same Father, whose voice from the beginning even to the end is present with His handiwork, and the substance from which we were formed is plainly declared through the Gospel, we should therefore not seek after another Father besides Him, nor [look for] another substance from which we have been formed, besides what was mentioned beforehand, and shown forth by the Lord; nor another hand of God besides that which, from the beginning even to the end, forms us and prepares us for life, and is present with His handiwork, and perfects it after the image and likeness of God. **And then, again, this Word was manifested when the Word of God was made man, assimilating Himself to man, and man to Himself, so that by means of his resemblance to the Son, man might become precious to the Father. For in times long past, it was said that man was created after the image of God, but it was not [actually] shown; for the Word was as yet invisible, after whose image man was created. Wherefore also he did easily lose the similitude. When, however, the Word of God became flesh, He confirmed both these: for He both showed forth the image truly, since He became Himself what was His image; and He re-established the similitude after a sure manner, by assimilating man to the invisible Father through means of the visible Word.
I really love this interpretation!

So, looking at it this way, we have a complete picture - the whole person, even the flesh - is made in the image of God, in the sense of Adam having the incarnate Christ as the model - not that the divine essence is a limited body viz. the Mormons. In this way, we maintain a beautiful synthesis of both Hebrew and Greek thought, as opposed to an either or. And interesting enough, that part I quoted about the whole man, not part, being in The image, is actually in the CCC on this subject.

You have given me quite a bit of homework. Apparently, you are using the CCC Index of Citations which I consider as my basic tool when it comes to Scripture. Could you quickly give me the CCC paragraphs you referred to. I have not studied all the paragraphs beginning with CCC 456. Usually, I am dealing with CCC 470 which occasionally pops up. I have only seen one CAF question regarding CCC 471 and following. However, I am limited by time as to what threads I follow.

I still ask caution about the concept that the whole person, even the flesh - is made in the image of God. I suggest that the beginning of CCC 364 is more appropriate. Looking at the first sentence of CCC 470, there is a clear distinction between assumed and absorbed. I also find an implied distinction in the words: “Christ’s human nature belongs, as his own, to the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it.” The word “belongs” intrigues me to the point that I wish to truly understand it.
[INDENT]**470 **Because “human nature was assumed, not absorbed”, in the mysterious union of the Incarnation, the Church was led over the course of centuries to confess the full reality of Christ’s human soul, with its operations of intellect and will, and of his human body. In parallel fashion, she had to recall on each occasion that Christ’s human nature belongs, as his own, to the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it. Everything that Christ is and does in this nature derives from “one of the Trinity”. The Son of God therefore communicates to his humanity his own personal mode of existence in the Trinity. In his soul as in his body, Christ thus expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity:
[INDENT](in small print)
The Son of God. . . worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.
[/INDENT][/INDENT]I noticed that you use the word form by itself. On the other hand, I am used to form and matter as in Thomistic philosophy. (CCC 365)

I am excited about learning from St. Iranaeus because if I were to pick an Early Church Father, I would pick him based on the little I know.

I have been away too long and have lost track as to where I am in this discussion.:o

I stopped here because previously I had a bit of trouble understanding a CCC reference to Adam as being a *spiritual *creature. Too often, I think of him as being the human anatomy which founded humankind.

The beginning of this teaching – “Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork,” takes me to the dramatic shift of Genesis 1: 25 to Genesis 1: 26-27. From the beauty of animal creation, the pinnacle of God’s handiwork is the human person. I stopped abruptly with the words “modelled after, His own Son” and the admixture of that fleshly nature which was moulded after the image of God…"

The reference to fleshly nature is easily understood because we have a material anatomy. The reference to the image of God is also easily understood because our spiritual soul is in the image of God’s spiritual nature. I am having a bit of trouble understanding a physical anatomy for the pre-incarnate Logos. Apparently, to me at least, the early Catholic Church was very interested in the physical anatomical relationship between the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ Who assumed human nature. Is that observation correct? And why was there concern?

The level of interest would depend on the historical context. The Church for some generations was fighting movements that devalued physical existence, specifically the human body. So determining the “Godly meaning” of the human body was critical.


Great observations!!

I listened to a talk by fr John behr and the question of the image of God has really been answered for me!

The hidden gem was this: I’ve been thinking of those who locate the image in the body (Irenaeus) and intellect are opposed. But he dropped a bomb. Even those who locate it in the intellect have in view the Logos, who is THE INTELLECT of God; and as we know, the incarnate Christ is the intellect/word, who is spirit and body. He says we must keep this context in mind. That had escaped me. So the axiom that the first was made in the image of the last holds as much for Iraeneus as it does for Aquinas. The problem was my perspective. These are one view, not mutually exclusive dichotomies. You learn something new every day lol. Praise God for his mercy

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit