3.3.7 ‘In the image of God’: summary

Back to 3.3.6

Unit 3 Contents


On the basis of the last two screens, we can say that humankind is made in God’s image (a) to be given the responsibility of exercising dominion on God’s behalf, stewardship, within his good creation, and (b) as a community of persons, male and female, destined for perfect communion with the personal God.

Referring to these in the reverse order, the document by the International Theological Commission which I have cited sums them up:

Communion and stewardship are the two great strands out of which the fabric of the doctrine of the imago Dei is woven.1

It is against the background of recognizing these two strands that it makes sense to understand the particular attributes and abilities that humans have, such as reason, creativity and freedom.  It is as creatures made for communion and stewardship that we have such capacities.  It is as we exercise these that we can live ‘in the image of God’, and thereby be properly human.

In the next reading, which is the Compendium’s section on ‘The Human Person as the Imago Dei’, you will recognize those two strands (although the section includes various other points too).

In this reading, ##108-111 are primarily about humans as persons in relationship, with God and one another.  After those, #113 is about ‘dominion’.  Against this background, #114 refers to the ‘faculties’ that humans have as those who are in God’s image, including “reason [and] free will”.


Reading (3pp)

Compendium, ##108-114 (Chapter 3, sec. II.a)


In the light of our study of what it means that humans are made ‘in the image of God’, we can return to Lynn White’s critique of Christianity.  You should be able now to see that, in fact, Scripture does not justify White’s claim that in Christian faith ‘dominion’ means exploitative domination of the rest of nature solely for human benefit, regardless of damage done.

So White was wrong about Christianity theologically.  Properly understood, Christian teaching does not say what White said it does about God and God’s purposes for humanity within nature.

Indeed, in Christianity’s vision of human wellbeing as found inherently in relationship – rather than in having things – as well as in its recognition that dominion means stewardship, Christianity is deeply different from the main modern worldview with its mechanistic view of the human good in terms of maximum ‘utility’.

Therefore Christian faith presents a way for humans to live within creation that is radically different from the maximizing consumerism which dominates modernity.  From all we have done in this unit so far, nothing could be clearer than that Christian teaching is deeply different from the worldview which emerged through the events that the historical narrative in the first part of this unit outlined (3.1).

So White was doubly wrong.  He misrepresented Christianity theologically, and he didn’t see that in fact the Christian vision is deeply different from the views and practices which have brought the world to ecological crisis.

But many agree that White was largely right in one way, namely in his historical description of what the Christian churches had tended to say about ‘dominion’ until the twentieth century.2. Before ecological crisis became evident in the last 50 years or so, the Christian Church had not recognized the extent to which its own main sources, especially Scripture, generate what we can now see as a remarkably ‘green’ stance.  Failing to see that, Christianity tended during its history to present views and favour practices which did contribute to ecological crisis – and it is these that were White’s main target.

The final reading in this section is the rest of the chapter by Henning in McCarthy.  We return to this here partly because Henning refers to the issue of whether White was theologically wrong even if he was largely correct historically.  We do so also because the few pages in Henning draw on several of the points to which this section has given attention and so make a good conclusion to it.


Reading (5pp)

Henning, ‘From Despot to Steward’, in McCarthy, ed., The Heart of Catholic Social Teaching, p. 185, bottom of page, to p. 190


The title of Henning’s chapter reflects a statement in John Paul II’s 2001 General Audience which you read earlier.  There the Pope described what has brought ecological crisis by saying, “Man is no longer the Creator’s ‘steward’, but an autonomous despot, who is finally beginning to understand that he must stop at the edge of the abyss” (#4).



End of 3.3.7

Go to 3.3.8 Questions for discussion half way through unit


Copyright © Newman University.  If you wish to quote from this page, see Citation Information. N.B. If you are a student and make use of material on this page in an assignment, you are obliged to reference the source in line with the citation information.

  1. ITC, Communion and Stewardship (referenced at 3.3.5 n. 1), #25 

  2. A careful assessment by Richard Bauckham, for example, shows that White was correct historically in this way.  See pp. 133-142 in Bauckham, ‘Human Authority in Creation’ (referenced in 3.3.3 n. 1).