I remember in my pre-Catholic days as a Calvinist, I wondered how it was possible for mankind to be “TOTALLY depraved” (as John Calvin taught) and at the same time remain “in the image of God”. Of course, looking back, I now see that Calvin’s notion of total depravity was wrong; however, the question still remains of the effects of the Fall upon the image and likeness of God in us.The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a good answer to the question when it says:
Disfigured by sin and death, man remains “in the image of God” ... but is deprived “of the glory of God” [Rom 3:23] of his “likeness”. CCC # 705In other words, when God created mankind, He created us in His image AND likeness, but as a result of the Fall, whilst we retained His image, we lost His likeness (or His glory). And it is this likeness which our Lord Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, came to restore. He gave Himself for us so that we might again become partakers of God’s divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). The Church Fathers understood this concept all too well. For example, St. Athanasius tells us that “the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (On the Incarnation; Chap 54:3).
Our Lord accomplishes this “divinization” in us by the means of the Sacraments. The very first step is our baptism in which all our sins (original and actual) are washed away and we are born again (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Jn 3:5; Tit 3:5). This change is so real that not only are we merely called children of God, but we are IN FACT children of God (1 Jn 3:1).The Catechism reminds us of this when it says that “the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to man of the “divine likeness” through the new birth of “baptism in water and the Spirit” (CCC # 720).
Of course, the pinnacle, the summit, of our partaking of the divine nature takes place in the greatest way when we receive our Lord Jesus Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Most Holy Eucharist. Each time we receive our Lord in Holy Communion, we are changed little by little; being slowly but surely transformed and conformed into His image and likeness (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18). As St. Augustine said:“I [the Lord] am the food of strong men; grow and you shall feed on me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh into yourself, but you shall be changed into my likeness.” Confessions; Book 7, Chap 10.
I don’t know about you, but for me, this is such an awesome thought - even though we were the ones who sinned and fell away from God, He who is rich in love and mercy condescends to us and meets us where we are, so that we might be restored to complete communion with Him, as He intended when He first created us. Thanks be to God!!!