The Creation of Man
The creator of all creatures our God made relationships between the body and soul; The Body made of the four elements being body, Earth, Water, Air and Fire; the three parts of soul, Mind, Will and Emotion in spiritual relation.
When God created man, he made him out of earth but not the fallen earth of our fallen planet Earth, which is composed of millions of rotting dead organisms, but a more primitive, pristine earth or clay that existed before the Fall and death. Since the Fall, however, when our souls became defiled by sin, earth has become equated with dirt, and our first instinct is to rid ourselves of it through washing with water. Earth is the opposite of heaven, and thus stands for that which is low in relation to God and the angels. The Latin derived English word “humus” means “earth”; and “humility” is therefore the appropriate spiritual state of the earth born. But the earth is also the source of all our food under this aspect it is beneficent “Mother Earth”. And earth under the aspect of dirt and sin can be transformed by the blessing of God into the source of life and fertility. On the whole, however, earth signifies sin; earthly thoughts are sinful thoughts; and it is because we sin that God has delivered us to the curse of returning to the earth from which we were made: “For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
God created man making him not only of earth but also of water and scientists have established that 70% of our bodies are made of water. Although also “low” in relation to heaven water always runs downward toward the sea, water has more positive symbolic qualities. Water is life-giving without water all organic life quickly dies. Water cleans; tears wash away sin, as does the water of Holy Baptism.
Water is gentle and soothing and refreshing, but at the same time powerful in time it wears away even the hardest stone. Under the aspect of rain, which comes from heaven, it symbolizes grace, which softens the hardest of hearts. Water is not always a positive symbol. The sea, being barren, salty water, is a symbol of the world in its spiritual barrenness, its incapacity to produce true spiritual fruit. And water can also be the instrument of God’s destructive, punishing power, as in the flood of Noah. But when God’s justice was satisfied, God sent light through the water in the rainbow to symbolize His reconciliation with man.
God also infused into Man’s body an airy substance, the soul; for, as we read, “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2.7). Saint Augustine points out that “the Greek [of the Septuagint] does not say spirit, which is commonly used of the Holy Spirit, but spirit, which is a name more frequently used of the creation than of the Creator.” In other words, the soul is not an extension, as it were, of the uncreated Spirit, but is created. However, the fact that the words for “breath” and “Spirit” are so close in Greek indicates that the soul is closely akin to the Divine Spirit, being truly “in His image and likeness”. “We must believe neither that He made the soul from Himself, nor that He made it out of corporeal elements, when He created it through His inbreathing”. Being airy rather than earthy or watery, the soul’s natural direction is upward, toward God and the angelic realm, and it does not share the fate of the body. “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God Who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12.7).
The Lord compares the Holy Spirit to a wind “that blows where it wishes” (John 3.8). He can manifest Himself in a gentle breeze, as to the Prophet Elijah on Carmel, or in a mighty wind, as to the apostles on Zion at Pentecost. It lifts to heaven or it dashes to the earth. It is the Creator Spirit, but also the Destroyer Spirit. “Thou hide your face, they are troubled: thou take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. Thou send forth your spirit, they are created and thou renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:29-30)
If air, breath, spirit and inspiration are associated with the spiritual realm, and with God Himself, then the association is still stronger is relation to fire. “God is a consuming fire”, says the apostle (Hebrews 12.29). And of the created angels who are filled with the Spirit of God it is said that they are “a flaming fire” (Psalm 103.5). Saint John the Baptist, the greatest born of woman, was, in the Lord’s own words, “a burning and a shining light” (John 5.38). These are not just pretty metaphors; they indicate that the angels, and angelic men, are filled with the fire of God’s grace, which warms and enlightens, but also judges and destroys. At the Second Coming the Lord will come in the manifest fire of His Divinity, so that “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat, both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (II Peter 3.10). But this judgment by fire, though destructive, will have an ultimately creative purpose: “a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Peter 3.13). Then those men in whom there is the fire of the Divinity will “shine forth like the sun” (Matthew 13.43), “running to and fro like sparks among the stubble.” (Wisdom 4)
Some of the Fathers, such as Saint Gregory the Theologian, speak of the soul of man as having “the spark of Divinity.” Certainly it was so before the Fall, when the Spirit of God dwelt in man as a constituent part of him. But then man sinned and the spark was lost; for the Lord said: “My Spirit shall not remain with man forever, for he is indeed flesh” (Genesis 3.5). So in his original constitution man can be said to have been made up of four elements: earth and water (body), air (soul) and fire (grace). But the four elements became three after the Fall, when fire was lost; and at death there is further disintegration as air separates from earth and water, and earth and water from each other. Saint Seraphim said something similar in his famous Conversation with Motovilov, when he spoke of the original man as having been made up of four elements: body, soul, spirit and Spirit. Here “spirit” (with a small “s”) signifies the higher part of the soul, its “airiest” part, which communicates with the fire of the Uncreated Spirit (with a capital “s”), and is so united to the Spirit that it becomes “one spirit” with Him. The great tragedy is when the spirit of man is dissociated from the Spirit of God, leading to the disintegration of the whole of human nature. The Apostle Jude calls such people “psychical,… not having the Spirit” (Jude 19).
The feast of the Nativity of Christ is called “the feast of recreation”, because at His Conception and Birth Christ truly recreated human nature through the virgin earth of the Virgin Mary and the descent of the Holy Spirit, so that in His Person man is again pure earth, water, air and fire. But the grace of recreation and regeneration has to be communicated to the rest of mankind, and with this end in view Christ goes to His Baptism in the Jordan. His Descent into the waters purifies the element of water, driving out the evil spirits that have taken up their abode in it. Fire enters water and purifies it. Of course, this is paradoxical from a material point of view, because in the material world fire is quenched by water or turns it into steam. But here the Divine fire takes up its dwelling in the water, preserving its natural qualities and making it permanently Spirit-bearing. From now on, it is possible for there to be baptism by water and the Spirit, through which all men can be reborn and recreated to eternal life, receiving the Spirit that was in Adam originally, before the original sin, and thereby delivering them from the punitive fire of the Last Day. For “Christ baptizes in the fire of the Last Day those who are disobedient and believe not that He is God: but through the Spirit and by the grace that comes through water He grants a new.
The soul is a mystical concept that we cannot totally understand. The word is derived from the Greek word “psyche” and has many meanings as used in Scripture. It is a word often used interchangeably with spirit. Our Church Fathers have given us various insights about the nature of the soul. From the account of Creation in Genesis, the first man is created from earth and then God breathed into him and he became a living being. The word used for breath is the word we translate into soul. So in the broadest sense the soul is the inbreathing of God into our being to give us life. The soul is how the material world is connected to God. Body and soul were created at the same time creating a unity of body and soul. There are two principles that come together, spirit and earth. The soul makes the material element become conscious and capable of willful actions. With a soul in the body, spirit can meet the world.
There is no church dogma on the soul other than to say that it does not preexist our birth, but is given at the time of conception by the will of God. How the soul is created in each person remains a mystery. The Church Fathers teach that the soul is the image of God and has the powers of nourishment, imagination, instinct and intelligence.
It permeates the entire body and is bound up in it, but transcends its materiality. It is not a derivative of the brain or the body, but has it own distinctness. It is the soul that gives us consciousness. We are created in this way to bring the created material world into union with the eternal principles of the world God created. This involves a dialogue and collaboration with God.
Our soul provides these capabilities. By this means God makes the world spiritual and does so though mankind. Through the soul, humankind brings about the spiritualization of the entire world.
Another term that is widely used by the Church fathers is the term nous. It too is a term that is difficult to define. Generally we can think of it as the mind. The nous is seen by the Fathers as the higher and intellective part of the soul. The soul is more that the nous or the mind. However, sometimes nous and soul will be used interchangeably. At other time it refers to the “eye of the soul.”
Another common term used by the Fathers is “heart.” From Scriptures we have Jesus telling us in His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” God is revealed in the heart and it is there that man comes to know Him. The heart is where the knowledge of God is revealed to us. The heart is the innermost part of our being. It is part of our sub-consciousness. You only become aware of it gradually. The heart is the control center that reigns over the body. It is the place from which grace penetrates throughout the body and the mind. It is the deepest part of the soul where Lord Christ comes to dwell within us.
All human beings need to understand the nature of the body and the soul in order for our humanity to be built on virtue. We must know the reason for our existence, live in the order of the church, and persevere in religion; that avails heavenly inheritance.
Source: “The Four elements and the creation of Man” by Vladimir Moss and Orthodox Christianity Author and “The Orthodox Way of Life” by Deacon Charles Joiner.