The Fathers of the Church agree that man’s original state, prior to the Fall from grace, consisted of man—made in the image and likeness of God. Not that man is no longer, following the Fall, a being made in the image and likeness of his Creator, but prior to the Fall man lived out this reality in all of its fullness whereas after the Fall, man retains the image but essentially has lost the likeness.
In this original state, furthermore, man lived free from sin and free from illness and death. These all being a result of the Fall of Mankind. So that illness and death can be seen as a consequence of the Fall and a direct manifestation of man’s turning away from God whereas prior to this man lived naturally in a state of health, living virtuously and without the specter of death plaguing him.
The original state was that of an ideal human nature, “a synergy of Adam’s free will and of divine grace” (Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, vol.1, p.10). Man was created with the intention that he use his free will in order to attain to ever greater realms of “likeness” with his Creator, so that he might attain ever higher levels and degrees of “perfection”. This ideal human nature constituted the health of his being in soul and in body.
Man was originally oriented towards God in all of his being, and he was created to find his fulfillment only in God (Therapy, vol.1, p.10). Fulfillment in God was the original condition of man’s perfect health, and it was the content and definition of man’s state of health.
To facilitate man’s perfection, God created man with spiritual faculties which he was to use in seeking deeper and greater relationship with his Creator. He was given an intellect capable of knowing God, a free will enabling him to direct his whole being towards God, and desire and love allowing him to be united to God (vol.1, p.15). When man turned these natural faculties away from their natural aim, that of God, he lost his natural state of health along with his ability to know God.
Man’s perfect health is achieved when all of his faculties are directed and exerted with God as their goal; because this aligns with man’s nature and is the fulfillment of the faculties that God implanted naturally within man. God, as the goal of man, is not an unnatural end, but rather is the original and entire purpose and end of man.
Sin, or separation from God, consists in man turning away from Him as the goal, missing the mark as we often hear sin described as, and illness is the result—spiritual illness of course, but also emotional, mental and physical. All illness traces its origins to mankind’s turning away from God.
Healing consists in turning all of man’s faculties back towards God again (vol.1, p.11). Not that this results in the immediate healing of every disease, but it forms a basis, a foundation for mankind’s health.
Man was made perfect, but only relatively perfect; he was made with potential to attain greater perfection through the alignment of his faculties with God’s will and grace (vol.1, p.16). In this way man, as the image of God, was intended to grow in “likeness” to God by the activity of his faculties directed towards God as his end.
Man was made virtuous, but with the potential to grow in virtue. Mankind’s virtue was made in the image of God but with the capacity to develop in participation with God’s plan and in this way man would grow in God’s likeness (vol.1, p.17). Sin has separated man from God’s plan but virtue enables man to find his way back.
“Be Holy, as I am Holy” (Leviticus 20:26) and “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). God admonishes and encourages mankind to remember and to return to his original purpose and to his original health.
The Fathers of the Church describe man’s activity before the Fall, as that in which man prayed continually, he praised and glorified God ceaselessly, contemplating God always, and acting as an intermediary between the created world and uncreated God (vol.1, p.19). Mankind’s joy and delight consisted of contemplating God through the creation; man didn’t seek his satisfaction and happiness in creation alone, or apart from God, but rather by knowing God through His creation. In this constant awareness and contemplation of God, as manifested in the created world, man experienced sweetness, delight, joy and bliss (vol.1, p.20).
Though mankind as a whole is far from living this way now, after the Fall—he is still created in God’s image, and with this same purpose and potential to achieve God’s likeness. Before the Fall man lived according to the virtues and didn’t know illness (vol.1, p.21), after the Fall, man knows illness and death, but can still learn virtue again, and follow in this path to greater wholeness, even if not to perfect health again in this life.
Virtue still represents health in mankind. “What health is for the living body, virtue is with respect to the soul” (St Maximus the Confessor) (p.35). The Fall of mankind puts man in a much more difficult position, under sin and the penalty of death, however, in another sense it has changed nothing insofar as who and what mankind is and was we are made to be; mankind is still a creature created in the image and likeness of God, with the potential to act freely in accord with God’s will and His grace.
“Only by practicing the virtues, and in particular their crown—compassion—is man, made capable of the knowledge/spiritual contemplation in which the spirit, but also his other faculties, exert themselves in accordance with their nature’s goal” (p.35). Love is the ultimate health of mankind—God is love—and through selfless love, compassion, mankind can attain to health of spirit, mind and body enroute to his goal—union with God.
Larchet, J. (2012). Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, Vol.1. Montreal: Alexander Press.