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Center for Action and Contemplation
Original Goodness
Original Goodness

Made in the Divine Image

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Original Goodness

Made in the Divine Image
Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Father Richard views religion’s purpose as reminding us of who we truly are:

The essential work of religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in ourselves and everything else too. Whatever we call it, this ‘image of God’ is absolute and unchanging. There is nothing we can do to increase or decrease it. It is not ours to decide who has it or does not have it. It is pure and total gift, given equally to all. [1]

It is often the mystics who understand that “My deepest me is God!” to paraphrase St. Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510). [2] In these passages, contemplative writer Ursula King presents three mystics who saw God’s divine image as more fundamental in the human soul than sin. The fourth century theologian and mystic Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–c. 394) held that:

In each human soul there exists a divine element, a kind of inner eye capable of glimpsing something of God, for there exists a deep relationship, an affinity between human and divine nature. [3]

The medieval mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg (c. 1212–c. 1282) yearned for the soul’s original intimacy with God:

Mechtild’s work is motivated by the deep desire that the soul return to its original being in God. It is her true nature to live in the flowing light of the Godhead, just as it is a bird’s nature to fly in the air and a fish’s nature to swim in water. She has emanated from the heart of God, where she must return, but she discovers her utter nakedness before and in God: “Lord, now I am a naked soul!” Yet her intense love pours out in praise of God:

O God! so generous in the outpouring of Thy gifts!
So flowing in Thy Love!
So burning in Thy desire!
So fervent in union!
O Thou who doest rest on my heart
Without whom I could no longer live! [4]

In the early seventeenth century, Francis de Sales (1567–1622) became Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland. In a time of deep religious division, he was known for his belief in “original goodness.” Ursula King continues:   

Whereas many other spiritual writers in seventeenth-century France held a pessimistic view of the human being, stressing sin and abnegation, Francis de Sales believed in the inherent goodness of human nature. Human beings have a natural inclination to love God, due to the correspondence between divine goodness and human souls, which bear some kind of divine imprint or spark. God holds us by this goodness as in some way linked to himself “as little birds by a string, by which He can draw us when it pleases His Compassion.” Francis does not speak about the “ground” of the soul like the Rhenish [or Rhineland] mystics, but refers to the “mountain top” of the soul, the utmost summit where self ends and God begins, a no-place which is yet a place, a dwelling place that can only be reached by an all-transforming movement of love. [5]

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 59, 60–61.

[2] Catherine of Genoa, Vita, chapter 15. Her text is “In Dio è il mio essere, il mio Me.”

[3] Ursula King, Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages (HiddenSpring: 2001), 48.

[4] King, 93, quoting Mechthild, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, 1.17.

[5] King, 162–163, quoting Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, 1.18.

Story from Our Community:
I remember going to confession as a young boy trembling that I had stolen 6 pennies from my father’s shop. I was told how lucky I was to receive absolution and what would have happened had I died before I got to confess. That was the One Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church we grew up in here in Ireland in the 1940s. Thank you, Fr. Richard, and your amazing ecumenical team in CAC for changing my perception of God. I am not scared of God anymore. —Brian M.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image inspiration: The blues and greens of this tranquil sky speak to us of harmony, wholeness and the invitation to rest. Beginning with goodness and beauty invites our contemplation of the same.
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