Imitation of Christ - Early Period

Early Period

Why art thou proud, O man? God for thee became low. Thou wouldst perhaps be ashamed to imitate a lowly man ; then at least imitate the lowly God. — St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 7.

The word "imitate" does not appear in the Canonical Gospels, but the word "follow" is often applied to those who believed in Jesus. But in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Apostle Paul refers to the imitation of Christ, as well as himself, and states: "And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit".

For Paul the imitation of Christ involves readiness to be shaped by the Holy Spirit as in Romans 8:4 and 8:11, and a self-giving service of love to others as in 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5:13. The imitation of Christ, as in Ephesians 5:1 is then viewed by Paul as a path to the imitation of God: "Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children".

The early Church had little interest in the "historical Jesus" and this prevented an immediae development of the concept of literal imitation. Instead the earliest concepts of imitation focused on the works of the Holy Spirit, self-sacrifice and martyrdom. In time, this focus changed, and by the time of Saint Francis of Assisi attempts at literal imitation of Christ were well established.

By the 4th century, the ideal of the imitation of Christ was well accepted and for Saint Augustine it was the ultimate goal of conversion, and the fundamental purpose of Christian life. Building on the tradition of 1 Corinthians 15:22 which views Christ as the Second Adam whose birth counterbalanced the fall of Adam Augustine argued that original sin (the imitation of Adam) can be eliminated by the imitation of Christ.

Book 7 of the Confessions of St. Augustine includes a well known passage on "at least imitate the lowly God" that confirms the strong Christian tradition of the imitation of Christ around the year 400. Augustine viewed human beings as creatures who approach the Holy Trinity through likeness, i.e. by imitating the Son, who is bound to the Father through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus for Augustine, the imitation of Christ is enabled by the Spirit who confers God's grace. Augustine viewed Christ as both a sign of grace and an example to be followed, and in his later writings stated that the imitation of Christ leads to a mystical union with him.

Read more about this topic:  Imitation Of Christ

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