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  • Aquinas's Christology of the Imago and the Theological Interpretation of Scripture
  • Isaac Augustine Morales O.P.

The imago Dei serves as an ordering principle of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae (hereafter, ST), especially with respect to anthropology and the theology of redemption.1 For the most part scholarship has tended to focus on the Trinitarian image, and understandably so.2 According to St. Thomas man is made in the image not only of the Son, but also of the Trinity. Nevertheless, in focusing on the Trinitarian imago, scholars have overlooked some important aspects of Thomas's reading of Colossians for his theology of the image.3 [End Page 161] Colossians offers the main source for his understanding of "Image" as a proper name of the person of the Son.4 Moreover, it provides an important basis for his distinction between the different ways Christ and man are said to be the "image of God." This essay will consider the role that Colossians 1:15 plays in Thomas's understanding of the imago, both with respect to Christ as the perfect image and with respect to man as made "to the image of God." Thomas's interpretation of the name "Image" vis-à-vis the Word illuminates the connection between these two dimensions of the imago and offers a fruitful model for the integration of theology and exegesis.

The theme of the imago Dei crops up repeatedly throughout Aquinas's corpus, from his early career to his later writings, and across various genres: the Sentences Commentary, the biblical commentaries, ST, and the Summa contra gentiles (hereafter, SCG), among other texts. This essay focuses on two facets of Thomas's doctrine: the character of Christ as "the image of the invisible God," particularly as it relates to Christ's status as the Word of God and as it is presented in ST, the Colossians Commentary, and the SCG; and the relation between Christ as the perfect image and man made "to the image of God" (ad imaginem Dei), as presented in question 93 of the Prima Pars of ST.5 [End Page 162]

Summa theologiae I, Question 35: Christ, the Image of the Invisible God

We begin with ST I, question 35, which addresses whether the title "Image" is a proper name for one of the persons of the Trinity. The first article asks the broader question "Whether image in God is said personally?" St. Thomas makes two distinctions to clarify what is meant by "image." First, he discusses the notion of similitude, which belongs to the definition of "image." Similarity in and of itself is not sufficient to make something an image: "Nevertheless not just any similitude suffices for the notion (ratio) of an image, but a similitude that is in the species of the thing, or at least in some sign of the species."6 Aquinas gives the example of color: a thing cannot be called an image of another thing if the two share the same color and nothing else. As an accidental quality, color does not indicate the form or the species of a thing. An image must imitate that of which it is an image in the "sign of the species." In material things, this sign is primarily found in the figure (figura). So, for example, a statue may be called an image of a man, whereas a paint swatch of flesh-tone color may not.

For a thing to be an image, derivation must be added to similarity in form. Thomas uses an example taken from St. Augustine: "One egg is not the image of another, because it is not derived from it."7 So, even though one egg more closely resembles another than a painting, only the painting of an egg may be called an image because the painting is derived from the egg. On this basis, Aquinas offers the following definition of "image": "Therefore for something to be truly an image, it is required that it proceed from something similar to it in species, or at least in the sign of the species."8 From this definition (as [End Page 163] well as his earlier discussion of the Trinitarian processions), he...


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