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God's Many-Splendored Image

Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation

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"This is an admirably clear and accessible presentation of early Greek Christian anthropology and spirituality. . . . A very welcome resource not only for theological students, but also for those who are looking for a personal and practical Christian spirituality that is informed by scholarship and theological depth."--Jeff Astley, Expository Times
What does it mean to be a human being made in the image of God? In this book Nonna Verna Harrison, a respected specialist in early Eastern Christianity, offers a fresh approach to theological anthropology by revealing the thought of leading early church theologians concerning what it means to be human.

Throughout the ages Christians have believed that the image of God in which we are created is at the core of who we are as humans. Theologians and spiritual writers have found the divine image in many different aspects of human identity. Drawing on the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers and the heritage of Eastern Christianity, Harrison makes the case that the divine image can be seen in not just one or two aspects of human identity but in all of them. Each chapter explores a different facet of the divine image and likeness and maps out a path that can lead toward wholeness and holiness. Harrison challenges the popularized negative view of human nature as inherently bad by proposing an alternative grounded in early Greek Christian sources.

God's Many-Splendored Image brings Greek patristic theology to students in a readable fashion and will work well in theology, patristics, ministry, missions, and anthropology courses.
1. Freedom
2. God and Christ
3. Spiritual Perception
4. Virtues and Humility
5. Royal Dignity
6. Embodiment
7. In the Created World
8. Arts and Sciences
9. Community


"Sister Nonna writes as an expert in the early Christian world and its literature, but she presents the fruits of her learning in a form that is readily accessible to every reader. Her style is simple yet profound, vivid yet never overstated. . . . The author sums up the basic message of her work in the words, 'This book aims to show readers that all people have value before God.' She has indeed succeeded in achieving this objective. And her message is altogether timely, for we live in an era when--in the Western world, at any rate--among all too many people there is a tragic loss of meaning and hope. . . . Here truly is a work that I can recommend with all my heart."--Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia (from the foreword)

"A straightforward account of ancient Greek anthropology and spirituality that shows other, non-Augustinian methods for understanding the human condition before God. This side of patristic theological development deserves to be heard."--D. H. Williams, professor of religion in patristics and historical theology, Baylor University

"Clarity, simplicity, beauty, and depth--these are the gifts offered to the reader in this distillation of all that the Christian tradition has signified by claiming that humanity is created in the image of God and may grow into God-likeness. This book is a model of how to appropriate the church fathers for Christians today."--Frances M. Young, retired Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology, University of Birmingham, England

"This book is a gift, written in a voice that is inviting, deeply personal, and generous. Yet the lucidity and accessibility of Harrison's presentation never compromises the profundity and genuineness of its content, which is always true to the early Christian sources on which she draws. This book is also a rarity: comprehensible, practical, embodied theology. It is founded upon the author's decades of study but also reflects a life lived in alertness to the Word of God spoken in a painfully broken world. It deserves, and will richly repay, the wide audience to which it is addressed."--Peter C. Bouteneff, associate professor in systematic theology, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary

"This is a wonderful book. In God's Many-Splendored Image, Sister Nonna Harrison brings together the spiritual wisdom of the diachronic church and the love for God and God's creation--all of God's creation!--to provide a masterful guide for Christian formation that is based on God's love and care from the very act of creation to the eschaton. Sister Nonna opens for us the Eastern part of early Christianity, providing an alternative to the expected--for Western readers--understanding of postlapsarian 'human nature' as inherently 'bad,' and shows how early Christians, from theologians to desert mothers and fathers, understood the divine image as inherent in who we are."--George Kalantzis, associate professor of theology; director, The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies, Wheaton College

The Author

  1. Nonna Verna Harrison

    Nonna Verna Harrison

    Nonna Verna Harrison (PhD, Graduate Theological Union), an experienced patristics scholar, is the author of God's Many-Splendored Image, Grace and Human Freedom according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, and numerous articles and translations. She lives...

    Continue reading about Nonna Verna Harrison


"Harrison is a well respected patristics scholar with a special interest in the Cappadocian Fathers. In God's Many-Splendored Image, she carries her learning lightly as she explores the significance of the biblical assertion that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God. . . . Taking the typology of 'image and likeness' as her fundamental theme, Harrison gradually develops the two concepts, covering a wide range of related theological topics along the way. . . . Harrison quotes Gregory of Nyssa's observation that human identity is an unfathomable mystery because that identity is a mirror of God. In this rich and accessible book, Harrison has approached this mystery from many angles and looked at all of creation under the clear light it casts."--Lawrence S. Cunningham, Commonweal

"This book offers a holistic approach to human formation that is lacking in contemporary scholarship."--Diane J. Chandler, Religious Studies Review

"Harrison's book is a joy to read. Her intimate acquaintance with patristic teaching on theological anthropology is evident throughout. This book, as intended, will be a great resource to non-academics who have questions about the uniqueness and purpose of humanity. Moreover, it is hard to imagine that even the most erudite scholar would not discover at least something new (either materially or spiritually) by reading this splendid work."--Jeremy David Wallace, Koinonia

"This book will help us to become more human, for the image of God is to become more and more obvious in our character and relations. Through Christ, we can become all we were meant to be, for in taking human flesh, Jesus became the perfect manifestation of the image of God. Here, then, is a book that can transform how you think about yourself and how you view others."--Greg Goswell, New Life

"This is an admirably clear and accessible presentation of early Greek Christian anthropology and spirituality. . . . Harrison wears her learning lightly as she negotiates a difficult topic with imagination and considerable expository skill, generously illustrating her account with many apposite quotations. . . . Altogether this is a much more positive account of human nature than that offered by many other currents that flow within the Christian tradition. As such, it should prove to be a very welcome resource not only for theological students but also for those who are looking for a personal and practical Christian spirituality that is informed by scholarship and theological depth."--Jeff Astley, Expository Times

"It is always difficult to review a book with many strengths. The writer's masterful display of wisdom, charity, and justice makes this one such book. Sr. Nonna's most recent work is the fruit of an experienced Patristics scholar who can deliver an emotionally compelling text. In its pages the reader will be confronted with the synergy of the profoundest mystical theology of the Eastern Christian Church and the earthiest issues of the world today. . . . This book is simply excellent due to its capacity to bring into dialogue ancient wisdom with today's anxieties. . . . The singular honor of having the foreword written by Sr. Nonna's own professor and world-renowned Patristics scholar, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, says much about the caliber of this work. The very style of this book is coherent with its central claims. In its carefully-crafted pages horror leads to beauty, desperation to hope, apathy to engagement, and age-long wisdom to conviction. I cannot think of a timelier book that engages as many diverse topics with such scholarly acumen, intellectual coherence, and religious zeal. The views expressed in this work are precisely what postmodern society requires--a reminder that we need look no farther than ourselves to find a manifestation of God. . . . I have little doubt this work will soon be a theological-anthropological classic and a reference book for many students, professors, and clergy. Every theological library would do well in owning a copy."--Luis Joshua Salés, Lumen et Vita

"Harrison brings the subject of theological anthropology--what it means to be human from a God's-eye point of view--to a wide audience here, holistically incorporating the arts and sciences as examples of how the human potential, and indeed the knowledge of God therein, is realized. I especially liked the emphasis on humanity as something embodied, where salvation cannot be seen apart from the redemption of the body. . . . Harrison's style is personal, warm and even pastoral, and this work is as much at home in the history of theology as it is in spiritual formation."--Glenn Peoples, Right Reason blog