The two foundations of Western civilisation are the Bible and some of the philosophical insights of the Greco-Roman world. The Bible tells us that human beings are made in the ‘image and likeness’ of God and were created as being capable of sharing the divine life. It is this insight that lies at the heart of the notion of human dignity. But it also teaches us that we are sinners and have sullied the divine image but without destroying it. Some of the Fathers of the Church argued that through the sin of disobedience we lost the ‘likeness’ although we retained the ‘image’. St Paul states that Christ is ‘the image of the invisible God’ and the early Fathers argued that through Christ the ‘likeness’ is restored to us. When the Gospel was preached to Greco-Roman world, some of the Fathers such as Origen and St Augustine used Neo-Platonism to articulate this message in a way that could be received by people in that culture. St Ambrose adopted Cicero’s concept of human dignity. It was the synthesis of the biblical account of human beings as the apex of creation and Greco-Roman philosophical ideas of human dignity that developed into what we term ‘Western civilisation’ characterised by distinct ways of life and community. The notion of ‘image and likeness’ underlies the great theological systems of St Thomas and the scholastics, but also the architecture of the Gothic cathedrals, the art, music and poetry of the Renaissance, and, in the longer term, our modern systems of democracy and human rights. Today, the major threats to this civilisation are the atheism and nihilism of our cultural and political elites as well as prejudiced and/or ignorant secularist attacks on the Judaeo-Christian foundations of our society and its institutions not least in our schools and universities. These must be resisted.
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