HomeQuestions & AnswersWho and what is man? Why was he created, and what for?
Questions & Answers

Who and what is man? Why was he created, and what for?

Tags: Doctrine, Faith
We know from the Book of Genesis that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; man and woman he created them”. But what does being created “in the image of God” mean? Who is man in actual fact? Why were human beings created, and what are we for? Are we just one kind of creature among many? Where are our souls?

David, sculpture by Michelangelo
David, sculpture by Michelangelo
1. How are human beings different from other creatures?

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Man occupies a unique place in creation: (I) he is “in the image of God”; (II) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (III) he is created “male and female”; (IV) God established him in his friendship.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 355

Contemplating the mystery
This is the great boldness of the Christian faith: to proclaim the value and dignity of human nature and to affirm that we have been created to achieve the dignity of children of God, through the grace that raises us up to a supernatural level. An incredible boldness it would be, were it not founded on the promise of salvation given us by God the Father, confirmed by the blood of Christ, and reaffirmed and made possible by the constant action of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is Passing By, 133

2. What is the reason for the great dignity bestowed on us?

Of all visible creatures only man is “able to know and love his creator” (Gaudium et Spes, 12 § 3). He is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake” (GS 24 § 3), and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity: “What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good” (St Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, 13).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 356

Contemplating the mystery
Among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I would say that there is one which we all need in a special way: the gift of wisdom. It makes us know God and rejoice in his presence, thereby placing us in a perspective from which we can judge accurately the situations and events of this life. If we were consistent with our faith when we looked around us and contemplated the world and its history, we would be unable to avoid feeling in our own hearts the same sentiments that filled the heart of our Lord: “Seeing the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36).
Christ is Passing By, 133

3. What does being created “in the image of God” mean?

Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 357

Contemplating the mystery
The God of our faith is not a distant being who contemplates the fate of men indifferently. He is a Father who loves his children ardently, a Creator God overflowing with love for those he has created. And he gives us human beings the great privilege of being able to love, and so to transcend all that is passing and temporary. Human life is holy, because it comes from God. Human lives, therefore, cannot be treated as mere things, or as statistics. Considering the deep meaning of our lives evokes the most noble affection from our hearts. How lovingly, how tenderly and with what infinite patience fathers look on their children, even before they are born! Does a theologian not have just the same untiring generosity, attention to reality, and serenity of judgement, as he searches out the meaning of the Word of God about human life? Does a doctor not wait just as hopefully, bringing into play all his intuition and keenness of analysis, as he applies the latest remedies to avoid the risk of a congenital disease that may threaten the life of an unborn child?
St Josemaria, Discursos sobre la Universidad, 8: “El compromiso de la verdad”.

4. What were we created for?

God created everything for man (Cf. Gaudium et Spes 12 § 1; 24 § 3; 39 § 1), but man in turn was created to serve and love God and to offer all creation back to him: “What is it that is about to be created, that enjoys such honor? It is man, that great and wonderful living creature, more precious in the eyes of God than all other creatures! For him the heavens and the earth, the sea and all the rest of creation exist. God attached so much importance to his salvation that he did not spare his own Son for the sake of man. Nor does he ever cease to work, trying every possible means, until he has raised man up to himself and made him sit at his right hand” (St John Chrysostom, Sermons on Genesis, 2, 1: PG 54, 587D – 588A).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 358

Study of hands by Leonardo da Vinci
Study of hands by Leonardo da Vinci

5. What do all human beings have in common, what unites us? In what way are we different from other beings?

Because of its common origin the human race forms a unity, for “from one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26; cf. Tobias 8:6): “O wondrous vision, which makes us contemplate the human race in the unity of its origin in God. . . in the unity of its nature, composed equally in all men of a material body and a spiritual soul; in the unity of its immediate end and its mission in the world; in the unity of its dwelling, the earth, whose benefits all men, by right of nature, may use to sustain and develop life; in the unity of its supernatural end: God himself, to whom all ought to tend; in the unity of the means for attaining this end;. . . in the unity of the redemption wrought by Christ for all” (Pius XII, Encyclical Summi Pontificatus, 3; cf. Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, 1).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 360

This “law of human solidarity and charity” (ibid.), without excluding the rich variety of persons, cultures and peoples, assures us that all men are truly brethren.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 361

Contemplating the mystery
The divine Word has taken on a complete human nature and consecrated the world with his presence and with the work of his hands. The great mission that we have received in baptism is to redeem the world with Christ. We are urged on by the charity of Christ to take upon our shoulders a part of this task of saving souls.
Christ is Passing By, 120

6. Are human beings bodies that have souls, or souls that have bodies? Or neither?
Study of a foot by Leonardo da Vinci
Study of a foot by Leonardo da Vinci

The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 362

7. What is the body? Is it evil?

The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:19-20; 15:44-45): “Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor, since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day” (GS 14 § 1).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 364

Contemplating the mystery
“Surely you know that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, who is God's gift to you, so that you are no longer your own masters?” (1 Cor 6:19). How many times, in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of Fair Love, will you reply with a joyful affirmation, to the Apostle's question! “Yes, we know that this is so and we want, with your powerful help, to live it, O Virgin Mother of God!”
Contemplative prayer will rise within you whenever you meditate on this impressive reality: something as material as my body has been chosen by the Holy Spirit as his dwelling place... I no longer belong to myself... my body and soul, my whole being, belongs to God... And this prayer will be rich in practical consequences, drawn from the great consequence which the Apostle himself proposed: “glorify God in your bodies” (1 Cor 6:20).
Conversations, 121
Face of
Face of "David", sculpture by Michelangelo

If you only knew what you are worth!... It is Saint Paul who tells you: you have been bought “at a great price”. And he adds: “That is why you should use your body for the glory of God”.
The Way, 135

8. What is the soul? What is it for? Where does it come from?

In Sacred Scripture the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person (cf. Matt 16:25-26; Jn 15:13; Acts 2:41). But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him (cf. Matt 10:28; 26:38; Jn 12:27; 2 Macc 6:30), that by which he is most especially in God's image: “soul” signifies the spiritual principle in man.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 363

David, by Michelangelo
David, by Michelangelo
The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body (cf. Council of Vienna, 1312 AD, DS 902): i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 365

The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection (cf. Pius XII, enc. Humani Generis, 1950, DS 3896; Paul VI, The Credo of the People of God, § 8; Lateran Council V (1513), DS 1440).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 366

Contemplating the mystery

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification... Let every one of you learn how to make use of his body in holiness and honour, not yielding to the promptings of passion, as the heathen do, who do not know God.” We belong to God completely, soul and body, flesh and bones, all our senses and faculties. Ask him, confidently: “Jesus, guard our hearts! Make them big and strong and tender, hearts that are affectionate and refined, overflowing with love for you and ready to serve all mankind.” Our bodies are holy. They are “temples of God”, says St Paul.
Friends of God, 177

It has been well said that the soul and the body are two enemies who can't get away from one another, and two friends who cannot get along.
The Way, 195

9. Are souls and spirits the same thing?

Study of a woman's face, by Leonardo da Vinci
Study of a woman's face, by Leonardo da Vinci
Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit: St. Paul for instance prays that God may sanctify his people “wholly”, with “spirit and soul and body” kept sound and blameless at the Lord's coming (1 Thess 5:23). The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul (Council of Constantinople IV (870): DS 657). “Spirit” signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God (cf. Vatican Council I, Dei Filius: DS 3005; GS 22 § 5; Humani Generis: DS 3891).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 367

Contemplating the mystery
Someone told that good friend of ours, seeking to humiliate him, that his was a second- or third-rate soul. As he was convinced of his nothingness, he was not upset. Instead he reasoned this way: “Each man has just one soul. I have mine, just the one. So for each one his own soul is first-rate. I’m not going to lower my sights. So, my soul is of the very very best: and with God’s help, I want to purify it and whiten it and set it on fire, to please my Beloved.”
You must not forget this: you cannot “lower your sights” either, despite the fact that you see yourself as full of wretchedness.
The Forge, 893