The Universe Inside You: An Advent Reflection

When discussing the way in which we are saved by the incarnation, Eriugena adds a striking commentary. Not only, he asserts, were humans saved by the incarnation, but indeed through humanity all of creation was redeemed. Eriugena taught that humanity is the midpoint of all creation, we are the focal point of the universe. This does not mean that we should be proud or arrogant, but rather that we are the image of God. To say that humanity is created in God’s image is no small claim. For Eriugena, and most Christians, God is eternal, infinite, and more than all of creation combined.

What implications does it have to say that this is the image we bear? For Eriugena, it meant that we, like Christ, contain within us the pattern of all reality. You can think of a twig of willow which, when cut from the tree and stuck in the ground, sprouts into a completely new tree and is missing nothing. The blueprint for the whole tree exists in one little twig. Eriugena believed that spirituality is prior to materiality. This means that the knowledge of something is actually more essential, in a sense more real, than the thing itself. Because humanity has the potential to understand all of creation, all of creation is actually contained within the human being. If the universe were a willow tree, we would be little twigs waiting to be stuck in the mud so we can grow.

We, as the image of God, contain the blueprint for all of creation within us. The entire universe is contained within your heart. When we heal ourselves we heal creation and when Jesus took on human form he saved the entire universe because all of creation exists within the human being. Eriugena spoke about this in a dialogue with his student. The student asked,

“Shall we say that irrational animals, as well as trees, grasses, and all parts of this world from the highest down, were restored in the incarnate Word of God?”

To which Eriugena relied,

“Didn’t the Word, when assuming humanity, receive all creation, visible and invisible, and save the whole of which He received in humanity? If He received all creation by receiving human nature, surely He saved all creation and will do so for eternity.”

The whole of the cosmos is included in this. Humanity may have a privileged place in the universe, but Jesus came to save the whole of creation – including trees, stones, and animals. Christmas wasn’t just for us, but was for all of God’s creatures and we play a central role in that. By being the middle point of creation, humanity unites matter and spirit. All of reality already is made of matter and spirit but in the human being these principles are united completely. Jesus was not the only one who was both mortal and divine, we share that with him, as he was one of us.

Because we have the entire universe within us, our own spiritual health has real life consequences. It is good that Christ was born into the world, but Christ must also be born within us. We are forgetful creatures and we often lose sight of our true nature as the image of God. We live our lives as if we were all matter and no spirit. We get caught up in the material side of our existence and lose sight of the spiritual. The healing of the entire cosmos begins within your heart.

So, dear sisters and brothers, I encourage you to find the balance between what is material and what is spiritual within you. Seek to live with both these things in harmony. Do not forsake one for the other. Do not hate the body but neither neglect the spirit. And do all this for the sake of every created thing, because in some mystical sense, all creatures exist inside you.

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