Imitating Christ? Maybe not so much…

Hate it or love it, Luther has a fun habit of up-ending some of the most sacred and treasured notions of the ancient world.

One of these notions, which has become integral to classical Christian theology, is the notion of “imitation” or mimesis.

Mimesis is a conventional Greco-Roman way of understanding how knowledge, education, salvation, philosophical attainment – even the very fabric of being itself – “works”. The basic idea is that you think of reality as a huge set of images, cascading downwards from heavenly archetypes. Things find their being as reflections of higher images, and the way you learn/ascend/develop/advance is by more exactly imitating “higher”, better images. So, for example, in late Greco-Roman political theory, earthly societies are supposed to imitate divine models: people are to imitate the emperor, who is to imitate Christ, who imitates God; or, the empire is to struggle to become an ever better mirror-image of the kingdom of heaven. Likewise, in Christian theology, the Christian is to imitate Christ, and so become ever better conformed to the divine (the “image of God”).

The early church – innocently enough – adopted this whole conceptual framework pretty much wholesale.

But Luther smelled a rat.

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