Under the patronage of Pope Julius circa 1512, Michelangelo painted The Creation of Adam, seen below, in the Sistine Chapel. The painting shows both God and Adam as adult men with navels, and the complementary poses of the two figures allude to the verse, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him" (Gen 1:27)

Michelangelo's painting

Does the Catholic Church endorse this painting as an accurate representation of Adam's creation? How is the presence of navels consistent with neither Adam nor God being born of a woman? Was Adam created in the anatomical image of God?

  • An interesting sidenote that doesn't change the question is Bruce G. Kauffmann claim that "the famous finger of Adam receiving the “touch” of life is not, technically, Michelangelo’s work; that part of the ceiling cracked in the mid-16th Century and was redone by another artist." historylessons.net/… Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 1:39
  • 2
    I don't understand why this question was closed when it clearly asks for a Catholic view. Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 17:07

4 Answers 4


The Catholic Church (my own Tradition) believes that being made in God's image does not have such a physical reality. This 'image' is more a reflection of His own Nature. The closest physical way we 'image' God is that humans are both Male and Female who come together to generate a Third person. This "The Two Become One" is reflecting the Trinitarian Nature of God; where the Holy Spirit proceeds "From the Father and the Son".

God also has no real gender in the same sense that humans have gender. Human gender is a creation of God; which fits into His design of creation. God does ask us to call him Father, and yes, the second person of the Trinity did appear on earth in a Male body; but human Fatherhood and human Sonship are only shadows of God's Perfect Fatherhood and Perfect Sonship. God, aside from the incarnation, as no physical body composed of matter.

One thing I have realized about the various paintings in Catholic Churches is that angels and even God himself (the Father) are depicted as human. This isn't because they 'look' like that; rather the artist is expressing the idea that "These are Persons". Angels are persons: They are pure intellect (and no physical body), and with intelligence comes personality. How much more so for God?

There are more ways that humans 'image God', but I only gave you the ways concerning physical appearance since that is what you are concerned with. I hope this helps.

  • I do not know the artist's reasons for painting navels on Adam and God; it could be for as mundane a reason as it was aesthetically pleasing to the eye for a human to possess a navel. In approving the painting, I imagine the navel was not the pope's concern but rather the overall idea presented in the art. Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 12:47
  • 1
    Excellent answer. I have found also that although our creator has no physical manifestations, the masculine nature of God is revealed slowly to us in scripture. This leading up to the incarnation who is most certainly Male but more so, masculine with the characteristics of the Male Gender, (Self Sacrifice “ I give my Life for you) leaving us to be the Feminine in that relationship with the Characteristics of the female Nature. (Submission “Let it be done to me according to your will”). Who is to say wether or not Adam or Eve had navels, If I were him, I would have added one.
    – Marc
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 13:00
  • @Marc No physical manifestations? Have you forgotten that Messiah is the very form of the invisible God?
    – Andrew
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 16:19
  • 3
    Yes Andrew, however that Physical manifestation was assumed after creation was completed. It is the "Who", that Christ is, not the "what" that Christ is refering to when he says "when you see me you see the Father". Perhaps you percieve another Christology where the incarnation and God the father both assume flesh? Please check out this link to understand the Communicatio Idiomatum. I believe the view is shared with most Christians with some exceptions.newadvent.org/cathen/04169a.htm
    – Marc
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 16:31

In the first place, I'm not sure what sort of "endorsement" you have in mind. There's no indication that I can find that either Pope Julius or any subsequent pope either endorsed or condemned the painting on theological grounds, nor indeed that any pope declared that it had any content which had to be interpreted theologically.

As I point out in this answer (in the section describing "Anthropomorphites"), the belief that God has an actual physical form (independent of the events described in the clause "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us") has been considered a heresy by most Christians, including Catholics, since it was first proposed nearly 1700 years ago; thus even to ask whether Adam has the anatomical image of God is to commit either a heresy (from a Catholic point of view) or a category mistake. As God has no physical form, it appears that Michelangelo's representation of him as a human—with a navel—was simply an artistic interpretation.

As to whether Adam had a navel or not, there's no teaching of the Catholic Church which I can find on the subject. The encyclical Humani Generis of Pius XII allows for the possibility that the bodies of human beings developed "from pre-existent and living matter" (paragraph 36); in which case all human beings including Adam, having been born from mammals, would naturally have a navel. It also allows for the possibility that the bodies of humans were not evolved from prior animals, but instead derived from a special creation; in which case (since "the image of God" would naturally refer to something other than a physical shape) nothing hinders Adam from having been created with a navel—without in any way disagreeing with the phrase "in the image of God He created him".

  • Since Pope Julian died centuries before the painter was born it's most unsurprising that Matt Gutting finds they never conferred. Papal endorsement of the painting would be by Julius II (Pope 1503-1513). A reference states "The reasoning for having all of these paintings on the walls was to help tell the stories. They were used as reference points for the Pope in his sermons." en.allexperts.com/q/Art-History-1490/Michelangelo-Creation.htm Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 1:34
  • Also implying Papal endorsement we read: "Aided by theological advisor Marco Vigerio, a fellow Florentine and a cardinal trusted by the Pope, and several laborers, the artist began work on the ceiling." entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/artwork/… Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 1:36
  • Good catch on the name. Now to demonstrate that the pope preached a homily mentioning God's navel. Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 11:20
  • that reduces the question to an impossibly narrow demonstration. From Julius to Francis I count 50 popes not one of whom could fail to admire the depiction right over his head in the Sistene Chapel, site of the conclave by which pope's are selected. Popes Clement VII and Paul III even called for additional work by the same artist, implying approval of his work so far. Incidentally the indulgences that provoked Luther helped to finance the Papal artistic programme whose theological stricture that artworks are for instruction not adoration is rooted in Libri Carolini c. 790. Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 13:29
  • Admiring is one thing; using the picture as theological inspiration is another. Clearly the picture is not intended to be literally correct (since we know that God doesn't have a visible form); what's left is that the picture can be used as a metaphor to help people understand. But not all points of the object of a metaphor need to correspond to points of the subject. Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 14:34

I can't speak from a Catholic perspective, since I am not a Catholic. However, from my own church's perspective, based on the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), I can offer an answer to the question posed in the title:

Was Adam anatomically God's image?

God the Father, which is the divine soul, is non-material, and therefore does not have a physical body made out of physical matter as we do.

God the Son, which is the divine body, did become material and take on a physical body just like us, and rose from the tomb with his entire body.

That body was not made of matter, because it was able to pass through locked doors (see John 20:19) and could appear and disappear (see Luke 24:31). However, it was not a spirit either, since it could directly interact with matter, such as by eating some fish (see Luke 24:36-42).

When Jesus ascended up to heaven (Luke 24:36-42), he ascended in his familiar human form, visible to his disciples.

And when John later saw him in heaven (see Revelation 1:12-16), he also saw him in fully human form, wearing a robe and a sash, with hair, a head, eyes, feet, a right hand (and presumably also a left hand), a face, and a tongue--though it is described as being like a "sharp, double-edged sword." That sword-like tongue is the only detail of John's vision of Christ that is not fully human in appearance.

John also saw Christ in other forms, such as that of a lamb who had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes (Revelation 5:6). However, the common experience of the Apostles, and of people in general right up to today, when they have visions of Christ, is to see him as a human being.

The Bible's descriptions of God as human are in no way limited to the New Testament and to descriptions of Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament God is described not only as having all different human thoughts and emotions, but also as having all the parts of the human body. God has:

This list could continue. These and many other passages show that in the Old Testament, as in the New Testament, God is described as human, with all of the body parts of a human being.

Yes, all of these body parts of God are commonly interpreted as figurative of God's thoughts, feelings, and power to act. And yet, the fact remains that all of the body parts that we think of as making up a human being anatomically are also attributed to God in the Bible.

So when God created humankind in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27), it's clear that even the parts, limbs, and organs of our physical anatomy reflect corresponding parts, limbs, and organs in God.

Since God is a divine being rather than a material being, God's parts are made of divine substance rather than physical matter. But according to the Bible, God does indeed have all of the body parts that we do, even if God may have them in a way and at a level of reality that we cannot fully grasp or conceive of because God is infinite but our minds are finite.

The primary way that we humans are made in God's image is that we have finite versions of all the infinite parts and qualities of God's mind and heart, such as love, wisdom, compassion, understanding, knowledge, and so on.

But even when it comes to the anatomy of our physical body, based on the Bible's descriptions of God, the answer is yes, even anatomically Adam, Eve, and every other human being are all created in the image and likeness of God.


To think of God as a human is to err instantly. God is spirit (John 4:24). No one has ever seen God (I John 4:12). God has manifested himself to man in physical ways. He made his glory appear over the tabernacle. He sent angels, who appeared as men, to deliver messages to numerous people in the Bible. Jesus came in human form. And yes, God's divine attributes are often described to us in "natural" or physical language so that we can understand them better. But many passages are very clear that no one has literally seen God. Let us "walk by faith, not by sight."

Note God's "appearance" to Israel at Mt. Sinai. Moses later recalled this event in Deut. 4:11-18, pointing out that God deliberately did not appear in a form they could behold. Why? Because he knew they would be tempted to carve idols of the form they saw. Have not so many artists and religious people today done that very thing?

"Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female..."

God is not a man (Num. 23:19), and to depict Him as such is profanity and idolatry.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .