Person (in theology)

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Christianity is love and its "God is love" (1 Jn 4.8,16). Love manifests personalitya person loving and a person loved. Hence Christianity is an eminently personal religion and its God a very personal God. Three personalist mysteries summarize Christianity: (1) God, the absolute and infinite, unique and wholly "other" One, is three Persons; (2) Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and man, is the Person of the word having both a divine and human nature; (3) there is a mystical personality of Christ, in which Christians enter into personal communion with God. All theology is ultimately a reflection on and seeking an understanding of these three personal realities. Because the developments of the concept of personality in Trinitarian and Christological theology are so intimately interconnected, these are here treated together. There follows a consideration of person in mystical body theology.

Person in Trinitarian-Christological Theology.

Hebrew is without a term for our concept "person." There are instances in the Old Testament when the word pānîm (face) practically corresponds to our understanding of person. The Greek word for face, πρόσωπον, likewise has the meaning of person (cf. 2 Cor 1.11). Postapostolic Christian teachers soon discovered that mere repetition of biblical phrases inadequately preserved the integrity of the Christian faith taking root in the Greco-Roman world. Because of the central place personality has in the mysteries of the Trinity and of Christ, there was need of a gradual clarification of the notion of person in Catholic theology. We shall trace this theological development of the notion of person in the mysteries of the Trinity and incarnation through four general stages.

Nicaean-Chalcedonian Formulation. The Trinitarian-Christological controversies of the 2d to the 5th centuries in the Greco-Roman world occasioned the first development in the notion of person. Christian Trinitarian monotheism had to be preserved while being incarnated in a new culture steeped in Neoplatonic philosophy and language. Whereas the starting point of Eastern writers was the distinction of Persons with an ever-present danger of subordinationism, the Western writers looked to the unity of the divine substance, with a dangerous tendency toward modalism. It was Tertullian's exact egalistic mind that gave precision to Western terminology at a very early date. Persona referred to that which is threefold in the Trinity and one in Christ; natura or substantia, later also essentia, designated that which is one in the Trinity and dual in Christ. In the East, however, four Greek words (πρόσωπον, φύσις, [symbol omitted]πόστασις, ο[symbol omitted]σία) signified our concept of person, the latter three words also designating nature. Moreover, πρόσωπον, taken in its etymological sense (face, mask, appearance), was capable of a modalistic meaning. The Nicaean-Chalcedonian formulas gave the first doctrinal clarification to the terms nature and person. nicaea i (325) defined that the Son is of the Father's substance and μοούσιος (consubstantial) with the Father, while Chalcedon (451) defined that Christ is one Person (πρόσωπον, or [symbol omitted]πόστασις) with two natures (φύσεις, or ο[symbol omitted]σίαι). These doctrinal formulas are both an end and a new beginning, for every propositional form of the divine mysteries is necessarily incomplete. Christianity's personalist message has to be constantly restated with ever-greater depths of understanding.

Relationship Pertains to Divine Personality. The mystery of the Trinity appears in the Bible in reference to distinct roles in the economy of salvation, but in the theology of the Greek Fathers as distinct Persons. The oneness of the divine substance is preserved by their doctrine of perichoresis, i.e., the coinherence of the Divine Persons in a dynamic compenetrating existence (see circumincession). Though perichoresis contains an implicit mutual relationship between the Divine Persons, this aspect of Trinitarian theology reaches greater development in Western theology.

St. Augustine, faithful to the Western viewpoint, took the divine essence as the starting point of his investigation, but then had difficulty maintaining the distinction of Persons. He solved this difficulty when he saw that the term "Person" in the Trinity can only mean subsistent relationa discovery that had a great impact on future Trinitarian theology. "Substance comprehends unity, relation multiplies Trinity" (Boethius). Starting with the unique divine nature in developing a doctrine of subsistent relations is admittedly not a New Testament approach to the Divine Persons. Nevertheless by returning to the biblical data now, it will be discovered that the description there of the Divine Persons can be taken in the sense of mutual relations. Moreover these mutual relations bring Western theology once more in contact with the dynamic Trinitarianism of Eastern theology. The mutual relations place in the Godhead eternal begetting, being begotten, and proceeding. The Divine Persons are now seen to reveal God in terms of His own inner life. Analogies are now easily discovered in man's spiritual, intellectual, and volitional life: Memory, Understanding, Will; Lover, Beloved, Their Love.

Ontological Precision of Person. Boethius, an Italian philosopher-statesman of the 6th century, defined person as an individual substance of a rational nature. This definition, explained by later theologians, especially St. Thomas, has become classic in theology. All recognize the term "rational" to mean any intellectual nature, not merely human, and the term "substance" to designate first substance, the subsistent subject or hypostasis. The precise clarification in this third stage is that the notion of subsistence, existence in itself, and therefore incommunicability, belongs to the notion of person. Person is the subsistent, incommunicable subject of an intellectual naturetheology now has a notion of person that accounts for the distinct roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the biblical description of the economy of Redemption. This ontological notion of person, while far from adequate, offers a secure basis for theological consideration of the Trinitarian and Christological mysteries.

Relation of Person, Nature, Existence. Catholic dogma teaches that Christ is one Person (that of the Word) with two natures, divine and human. Consequently, human nature cannot of itself mean human person. Christ is a human but not a human person. Theology now had to come to a more precise understanding of personality or subsistence. Prescinding from particular modifications, the commentators on St. Thomas offer three principal explanations. (1) The Scotists see in subsistence a negative elementnot being assumed. Christ is not a human person because His human nature is assumed by the Person of the Word. (2) Proper existence itself is subsistence in the view of Capreolus reaffirmed by Billot. Christ is without human personality because His human nature does not have a proportionate human existence but shares in the infinite act of existence of the Word. (3) For Cajetan subsistence is a substantial mode added to nature, terminating it in ultimate incommunicability, which makes nature immediately apt for existence. In Christ there is no such human substantial mode and hence no human personality.

That is where the matter lies todayone of free and divergent opinion. All three views are not without shortcomings. The nonassumption of the Scotistic view hardly seems an adequate explanation of so rich a reality as personality. The Capreolus-Billot view runs into serious metaphysical difficulties and seems to endanger the reality of Christ's human nature. Christ exists as God and exists as man; how can these existences be more one than His divinity and humanity are one? Even positing real existential unity of the person, there still seems a necessary parallel unity and distinction in essence and in existence. Cajetan's substantial mode seems to be a made-to-order explanation of the hypostatic union without much corroborating evidence from an examination of human personality as such.

Contemporary Psychological Notion of Person. The ontological categories that have prevailed in the theology of the Trinity and of Christ, fruitful as they have been, have not sounded the depths of the inexhaustible sourceScripture. New approaches are usually along three lines: (1) taking a more theological view of human personality, considering also what is known from the Trinitarian-Christological mysteries; (2) using the data of contemporary psychology in theologizing about the mysteries of the Trinity and Incarnation; and (3) complementing the ontological notion of person (a definition according to common notions of singularity, Summa theologiae 1a 29.1 ad 1) with existential aspects of personality (descriptions of singular uniqueness and dynamic vitality). In all of these the Catholic theologian is not questioning the ontological foundation of personality; hence no Günther-Rosmini identification of personality with self-consciousness.

Significant theological insights manifesting a new vitality in theology have resulted from these new perspectives. Human personality is seen as a center of relationships through self-consciousness (self-possession) and self-giving. A person is therefore someone complete in himself but also someone who is constituted by his relations. This is theologically significant, for we know that the relatedness of one Person to another in the Trinitarian mystery stands at the core of personality. This insight into personality gives new pertinency to richard of saint-victor's trinitarian analogythe Lover, the Loved, and the Love as Initial Gift. The New Testament definition "God is love" is understood no longer in an essentialistic sense of an absolute attribute of the divine nature, but in the strictly personalistic sense that God is Self-Giver, Responsive Self-Giver, and Mutual Gift.

It is impossible to overestimate the contribution made by the mystery of the Incarnation to our understanding of the human person. Christ's human consciousness and freedom reveal a Divine Person who is truly mediator in His humanity. The human person, radically in relationship to God, can then realize himself only in union with Christ. But this involves the human person in the mystery of Christ crucified and risen. In this life, the person finds it impossible to give himself without losing himself, so that the ultimate fulfillment of self-possession and self-giving is attained only after death and then not as a result of man's endeavors but of God's Self-giving. Made one with the Spirit, the human person is caught up in the Self-giving life of the Divine Persons.

Person in the Theology of the Mystical Body. The Old Testament presents a double theme on human personality: a gradual development of a sense of individual responsibility is intimately bound up with the collectiveof the specially chosen people of god. There is a solidarity of the group and of the individual persons that constitutes a form of "corporate personality."

The full harmonization of the individual person and the corporate person is realized in Christ. Already St. Augustine speaks of Christ and Christians as constituting a certain oneness of personality (una quaedam persona ). So basic is this oneness of all mankind in Christ that it can be said to be constitutive of the Christian viewpoint. As a consequence it is absolutely impossible for there to be any real opposition between the individual person and the community of persons.

A wonderful harmonization of personality and community is contained in the Church's theology of the Sacraments. Each Sacrament constitutes the Christian an ecclesial person in a particular wayeither in state or in action. Through this being-a-person-in-society, the Christian comes into immediate contact with Christ inasmuch as that society is also the living organism, Body, of Christ, who is head. By the life that flows from that head to the members, the Christian becomes a more perfect person in Christ by opening himself in love and service to other persons: God and neighbor.

The consummation without absorption of human personality in the mystical personality of Christ is the elevation of the natural inviolability of the human person. Catholic theology has always taken its stand against any form of collectivism that reduces the human person to a means. The human person is an absolute value and therefore an end in regard to the entire material and spiritual universe, precisely because of its immediate ordination to God. The special dignity of the human person consists of an openness that enables him to relate himself consciously to God. Most perfectly and most eminently is this immediate communion with God realized by the hypostatic union in Christ. Dependent on and modeled after this hypostatic union is the mystical union of all Christians in the mystical personality of Christ. Here the Christian becomes as perfectly as possible a self-possessor, possessing self in Christ, and a responsive self-giver by the Spirit of Christ, joining him to Christ and in and through Christ to the Father.

"A person means that which is most perfect in nature" (Summa theologiae 1a. 29.3). Catholic doctrine acknowledges the necessity of revelation for fallen man to know completely the more exalted natural truths. Where would this need of divine guidance be more acute than when man comes to search the meaning of himself at the deepest and central point of his beingpersonality. How deficient man finds his rational method whenever he comes to consider anything in its totality. Such is the person. The history of human thought certainly seems to confirm Cajetan's suspicion that man would never have even directed his attention to the subtleties of human personality had not the revealed mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation invited him to do so. If these mysteries have raised new problems in the understanding of personality, theology does not hesitate to seek in these same mysteries new insights into human personality. And from this better understanding of human personality, we can return to a fuller understanding of mystical personality and divine personality in Christ and in God.

See Also: analogy, theological use of; consubstantiality; created actuation by uncreated act; homoousios; hypostasis; incorporation in christ; jesus christ, iii (special questions); jesus christ, articles on; love; person, divine; person (in philosophy); relations, trinitarian; subsistence (theological aspect); trinity, holy; trinity, holy, articles on.

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[m. j. dorenkemper]