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Chalcedonian Personalism

Rethinking the Human

Colin Patterson

We all have a sense of what it means to be a person, but how do we conceptualize that intuition? What is the connection between a person and their human nature? Where does mind fit in to the picture? This book draws upon the work of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, both of whom developed a perspective on these questions that is grounded in the early Church’s teaching on Christ and the Trinity. The possibilities of that teaching for understanding human personhood were generally lost for about fifteen centuries, but Ratzinger, in a bold assertion, believes that its retrieval has the power to challenge and reshape the whole of human thought.

The first part of the book offers an account of how von Balthasar and Ratzinger arrived at their theological understanding of personhood, paying particular attention to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century personalist thought. The second part draws out a number of the implications of this work and, in doing so, makes use of recent psychological theory. Finally, as a means of bringing into the picture the related philosophical notions of self, freedom and the soul, the book introduces and explores the concept of a «semblant».

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Introducing the Theme

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This book represents an attempt to put into ordered and written form my thinking on some key theological questions to do with the idea of “person.” Since all of us are persons, one could imagine such a work dealing with abstract notions of mostly boring generality. I have endeavoured to avoid that approach by couching much of the text in narrative terms and by devoting quite a few pages to questions which the educated person-in-the-street, or perhaps pew, might think about. Scattered throughout the text or in the footnotes are brief comments pointing to how the ideas being argued for might make contact with other important theological or philosophical issues, but in order to keep the work within reasonable bounds, I have left to the attentive reader some of the task of thinking through the ramifications.

The book is centrally about Chalcedonian personalism and its implications for a theological understanding of humanity. The phrase calls for some explanation not only because of its novelty – as evidenced by zero instances from a search on Google, an admittedly fallible indicator – but also in view of the fact that neither “Chalcedonian” nor “personalism” are everyday terms.

Personalism, as is often repeated, is not a unitary philosophical theory, and especially during the twentieth century self-described “personalists” cropped up in many places. One cannot even say that they belong to an identifiable current of thought. Some observers have attempted to provide lists of features typical of personalist thought, but...

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