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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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Chapter 1: Personhood: Beginning with Christ


← 2 | 3 →CHAPTER 1

Personhood: Beginning with Christ

In a work whose interest is in human personhood, the implications of the chapter title, Personhood: Beginning with Christ, call for an explanation. This is because Christology (together with Trinitarian theology) is not the usual place from which to begin an account of a fundamental descriptor of human beings such as is that of “person.” The secular discussions of these matters, of course, not only start from but also end with positions that are distinctly non-theological. But even for Christian theological perspectives, the foundational ideas for a consideration of persons are grounded in scientific and/or philosophical approaches.1 Even a recent collection of articles published under the title Persons: Human and Divine contains only two pieces (among its total of fifteen) which related Persons of the Godhead to human persons, and both of those adopted primarily “bottom-up” approaches to the question, seeking to give shape to our understanding of the divine in terms of the human.2

← 3 | 4 →The obvious question for an argument of the kind pursued here is something like the following: how can one clarify the notion of person by recourse to theologically related terms when it is precisely on the basis of everyday and philosophical concepts about humans and their personal characteristics that the Christological conception of person developed as it did? Surely beginning with the Person of Christ so as to elucidate the notion of personhood in others is precisely the wrong...

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