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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 4: Chalcedonian Personalism: Its Emergence and Shape


← 94 | 95 →CHAPTER 4

Chalcedonian Personalism: Its Emergence and Shape

In Chapter 1 I gave an abbreviated account of the fortunes of the concept of “person” as applied especially in the Christian understanding of God. I began with what I have called its Chalcedonian definition as set out in conciliar teaching during the first seven centuries. I then examined how it was understood during the event of extraordinary intellectual ferment we call medieval scholasticism. In the following two chapters, as a necessary prelude to the current chapter, I endeavoured to tease out the main threads of the emergence of notions of the human person during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries which were to flower into the broad movement of personalism through the twentieth century. As we will see, this movement was more than likely a sine qua non for a significant advance in the interpretation of the dogmatic statements of the conciliar era that we find in the work of von Balthasar and Ratzinger. I begin this chapter by giving a brief account of their recovery of a Chalcedonian notion of personhood from the study of the doctrine of the early Church, but in doing so, I want to highlight the importance of the broader personalist thought of their time for the accomplishment of that recovery.1

The remainder of the chapter, however, will offer an account, in its main outlines, of Chalcedonian personalism as applied to the divine Persons. It will be...

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