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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 5: The Anthropology of Personhood: An Introduction and Overview


← 132 | 133 →CHAPTER 5

The Anthropology of Personhood: An Introduction and Overview

Introducing Part II

The first part of this work has sought to advance the idea of a Chalcedonian personalism which is derived primarily from the early Church’s teaching on the Trinity and the Incarnation. In the second and main part of this book, what we have so far steered clear of will now become our focus. Our task will be that of thinking through Chalcedonian personalism as it relates to human persons. We will attempt to answer the question, to what extent and how does our understanding of the Person of Christ apply to all other persons? It will be argued that such a generalization is broadly applicable, and for that reason, the way we conceive personhood as applied to all human beings will diverge in important respects from that which has traditionally been proposed within Catholic theological discourse, not to say from other secular understandings.

Now with such differences in how “person” is to be understood, it makes sense that we will also have to re-think our notion of “nature” as it applies to humans. This is because, as we saw in our treatment of Christology and Trinitarian theology, the two notions are intimately related. Two chapters, 6 and 7, will be devoted to clarifying what is meant here by “human nature” since the account we sketched in Part I displays a number of important dissimilarities – with, of course,...

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