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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 8: Semblants, Nature and Persons

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← 224 | 225 →CHAPTER 8

Semblants, Nature and Persons

At this point it is worth recalling the idea enunciated in both Part I (Chapter 4, “Chalcedonian Personalism”) and Part II (Chapter 5, “The Anthropology of Personhood”), that the relationship between person and nature cannot be expressed since they are two distinctive “realities” associated both with God (as enunciated by early Church conciliar documents) and also with each human being. Because persons cannot be described – or better, cannot be positively described – neither can we provide positive accounts of the relation that exists between person and nature, even though we know that they go together such that there is no person without a nature, or in terms of the categories of nature, they constitute one “thing.”

The other side of the coin is that while human persons will only fully manifest themselves in the age to come, we come across expressions of personhood in many circumstances in this earthly life. It is such expressions that we must account for in this chapter and this will take the form of a focus upon the concept of a “semblant.” As the name suggests, a semblant is like something else, in this case, like a person. More accurately we can say that semblants share some of the negative features of persons. After spelling out more fully what is meant by the concept, there will follow a justification for its introduction, emphasizing the importance of drawing a fundamental distinction between persons,...

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