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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 10: Case Study II: The Soul


← 286 | 287 →CHAPTER 10

Case Study II: The Soul

Soul, apart from the musical version, has gone out of fashion. To use the term in everyday conversation sounds archaic. And yet it has an honoured place within Catholic theology. From the Scriptures, through the doctrinal development of the first millennium, with its formal definition in the fourteenth century and its continued use in recent magisterial documents, it has rendered useful service. In Chapter 8 “soul” was included among examples of semblant concepts, and I have chosen it as the theme for a second case study because of its importance as a key term for theological anthropology. A more pressing reason for its selection, however, is that, prima facie, there would seem to be significant difficulties in relating it to the notion of “person” as set forth here. Not least of those problems is the fact that, in its teaching on the soul, the Church has – seemingly – already set in place an alternative core anthropology inconsistent with what we have proposed. In particular, the Vienne Council doctrine that the “intellective soul is the form of the body” uses language that appears to be at quite some conceptual distance from that of Chalcedonian personalism. Indeed, for all our attempts to eschew the language of essence, substance and their associated concepts in order to shape an alternative account of persons and nature, here we find that same conceptual structure seemingly dogmatized and set in stone. The task of this...

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