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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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Seeing the argument as a whole

The principal conviction undergirding this book is that human beings are best understood, in their totality, by reference to – and in relation to – the exemplary human being, Jesus Christ.1 Key to this comparison is the notion of “person.” He is a Person in the complete sense; we are persons insofar as we bear likeness to his personhood. But profoundly challenging over the centuries has been the tasking of making sense of that notion as it applies to both Christ and to other humans. Only in the last century has a response begun to take shape that would appear to open up a pathway towards a deeper sense of what it means to be a person and a human being. I have identified the theologians, von Balthasar and Ratzinger, as those, within the Catholic tradition, who most fully express this response and are most attuned to its ramifications.

The first part of this work attempts to tell the story of how this came about and why it is so significant. Part II starts from the work of von Balthasar and Ratzinger and aims to develop a theological anthropology based on their foundations. In this second section, two broad questions were considered: how does a theological understanding of the human person fit with key features of human nature? How does it connect with concepts such as consciousness, rationality, freedom and the soul? It will be apparent to the reader by...

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