December 29, 2015

The Theological Crisis and Its Impact on Daily Ecclesiastical Life (4 of 6)

b) "The Human Person"

Many studies have been made in our day about the "human person", and the features are even identified, which are self-knowledge, otherness and ecstasy/eros.

The idea that man is a person began with the Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky, who clearly wrote: "For my part, I must admit that until now I have not found what one might call an elaborated doctrine of the human person in patristic theology, alongside its very precise teaching on divine persons and hypostases." But he continues: "Thus I shall not put forward an historian’s examination of Christian doctrines, but simply some theological reflections on the questions which must be answered by the notion of the human person in the context of Christian dogma."

Vladimir Lossky is very clear and honest, that there is not an "elaborated doctrine of the human person," which co-exists with the teaching of the Fathers on the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Indeed, the Fathers analyzed the person/hypostasis in the Triune God, but they did not speak about man as a person, since the metaphysical authority of analogia entis does not exist, rather they use for man, as St. John of Damascus writes, the biblical terms of "image" (mind, conscience) and "likeness" (theosis). There are some minimal references to man as hypostasis which are used to mean existence, since this term is also used for animals, the ox in particular.

Next, the identification of the human person with characteristic features, self-knowledge, otherness and ecstasy/eros are clear transfers into Orthodox theology from the respective terminology of the German existentialist philosopher Heidegger.

Still, the term "interpenetration [perichoresis] of the persons" clearly refers to the Triune God, since according to the Fathers there is an interpenetration between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, but this cannot happen in the same way with humans, who have special energies and special bodies, so that no one can understand how an interpenetration between people can take place. Love between people cannot be interpreted by the principle of interpenetration, in the way it is done with the Trinitarian God.

c) "Person and Individual"

Furthermore, it is supported today that a difference exists between "person" and "individual". It is written and said that the person has self-consciousness and otherness, distinguished from freedom and love, while the individual is understood in biological and numerical concepts. Such a distinction is interesting and helps in discussions on social issues, which is why thirty years ago I also used it, and it helped me in discussions with intellectuals and young people, but I quickly realized that this distinction differs from the patristic tradition.

The distinction between person and individual is found first in the scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas, but was developed in our times by the existentialist philosopher Jacques Maritain, Berdyaev and others. It is used and analyzed by Vladimir Lossky.

However, in patristic teaching there is no such distinction between person and individual. Let me remind you again that the Fathers always used the term "person" and "hypostasis" for God, not man. Thus, St. John of Damascus writes: "One should know that the Holy Fathers used the term 'hypostasis' and 'person' and 'individual' for the same thing." Elsewhere he writes: "Hypostasis, namely the individual," thus identifying the terms of person, hypostasis and individual.

St. John of Damascus wrote this because he knew that the word "individual" (ἄτομον) from the privative α and the word τομή is "μή τεμνόμενον" ("non-intersecting") and is used in Christological discords to emphasize that Christ's two natures, the divine and human, do not intersect, so that Christ is a single person/individual, in Whom are combined the two natures "inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably." Also, St. Symeon the New Theologian uses the word "individual" for the Triune God, that the Persons of the Holy Trinity do not intersect.

Vladimir Lossky uses the distinction between person and individual when he writes: "Thus in theological language, in the East as in the West, the term 'human person' coincides with that of 'human individual.' But we cannot stop at this declaration. Since it seems that Christian anthropology has not given a new sense to the term 'human hypostasis' or 'person,' let us try to disclose the presence of a different notion, which is no longer identical to that of 'individual' and yet remains unfixed by any term, as a basis implied but most often not expressed in all theological or ascetic teaching which deals with man." Thus, he makes a distinction between person and individual, influenced mainly by existentialist philosophy.

Therefore, it seems clear that the effort to define and delineate and distinguish the human person from the individual, although the Fathers made no such effort, is the work of modern theology.

d) "The Dignity and Sanctity of the Human Person"

The term "dignity and sanctity of the human person" is used frequently these days, perhaps out of ignorance of the facts.

In regards the human person, and how this term was introduced by scholastic and Russian theology, as well as existentialist philosophy, we previously stated. However, this theme is extended by linking the human person with dignity and sanctity.

First, it should be noted, that those who speak of the human person connect it to every human being, regardless of race or religion, every human being is a person in the image of God, since they have mind and conscience. Previously, when I wrote about the human person, according to Elder Sophrony Sakharov, who wrote that the human as person meant a human who reached "according to the likeness", to theosis, I received a strong reaction, because according to modern philosophical theologians each human being, with their freedom and ability of selection, is a person.

Within this perspective, what does dignity and sanctity of the human person mean? In a modern human society the choice of each man is respected, even if it is against the will of God and Orthodox patristic anthropology in general. Also, some Orthodox theologians use the phrase "dignity of the human person" in a traditional sense, but this creates terminological confusion, when others understand it differently to require respect for human rights, even though it is unlike the evangelical ascetic life.

I will mention just one example, to show how the phrase "the dignity and sanctity of the human person" is used. The view is argued that when someone discovers "homosexual attraction" within ones self, "this constitutes an illness of nature and not the person."

In this phrase it appears that the terminology of nature and person is transferred from God to man, which is something that cannot be found in the Fathers, as has been noted. Therefore, there is a split between nature and person, while the Person of the Godhead is essence with properties, and there is no priority of nature or person. Still, this distinction is made to give the responsibility of any irregularity to nature and not to person, which has dignity and sanctity. It appears that the problem with this is that a few years ago, during the Eurovision contest the song that won was by a man who became a woman and had a beard, and everyone wondered what to call this human being, a man or a woman, and the answer was that we should call him "persona".

It seems that modern philosophers and theologians use the phrase "dignity and sanctity of the human person" to indicate respect for human rights. Of course we must accept human rights. But Fr. John Romanides claimed that the Church in the future will encounter difficulties from so-called "human rights", because in the name of human rights various views and practices contrary to God's will are endorsed. The work of the Church is to cure the noetic energy of man and within this practice to create unity among people in society. However, the phrase "the dignity and sanctity of the human person" is problematic.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.