The Concept of “Person” 8

“It is the “person” that recognizes that it is created in the image of God with the single purpose to attain to His likeness…” 

Hierotheos Vlachos then summed up for us all of the church Fathers’ thinking on the concept of “person”:  “In the teaching of the holy Fathers, to be in the image is potentially to be in the likeness, and being in the likeness is actually the image. In the same way the man created by God and recreated by the Church through Holy Baptism, is potentially a person. But when, through his personal struggle, and especially by the grace of God, he attains the likeness, then he is actually a person.”

Hierotheos brings the concept of “person” into the context of 21st century society.  He tells us that becoming a “person” takes some real work and effort, “The theology of man as a person can play an important part in contemporary society.  To be sure, the person par excellence is God, but man too, as created in the image and likeness of God, can become a person…  But, in order to reach this point it is necessary to live the asceticism of the person.  The Fathers of the Church give great weight to this matter…  If we do not look at the ascetic dimension of the human person, then we fail to see the patristic teaching concerning the person, no matter how many patristic references we may use.”

Vlachos concludes his thoughts by speaking about the value the teaching about the “person” can be to society:  “The teaching about the human person will solve many problems which are arising every day.  Love, freedom, the solution to social problems, anguish and insecurity, the eastern religions, dialogue, [and] psychological phenomena cannot be cured and confronted apart from the patristic teaching about man and about the person.”

Given what we have learned here, it is no surprise that the concept of “person” has been lost to “individual”-obsessed Western culture, including the church.  The concept of “person” has been reduced to being equated with “individual”.  I think all of us have had the uneasy feeling that the fundamental self-centeredness and worldliness inherent with modern society’s idolatry with “individuality” might somehow fall short of God’s plan for us.  Now we can see that indeed it does and, better yet, why.

The “individual” is an instance of human nature; the self-centered, ego driven subsistence of human nature that pits itself and defends its interests against all other individuals.  The “person” is not the same; it includes the “individual” and yet transcends it.  It is the “person” that recognizes that it is created in the image of God with the single purpose to attain to His likeness in an intimate relationship of agape love for humankind and for all creation, bringing the created world along to union with God; “partaking of the divine nature”.

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