The Concept of “Person” 7

“… a person is one who has passed from the image to the likeness [of God].”

Theologian Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos (1945-    ) in his aptly titled, “The Person in the Orthodox Tradition”, brings us back full circle with his exposition and analysis of the thinking of the church Fathers on the concept of “person”.  He summarizes his thoughts by concluding:

“All of this shows that the holy Fathers used the term ‘Person’ to point to the particular Hypostases of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But they more often use the term ‘anthropos’, man, for people. Yet there are some indications that the term ‘person’ is sometimes also applied to a man. But this must be done with special care, for it is possible to give a philosophical and abstract character to the term ‘person’. Properly a man and a person is one who has passed from the image to the likeness. 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.”

This means that the idea of the emergence and perfection of our “person” is integrally connected to the spiritual process of purification (katharsis), illumination (theoria), leading to union with God (theosis); or deification.

In summary, clearly there is a massive difference between an “individual” and a “person”.

The great Cappadocians first distinguished between “essence or nature” (ousia) and “person” (hypostasis) for us.

Vladimir Lossky then explained the idea of a “person” in terms of the “irreducibility of man to his nature” and its ability to transcend its nature while still including it.

Christos Yannaras introduced us to the idea that a “person” is necessarily relational; in “direct personal relationship and communion”, participating “in the principle of personal immediacy, or of the loving and creative force which distinguishes the person from the common nature”.

John Zizioulas then explained that it is only within the context of baptism, or new birth, that fallen humanity can achieve the “absolute freedom” to love and unite itself and creation with God.  It is this “ecclesial being which ‘hypostasizes’ the person according to God’s way of being”, becoming “a movement of free love with a universal character”, “able to carry with [it] the whole of creation to its transcendence.”

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