Archive for July, 2014

Concept of “Person” 3

“To help explain the difference between “individual” and “person”, the model of the Holy Trinity is useful…”

To help explain the difference between “individual” and “person”, the model of the Holy Trinity is useful because it establishes a truth beyond the regular meaning of secular philosophical concepts. Two of the key terms in trinitarian theology are ousia and hypostasis; essence (nature) and subsistence (person).  Just to confuse things, even in Greek, these two terms can be used as synonyms.

In terms of trinitarian doctrine, Vladimir Lossky explains to us in his book, In the Image and Likeness of God, that “… according to the doctrine of the Fathers, there is between ousia and hypostasis the same difference as between the common and the particular…”.  Lossky continues his line of thinking with a complex thought, “The hypostasis is the same as ousia; it receives all the same attributes – or all the negations – which can be formulated on the subject of “superessence”; but it nonetheless remains irreducible to the ousia.”

Lossky tells us that the church Fathers of the fourth century worked diligently to develop and articulate a complete theology of the Holy Trinity.  This was especially true of three men who became known as the Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa).  They struggled mightily to articulate and differentiate between theological terms like hypostasis and ousia: “It was a great terminological discovery to introduce a distinction between the two synonyms, in order to express the irreducibility of the hypostasis to the ousia and of the person to the essence, without, however, opposing them as two different realities.  This will enable St. Gregory of Nazianzus to say, ‘The Son is not the Father, because there is only one Father, but He is what the Father is; the Holy Spirit, although He proceeds from God, is not the Son, because there is only one Only Begotten Son, but He is what the Son is’ (Or. 31, 9)”

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Meyendorff: “The fact that the Logos assumed human nature as such implied the universal validity of redemption…”

Fr. John Meyendorff (1926 – 1992) –  was a leading theologian of the Orthodox Church as well as a writer and teacher.  He was a great student of 14th century Saint, Gregory Palamas.  Meyendorff served as the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York until 1992.  Here, Meyendorff explains that the Orthodox church does not reject the idea of universal salvation, or apokatastasis, because it conflicts with the notion of eternal damnation, but “because it presupposes an ultimate limitation of human freedom”.



Fr. John Meyendorff (1926-1992)

   “The fact that the Logos assumed human nature as such implied the universal validity of redemption, but not the ‘apokatastasis’, or universal salvation, a doctrine which in 553 was formally condemned as Origenistic.  Freedom must remain an inalienable element of every man, and no one is to be forced into the Kingdom of God against his own free choice; the ‘apokatastasis’ had to be rejected precisely because it presupposes an ultimate limitation of human freedom – the freedom to remain outside of God.” ~ Byzantine Theology, 163

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Concept of “Person” 4

“…’person’ signifies the irreducibility of man to his nature…”

While Lossky warns us that we cannot make a complete and direct analogy between “hypostasis” or “person” as it applies to the Holy Trinity to the idea of “person” in humankind, some useful conclusions can be drawn.  He tells us that, “Under these conditions, it will be impossible for us to form a concept of the human person, and we will have to content ourselves with saying: “person” signifies the irreducibility of man to his nature— “irreducibility” and not “something irreducible” or “something which makes man irreducible to his nature” precisely because it cannot be a question here of “something” distinct from “another nature” but of someone who is distinct from his own nature, of someone who goes beyond his nature while still containing it, who makes it exist as human nature by this overstepping and yet does not exist in himself beyond the nature which he “enhypostasizes” and which he constantly exceeds.”

O.K., so Vladimir Lossky can be a little deep and dense at times.  Let’s get some help from some other very gifted contemporary theologians who can help explain and round out the concept of the “person” for us.

We’ll start with contemporary Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras (1935 –    ) to further explain and expand on Lossky’s thinking:

“In everyday speech, we tend to distort the meaning of the word ‘person’.   What we call ‘person’ or ‘personal’ designates rather more the individual. We have grown accustomed to regarding the terms “person” and “individual” as virtually synonymous, and we use the two indifferently to express the same thing. From one point of view, however, ‘person’ and ‘individual’ are opposite in meaning (see V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London, 1957), p. 121f.) The individual is the denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person, the attempt to define human existence using the objective properties of man’s common nature, and quantitative comparisons and analogies.”

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Isaac of Nineveh: God’s Justice is not Rome’s Imperial ‘Iustitia’

Isaac of Nineveh – 7th century ascetic and mystic,  born in modern-day Qatar, was made Bishop of Nineveh between 660-680.  Here Isaac easily debunks the Western Latin notion that God’s righteousness, or “dikaiosyne theou“, is the same as secular Imperial Roman Justice, or “Iustitia“.


Isaac Neneveh

Isaac of Nineveh, 7th century

“How can you call God just when you read the parable of the laborers in the vineyard and their wages?  ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong…  I choose to give to this last as I give to you… do you begrudge my generosity?’  Likewise how can you call God just when you read the parable of the prodigal son who squanders his father’s wealth in riotous living, and the moment he displays some nostalgia his father runs to him, throws his arms around his neck and gives him complete power over all his riches?  It is not someone else who has told us this about God, so that we might have doubts.  It is his own Son himself.  He bore this witness to God.  Where is God’s justice?  Here, in the fact that we were sinners and Christ died for us…”  ~ Ascetic Treatises, 60

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Concept of “Person” 5

“The demand of the person for “absolute freedom” involves a ‘new birth’, a birth ‘from on high’, a baptism.”

So, Yannaras adds to our concept of “person” the necessity of “personal immediacy” and “direct personal relationship”.  At the zenith of this immediacy and relationship, of course, is love.

In his book, “Being as Communion”, Studies in Personhood and the Church”, Orthodox theologian Metropolitan John ( Zizioulas) of Pergamon (1931-    ), maintains that the theology of the person would not have been possible without the mystery of the Church.  Zizioulas maintains that humanity, being made in the image of God, has an inherent God-given drive for “absolute freedom”.  However, existing as an “absolute freedom”, completely free and independent of its nature, is humanly impossible.  He tells us that, “the being of each human person is given to him; consequently, the human person is not able to free himself absolutely from his “nature” or from his “substance”, from what biological laws dictate to him, without bringing about his annihilation.”   To Zizioulas, deification and union with God involves escaping this “given” and sharing in the “absolute freedom” of divine existence; not after death, but beginning in this life.

Zizioulas tells us that escaping our “given” being, or nature, can only be accomplished through a “new birth”:  “The demand of the person for “absolute freedom” involves a ‘new birth’, a birth ‘from on high’, a baptism.  And it is precisely the ecclesial being which ‘hypostasizes’ the person according to God’s way of being.  That is what makes the Church an image of the Triune God.”  God’s way of being, Zizioulas notes, includes that “absolute freedom” which humans seek, and the Christian shares in this way of being even during his/her earthly pilgrimage.

This is the way in which a concrete, free “person” can emerge. Our “person” can emerge due to the fact that Christ deified our human nature through his incarnation.  His perfect human nature deified humankind’s fallen nature.

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Maximus: “The scriptural Word knows of two kinds of knowledge of divine things.”

Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – 662) was a 7th century Christian monk, theologian, and scholar who many contemporary scholars consider to be the greatest theologian of the Patristic era.  Two of his most famous works are “Ambigua” – An exploration of difficult passages in the work of Pseudo-Dionysius and Gregory of Nazianzus, focusing on Christological issues, and “Questions to Thalassius” or “Ad Thalassium” – a lengthy exposition on various Scriptural texts.  This quote is from the latter work.  It affirms the primacy of experience in an authentic spiritual life.


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Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – 662)

“The scriptural Word knows of two kinds of knowledge of divine things. On the one hand, there is relative knowledge, rooted only in reason and ideas, and lacking in the kind of experiential perception of what one knows through active engagement; such relative knowledge is what we use to order our affairs in our present life.  On the other hand, there is that truly authentic knowledge, gained only by actual experience, apart from reason and ideas, which provides a total perception of the known object through a participation by grace.  By this latter knowledge, we attain, in the future state, the supernatural deification that remains unceasingly in effect.” ~  Ad Thalassium 60

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Concept of “Person” 6

“…because humanity is created in the image of God with the drive for “absolute freedom”, it ‘is able to carry with [it] the whole of creation to its transcendence’.”

The Incarnation of the Logos, the Son, the Christ, created the possibility for humankind to attain by adoption, what Christ is by nature.  Zizioulas tells us:

“Thanks to Christ man can henceforth “subsist”, can affirm his existence as personal not on the basis of immutable laws of his nature, but on the basis of a relationship with God which is identified with what Christ in freedom and love possesses as Son of God with the Father. This adoption of man by God, the identification of his hypostasis with the hypostasis of the Son of God, is the essence of baptism.”

“The ecclesial hypostasis exists historically in this manner as a confirmation of man’s capacity not to be reduced to his tendency to become a bearer of individuality, separation and death. The ecclesial hypostasis is the faith of man in his capacity to become a person and his hope that he will indeed become an authentic person. In other words it is faith and hope in the immortality of man as a person.”

Zizioulas concludes his thoughts on the concept of “person” with the vision of humanity in communion and in an intimate love relationship with humankind, all creation, and with God:

“It becomes a movement of free love with a universal character, that is, a love which, while it can concentrate on one person as the expression of the whole of nature, sees in this person the hypostasis through which all men and all things are loved and in relation to which they are hypostasized. The body for its part as the hypostatic expression of the human person, is liberated from individualism and egocentricity and becomes a supreme expression of community – the Body of Christ, the body of the Church, the body of the eucharist.”

Zizioulas tells us that the concept of person, “implies the ‘openness of being,’ and even more than that, the ek-stasis of being, i.e., a movement toward communion which leads to transcendence of the boundaries of the ‘self’ and thus to freedom.”  Moreover, because humanity is created in the image of God with the drive for “absolute freedom”, it “is able to carry with [it] the whole of creation to its transcendence.”

This is some pretty awesome spiritual thinking and imagery, isn’t it?

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Zizioulas: “a person cannot be imagined in himself but only within his relationships.”

Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon (1931-    ).  He is the Chairman of the Academy of Athens.  He has degrees from the University of Thessaloniki, studied at Harvard Divinity School, and received his PhD from the University of Athens.  He has taught at the Universities of Athens, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and King’s College in London.



Met. John (Zizioulas)


“The significance of the person rests in the fact that he represents two things simultaneously which are at first sight in contradiction: particularity and communion.  Being a person is fundamentally different from being an individual or a “personality,” for a person cannot be imagined in himself but only within his relationships.” ~ Being as Communion

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Larchet: “God, in effect, does not grant healing unless it is asked of him…”

Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet (1949-    ) is a French Orthodox theologian and is one of the foremost Patristics scholars writing today.   Dr. Larchet converted to the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church at the age of 22.  He holds doctorates in philosophy (1987) and theology (1994) from the University of Strasbourg.



Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet


“God, in effect, does not grant healing unless it is asked of him, for he has granted man free will and in all the cases respects his will and will not act against it. However, the will of the individual is not always fully at his disposal. . .Those who are disturbed in a significant way cannot even ask for their own healing or give evidence of their faith. . . And yet it is possible for such individuals to be delivered and healed thanks to the faith and the prayers of those around them or accompanying them, as well as to those of the saint to whom they are entrusted.”  ~  Mental Disorders & Spiritual Healing: Teachings from the Early Christian East


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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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