The Unity of the Human Person According to the Greek Fathers

Kallistos Ware begins his discussion of human personhood by referring to David Jenkins, who was the Bishop of Durham at the time, who insisted that personhood cannot be defined. According to Jenkins, “There is a sense in which we do not know what is involved in being a person. Thus, we do not know how far being a person goes. That is to say we do not know what, if anything could properly be described as the fulfillment of being a person.” (197) Jenkins’s words highlights what Ware believes is an important feature of personhood, namely, “to be open always to point beyond…To be human is to be unpredictable, creative, self-transcending.” (198) This transcendent and open feature of personhood is affirmed by the Church Fathers. Since God is incomprehensible, so are human persons. (198)

The claim that humans are incomprehensible, transcendent, and open, however does not prevent us from identifying the features of human personhood that embody these factors. Ware identifies three factors. First, humans are a “microcosm.” They exist on both the spiritual and material level. When you look at a human person, in some sense you “see the whole creation.” (200) Second, humans are mediators. In their act of mediation they transcend the division between male and female, they transcend the material order, they even transcend creation. Third, humans are a “microtheos.” Humans have the task of transcending and unifying the created with the uncreated. Humans are not only the universe in miniature, “but also microtheos, God in miniature.” In being deified humans unite all created things to God, “revealing the divine presence in our own persons, in one another, in every tree, rock, and stream, in the whole creation.” (204)

Towards the end of this essay Ware adds a further point, one that underlies the other three points he had already made. This point is that “like the personhood of God, [human personhood] is exchange, self-giving, and reciprocity.” A person, is what he or she is “only in relation to others.” In order to fulfill these tasks—being a microcosm, a mediator, a microtheos—humans must be in relation to others. He then cites John Macmurray who says, “Since mutuality is constitutive for the personal, ‘I’ need ‘you’ in order to be myself.” Ware summarizes his point well I cannot be a mediator, a bridge-builder, unless I relate to my fellow humans. My vocation to divinize the world is essentially a vocation realized in common with others.” (206)

What I find interesting about Ware’s contribution to the project of understanding personhood is that he approaches the matter from the angle of vocation. Human persons are beings with a particular kind of vocation. This vocation requires relationality. However, after reading this essay I’m still left wondering whether there is a definition of a person in general or whether we must define personhood according to different types (e.g. human person vs. divine person vs. angelic person). If there is one definition of personhood what would Ware include in that definition? It seems as though openness and relationality would be included in that definition. This latter feature—relationality—is part of a trend that I noticed when reading the anthropological texts in this report. Usually, the grounds for including relationality appeals to Buber or Macmurray. It thus seems fitting that the last blog on this series on personhood will be Macmurray’s lectures on personhood.



Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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