Origin of the Notion of Person – and then, Person as Relation (Not Substance)

Where Did We Get the Notion of “Person” From?
Short Answer: 1) From the Bible “as something needed for its interpretation. It is a product of reading the Bible. 2) “it grew out of the idea of dialogue, more specifically, it grew as an explanation of the phenomenon of the God who speaks dialogically… To summarize, we can say: The idea of person expresses in its origin the idea of dialogue and the idea of God as the dialogical being. It refers to God as the being that lives in the word and consists of the word as ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ‘we.’ In the light of this knowledge of God, the true nature of humanity became clear in a new way.”

Ratzinger went to school on the work of Carl Andresen, historian of dogma at Gottingen. He (Andresen) found that “the great poets of Antiquity did not simply narrate … events, but allowed persons to make their appearance and to speak. For example, they place words in the mouths of divine figures and the drama progresses through these roles; he shows that the persons have been created as ‘roles’ in order to give dramatic life to events (in fact, the word ‘prosopon,’ later translated by ‘persona,’ originally means simply ‘role’ the mask of the actor). Ratzinger continues: “In their reading of Scripture, the Christian writers came upon something quite similar. They found that, here too, events progress in dialogue. They found, above all, the peculiar fat God speaks in the plural or speaks with himself (e.g., ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness,’ or God’s statement in Genesis e, ‘Adam has become like one of us,’ or Psalm 110, ‘The Lord said to my Lord’ which the Greek Fathers take to be a conversation between God and His Son). The Fathers approach this fact, namely, that God is introduced in the plural as speaking with himself … Justin, who wrote in the first half of the second century (d. 165), already says ‘The sacred writer introduces different prosopa, different roles.’ Ratzinger points to this as the turning point where “role” now means “person.” “Justin says that the dialogical roles introduced by the prophets are not mere literary devices. The ‘role’ truly exists; it is the propsopon, the face, the person of the Logos who truly speaks here and joins in the dialogue with the prophet. It is quite clear here how the data of Christian faith transform and renew a pre-given schema used in interpreting texts. The literary artistic device of letting roles appear to enliven the narrative with their dialogue reveals to the theologians the one who plays the true role here, the Logos, the prosopon, the person of the Word which is not longer merely role, but person. About 50 years later, when Tertullian wrote his works, he was able to go back to an extensive tradition of such Christian prosopographic exegesis in which the word prosopon = persona had already found its full claim to reality. Two examples must suffice. In Adversus Praxean, Tertullian writes, ‘how can a person who stands by himself say, ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness,’ when he ought to have said, ‘Let me make man in my image and likeness’ as someone who is single and alone for himself. If he were only one and single, then God deceived and tricked us also in what follows when he says, ‘Behold, Adam has become like one of us,’ which he said in the plural. But he did not stand alone, because there stood with the Son, his Word, and a third person, the Spirit in the Word. This is why he spoke in the plural, ‘Let us make’ and ‘our’ and ‘us.’ One sees how the phenomenon of intra-divine dialogue gives birth here to the idea of the person who is person in an authentic sense…
Tomorrow: Ratzinger on “Person as Relation”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s