1. Personhood and Being
Respect for man’s “personal identity” is perhaps the most important ideal of our time. The attempt of contemporary humanism to supplant Christianity in whatever concerns the dignity of man has succeeded in detaching the concept of the person from theology and uniting it with the idea of an autonomous morality or with an existential philosophy which is purely humanistic. Thus, although the person and “personal identity” are widely discussed nowadays as a supreme ideal, nobody seems to recognize that historically as well as existentially the concept of the person is indissolubly bound up with theology. Within the very narrow limits of this study an attempt will be made to show how deep and indestructible is the bond that unites the concept of the person with patristic theology and ecclesiology. The person both as a concept and as a living reality is purely the product of patristic thought. Without this, the deepest meaning of personhood can neither be grasped nor justified.
I. From Mask to Person: The Birth of an Ontology of Personhood
1. Many writers have represented ancient Greek thought as essentially “non-personal.”1 In its Platonic variation, everything concrete and “individual” is ultimately referred to the abstract idea which constitutes its ground and final justification. Aristotelian philosophy, with its emphasis on the concrete and the individual, offers the basis of a certain concept of the person, but the inability of this philosophy to provide permanence, some kind of continuity and “eternal life,” for the total psychosomatic entity of man renders impossible the union of the person with the “substance” (οὐσία) of man, that is, with a true ontology. In Platonic thought the person is a concept which is ontologically impossible, because the soul, which ensures man’s continuity, is not united permanently with the concrete, “individual” man: it lives eternally but it can be united with another concrete body and can constitute another “individuality,” e.g. by reincarnation.2 With Aristotle, on the other hand, the person proves to be a logically impossible concept precisely because the soul is indissolubly united with the concrete and “individual”: a man is a concrete individuality; he endures, however, only for as long as his psychosomatic union endures – death dissolves the concrete “individuality” completely and definitively.3
The reasons for this inability of ancient Greek philosophy to endow human “individuality” with permanence and thus to create a true ontology of the person as an absolute concept are deeply rooted in Greek thought. Ancient Greek thought remained tied to the basic principle which it had set itself, the principle that being constitutes in the final analysis a unity in spite of the multiplicity of existent things4 because concrete existent things finally trace their being back to their necessary relationship and “kinship” with the “one” being, and because consequently every “differentiation” or “accidence” must be somehow regarded as a tendency towards “non-being,” a deterioration of or “fall” from being.5
This ontological monism which characterizes Greek philosophy from its inception6 leads Greek thought to the concept of the cosmos, that is, of the harmonious relationship of existent things among themselves. Not even God can escape from this ontological unity and stand freely before the world, “face to face” in dialogue with it.7 He too is bound by ontological necessity to the world and the world to him, either through the creation of Plato’s Timaeus8 or through the Logos of the Stoics9 or through the “emanations” of Plotinus’ Enneads.10 In this way Greek thought creates a wonderful concept of “cosmos,” that is, of unity and harmony, a world full of interior dynamism and aesthetic plentitude, a world truly “beautiful” and “divine.” However, in such a world it is impossible for the unforeseen to happen or for freedom to operate as an absolute and unrestricted claim to existence:11 whatever threatens cosmic harmony and is not explained by “reason” (logos), which draws all things together and leads them to this harmony and unity,12 is rejected and condemned. This also holds true for man.
The place of man in this unified world of harmony and reason is the theme of ancient Greek tragedy. And it is precisely here that (by coincidence?) the term “person” (πρόσωπον) appears in ancient Greek usage. Of course the term is not absent from the vocabulary of ancient Greek outside the life of the theater. It seems originally to have meant specifically the part of the head that is “below the cranium.”13 This is its “anatomical” meaning.14 But how and why did this meaning come to be identified so quickly with the mask (πρόσωπεῑον) which was used in the theater?15 What connection does the actor’s mask have with the human person? Is it simply that the mask in some way recalls the real person?16 Or is there perhaps some deeper consideration linking these two uses of the term “person”?
The theater, and tragedy in particular, is the setting in which the conflicts between human freedom and the rational necessity of a unified and harmonious world, as they were understood by the ancient Greeks, are worked out in dramatic form. It is precisely in the theater that man strives to become a “person,” to rise up against this harmonious unity which oppresses him as rational and moral necessity.17 It is there that he fights with the gods and with his fate; it is there that he sins and transgresses; but it is there too that he constantly learns – according to the stereotyped principle of ancient tragedy – that he can neither escape fate ultimately, nor continue to show hubris to the gods without punishment, nor sin without suffering the consequences. Thus he confirms tragically the view, expressed so typically in Plato’s Laws, that the world does not exist for the sake of man, but man exists for its sake18. His freedom is circumscribed, or rather there is no freedom for him – since a “circumscribed freedom” would be a contradiction in terms – and consequently his “person” is nothing but a “mask,” something which has no bearing on his true “hypostasis,” something without ontological content.
This is one aspect, one concept, of the term “prosopon.” But together with this there is also another, namely, that as a result of this mask man – the actor, but properly also the spectator – has acquired a certain taste of freedom, a certain specific “hypostasis,” a certain identity, which the rational and moral harmony of the world in which he lives denies him. Of course, the same man, thanks to the same mask, has also acquired the bitter taste of the consequences of his rebellion. But as a result of the mask he has become a person, albeit for a brief period, and has learned what it is to exist as a free, unique and unrepeatable entity. The mask is not unrelated to the person, but their relationship is tragic.19 In the ancient Greek world for someone to be a person means that he has something added to his being; the “person” is not his true “hypostasis.” “Hypostasis” still means basically “nature” or “substance.”20 Many centuries would have to elapse before Greek thought would reach the historic identification of “hypostasis” with “person.”
Similar conclusions can be drawn from a consideration of the idea of “person” in ancient Roman thought. Specialists have debated the degree of influence which the Greek use of πρόσωπον has exercised on the Roman persona and whether the term persona is derived from a Greek or from some other source.21 However, leaving aside the etymological problem, the reality seems to be that at least in the beginning the Roman use of the term did not differ essentially from the Greek. In its anthropological connotation the Roman persona leaned perhaps more heavily than its Greek equivalent towards the idea of concrete individuality,22 but in its sociological and later on23 in its legal usage it never ceased to express the ancient Greek πρόσωπον or πρόσωπεῑον in its theatrical nuance of rȏle: persona is the role which one plays in one’s social or legal relationships, the moral or “legal” person which either collectively or individually has nothing to do with the ontology of the person.
This understanding of the person is tied to the concept of man in Roman antiquity in a very basic way. Roman thought, which is fundamentally organizational and social, concerns itself not with ontology, with the being of man, but with his relationship with others, with his ability to form associations, to enter into contracts, to set up collegia, to organize human life in a state. Thus personhood, once again, does not have any ontological content. It is an adjunct to concrete ontological being, something which permits – without this disturbing the Roman mentality in the least – the same man to enact more than one prosopa, to play many different roles. In this situation freedom and the unexpected are again alien to the concept of the person. Freedom is exercized by the group, or ultimately by the state, the organized totality of human relationships, which also defines its boundaries. But exactly as we observed in the case of the Greek πρόσωπον or πρόσωπεῑον the Roman persona expresses simultaneously both the denial and the affirmation of human freedom: as persona man subordinates his freedom to the organized whole, but also assures himself simultaneously of a means, a possibility, of tasting freedom, or affirming his identity. This identity – that vital component of the concept of man, that which makes one man differ from another, which makes him he who is – is guaranteed and provided by the state or by some organized whole. Even when the authority of the state is called into question and man rebels against it, even then, if he succeeds in escaping punishment for this hubris of his, he will look to some legal and political power, to some concept of the state, to give him his new identity, a confirmation of his selfhood. The politicization of contemporary man and the rise of sociology in our age cannot be understood without reference to the Roman persona. The point at issue is the overwhelmingly Western mentality of our civilization, the coalescence of persona with the πρόσωπεῑον of the ancient Greeks.
This is as far as the ancient Graeco-Roman world takes the idea of personhood. The glory of this world consists in its having shown man a dimension of existence which may be called personal. Its weakness lies in the fact that its cosmological framework did not allow this dimension to be justified ontologically. Πρόσωπεῑον and persona remained pointers towards the person. But they consciously – and this is precisely what was demanded by the cosmological framework of a self-authenticating cosmic or state harmony – constituted a reminder that this personal dimension is not and ought never to be identical with the essence of things, with the true being of man. Other powers, not the quality of personhood, laid claim to the ontological content of human existence.
How, then, could we have arrived at an identification of the person with the being of man? How could freedom have become identical with the “world,” the identity of the concrete man a product of freedom, and man in his very being identical with the person? For these things to have come about, two basic presuppositions were necessary: (a) a radical change in cosmology which would free the world and man from ontological necessity; and (b) an ontological view of man which would unite the person with the being of man, with his permanent and enduring existence, with his genuine and absolute identity.
The first of these could only be offered by Christianity with its biblical outlook. The second could only be attained by Greek thought with its interest in ontology. The Greek Fathers were precisely those who could unite the two. With a rare creativity worthy of the Greek spirit they gave history the concept of the person with an absoluteness which still moves modern man even though he has fundamentally abandoned their spirit.
2. The concept of the person with its absolute and ontological content was born historically from the endeavor of the Church to give ontological expression to its faith in the Triune God. This faith was primitive – it goes back to the very first years of the Church – and was handed down from generation to generation with the practice of baptism. The constant and profound contact, however, between Christianity and Greek philosophy sharpened the problem of the interpretation of this faith in a manner which would satisfy Greek thought. What does it mean to say that God is Father, Son and Spirit without ceasing to be one God? The history of the disputes which broke out оn this great theme do not interest us here in detail. What is significant is that this history includes a philosophical landmark, a revolution in Greek philosophy. This revolution is expressed historically through an identification: the identification of the “hypostasis” with the “person.” How was this unforeseen revolution accomplished? What kind of consequences did it have for the concept of the person? These are questions that must occupy us briefly.
The term “hypostasis” never had any connection with the term “person” in Greek philosophy. As we have seen, “person” would have been regarded by the Greeks as expressive of anything but the essence of man, whereas the term “hypostasis” was already closely linked with the term “substance” and finally was identified fully with it.24 It is precisely this identification of substance with hypostasis, diffused so widely in the Greek thought of the first Christian centuries, that created all the difficulties and disputes concerning the Holy Trinity in the fourth century. It is relevant to our theme that the term “person,” which had already been used in the West from the time of Tertullian for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (una substantia, tres personae),25 did not meet with acceptance in the East precisely because the term “person” lacked an ontological content and led towards Sabellianism (the manifestation of God in three “roles”).26 That is how foreign the term “person” was to ontology! Instead of this term the East was already in the time of Origen27 using the term “hypostases” for the Holy Trinity. But this term also had its dangers. It could have been interpreted in a Neoplatonic fashion – Plotinus already speaks of the hypostases of the divine – with all the dangers which a union of God and the world in the Neoplatonic manner would have held for Christian theology.28 Moreover, it could have been interpreted tritheistically if the then current identification of hypostasis with substance had been taken into consideration.29 A mode of expression thus had to be found which would give theology the ability to avoid Sabellianism, that is, which would give an ontological content to each person of the Holy Trinity, without endangering its biblical principles: monotheism and the absolute ontological independence of God in relation to the world. From this endeavour came the identification of hypostasis with person.
The historical aspect of this development is very obscure and does not interest us here directly.30 I believe myself that the key to this development must be sought in the western Greek writer, Hippolytus, who is perhaps the first to use the Greek term πρόσωπον – in imitation of Tertullian? – in trinitarian theology. It would be of historical interest to investigate the nuances of the term “hypostasis” which occasioned its divergence from the term “substance.”31 However, none of this can explain the momentous step of the identification of “hypostasis” with the term “person,” without an examination of the broader philosophical changes which were effected in the patristic age in relation to Greek thought.
The deeper significance of the identification of '‘hypostasis” with “person” – a significance the revolutionary nature of which in the development of Greek thought seems to have escaped the attention of the history of philosophy – consists in a twofold thesis: (a) The person is no longer an adjunct to a being, a category which we add to a concrete entity once we have first verified its ontological hypostasis. It is itself the hypostasis of the being. (b) Entities no longer trace their being to being itself – that is, being is not an absolute category in itself – but to the person, to precisely that which constitutes being, that is, enables entities to be entities. In other words from an adjunct to a being (a kind of mask) the person becomes the being itself and is simultaneously – a most significant point – the constitutive element (the “principle” or “cause”) of beings.
For Greek thought to have arrived at such a radical reappraisal of its ontology, two basic “leavenings” had previously taken place in the field of patristic theology. The first concerns that which I have just named the ontological absoluteness of cosmological necessity. In accordance with biblical theology, of which the Fathers cannot have been ignorant, the world is not ontologically necessary. Although the ancient Greeks assumed with regard to the ontology of the world that it was something necessary of itself, the biblical doctrine of creation ex nihilo obliged the Fathers to introduce a radical difference into ontology, to trace the world back to an ontology outside the world, that is, to God.32 They thus broke the circle of the closed ontology of the Greeks, and at the same time did something much more important, which is of direct interest to us here: they made being – the existence of the world, existent things – a product of freedom. That is how the first “leavening” was accomplished: with the doctrine of creation ex nihilo the “principle” of Greek ontology, the “ἀρχὴ” of the world, was transposed to the sphere of freedom. That which exists was liberated from itself; the being of the world became free from necessity.
But there was also a second “leavening” which led to an even further reappraisal of Greek ontology. Not only was the being of the world traced back to personal freedom, but the being of God Himself was identified with the person. This “leavening” was effected through the disputes on the Holy Trinity, mainly through the theology of the Cappadocian Fathers and above all by St Basil.33 This theology does not concern us here except for one basic point, which unfortunately is usually overlooked. As is known, the final formulation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity speaks of “one substance, three persons” (μία οὐσία, τρία πρόσωπα). One would therefore have said that the unity of God, the “ontology” of God, consists in the substance of God. This would bring us back to the ancient Greek ontology: God first is God (His substance or nature, His being), and then34 exists as Trinity, that is, as persons. This interpretation in fact prevailed in Western theology and unfortunately entered into modern Orthodox dogmatics with the arrangement in the dogmatic handbooks of the headings “On the One God” followed by “On the Trinity.”35 The significance of this interpretation lies in the assumption that the ontological “principle” of God is not found in the person but in the substance, that is, in the “being” itself of God. Indeed the idea took shape in Western theology that that which constitutes the unity of God is the one divine substance, the one divinity; this is, as it were, the ontological “principle” of God.
But this interpretation represents a misinterpretation of the Patristic theology of the Trinity. Among the Greek Fathers the unity of God, the one God, and the ontological “principle” or “cause” of the being and life of God does not consist in the one substance of God but in the hypostasis, that is, the person of the Father. The one God is not the one substance but the Father, who is the “cause” both of the generation of the Son and of the procession of the Spirit.36 Consequently, the ontological “principle” of God is traced back, once again, to the person. Thus when we say that God “is,” we do not bind the personal freedom of God – the being of God is not an ontological “necessity” or a simple “reality” for God – but we ascribe the being of God to His personal freedom. In a more analytical way this means that God, as Father and not as substance, perpetually confirms through “being” His free will to exist. And it is precisely His trinitarian existence that constitutes this confirmation: the Father out of love – that is, freely – begets the Son and brings forth the Spirit. If God exists, He exists because the Father exists, that is, He who out of love freely begets the Son and brings forth the Spirit. Thus God as person – as the hypostasis of the Father – makes the one divine substance to be that which it is: the one God. This point is absolutely crucial. For it is precisely with this point that the new philosophical position of the Cappadocian Fathers, and of St Basil in particular, is directly connected. That is to say, the substance never exists in a “naked” state, that is, without hypostasis, without “a mode of existence.”37 And the one divine substance is consequently the being of God only because it has these three modes of existence, which it owes not to the substance but to one person, the Father. Outside the Trinity there is no God, that is, no divine substance, because the ontological “principle” of God is the Father. The personal existence of God (the Father) constitutes His substance, makes it hypostases. The being of God is identified with the person.38
3. What therefore is important in trinitarian theology is that God “exists” on account of a person, the Father, and not on account of a substance. Because its significance is not simply theoretical or academic but profoundly existential, let us attempt a brief analysis of it.
(a) The ultimate challenge to the freedom of the person is the “necessity” of existence. The moral sense of freedom, to which Western philosophy has accustomed us, is satisfied with the simple power of choice: a man is free who is able to choose one of the possibilities set before him. But this “freedom” is already bound by the “necessity” of these possibilities, and the ultimate and most binding of these “necessities” for man is his existence itself: how can a man be considered absolutely free when he cannot do other than accept his existence? Dostoevsky poses this great problem in a startling manner in The Possessed. There Kirilov says: “Every man who desires to attain total freedom must be bold enough to put an end to his life…This is the ultimate limit of freedom; this is all; there is nothing beyond this. Whoever dares to commit suicide becomes God. Everyone can do this and so bring the existence of God to an end, and then there will be absolutely nothing…”
These words of Kirilov express the most tragic side of the person’s quest: the transcendence of the “necessity” of existence, the possibility of affirming his existence not as a recognition of a given fact, of a “reality,” but as the product of his free consent and self-affirmation. This and nothing less than this is what man seeks in being a person.39 But in man’s case this quest comes into conflict with his createdness: as a creature he cannot escape the “necessity” of his existence. The person, consequently, cannot be realized as an intramundal or fully human reality. Philosophy can arrive at the confirmation of the reality of the person, but only theology can treat of the genuine, the authentic person, because the authentic person, as absolute ontological freedom, must be “uncreated,” that is, unbounded by any “necessity,” including its own existence. If such a person does not exist in reality, the concept of the person is a presumptious daydream. If God does not exist, the person does not exist.
(b) But what is this freedom of self-affirmation of existence? How is it expressed? How is it realized? The disturbing words which Dostoevsky puts in Kirilov’s mouth sound an alarm: if the only way of exercising absolute ontological freedom for man is suicide, then freedom leads to nihilism; the person is shown to be the negator of ontology. This existential alarm, the fear of nihilism, is so serious that in the last analysis it must itself be regarded as responsible for the relativization of the concept of the person. Indeed every claim to absolute freedom is always countered by the argument that its realization would lead to chaos. The concept of “law,” as much in its ethical as in its juridical sense, always presupposses some limitation to personal freedom in the name of “order” and “harmony,” the need for symbiosis with others. Thus “the other” becomes a threat to the person, its “hell” and its “fall,” to recall the words of Sartre. Once again the concept of the person leads human existence to an impasse: humanism proves unable to affirm personhood.
At this point theology (literally, “speech or thought about God”) unavoidably intervenes yet again if the concept of the person is to receive a positive content. But, to repeat once more, only a correct (ὀρθὴ) theology, as formulated by the Greek Fathers, can give the answer. (Orthodoxy here is not an optimal extra for human existence). How does God affirm his ontological freedom?
I have said earlier that man cannot exercise his ontological freedom absolutely, because he is tied by his createdness, by the “necessity” of his existence, whereas God as “uncreated” does not experience this limitation. If the ground of God’s ontological freedom lies simply in His “nature,” that is, in His being uncreated by nature, whereas we are by nature created, then there is no hope, no possibility, that man might become a person in the sense that God is one, that is, an authentic person. But no, the ground of God’s ontological freedom lies not in His nature but in His personal existence, that is, in the “mode of existence” by which He subsists as divine nature.40 And it is precisely this that gives man, in spite of his different nature, his hope of becoming an authentic person.
The manner in which God exercises His ontological freedom, that precisely which makes Him ontologically free, is the way in which He transcends and abolishes the ontological necessity of the substance by being God as Father, that is, as He who “begets” the Son and “brings forth” the Spirit. This ecstatic character of God, the fact that His being is identical with an act of communion, ensures the transcendence of the ontological necessity which His substance would have demanded – if the substance were the primary ontological predicate of God – and replaces this necessity with the free self-affirmation of divine existence. For this communion is a product of freedom as a result not of the substance of God but of a person, the Father – observe why this doctrinal detail is so important – who is Trinity not because the divine nature is ecstatic but because the Father as a person freely wills this communion.41
It thus becomes evident that the only exercise of freedom in an ontological manner is love. The expression “God is love” (I John 4:16) signifies that God “subsists” as Trinity, that is, as person and not as substance. Love is not an emanation or “property” of the substance of God – this detail is significant in the light of what I have said so far – but is constitutive of His substance, i.e. it is that which makes God what He is, the one God. Thus love ceases to be a qualifying – i.e. secondary – property of being and becomes the supreme ontological predicate. Love as God’s mode of existence “hypostasizes” God, constitutes His being. Therefore, as a result of love, the ontology of God is not subject to the necessity of the substance. Love is identified with ontological freedom.42
All this means that personhood creates for human existence the following dilemma: either freedom as love, or freedom as negation. The choice of the latter certainly constitutes an expression of personhood – only the person can seek negative freedom – but it is a negation nevertheless of its ontological content. For nothingness has no ontological content when the person is seen in the light of trinitarian theology.
(c) The person does not simply want to be, to exist “eternally,” that is, to possess an ontological content. It wants something more: to exist as a concrete, unique and unrepeatable entity. The person cannot be understood simply as the “ecstasy” of the substance; it must necessarily be regarded also as a hypostasis of the substance, as a concrete and unique identity.
Uniqueness is something absolute for the person. The person is so absolute in its uniqueness that it does not permit itself to be regarded as an arithmetical concept, to be set alongside other beings, to be combined with other objects, or to be used as a means, even for the most sacred goal. The goal is the person itself; personhood is the total fulfilment of being, the catholic expression of its nature. This tendency of the person, like freedom, is the “two-edged sword” of existence. For applied to man it leads to the denial of others, to egocentrism, to the total destruction of social life. As in the case of freedom, so with the unique and hypostatic nature of the person, a relativisation appears to be indispensible if chaos is to be avoided. Thus uniqueness is relativised in social life, and man becomes – in a greater or lesser degree but nevertheless assuredly so – a useful “object,” a “combination,” a persona. But it is precisely this which constitutes the tragic aspect of the person. Diffused today throughout all forms of social life is the intense search for personal identity. The person is not relativized without provoking a reaction.
Man’s inability to ensure his absolute identity in the world culminates in death. Death becomes tragic and unacceptable only when man is regarded as person, and above all as hypostasis and unique identity. As a biological event death is something natural and welcome, because only in this way is life perpetuated. In the natural world “personal” identity is ensured by childbearing, by the “survival” of the parents in the faces of their children. But this is not a survival of persons; it is a survival of the species, which may be observed equally in the whole animal kingdom and is directed by the harsh laws of natural selection. The survival of the person as a unique identity is not ensured by marriage and childbearing, which in the last analysis are shown only to supply matter for death. For if through all this being survives finally as the “substance” or as the “species” of a man, what does not survive is the concrete and unique identity, the person.
The survival of the uniqueness, the hypostasis, of a person cannot be ensured by any property of the substance or nature. The attempt of ancient Greek philosophy – and also under its influence of various forms of Christianity – to place the survival of man on a natural or “substantial” basis, such as the immortality of the soul, does not lead to a personal survival. If the soul is immortal by nature, then personal survival is necessary – and we return again to the ancient classical ontology. Even God is then immortal through His nature, that is, of necessity, and man is related substantially – necessarily – to God. All this, which was so natural for the ancient Greek, who had no full concept of the person, creates enormous existential problems when applied to the person in its Christian sense. For an inescapable immortality is not conceivable for the free God and constitutes a challenge to the person. How then is the absolute and unique identity of the person ensured, seeing that the substance cannot do it?
Humanistic existential philosophy tends to give the answer through an ontologizing of death, through an indissoluble union of being with non-being, of existence with death. This is not the place for a critique of this “ontology.” Such a philosophy is absolutely consequent upon itself because it refuses from the beginning, exactly like ancient philosophy, to discuss whether the hypothesis of an ontology outside this world is tenable. It is those theologians who accept this “ontology” of death while speaking at the same time about God that are inconsistent. For God constitutes the affirmation of being as life “eternal life,” and is “not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32). And this means that theology, unlike philosophy, teaches an ontology which transcends the tragic aspect of death without in the least accepting death as an ontological reality, death being the “last enemy” of existence (I Cor. 15:26).
The survival of a personal identity is possible for God not on account of His substance but on account of His trinitarian existence. If God the Father is immortal, it is because His unique and unrepeatable identity as Father is distinguished eternally from that of the Son and of the Spirit, who call Him “Father.” If the Son is immortal, He owes this primarily not to His substance but to His being the “only-begotten” (note here the concept of uniqueness) and His being, the one in whom the Father is well pleased.43
Likewise the Spirit is “life-giving” because He is “communion” (II Cor. 13:14). The life of God is eternal because it is personal, that is to say, it is realized as an expression of free communion, as love. Life and love are identified in the person: the person does not die only because it is loved and loves; outside the communion of love the person loses its uniqueness and becomes a being like other beings,44 a “thing” without absolute “identity” and “name,” without a face. Death for a person means ceasing to love and to be loved, ceasing to be unique and unrepeatable, whereas life for the person means the survival of the uniqueness of its hypostasis, which is affirmed and maintained by love.45
II. From Biological to Ecclesial Existence: The Ecclesiological Significance of the Person
The eternal survival of the person as a unique, unrepeatable and free “hypostasis,” as loving and being loved, constitutes the quintessence of salvation, the bringing of the Gospel to man. In the language of the Fathers this is called “divinization” (theosis), which means participation not in the nature or substance of God, but in His personal existence. The goal of salvation is that the personal life which is realised in God should also be realized on the level of human existence. Consequently salvation is identified with the realization of personhood in man. But is not “man” a person even without salvation? Is it not sufficient for him to be a “man” in order to be also a person?
Patristic theology considers the person to be an “image and likeness of God.” It is not satisfied with a humanistic interpretation of the person. From this standpoint patristic theology sees man in the light of two “modes of existence.” One may be called the hypostasis of biological existence, the other the hypostasis of ecclesial existence. A brief analysis and comparison of these two modes of human existence will explain why the concept of the person is inextricably bound up with theology.
1. The hypostasis of biological existence is “constituted” by a man’s conception and birth. Every man who comes into the world bears his “hypostasis,” which is not entirely unrelated to love: he is a product of communion between two people. Erotic love, even when expressed coldly without emotional involvement, is an astounding mystery of existence, concealing in the deepest act of communion a tendency towards an ecstatic transcendence of individuality through creation. But this biological constitution of man’s hypostasis suffers radically from two “passions” which destroy precisely that towards which the human hypostasis is thrusting, namely the person. The first “passion” is what we may call “ontological necessity.” Constitutionally the hypostasis is inevitably tied to the natural instinct, to an impulse which is “necessary” and not subject to the control of freedom. Thus the person as a being “subsists” not as freedom but as necessity. As a result it does not have the power to affirm its hypostasis with absolute ontological freedom as I have described it above: if it attempts to raise freedom to the level of its ontological absoluteness, it will be confronted with the dilemma of nihilism.46
The second “passion” is a natural consequence of the first. At its earliest stage it may be called the “passion” of individualism, of the separation of the hypostases. Finally, however, it is identified with the last and greatest passion of man, with the disintegration of the hypostasis, which is death. The biological constitution of the human hypostasis, fundamentally tied as it is to the necessity of its “nature,” ends in the perpetuation of this “nature” through the creation of bodies, that is, of hypostatic unities which affirm their identity as separation from other unities or “hypostases.” The body, which is born as a biological hypostasis, behaves like the fortress of an ego, like a new “mask” which hinders the hypostasis from becoming a person, that is, from affirming itself as love and freedom. The body tends towards the person but leads finally to the individual. The result of this situation is that for a man to take the affirmation of his hypostasis further he has no need of a relationship (an ontological relationship, not simply a psychological one) with his parents. On the contrary, the breaking of this relationship constitutes the precondition of his self-affirmation.
Death is the “natural” development of the biological hypostasis, the cession of “space” and “time” to other individual hypostases, the sealing of hypostasis as individuality. At the same time it is also the definitely tragic “self-negation” of its own hypostasis (dissolution and annihilation of the body and of individuality), which in its attempt to affirm itself as hypostasis discovers that finally its “nature” has led it along a false path towards death. This “failure” of nature, as it is expressed in the biological identity of man, reveals two things simultaneously. The first is that, contrary to the “assurance” of its biological drive, for the “hypostasis” to survive it must express itself as “ecstasy” – not sequentially but simultaneously, not first as being and then as person. The second is that this “failure” of the survival of the biological hypostasis is not the result of some acquired fault of a moral kind (a transgression), but of the very constitutional make-up of the hypostasis, that is, of the biological act of the perpetuation of the species.47
All this means that man as a biological hypostasis is intrinsically a tragic figure. He is born as a result of an ecstatic fact – erotic love – but this fact is interwoven with a natural necessity and therefore lacks ontological freedom. He is born as a hypostatic fact, as a body, but this fact is interwoven with individuality and with death. By the same erotic act with which he tries to attain ecstasy he is led to individualism. His body is the tragic instrument which leads to communion with others, stretching out a hand, creating language, speech, conversation, art, kissing. But at the same time it is the “mask” of hypocrisy, the fortress of individualism, the vehicle of the final separation, death. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). The tragedy of the biological constitution of man’s hypostasis does not lie in his not being a person because of it; it lies in his tending towards becoming a person through it and failing. Sin is precisely this failure. And sin is the tragic prerogative of the person alone.
Consequently, for salvation to become possible, for the unsuccessful hypostasis to succeed, it is necessary that eros and the body, as expression of ecstasy and of the hypostasis of the person, should cease to be the bearers of death. Two things therefore appear to be indispensible: (a) that the two basic components of the biological hypostasis, eros and the body, should not be destroyed (a flight from these elements would entail for man a privation of those means by which he expresses himself equally as ecstasy and as hypostasis, that is, as person48); and (b) that the constitutional make-up of the hypostasis should be changed – not that a moral change or improvement should be found but a kind of new birth for man. This means that although neither eros nor the body are abandoned, they nevertheless change their activity, adapt themselves to the new mode of “existence” of the hypostasis, reject from this activity of theirs which is constitutive of the human hypostasis whatever creates the tragic element in man, and retain whatever makes the person to be love, freedom and life. This is precisely what constitutes that which I have called the “hypostasis of ecclesial existence.”
2. The hypostasis of ecclesial existence is constituted by the new birth of man, by baptism. Baptism as new birth is precisely an act constitutive of hypostasis. As the conception and birth of man constitute his biological hypostasis, so baptism leads to a new mode of existence, to a regeneration (I Pet. 1:3,23), and consequently to a new “hypostasis.” What is the basis of this new hypostasis? How is man hypostasized by baptism and what does he become?
We have seen that the fundamental problem of the biological hypostasis of man lies in the fact that the ecstatic activity which leads to his birth is bound up with the “passion” of ontological necessity, in the fact that ontologically nature precedes the person and dictates its laws (by “instinct”), thus destroying freedom at its ontological base. This “passion” is closely connected with createdness, that is, with the fact that man as a person confronts, as we have already seen, the necessity of existence. Consequently it is impossible for created existence to escape ontological necessity in the constitution of the biological hypostasis: without “necessary” natural laws, that is, without ontological necessity, the biological hypostasis of man cannot exist.49
Consequently, if, in order to avoid the consequences of the tragic aspect of man which we have discussed, the person as absolute ontological freedom needs a hypostatic constitution without ontological necessity, his hypostasis must inevitably be rooted, or constituted, in an ontological reality which does not suffer from createdness. This is the meaning of the phrase in Scripture about being born “anew” or “from above.” (John 3:3,7). It is precisely this possibility that patristic Christology strives to proclaim, to announce to man as the good news.
Christology, in the definitive form which the Fathers gave it, looks towards a single goal of purely existential significance, the goal of giving man the assurance that the quest for the person, not as a “mask” or as a “tragic figure,” but as the authentic person, is not mythical or nostalgic but is a historical reality. Jesus Christ does not justify the title of Savior because he brings the world a beautiful revelation, a sublime teaching about the person, but because He realizes in history the very reality of the person and makes it the basis and “hypostasis” of the person for every man. Patristic theology therefore regarded the following points as the indispensible elements of Christology:
a) The identification of the person of Christ with the hypostasis of the Son of the Holy Trinity. The long dispute with Nestorianism was not an exercise of academic theology but a hard struggle with the existential question: how is it possible for Christ to be the Savior of man if His hypostasis is what I have called here the “hypostasis of biological existence”? If Christ as a person “subsists” not in freedom but according to the necessity of nature, then He too finally, that is, definitively, fails to escape the tragic aspect of the human person.50 The meaning of the virgin birth of Jesus is the negative expression of this existential concern of patristic theology. The positive expression of the same concern consists in the Chalcedonian doctrine that the person of Christ is one and is identified with the hypostasis of the Son of the Trinity.
b) The hypostatic union of the two natures – divine and human – in Christ. At this point it is important that a difference of emphasis should be stressed between the Greek and the Western Fathers which is parallel to that which was noted earlier in relation to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In the West, as is apparent in the Tome of Pope Leo I, the starting-point of Christology is found in the concept of the “natures” or “substances,” whereas in the Greek Fathers, for example in Cyril of Alexandria, the starting-point of Christology is the hypostasis, the person. However much this might seem at first sight a mere detail, it is of the greatest significance. For it stresses not only, as we have seen, with regard to God but now also with regard to man that the basis of ontology is the person: just as God “is” what He is in His nature, “perfect God,” only as person, so too man in Christ is “perfect man” only as hypostasis, as person, that is, as freedom and love. The perfect man is consequently only he who is authentically a person, that is, he who subsists, who possesses a “mode of existence” which is constituted as being, in precisely the manner in which God also subsists as being – in the language of human existence this is what a “hypostatic union” signifies.
Christology consequently is the proclamation to man that his nature can be “assumed” and hypostasized in a manner free from the ontological necessity of his biological hypostasis, which, as we have seen, leads to the tragedy of individualism and death. Thanks to Christ man can henceforth himself “subsist,” can affirm his existence as personal not on the basis of the 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.51
I have called this hypostasis which baptism gives to man “ecclesial” because, in fact, if one should ask, “How do we see this new biological hypostasis of man realised in history?” the reply would be, “In the Church.” In early patristic literature the image of the Church as mother is often employed. The spirit of this image is precisely that in the Church a birth is brought about; man is born as “hypostasis,” as person. This new hypostasis of man has all the basic characteristics of what I have called authentic personhood, characteristics which distinguish the ecclesial hypostasis from the first hypostasis, the biological one. In what do these characteristics consist?
The first and most important characteristic of the Church is that she brings man into a kind of relationship with the world which is not determined by the laws of biology. The Christians of the early centuries, when their consciousness of what the Church is was lucid and clear, expressed this transcendence over the relationships created by the biological hypostasis by transferring to the Church the terminology which is used of the family.52 Thus for the new ecclesial hypostasis “father” was not the physical progenitor but He “who is in heaven,” and “brothers” were the members of the Church, not of the family. That this signified not a parallel co-existence of the ecclesial with the biological hypostasis but a transcendence of the latter by the former is apparent from the harshness of sayings like those which demand of Christians the abandonment – even the “hatred” – of their own relations.53 These sayings do not signify a simple denial. They conceal an affirmation: the Christian through baptism stands over against the world, he exists as a relationship with the world, as a person, in a manner free from the relationship created by his biological identity. This means that henceforth he can love not because the laws of biology oblige him to do so – something which inevitably colors the love of one’s own relations – but unconstrained by the natural laws. As an ecclesial hypostasis man thus proves that what is valid for God can also be valid for man: the nature does not determine the person; the person enables the nature to exist; freedom is identified with the being of man.
The result of this freedom of the person from the nature, of the hypostasis from biology, is that in the Church man transcends exclusivism. When man loves as a biological hypostasis, he inevitably excludes others: the family has priority in love over “strangers,” the husband lays exclusive claim to the love of his wife – facts altogether understandable and “natural” for the biological hypostasis. For a man to love someone who is not a member of his family more than his own relations constitutes a transcendence of the exclusiveness which is present in the biological hypostasis. Thus a characteristic of the ecclesial hypostasis is the capacity of the person to love without exclusiveness, and to do this not out of conformity with a moral commandment (“Love thy neighbor,” etc.), but out of his “hypostatic constitution,” out of the fact that his new birth from the womb of the Church has made him part of a network of relationships which transcends every exclusiveness.54 This means that only in the Church has man the power to express himself as a catholic person. Catholicity, as a characteristic of the Church, permits the person to become a hypostasis without falling into individuality, because in the Church two things are realized simultaneously: the world is presented to man not as mutually exclusive portions which he is called upon to unite a posteriori, but as a single whole, which is expressed in a catholic manner without division in every concrete being; simultaneously the same man, while relating to the world precisely through this catholic mode of existence that he has, comes to express and realize a catholic presence in the world, a hypostasis which is not an individual but an authentic person. Thus the Church becomes Christ Himself in human existence, but also every member of the Church becomes Christ55 and the Church.56 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.
This last sentence leads us to a most important point, to which we must address ourselves at once. For all that I have said so far leaves a question unanswered: what happens to the biological hypostasis of man when that which I have called the ecclesial hypostasis is brought into being? Experience tells us that in spite of the existence of baptism and the ecclesial hypostasis, man does not cease at the same time to be born and to die in accordance with his biological hypostasis. What kind of experience of authentic personhood is it that the ecclesial hypostasis offers?
In order to reply to this question we really need a new ontological category – not to destroy the distinction which I have made between biological and ecclesial hypostases, but to express the relationship of these two to each other. In fact the encounter between the ecclesial and the biological hypostases creates a paradoxical relationship in human existence. Man appears to exist in his ecclesial identity not as that which he is but as that which he will be; the ecclesial identity is linked with eschatology, that is, with the final outcome of his existence.
This consideration of the human person from the point of view of a telos must not be interpreted with the help of an Aristotelian entelechy, that is, with the help of a potentiality existing in man’s nature which enables him to become something better and more perfect than that which he is now.57 Through all that I have said in this study, I have excluded every possibility of regarding the person as an expression or emanation of the substance or nature of man (or even of God Himself as “nature”). Consequently there is no question of the ecclesial hypostasis, the authentic person, emerging as a result of an evolution of the human race, whether biological or historical.58 The situation created by the expectation and hope of the ecclesial identity, by this paradoxical hypostasis which has its roots in the future and its branches in the present,59 could perhaps have been expressed by another ontological category, which I would call here a sacramental or eucharistic hypostasis.
3. All that I have said above to describe the ecclesial hypostasis as something different from the biological corresponds historically and experientially only to the holy eucharist. The transcendence of the ontological necessity and exclusiveness entailed by the biological hypostasis constitutes an experience which is offered by the eucharist. When it is understood in its correct and primitive sense – and not how it has come to be regarded even in Orthodoxy under the influence of Western scholasticism – the eucharist is first of all an assembly (synaxis),60 a community, a network of relations, in which man “subsists” in a manner different from the biological as a member of a body which transcends every exclusiveness of a biological or social kind. The eucharist is the only historical context of human existence where the terms “father,” “brother,” etc., lose their biological exclusiveness and reveal, as we have seen, relationships of free and universal love.61 Patristic theology saw in the eucharist the historical realization of the philosophical principle which governs the concept of the person, the principle that the hypostasis expresses the whole of its nature and not just a part. There Christ is “parted but not divided” and every communicant is the whole Christ and the whole Church. The ecclesial identity, consequently, in its historical realization is eucharistic. This explains why the Church has bound every one of her acts to the eucharist, which has as its object man’s transcendence of his biological hypostasis and his becoming an authentic person, like those acts which we call “sacraments.” The sacraments when not united with the eucharist are a blessing and confirmation which is given to nature as biological hypostasis. United, however, with the eucharist, they become not a blessing and confirmation of the biological hypostasis, but a rendering of it transcendental and eschatological.62
It is precisely this eschatological character of the eucharist that helps us to reply to the question, “What is the relationship of the ecclesial with the biological hypostasis?” The eucharist is not only an assembly in one place, that is, a historical realization and manifestation of the eschatological existence of man; it is at the same time also movement, a progress towards this realization. Assembly and movement are the two fundamental characteristics of the eucharist, which unfortunately have lost their vigor in the modern teaching of dogma, even in the Orthodox Church. However, they constitute the vital core of patristic eucharistic theology.63 Besides this, they make the eucharist liturgy. This liturgical, progressive movement of the eucharist, its eschatological orientation, proves that in its eucharistic expression the ecclesial hypostasis is not of this world – it belongs to the eschatological transcendence of history and not simply to history. The ecclesial hypostasis reveals a man as a person, which, however, has its roots in the future and is perpetually inspired, or rather maintained and nourished, by the future. The truth and the ontology of the person belong to the future, are images of the future.64
What exactly does this hypostasis mean for the existence of man, this hypostasis which is “the assurance (ὑπόστασις) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1)? Does not this siutation bring us back to the tragic aspect of the person?
This eschatological character of the ecclesial hypostasis contains, of course, a kind of dialectic, the dialectic of “already but not yet.” This dialectic pervades the eucharist.65 It makes man as a person always sense that his true home is not in this world, a perception which is expressed by his refusal to locate the confirmation of the hypostasis of the person in this world, in the goods and values of this world.66 The ecclesial hypostasis, as a transcendence of the biological, draws its being from the being of God and from that which it will itself be at the end of the age. It is precisely this which makes the ecclesial hypostasis ascetic.67
The ascetic character of the ecclesial hypostasis does not come from a denial of the world or of the biological nature of existence itself.68 It implies a denial of the biological hypostasis. It accepts the biological nature but wishes to hypostasize it in a non-biological way, to endow it with real being, to give it a true ontology, that is, eternal life. It is for this reason that I stated previously that neither eros nor the body must be abandoned but must be hypostasized according to the “mode of existence” of the ecclesial hypostasis. The ascetic character of the person, derived as it is from the eucharistic form of the ecclesial hypostasis, expresses the authentic person precisely when it does not deny eros and the body but hypostasizes them in an ecclesial manner. In accordance with what I have said so far, in practice this means basically that eros as ecstatic movement of the human person drawing its hypostasis from the future, as it is expressed in the eucharist (or from God through the eucharist, as it is expressed in the Trinity), is freed from ontological necessity and does not lead any more to the exclusiveness which is dictated by nature. It becomes a movement of free love with a universal character, that is, of 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.69 The body, for its part, as the hypostatic expression of 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. Thus it is proved experientially that the body is not in itself a negative or exclusive concept, but the reverse: a concept of communion and love. In this hypostasis which it has, the body transcends together with its individualism and separation from other beings even its own dissolution, which is death. Since it has been shown as a body of communion to be free from the laws of its biological nature with regard to individualism and exclusiveness, why should it not also be shown finally to be free even from the very laws relating to death, which are only the other side of the same coin? The ecclesial existence of man, his hypostasization in a eucharistic manner, thus constitutes a pledge, an “earnest,” of the final victory of man over death. This victory will be a victory not of nature but of the person, and consequently not a victory of man in his self-sufficiency but of man in his hypostatic union with God, that is, a victory of Christ as the man of patristic Christology.
It is precisely on this point that the eucharistic hypostasis differs from the tragic person of humanism, that is, on the fact that in spite of living the tragic aspect of the biological hypostasis intensely and absolutely – from which christian asceticism also comes70 – it does not draw its being from what it is now but is rooted ontologically in the future, the pledge and earnest of which is the resurrection of Christ. As often as he tastes and experiences this hypostasis in the eucharist, man is confirmed in his certitude that the person which is hypostasized by love freed from biological necessity and exclusiveness will not finally die. When the eucharistic community keeps alive the memory of our loved ones – living as well as dead – it does not just preserve a psychological recollection; it proceeds to an act of ontology, to the assurance that the person has the final word over nature, in the same way that God the Creator as person and not as nature had the very first word. Belief in creation ex nihilo – biblical faith – thus encounters belief in ontology – Greek faith – to give to human existence and thought its most dear and precious good, the concept of the person. This and nothing less than this is what the world owes to Greek patristic theology.
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The most categorical, though undoubtedly somewhat one-sided and exaggerated statement of this view, is to be found in the following words of the modern Russian scholar, A. Th. Losev, based on the study of Platonism and inspired by Hegel’s interpretation of classical Greek culture through ancient sculpture: “Against a dark background, as a result of an interplay of light and shadow, there stands out a blind, colorless, cold marble and divinely beautiful, proud and majestic body, a statue. And the world is such a statue, and gods are statues; the city-state also, and the heroes, and the myths, and ideas all conceal underneath them this original sculptural intuition… There is no personality, no eyes, no spiritual individuality. There is a “something,” but not a “someone,” an individualized “it,” but no living person with his proper name… There is no one at all. There are bodies, and there are ideas. The spiritual character of the ideas is killed by the body, but the warmth of the body is restrained by the abstract idea. There are here beautiful, but cold and blissfully indifferent statues.” Quoted by G. Florovsky, “Eschatology in the Patristic Age: An Introduction,» in Studia Patristica, ed. F.L. Cross, II (1957), pp. 235 – 250, at p. 248.
According to Plato’s Timaeus (4l D f.) the souls were all created alike; they become “different” only when they acquire bodies. This could be taken to imply (see e.g. E. Rohde, Psyche (1925), p. 472) that there is some kind of distinct “personality” in an incarnate soul. However Plato seems to allow for many reincarnations of one and the same soul, even in the bodies of animals (see Phaedo 249B; Repub. 618A; Tim. 42 BC etc.). This makes it impossible for a particular soul to acquire a distinct “personality” of its own on the basis of a particular body.
According to Aristotle (e.g. De Animа 2, 4. 415 A, pp. 28 – 67), the concrete individual cannot be everlasting, since it cannot share in the ἀεὶ καὶ θεῑον. Death dissolves the individual thing (the αủτό), and what survives is only the oὶoν αủτό, i.е. the species (εὶδος), Cf. E. Rohde, op. cit., p. 511. Originally Aristotle seems to have held the view that the “mind” (νοῡς), as the intelligent part of the soul, survives after death (cf. Metaph. 13, 9. 1070 a, pp. 24 – 26; De Anima 3, 5. 436a, p.23). But he abandoned this view later on in life in favor of the position stated above in this note. Cf. H.A. Wolfson, “Immortality and Resurrection in the Philosophy of the Church Fathers,” in K. Stendhal, ed., Immortality and Resurrection (1965), pp. 54 – 96, esp. 96.
From the Presocratics to the Neoplatonists this principle is invariably maintained in Greek thought. Whatever exists is essentially one and its “reason” is “common” (ξuνος λόγος ) for all those who are “awake” (Heraclitus, Frs. 89, 73 etc.). “Being” and “knowing” (νοεὶν) also form a unity (Parmenides, Fr. 5d. 7. Cf. Plato, Parm. 128b). The creation of the world takes place on the basis of this principle of necessary unity, and it is for this reason that the creator does not simply choose to but must make the world spherical, since the spherical shape is that of unity and thus of perfection (Plato, Tim. 32d – 34b. Cf. G. Vlastos, Plato’s Universe , p. 29). For the Neoplatonics also there is a basic unity between the intelligible world, the mind and being (Plotinus, Еn. V, 1, 8. Cf. K. Kremer, Die neuplatonische Seinsphilosophie und ihre Wirkung auf Thomas von Aquin [1966, new ed. 1971], pp. 79ff.).
This was particularly present in Neoplatonism, which for this reason regarded as outrageous the Christian view that the world is contigent and not eternal. Cf. E. von Ivanka, Plato Christianus (1960), pp. 152f. and 128f.
For the view that there is consistent monism in Greek thought, see C.J. de Vogel, Philosophia I, Studies in Greek Philosophy (Philosophical Texts and Studies 19, I, 1970), pp. 397 – 416.
The gods could always make extraordinary interventions in nature through miracles as well as in men’s lives, causing them even to suffer madness (ἀτή). Cf. E.R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (1956), p. 49 and passim. This view, however, undergoes a radical transformation in the hands of the classical philosophers and the tragedians, who clearly deny the gods the right to transgress the laws of justice or “measure,” i.e. the κόσμος (= just behavior) which holds the world together in one necessary unity. “If the gods do anything that is ugly, they are not the gods” (Euripides, Fr. 292 acc. to Bellerophon). Cf. M. Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas, I (1979), p. 261. This transformation takes place together with the idea that Zeus is at the same time “nature’s inflexible law and mind dwelling in mortal men,” he who leads “according to justice all that happens here below” (Euripides, Troad. 884ff.).
Unlike Heracleitus and the physiologists, Plato attributes the existence of the world to God, the creator νοῡς or πατήρ. But Plato’s creator is not absolutely free in relation to the world he creates. He is subject to necessity (ἀνάγκη) in that he has to use matter (ὕλη) and space (χώρα), which not only pre-exist but also impose on him their own laws and limitations (Tim. 48a; 51 a-b). Furthermore, Plato’s creator has to take into account the ideas of symmetry, justice etc. (cf. above note 4), which pre-exist and serve as paradeigmata for creation. The fact that, in one passage in the Republic Plato appears to identify God with the idea of the Good which is ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας, does not seem to have convinced the majority of specialists that Plato’s God is above and independent of the world of ideas. See D. Ross, Plato’s Theory of Ideas (1951), pp. 43 – 44, 78 – 79. In fact, it is open to discussion whether the idea of Good is identical with God. See P. Shorey, What Plato Said (1943), p. 231, and for the opposite view C. Ritter, The Essence of Plato’s Philosophy (1933), p. 374.
For the Stoics God is inseparably linked with the world. He is “spirit penetrating everything,” even the most material and base things (J. ab Arnim, Stoicorum veterum fragmenta, II  306/1027, 307/1035. Cf. E. Zeller, Grundriss der Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie , p. 142).
See notes 4 – 6 above.
Hegel speaks of ancient Greece as the place where the concept of “free individuality” appeared for the first time in connection with sculpture. However, as he puts it himself, this was “substantive individuality” in which “the accent is only put on the general and the permanent… while the transitory and the fortuitous are rejected.” (Vorlesungen über die Asthetik, Sämtliche Werke, X, pp. 353f. and 377).
The original concept and root of the term logos, as analyzed by M. Heidegger, Einführung in die Metaphysik (1953), p. 96 ff., is characteristic. The growth of logos into a cosmological principle, as may be observed in a developed form in Stoicism, is a natural consequence of the original identification of logos with “being” (e.g. in Heracleitus) and of the whole outlook of ancient Hellenism.
See Aristotle, History of Animals I. VIII, 491b; Homer, Ilied E24, H212, etc.
A concept of the person as one of reference or relationship could perhaps reasonably be put forward as the original concept of the term on the basis, of some kind of etymological analysis of it. But there is no evidence for such a concept in the ancient Greek texts. Consequently an attempt has been made to trace the etymology of the word on the basis of a strict anatomical analysis: e.g. the part defined by the eyes (τὸ πρὸς τοῑς ὠψὶ μέρος). See H. Stephanus, Thesaurus Graecae Linguae VI, col. 2048.
This use of the term πρόσωπον is already found in Aristotle (τὰ τραγικὰ πρόσωπα, Problems XXXI, 7, 958a, 17). See also Plato Comicus, fragm. 142. This leads to the use of the term not only for the physical mask but also for the theatrical role of the actor: “there being three leading πρόσωπα as in the comedies – the slanderer, the one slandered, and the one who bears the slander” (Lucian, Slander 6). Thus the term πρόσωπον comes to be identified fully with the term πρόσωπεῑον as a synonym. (See Josephus, Jewish War IV, 156; cf. Theophrasetus, Characters VI, 3).
For this interpretation, see, for example, S. Schlossmann, Persona und Prosopon im Recht und im christlichen Dogma (1906), p. 37.
Tragedy in art is precisely “man’s answer to this universe that crushes him so pitilessly. Destiny scowls upon him; his answer is to sit down and paint her as she stands.” F. L. Lucas, Tragedy (1957), p. 78.
“But thou failest to perceive that all partial generation is for the sake of the whole in order that for the life of the whole blissful existence may be secured. For it (the whole) is not brought into being for thy sake, but thou art for its sake” (Plato, Laws, X, 903 c-d).” This contrasts sharply with the Biblical and Patristic view that man was created after the world was brought into being and indeed for his sake. There is an intrinsic relationship between, on the one hand, the principle that it is wholeness and totality that ultimately matter in ontology (the partial exists for the sake of the total – hence man exists for the sake of the cosmos), and on the other hand the necessity which is built into ontology by Greek thought through the ideas of “logos” and nature, to which we have been referring here. “No particular thing, not even the least, can be otherwise than according to common nature and reason (logos)” writes Plutarch in quoting and commenting on the Stoic Chrysippus (J. ab Armin, op. cit. II, 937). It is noteworthy that Plutarch himself understands this as meaning “fate” (Ibid). Nature, logos and fate are interrelated; by being based on these ontological principles existence is inevitably determined by necessity.
Cf. the statement of this great problem by the Metropolitan Meliton of Chalcedon, “A Sermon delivered in the Cathedral of Athens (8 марта 1970),” Stachys 19 – 26 (1969 – 71), p. 49ff.: “The phenomenon of the profound and anxious demand of the human soul to be liberated from its daily hypocrisy by the assumption of an anonymous, dionysiac, hew hypocrisy is most ancient. The carnival clown is a tragic figure. He seeks to be liberated from hypocrisy by pretence. He seeks to dissolve all the various masks which he wears every day by a new, more fantastic mask. He seeks to expel what has been thrust down into his subconscious and be liberated, but there is no liberation; the tragedy of the carnival clown remains unresolved. His deepest demand is to be transformed.”
See note 24.
See M. Nédoncelle, “Prosopon et persona dans l’antiquité classique,” Revue des sciences religieuses 22 (1948), pp. 277 – 299. The origin of persona is probably to be traced back to the Etruscan word phersu, which would connect it with the ritual or theatrical mask (cf. the Greek πρόσωπεῑον) and perhaps with the Greek mythological figure of Persephone. Cf. ibid., pp. 284 ff.
The nuance of concrete individuality is first found in Cicero (De amicit. I, 4; Ad Att. VIII, 12; De or. II, 145 etc.). This author, however, uses persona also in the sense of role (theatrical, social etc).
Or rather, after the 2nd century A.D. See S. Schlossmann, op. cit., p. 119 ff. For the collective sense of persona see already Cicero: Off. I, 124: “est… proprium munus magistratus intelligere se gerere personam civitatis.’’
St Athanasius, Letter to the bishops of Egypt and Libya (PG. 26, 1036 B,) clearly identifies the two: “hypostasis is ousia and has no other meaning apart from being (τὸ ὂν) itself… For hypostasis and ousia are existence (ὔπαρξις): it is and it exists (ἔστι καὶ ὑπάρχει).” On the basis of this identification the Synodical letter of Alexandria 362 AD refers to Nicaea as having anathematized those who profess that the Son is “of another hypostasis or ousia,” allowing, however, for the use of the expression “three hypostases” on condition that this would not imply separation between these hypostases. It was the merit of the Cappadocian Fathers to show how this could be worked out philosophically. Cf. below.
See Tertullian, Against Praxeas 11 – 12 (PL 2, 1670D).
Sее for example, St Basil, Ep. 236, 6: “those who say that ousia and hypostasis are the same (note the radical departure from the philosophical terminology of St Athanasius and his time – note 24 above) are compelled to confess only different prosopa and by avoiding the use of the words treis hypostaseis do not succeed in escaping the Sabellian evil.” We are clearly confronted with a change in terminology dictated by the concern, prompted by Sabellianism, to give to prosopon full ontological content.
Origen, Com. on St John’s Gospel, II, 6 (PG 14, 12B).
Plotinus (Enn V, I) defines the “primary hypostases” as the supreme good, intelligence and the world soul. This is yet another case of ontological monism (cf. above), linking God with the world in a single unity, which endangers the Biblical understanding of the relation between God and the world. For the contribution of Plotinus to the philosophical use of the term “hypostasis,” see K. Oehler, Antike Philosophie und byzantinisches Mittelalter (1969), p. 23 ff.
See note 24 above.
A detailed study of this problem is badly needed. On the notion of “Substance” see the work of C. Stead, Divine Substance (1977). A rather general but very careful discussion of the developments in philosophical terminology with regard to this subject is to be found in the now old but still very useful work of С. C. J. Webb, God and Personality (1918).
The history of the terms “substance” (οὐσία) and “hypostasis” is extremely complicated. In particular there exists the opinion with regard to the use of these terms in the trinitarian theology of the Greek Fathers that the distinction between substance and hypostasis had been made possible on the basis of the logical distinction of Aristotle between “primary substance” and “secondary substance” (Categories 5, 2a, 11 – 16; Metaphysics VII, 11, 1037a 5). According to this opinion the Cappadocian Fathers in their trinitarian theology identified the term “hypostasis” with the “primary substance” (the individual and concrete), and the term “substance” with the “secondary substance” (the general and common) of Aristotle. See, for example, G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (1936), p. 245 ff., J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (1950), p. 243 ff. and K. Oehler, op. cit. p. 23 ff. But this opinion appears very debatable upon a close study of the Greek Fathers (e.g. for Athanasius see note 24 above), from whose thought the Aristotelian distinction between primary and secondary substance seems to be entirely absent. It is also doubtful whether this distinction represents even Aristotle’s thought correctly, as an outstanding specialist observes. See D.M. Mackinnon, “Substance in Christology – A Cross-bench View,” Christ, Faith and History: Cambridge Studies in Christology, ed. S.W. Sykes and J.P. Clayton (1972), pp. 279 – 300. A relationship between the development of these terms and the history of the philosophical sense of the term ὑποκείμενον in the period after Aristotle appears probable. Because of the double meaning which Aristotle seems to accord this term (ὑποκείμενον is [a] matter and [b] concrete and independent being; see Metaphysics VII, 3, 1029a), in the period after Aristotle the term “hypostasis” displaces the term ὑποκείμενον because of the materialistic sense of the latter and itself assumes the meaning of concrete and independent being. Thus in the first centuries of the Christian era the term “hypostasis” gradually acquired the meaning of real and concrete being in opposition to that which is merely apparent and evanescent. This evolution seems to have been brought about mainly by the Stoics (cf. E. Zeller, Philosophie der Griechen III , p. 644 ff.), Cf. on this C.C.J. Webb, op. cit. Granted that the influence of Stoicism in the Philosophy of the patristic period is strong, it is probable that the use of the term “hypostasis” for the expression of concrete (as opposed to general) being should have had the ground prepared for it in this way. It remains a fact, however, that the theological thought of the Cappadocians brought about a radical change in the philosophical use of these terms.
Cf. G. FIorovsky, “The Concept of Creation in Saint Athanasius,” Studia Patristica VI (1962); pp. 36 – 67.
See below ch. 2, II 2 – 3.
The words “first” and “then” refer here of course to a priority which is not temporal but logical and ontological.
Cf. K. Rahner’s critique of this typically Western approach to the doctrine of God in his work, The Trinity (1970), passim and esp. p. 58 ff.
The problem of the Filioque is linked directly with this theme. The West, as the study of the trinitarian theology of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas witnesses, had no difficulty in maintaining the Filioque precisely because, it identified the being, the ontological principle, of God with His substance rather than with the person of the Father.
See St Basil, Letter 38, 2, PG 32:325 ff. Cf. G.L. Prestige, op. cit., pp. 245 and 279. This important thesis is used later by St Maximus the Confessor, who distinguishes between λόγος ϕύσεως and τρόπος ὐπάρξεως, and stresses that the various λόγοι never exist in a “naked” state but as “modes of existence” (see, for example, Ambigua 42, PG 91:1341D ff.). Cf. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius 1, PG 45:337.
The basic ontological position of the theology of the Greek Fathers might be set out briefly as follows. No substance or nature exists without person or hypostasis or mode of existence. No person exists without substance or nature, but the ontological “principle” or «cause” of being – i.e. that which makes a thing to exist – is not the substance or nature but the person or hypostasis. Therefore being is traced back not to substance but to person.
This is especially apparent in art. Art as genuine creation, and not as a representational rendering of reality, is nothing other than an attempt by man to affirm his presence in a manner free from the “necessity” of existence. Genuine art is not simply creation on the basis of something which already exists; but a tendency towards creation ex nihilo. This explains the tendency of modern art (which, it may be noted, is linked historically with an emphasis on freedom and on the person) to ignore or even to abolish and shatter the form or nature of beings (their natural or verbal shapes etc. cf. Michaelangelo’s words: when shall I finish with this marble to get on with my works?). What is apparent in all this is the tendency of the person to liberate itself in its self-affirmation from the “necessity” of existence, that is, to become God. The vital point is that this tendency is linked intrinsically with the concept of the person.
God’s nature does not exist “naked” i.e. without hypostases (cf. note 37 above). It is this that makes it free. “Naked” nature or ousia by indicating being qua being points not to freedom but to ontological necessity.
The concept of ekstasis as an ontological category is found in the mystical Greek Fathers (particularly in the so-called Areopagitical writings and in Maximus the Confessor) and also totally independently in the philosophy of M. Heidegger. Chr. Yannaras, in his important work, Τὸ ὀντολογικὸν Περιεχόμενον Ἐννοίας τοῡ Προσὠπου (1970), attempts a use of Heidegger for the philosophical justification and understanding of Greek patristic theology. It is generally acknowledged that Heidegger represents an important stage in the progress of Western thought, especially in the liberation of ontology from an absolute “ontism” and from philosophical rationalism, though not in fact from the concept of consciousness and of the subject. (See the critique of Heidegger by the important contemporary philosopher, E. Levinas, in his brilliant work, Totalité et Infini. Essai sur I’Extériorité , p. 15: “Sein und Zeit n’a peut-être soutenu qu’une seule thèse: l’être est inséparable de la compréhension de l’être [que se déroule comme temps], l’être est déjà appel à la subjectivité.”) However, the use of Heidegger in the interpretation of patristic theology runs into fundamental difficulties. As pointers to these one would have to pose among others the following questions: (a) Is it possible to conceive of an ontology outside time in Heidegger, or of an ontology within time predicated of God in the Greek Fathers? (b) Is it possible for death to bе an ontological concept in the Fathers, who regard it as the last enemy of being? (c) Is it possible to regard the concept of truth (ἀ-λήθεια), in the sense of a manifestation of or outgrowth from oblivion (λήθη), as an inevitable attribute of the ontology predicated of God? These questions prove to be crucial when one takes into consideration that those contemporary Western theologians who have attempted to utilize Heidegger in their theology have not succeeded in avoiding either the introduction of the concept of time in God (K. Barth), or the view that the concept of revelation is an essential ontological category of the being of God, so that the “economy,” the mode of God’s revelation to man, constitutes the basis, the starting point and the ontological structure of the theology of the Holy Trinity (K. Rahner). Yannaras, in a new edition of his book (under the title, To Prosopo kai о Eros , p. 60 ff.), attempts to advance beyond Heidegger by identifying ecstasy not “simply with the mode by which whatever exists appears to emerge on the horizon of time,” but “with the experience of personal catholicity, that is, of ecstatic, erotic self-transcendence.” The difficulty, however, in utilizing Heidegger in the interpretation of patristic theology remains insurmountable when one also takes into consideration, apart from the three crucial questions which I have just posed, the general problem of the relationship between philosophy and theology as it manifests itself in the case of Heidegger. With our insistence here on the thesis that God is ecstatic, that is, that He exists on account of being the Father, we deny simultaneously not only the ontological priority of the substance over the person, but also a “panoramic” ontology (the term belongs to the crtitique of Heidegger by E. Levinas, op. cit. p. 270 ff.; cf. p. 16 ff.), which would view the Trinity as a parallel co-existence of the three persons, a kind of multiple manifestation of the being of God. The insistence on the “monarchy” of the Father by Greek patristic thought excludes completely a differentiation of the persons justified ontologically by the “horizon” of their manifestation. In God such a horizon is non-existent and inconceivable, and consequently ontology as manifestation is (perhaps?) possible for the “economic” theology which is accomplished “in time” but not also for an ontology of the trinitarian existence of God who is outside time. This means that a theological ontology which is based on the concept of the monarchy of the Father and excludes equally the priority of the substance over the person and the parallel co-existence of the three persons of the Trinity in a common “horizon” of manifestation, liberates ontology from gnosiology. This is not the case in Heidegger, but perhaps neither in any philosophical ontology which is always tied to gnosiology. Consequently, a more general problem comes into being: is a philosophical justification of patristic theology possible? Or does patristic theology in its essence constitute the converse, that is, a theological justification of philosophy, a proclamation that philosophy and the world can acquire a true ontology only if they accept the presupposition of God as the only existent whose being is truly identified with the person and with freedom?
However, it must again be added at once that this love which “hypostasizes” God is not something “common” to the three persons, something, that is, like the common nature of God, but is identified with the Father. When we say that “God is love,” we refer to the Father, that is, to that person which “hypostasizes” God, which makes God to be three persons. A careful study of I John reveals that there too the phrase “God is love” refers to the Father: the word “God” is identified with Him who “sent His only-begotten Son,” etc. (I John 4:7 – 17).
The word “only-begotten” in the Johannine writings means not only the unique mode of generation of the Son by the Father, but also “Him who is beloved in a unique manner” (S. Agourides, Hypomnima eis tas А’, В’ kai C’ Epistolas tou Apostolou Ioannou, 1973, p. 158). It is precisely this identification of ontology with love in God that signifies that eternity and immortality do not belong to His “nature” but to the personal relationship which is initiated by the Father.
Anyone interested in the ontology of love should take the trouble to read The Little Рrinсе by Antoine de St-Exupéry. In its simplicity it is a deeply theological book.
The mystery of the person as an ontological “principle” and “cause” consists in the fact that love can endow, something with uniqueness, with absolute identity and name. It is precisely this which is revealed by the term “eternal life,” which for this very reason signifies that the person is able to raise up to personal value and life even in animate objects, provided that they constitute an organic part of a loving relationship (for example, all creation can be saved thanks to its “recapitulation” in the loving relationship between the Father and the Son). Conversely, condemnation to eternal death is nothing other than a person’s being allowed to decline into a “thing,” into absolute anonymity, to hear the terrifying words, “I do not know you” (Matt. 25:12). (It is precisely against this that the Church reacts when it commemorates the “names” at the eucharist).
Cf. the reference made earlier to Dostoevsky. The youth in adolescence, in the very period in which he becomes conscious of his freedom, asks: “and who consulted me when I was brought into the world?” Unconsciously he articulates the great theme of the ontological necessity which exists in the biological hypostasis.
St Maximus the Confessor, following Gregory of Nyssa (On the Creation of Man 16 – 18, PG 44:177 ff.), comes to the very root of the problem of human existence when he regards the biological mode of procreation as a result of the Fall (Ambigua 4l, 42, PG 81:1309A, 1340C ff.; cf. To Thalassius: On Various Questions 61, PG 90:6363). Those who attribute this view of Maximus to a monastic or ascetic bias ignore the fact that he is not an ordinary thinker but perhaps one of the greatest and most creative geninuses in history, and that it is therefore impossible for him to say something without this being an organic and integral part of his whole thought. Maximus’s position on this question is inspired by Matt. 22:30, that is, by the basic presupposition that the true “being” of man is found only in his eschatological state (see below). Victory over death, the survival of the person, is incomprehensible without a change in the constitutive mode of the human hypostasis, without a transcendence of the biological hypostasis. This does not imply Manichaeism: the biological and the eschatological hypostases are not mutually exclusive (see below at note 62).
Soteriologies which are not inspired by genuine patristic theology have created the following dilemma: either hypostasis without ecstasy (a kind of individualist pietism), or ecstasy without hypostasis (a form of mystical escape from the body, an ecstasy of the type of the Hellenistic mysteries). The key to the soteriological problem lies in the safeguarding of both the ecstatic and the hypostatic dimensions of the person equally, without the “passions” of ontological necessity, individualism and death.
The artificial conception of a human being, if it is ever achieved, will by no means imply freedom as regards the constitutive mode of the human hypostasis. Instead it will imply the henceforth unfree replacement of nature and its laws with the laws of human reason.
I stress the word “finally” because this is of vital importance in Christology. All things in Christology are judged in the light of the resurrection. The incarnation in itself does not constitute a guarantee of salvation. The fact that finally death is conquered gives us the right to believe that the conqueror of death was also originally God. This is the way in which Christology in the New Testament has developed – from the resurrection to the incarnation, not the other way round – and patristic theology has never lost this eschatological approach to Christology. Consequently, when we say that Christ escaped the necessity and the “passions” of nature, we do not imply that He remained a stranger to the conditions of biological existence (for example, He suffered the supreme passion of the biological hypostasis, the passion of death). But the fact that He rose from the dead rendered this passion “without hypostasis”: the real hypostasis of Christ was proved to be not the biological one, but the eschatological or trinitarian hypostasis.
The structure of the sacrament of baptism was identified at the outset with the structure of the evangelical narrative of the baptism of Jesus. The words, “this is my beloved [or: only-begotten] Son in whom I am well pleased,” uttered by the Father with reference to the Son of the Trinity in the presence of the Spirit, are pronounced at baptism with reference to the person being baptized. In this way the structure of the Trinity is made the structure of the hypostasis of the person being baptized, a fact which makes Paul summarize the sense of baptism with the phrase, “Spirit of adoption, in which we cry Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).
“You are all brethren; and call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:8,9). Cf. Matt, 4:21; 10:25,27; 19:29 and parallel texts, especially Luke l4:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life…” that is, the whole network of relations that constitutes the biological hypostasis.
Thus the Church proves (a) that salvation is not a matter of moral perfection, an improvement of nature, but a new hypostasis of nature, a new creation, and (b) that this new hypostasis is not something theoretical, but a historical experience, even though it is not permanent.
It is characteristic that according to the Fathers every baptized person becomes “Christ.”
St Maximus the Confessor in his Mystagogy (4, PG 91:672 BC) applies the catholicity of the Church to the existential make-up of each believer.
Teilhard de Chardin’s understanding of man bears no relation to patristic theology.
Herein also lies a fundamental distinction between Christianity and Marxism.
The Epistle to the Hebrews (11:1) uses the term “hypostasis” precisely with the meaning which I am endeavoring to describe here, that is, as an ontology which has its roots in the future, in eschatology.
The term ἐκκλησία is not unrelated in its original Christian usage to the fact of the eucharistic community. For the relevant sources see my work, The Unity of the Church in the Holy Eucharist and the Bishop during the First Three Centuries (in Greek – 1965), pp. 29 – 59.
If the Lord’s prayer was indeed, as it appears, a eucharistic prayer from the beginning, there is special significance in the fact that the expression, “Our Father, who are in heaven,” appears there evidently in contradistinction to the relation of every believer with his earthly father. Also illuminating is the history of the use of the term “father” for the clergy. Originally it was used only of the bishop, precisely because only he was seated “in the place of God” (Ignatius) and offered the eucharist. Then it was transferred to the presbyter when he finally assumed a role of leadership in the eucharistic community with the creation of parishes. With regard to the catholicity of the eucharistic community, that is, the transcendence of natural and social divisions, let us note the strict ancient canonical requirement that only one eucharist should be celebrated in the same place on the same day. This prescription (which today among the Orthodox is circumvented “intelligently” by the erection of a new altar and the services of another priest in the same church on the same day) had as its aim precisely the practical safeguarding of the possibility for all the faithful of the same locality to participate in the same eucharistic community. I leave aside the other new custom of celebrating the eucharist only for certain groups of Christians, whether social (for students, scholars, etc.) or natural (for small children, etc.), or even specially for members of organizations. What we have here is the establishment of a heresy in the midst of Orthodoxy; the denial of the catholicity of the eucharistic community.
On the fact that the sacraments weге all formerly linked with the eucharist see P. Trembelas, “I Theia Efcharietia kata tin synarthrosin aftis pros ta alla mystiria kai mystirioeideis teletas”, Efcharistirion, essays in honour of H. Alivisatos, 1958, pp. 462 – 472. The theological significance of this liturgical fact is immense. For example, it would be a mistake to regard marriage as simple confirmation of a biological fact. Linked with the eucharist it becomes a reminder that although the newly married couple have been blessed in order to create their own family, nevertheless the ultimate and essential network of relationships which constitutes their hypostasis is not the family but the Church as expressed in the eucharistic assembly. This eschatological transcendence of the biological hypostasis is also conveyed by the “crowning” of the bride and groom, but is lost essentially and existentially from the moment the rite of marriage is separate from the eucharist.
In St Maximus’s Mystagogy the holy eucharist is understood as movement, as progress towards the goal (τὸ πέρας). This dimension of the eucharist is weakened in the interpretations of the eucharist towards the end of the Byzantine age, and is lost entirely in the modern dogmatic handbooks.
Maximus gives a philosophical summary of the authentic patristic (and one would also say “biblical”) ontology when he identifies the true nature of beings with the future, with the last things: “For ‘shadow’ refers to the things of the Old Testament, ‘image’ to the things of the New Testament, and ‘truth’ to the future state” (Scholion on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 3, 3, 2, PG 4:137D). Cf. below ch. II.
See, for example the Revelation of St John: although nothing is more certain there than the presence of Christ in the eucharist, and yet the cry, “Come, Lord,” and the assurance, “I am coming soon” (22:8 – 17) change Him who is already present into Him who is expected, or rather, make Him present precisely as the expected one. Cf. Didache 9, 10.
It is therefore better understood for example why “the root of all evils is avarice” (1Tim 6:10) and wealth excludes from the Kingdom of God (Luke 6:24 etc.). This has to do not with a moral fault but with the location of the hypostasis of being, of its security, in this world, in the substance and not in the person. (Is it simply a coincidence that the term οὐσία came also to mean “property” or “possessions” very early on? See Luke 15:12. Cf. Euripides. Madness of Herakles 337; Aristophanes, Ekklesiazousai 729.)
The meaning of asceticism consists in the fact that the less one makes one’s hypostasis rely on nature, on the substance, the more one is hypostasized as a person. In this way asceticism does not deny “nature”, but frees it from the ontological necessity of the biological hypostasis; it enables it to be in an authentic manner. It is superfluous to stress that this does not suffice to bring about the transcendence of the biological hypostasis if nature is not “hypostasized” simultaneously in the eucharistic community. Other, non-Christian soteriological systems also exhibit asceticism as a transcendence of the biological hypostasis. But only the Church offers the positive side of this transcendence in the way I have just described with reference to the eucharist. (From the point of view of the historical phenomenology of religions it must some day be understood that only the eucharist in its correct sense is the specific differentiating factor of Christianity.) Without the ascetic dimension, the person is inconceivable. But in the end the context of the manifestation of the person is not the monastery: it is the eucharist.
The λόγος ϕύσεως has no need of transformation; the τρόπος ϕύσεως demands it. Maximus, Ambigua 42, PG 91:1340BC, 1341C.
The great existential significance of patristic Christology consists in the fact that the capacity of the person to love in one person alone all things and all men is an attribute of God, who as Father, although He hypostasizes and loves one Son alone (the “'only-begotten’’), can “through the Son” love and bestow hypostasis on all creation (“all things were created through Him and for Him.” Col. 1:16).
The similarities which appear at first sight to exist between the understanding of man in the works of the ascetic Fathers and the insights of contemporary existentialism arise from this. But the ascetic Fathers do not exhaust the concept of the person in the reality of the biological hypostasis; they also recognize its eschatological transcendence.
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