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Title: Mapping Modern Concepts of the Person onto the Greek Patristic Past
Authors: Torrance, Alexis
Keywords: personalism
Issue Date: 17-Apr-2012
Abstract: The concepts of the person and personhood have received much attention in modern theological as well as philosophical circles. While significant differences exist between the various theologies of the person, they are joined in countering an individualistic or atomistic view of the human being, one which makes of each human an autonomous, almost self-sufficient unit. By contrast, the idea of "person," it is claimed, evokes a sense of interrelationship, a focus on mutual dependence and community which is in some sense constitutive of what it means to be human. A particular interest in the idea of the person flourished in Greek Orthodox theology during the twentieth century (represented most notably by Koutroubis, Gontikakis, Nellas, Zizioulas, and Yannaras), and continues into the twenty-first. Yet the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on the presence of key precedents for their theology (or theologies) of the person in Greek patristic and Byzantine sources has been a significant area of contention. However, while general and occasional specific criticisms have been voiced, there has been no systematic or fully engaged study of the claim made by numerous widely-respected theologians that in Greek patristic and Byzantine texts we are presented with a vision of the human being (and of the divine) which speaks directly to the spiritual, philosophical, and intellectual needs of the modern world. This paper will begin by introducing the topic of personalism more broadly, before delving into the principal elements of the debate over precedents. Having argued that in many specific instances claims for patristic precedent are ill-founded, it will nonetheless be suggested that some conceptual continuity exists, especially, though not exclusively, in the realm of Greek patristic and Byzantine ascetic thought.
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