This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
IS JOHN ZIZIOULAS AN EXISTENTIALIST IN DISGUISE? RESPONSE TO LUCIAN TURCESCU
Criticism of John Zizioulas’s relational ontology of trinitarian personhood generally rebukes him for attempting to dress his philosophical personalism and existentialism with Cappadocian language and parade it as patristic.1 A relational ontology is not what the Cappadocians are up to, so the argument goes, and it has more to do with modern philosophical trends. Lucian Turcescu gives the most recent and, perhaps, sharpest expression of this critique.2 Turcescu’s judgment rests on the distinction made by Zizioulas between the individual and the person. He summarizes Zizioulas’s own understanding of the notion of the “individual” as, ﬁrst, a complex of qualities that cannot ensure uniqueness. Second, an individual is an entity that can be enumerated whereas the uniqueness and sacredness of the person deﬁes such enumeration. Thirdly, Western theology and philosophy wrongly deﬁne “person” as “individual” and such an identiﬁcation has its roots in Augustine and Boethius. Zizioulas further claims, according to Turcescu, that this understanding of “person” as “individual” is absent in the Cappadocian Fathers. Turcescu then attempts to show that Gregory of Nyssa does in fact speak of “person” in terms that Zizioulas associates with the concept of “individual”. By so doing, he hopes to show that Zizioulas’s relational understanding of “person” cannot be attributed to the Cappadocian Fathers. Turcescu proceeds to provide citations gathered primarily from the work of Gregory of Nyssa as supporting evidence in his attempt to illustrate that “the understanding of a person as a collection, congress or complex of prop-
Aristotle Papanikolaou Department of Theology, Fordham University, 113 West 60th Street, New York, NY 10023-7484, USA
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
erties is found in the Cappadocian texts when the Fathers try to explain what a person is”,3 and that “the concept of enumeration of individuals (that is, the individuals being subject to addition and combination) was an important feature of the concept of person”.4 He further argues that the distinction between individual and person was one not made at the time of the Cappadocians and that the terms were used interchangeably. In fact, “[t]heirs was a time when the notion of individual/person was only emerging”.5 The thrust of Turcescu’s argument can be paraphrased as follows: by looking primarily at the work of Gregory of Nyssa, it can be shown that the Cappadocian Fathers do in fact identify person with individual as Zizioulas deﬁnes the latter and, therefore, there is no such thing as a relational ontology of person in the trinitarian theology of the Cappadocian Fathers. Though Turcescu may, in the end, be correct that a relational ontology of trinitarian personhood does not exist in the Cappadocian Fathers, this particular article does not by itself discredit Zizioulas’s interpretation. First, Turcescu grounds his critique primarily in interpretation of passages by Gregory of Nyssa. Of all the Cappadocian Fathers, however, Zizioulas’s development of his relational ontology of trinitarian personhood relies least on the thought of Gregory of Nyssa. Put another way, if one were to eliminate the references to Gregory of Nyssa in the works where Zizioulas most develops his relational ontology of trinitarian personhood, there would be little, if any, substantive change.6 This focus on Gregory of Nyssa is understandable given the fact that the volume in which the essay appeared was devoted to “re-thinking” Gregory of Nyssa. But it does not warrant the general claim that a relational ontology of trinitarian personhood cannot be found within the thought of the Cappadocian Fathers or in the Eastern patristic tradition. It also does not sufﬁciently address Zizioulas’s interpretation of other patristic writers upon which he bases his claim about the link between a relational ontology and the doctrine of the Trinity. The Cappadocian Father that is never mentioned by Turcescu is arguably the one whose thought is most signiﬁcant for Zizioulas’s claims about a relational ontology of trinitarian personhood: Gregory Nazianzus. Zizioulas cites this Cappadocian Father as support for the Cappadocian understanding of the monarchia of the Father.7 If there is an ontology that is personal and relational, in which person has ontological priority over substance, it is because of the monarchy of the Father, which 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. Thus God as person—as the hypostasis of the Father—makes the one divine substance to be that which it is: the one God. . . . Outside the Trinity there is not God, that is, no divine substance, because the ontological “principle” of God is the Father.8
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004
Response to Lucian Turcescu
It is clear that for Zizioulas, the Cappadocian distinction between ousia and hypostasis, the linking together of hypostasis and prosopon with the result of giving “ontological content” to the category of prosopon, the distinction between essence and tropos hyparxeos, or “mode of existence”, express a personal, relational ontology insofar as their meaning is grounded in the principle of the monarchy of the Father. Without the monarchy of the Father, according to Zizioulas, there is no such ontology.9 Even a “primordial” communion between the trinitarian persons is not enough to afﬁrm a relational ontology since this communion itself is one of necessity and not freedom. A relational ontology of trinitarian personhood means, for Zizioulas, that freedom is at the heart of ontology insofar as “being” means to be free from the “given”. For created existence, this means to be free from ﬁnitude and death that are inherent to created existence. To be is to exist in an eternal relationship with the loving God and only through such a relationship is created existence “free” to be eternally in loving union with this God. But in order for God to give this freedom from the “given”, Zizioulas argues that God’s mode of existence, tropos hyparxeos, must itself be free from necessity and must be freely constituted. This freedom within God’s very being is the condition for the possibility of the freedom of created existence from the “given” of its own nature, and this freedom within God’s being can only be afﬁrmed, according to Zizioulas, through the principle of the monarchy of the Father. Turcescu’s reading of Zizioulas’s understanding of the relation of individual, person, and uniqueness is also in need of greater nuancing. It is not so much that Zizioulas does not think that a complex of qualities embodied within a particular human being actually contributes to personal uniqueness. It is the case, however, that such a complex of qualities does not guarantee such uniqueness. For Zizioulas, uniqueness is identiﬁed with “irreplaceability”. A particular embodiment of a combination of qualities, which results from the “division of nature” in creation, does contribute to uniqueness but not as irreplaceability. Death ultimately renders all created being as replaceable, destroying a particular, embodied set of qualities, only to be reconstituted again, perhaps in the same way, in a newly created human being who tends toward death. Personal uniqueness can only be guaranteed, according to Zizioulas, in relationship to a being “other” than created existence, i.e., to the eternally loving God who alone can constitute all human uniqueness as irreplaceable.10 Even with the notion of the monarchy of the Father, is Zizioulas’s thought irretrievably “tainted” by modern thought so as to render it non-patristic? Several things must be said in response to this question. First, for Zizioulas, the core of theological discourse is an ontology of divine-human communion. The monarchy of the Father, and, hence, a relational ontology of trinitarian personhood, is rooted in the experience of God in the eucharist understood as the event of the Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004
Notwithstanding the charge of inﬂuence by modern personalism, Zizioulas is self-consciously attempting to give expression to this core of theology, which is the realism of divine-human communion. For Zizioulas, the “ontological revolution” is not so much the change in the meaning of the words “person” and “hypostasis”, but in the Christian afﬁrmation that God in the person of Christ has “become history” and, hence, the need to articulate an ontology in which the notions of history, time, change, particularity, otherness, relationality are integrated. In the end, according to Zizioulas, this can only be done through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity that afﬁrms the monarchy of the Father. Second, Zizioulas does not hide the fact that he is attempting to relate traditional Christian dogma to contemporary questions and concerns. He is quite explicit when he says that the true task of theology is to “seek ways of relating the Gospel to the existential needs of the world and to whatever is human. Instead of throwing the Bible or the dogmas of the Church into the fact of the world, it would be best to seek ﬁrst to feel and understand what every human being longs for deep in their being, and then see how the Gospel and doctrine can make sense to that longing”.11 There is also no need, as Turcescu does, “to suggest” possible inﬂuences on Zizioulas’s notion of person as a relational category. Turcescu indicates that Martin Buber and John Macmurray are the most substantial inﬂuences. But Zizioulas does not appear to hide the fact that both Buber and Macmurray have inﬂuenced his thought.12 Turcescu himself cites Zizioulas’s references to Buber.13 Zizioulas has also cited Macmurray.14 He even gives credit to Pannenberg for helping him to articulate thoughts concerning personhood that he was “struggling to express”.15 Criticisms of Zizioulas being under the inﬂuence of “modern personalism” may not give him enough credit of being aware of these various philosophies, nor to his attempt to deﬁne his own theology of personhood over and against the prevailing philosophical understandings. In an essay entitled “The Being of God and the Being of Anthropos”,16 Zizioulas responds speciﬁcally to this very charge by the Greek theologians John Panagopoulos and Savas Agourides; namely, that his understanding of personhood is inﬂuenced by modern personalism and existentialism. Here Zizioulas identiﬁes distinct kinds of philosophical personalism as exempliﬁed in such thinkers as J. Maritain, E. Mounier, N. Berdiaeff, M. Buber, G. Marcel, as well as the existentialism of S. Kierkegaard. According to Zizioulas, these modern forms of personalism and existentialism, though he recognizes similarities, differ from his understanding of person through either deﬁning the person in terms of consciousness or subjectivity and not in terms of relations; or in giving the notion of communion an ontological priority over “person”. Zizioulas then lists four ways in which his understanding of “person” differs from these philosophical approaches. Of the four, Zizioulas refers to the patristic understanding of the monarchy of the
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004
Response to Lucian Turcescu
Father as providing the most decisive difference between the trinitarian understanding of person and modern, philosophical accounts, and which “precludes any philosophical-personalistic interpretation of God”.17 What is really at issue, according to Zizioulas, is the relation between philosophy and theology. In establishing the meaning of trinitarian personhood, “the truth is rather that philosophy is used in this situation, in order to disclose a new meaning of person, which appears in front of us, when the “in what way” (pwV estin) of God’s existence is revealed in Christ”.18 In the end, it is not a philosophy that justiﬁes or inﬂuences the theological, trinitarian understanding of personhood; only a trinitarian theology that afﬁrms the monarchy of the Father can ground and justify the philosophical notions of person in terms of freedom, uniqueness, and relationality.19 There is, thus, no reason to suggest possible inﬂuences on the thought of Zizioulas, since he admits a knowledge of modern forms of personalism and that some thinkers, such as, Martin Buber, have actually inﬂuenced his understanding of person. But Zizioulas also attempts to show how the trinitarian understanding of personhood differs from these forms of modern personalism. He is no more superimposing a philosophical system on the Eastern patristic writers than did these same writers Hellenize the teachings of Jesus. His attempt to give further expression to the realism of divinehuman communion through twentieth-century notions of person is analogous to the patristic co-opting of Greek philosophical categories to express the same principle. Zizioulas is doing exactly what these writers did insofar as he is thinking about the authoritative texts of the tradition in light of the questions, challenges, and prevailing philosophical currents of his time. The alternative is either the hermeneutically impossible bracketing of all that the interpreter has read and experienced as they approach the patristic texts in the hope of distilling the pure “essence” of the text itself; or to judge contemporary Orthodox theology as authentic based on its faithful reiteration of patristic texts, i.e., a form of patristic fundamentalism. The latter, however, is not consistent with the approach of the patristic writers themselves, who did more than simply reiterate their predecessors. Zizioulas is consistent with the Eastern patristic writers in the most substantial way insofar as he afﬁrms as the core of theological discourse the realism of divine-human communion. He claims that a personal ontology is the most adequate way to express the realism of divine-human communion. The real issue, then, is not whether he has been inﬂuenced by modern personalism, but whether a trinitarian theology that afﬁrms the monarchy of the Father is the only way to ground a personal ontology, and whether such an ontology does correct and justify the various modern, philosophical understandings of personhood. If the core of Christian faith is communion with God the Father, in the person of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is difﬁcult to think how such a communion does not imply an ontology that is relational and personal.
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004
NOTES 1 See John Panagopoulos, “Ontology or Theology of Person?” (in Greek), Synaxis, Vol. 13–14 (1985), pp. 63–79; 35–47; and Savas Agourides, “Can the persons of the Trinity form the basis for personalistic understandings of the human being?” (in Greek), Synaxis, Vol. 33 (1990), pp. 67–78; also, André de Halleux, “ ‘Hypostase’ et ‘Personne’ dans la formation du dogme trinitaire (ca. 375–81)”, Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique, Vol. 79 (1984), pp. 313–369, 625–670; also, idem, “Personalisme ou esentialisme trinitaire chez le Pères capdociens? Une mauvaise controversie”, Revue théologique de Louvain, Vol. 17 (1986), pp. 129–155; 265–292. “ ‘Person’ versus ‘Individual’, and Other Modern Misreadings of Gregory of Nyssa,” Modern Theology, Vol. 18 no. 4 (October 2002), pp. 97–109. Ibid., p. 100. Ibid., p. 101. Ibid., p. 103. The works I have in mind are: Being as Communion (Crestwood: New York, 1985), p. 17; p. 41, n. 36; p. 52, n. 46; p. 228, notes 55 and 56); “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council on the Holy Spirit in Historical and Ecumenical Perspective” in Credo in Spiritum Sanctorum, ed. J. S. Martins (Roma: Libreria Editrice Vatican, 1983), p. 34, n. 12; p. 37, n. 22; pp. 43–45, p. 51, n. 62; “The Doctrine of God the Trinity Today: Suggestion for an Ecumenical Study” in The Forgotten Trinity (London: BCC/CCBI, 1991), p. 31, n. 23; “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: The Signiﬁcance of the Cappadocian Contribution” in Trinitarian Theology Today: Essays in Divine Being and Act, ed. Christoph Schwöbel (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), p. 48. There are no references to Gregory of Nyssa in “On Being a Person: Towards an Ontology of Personhood” in Person, Divine and Human, eds. Christoph Schwöbel and Colin E. Gunton (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), and in the “The Being of God and the Being of Anthropos” (in Greek), Synaxis, Vol. 37 (1991), pp. 11–35. In the article that Turcescu cites most often, “Human Capacity and Human Incapacity”, Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 28 (1975), pp. 401–408, there is only one reference to Gregory of Nyssa (p. 428, n. 1). Zizioulas cites Nyssa’s Great Catechism in support of the idea that freedom is essential to the Christian notion of the Image Dei. Even taking into consideration Epistle 38, which most scholars attribute to Gregory of Nyssa but which Zizioulas consistently attributes to Basil, the letter is usually cited in support of the general patristic axiom that “substance never exists in a ‘naked’ state, that is, without hypostasis, without ‘a mode of existence’ ” (Being as Communion, p. 41; see also, ibid., p. 88). Zizioulas does also cite the letter to support his interpretation of Basil as understanding the unity of God in terms of koinonia (see, “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council of the Holy Spirit In Historical and Ecumenical Perspective”, pp. 34–35, n. 12). But this letter is not the central text for this particular reading of Basil and is used as further support of his interpretation of other texts from Basil, such as On the Holy Spirit, p. 18. See “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council of the Holy Spirit In Historical and Ecumenical Perspective”, p. 37, notes 20 and 21; “On Being a Person: Towards an Ontology of Personhood”, p. 42, note 18; “The Doctrine of God the Trinity Today”, p. 31, note 23; and “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity”, pp. 50–55. Zizioulas does cite one passage from Gregory of Nyssa’s Ad Ablabium in support of the Greek patristic notion of the monarchy of the Father (see, “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council of the Holy Spirit In Historical and Ecumenical Perspective”, p. 37, n. 22; and again, “The Doctrine of God the Trinity Today”, p. 31, note 23). In both instances, this one passage from Nyssa is cited in further support of Gregory Nazianzus. Being as Communion, p. 41. For more on this point see, Aristotle Papanikolaou, “Divine Energies or Divine Personhood: Vladimir Lossky and John Zizioulas on conceiving the transcendent and immanent God”, Modern Theology, Vol. 19 no. 3 (July 2003), pp. 357–385. This understanding of uniqueness in terms of particular relationships can be shown to make sense even without reference to God or the uncreated “other”. The example of an abandoned baby in the ﬁelds especially makes this clear. Is a newborn baby abandoned in the ﬁelds unique and, hence, a person? The answer is yes and no. No in the sense that such an abandonment renders this baby a nonperson, and to deny this is not to take seriously the reality of dehumanization. The only hope for a baby to still be person and unique is the fact that s/he is always loved by God. Humans in this sense are not inherently persons,
2 3 4 5 6
8 9 10
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004
Response to Lucian Turcescu
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
as if they can claim such a dignity for themselves or as part of their essence, but always in relation to the eternal love of God. For this example and more on the relational understanding of person see, Aristotle Papanikolaou, “Person, Kenosis, and Abuse: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Feminist Theologies in Conversation”, Modern Theology, Vol. 19 no. 1 (January 2003), pp. 41–65. “The Church as Communion”, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 38 (1994), p. 13. It is surprising not to see the name of Levinas in Turcescu’s article, since Zizioulas cites him often, especially his critique of Heidegger. Zizioulas himself has admitted to me in private conversations that the thought of Martin Buber did inﬂuence his understanding of personhood. He did not mention John Macmurray. In “Human Capacity and Human Incapacity”, p. 408, note 1; and in “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity”, p. 59, note 14. “It was after struggling to express these thoughts that I came across the following words of W. Pannenberg, which, I ﬁnd, express the same thing in a clearer way” (“Human Capacity and Human Incapacity”, Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 28 (1975), p. 413, note 1). See especially, section 3, pp. 15–19. “The Being of God and the Being of Anthropos”, p. 18. Ibid., p. 19. “[I]s 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?” (Being as Communion, p. 46); elsewhere, “the person as an ontological category cannot be extrapolated from experience” (“On Being a Person”, p. 37); also, “the meaning of person is not borrowed from philosophy . . . but philosophy is able, if it wishes, to borrow this meaning from theology” (“The Being of God and the Being of Anthropos”, p. 18).
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004