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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
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Thus God as person—as the hypostasis of the Father—makes the one divine substance to be that which it is: the one God. because the ontological “principle” of God is the Father. however. . therefore. “[t]heirs was a time when the notion of individual/person was only emerging”. And it is precisely His trinitarian existence that constitutes this conﬁrmation: the Father out of love—that is. Turcescu grounds his critique primarily in interpretation of passages by Gregory of Nyssa. First. Zizioulas’s development of his relational ontology of trinitarian personhood relies least on the thought of Gregory of Nyssa. if any.7 If there is an ontology that is personal and relational. no divine substance. Zizioulas cites this Cappadocian Father as support for the Cappadocian understanding of the monarchia of the Father. substantive change. freely—begets the Son and brings forth the Spirit. in which person has ontological priority over substance.3 and that “the concept of enumeration of individuals (that is. there would be little. be correct that a relational ontology of trinitarian personhood does not exist in the Cappadocian Fathers. which means that God as Father and not as substance.5 The thrust of Turcescu’s argument can be paraphrased as follows: by looking primarily at the work of Gregory of Nyssa. in the end. Outside the Trinity there is not God. 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. Though Turcescu may.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.602 Aristotle Papanilolaou erties is found in the Cappadocian texts when the Fathers try to explain what a person is”. this particular article does not by itself discredit Zizioulas’s interpretation. there is no such thing as a relational ontology of person in the trinitarian theology of the Cappadocian Fathers. . 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.8 © Blackwell Publishing Ltd.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. it is because of the monarchy of the Father. 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. that is. In fact. if one were to eliminate the references to Gregory of Nyssa in the works where Zizioulas most develops his relational ontology of trinitarian personhood. Put another way. the individuals being subject to addition and combination) was an important feature of the concept of person”. it can be shown that the Cappadocian Fathers do in fact identify person with individual as Zizioulas deﬁnes the latter and. perpetually conﬁrms through “being” His free will to exist. Of all the Cappadocian Fathers. 2004 . .
Personal uniqueness can only be guaranteed. 2004 . person. For Zizioulas. must itself be free from necessity and must be freely constituted. The monarchy of the Father. First. relational ontology insofar as their meaning is grounded in the principle of the monarchy of the Father. according to Zizioulas. A particular embodiment of a combination of qualities. Death ultimately renders all created being as replaceable. Zizioulas argues that God’s mode of existence. uniqueness is identiﬁed with “irreplaceability”. a relational ontology of trinitarian personhood. i. A relational ontology of trinitarian personhood means. according to Zizioulas. that freedom is at the heart of ontology insofar as “being” means to be free from the “given”. embodied set of qualities. Without the monarchy of the Father.Response to Lucian Turcescu 603 It is clear that for Zizioulas. and this freedom within God’s being can only be afﬁrmed. for Zizioulas. the core of theological discourse is an ontology of divine-human communion. that such a complex of qualities does not guarantee such uniqueness. through the principle of the monarchy of the Father. 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. the linking together of hypostasis and prosopon with the result of giving “ontological content” to the category of prosopon. But in order for God to give this freedom from the “given”.10 Even with the notion of the monarchy of the Father. 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.. 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. hence. for Zizioulas.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. according to Zizioulas. which results from the “division of nature” in creation. tropos hyparxeos. and.e. It is the case. destroying a particular. in a newly created human being who tends toward death. or “mode of existence”. 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. does contribute to uniqueness but not as irreplaceability. perhaps in the same way. For created existence. however. and uniqueness is also in need of greater nuancing. to the eternally loving God who alone can constitute all human uniqueness as irreplaceable. 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. only to be reconstituted again. Turcescu’s reading of Zizioulas’s understanding of the relation of individual. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. express a personal. in relationship to a being “other” than created existence. the Cappadocian distinction between ousia and hypostasis. there is no such ontology. the distinction between essence and tropos hyparxeos. this means to be free from ﬁnitude and death that are inherent to created existence.
Maritain. Turcescu indicates that Martin Buber and John Macmurray are the most substantial inﬂuences. according to Zizioulas. nor to his attempt to deﬁne his own theology of personhood over and against the prevailing philosophical understandings.15 Criticisms of Zizioulas being under the inﬂuence of “modern personalism” may not give him enough credit of being aware of these various philosophies. the need to articulate an ontology in which the notions of history. N.604 Aristotle Papanilolaou Notwithstanding the charge of inﬂuence by modern personalism. In the end. Marcel. this can only be done through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity that afﬁrms the monarchy of the Father. Zizioulas is self-consciously attempting to give expression to this core of theology. and then see how the Gospel and doctrine can make sense to that longing”.13 Zizioulas has also cited Macmurray. Berdiaeff. Buber. which is the realism of divine-human communion. Here Zizioulas identiﬁes distinct kinds of philosophical personalism as exempliﬁed in such thinkers as J. the “ontological revolution” is not so much the change in the meaning of the words “person” and “hypostasis”. Zizioulas refers to the patristic understanding of the monarchy of the © Blackwell Publishing Ltd.14 He even gives credit to Pannenberg for helping him to articulate thoughts concerning personhood that he was “struggling to express”. it would be best to seek ﬁrst to feel and understand what every human being longs for deep in their being. change. G. differ from his understanding of person through either deﬁning the person in terms of consciousness or subjectivity and not in terms of relations. In an essay entitled “The Being of God and the Being of Anthropos”. time. that his understanding of personhood is inﬂuenced by modern personalism and existentialism. otherness. For Zizioulas. Mounier. or in giving the notion of communion an ontological priority over “person”. namely. particularity. these modern forms of personalism and existentialism.11 There is also no need. though he recognizes similarities. According to Zizioulas. E. Of the four. Instead of throwing the Bible or the dogmas of the Church into the fact of the world. relationality are integrated. M.16 Zizioulas responds speciﬁcally to this very charge by the Greek theologians John Panagopoulos and Savas Agourides. 2004 . Zizioulas does not hide the fact that he is attempting to relate traditional Christian dogma to contemporary questions and concerns.12 Turcescu himself cites Zizioulas’s references to Buber. But Zizioulas does not appear to hide the fact that both Buber and Macmurray have inﬂuenced his thought. as Turcescu does. 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. Kierkegaard. Second. Zizioulas then lists four ways in which his understanding of “person” differs from these philosophical approaches. hence. but in the Christian afﬁrmation that God in the person of Christ has “become history” and. as well as the existentialism of S. “to suggest” possible inﬂuences on Zizioulas’s notion of person as a relational category.
is not whether he has been inﬂuenced by modern personalism. philosophical accounts. uniqueness. is the relation between philosophy and theology. But Zizioulas also attempts to show how the trinitarian understanding of personhood differs from these forms of modern personalism. “the truth is rather that philosophy is used in this situation.19 There is. is not consistent with the approach of the patristic writers themselves. and relationality. i. no reason to suggest possible inﬂuences on the thought of Zizioulas. have actually inﬂuenced his understanding of person. it is difﬁcult to think how such a communion does not imply an ontology that is relational and personal. 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. trinitarian understanding of personhood.Response to Lucian Turcescu 605 Father as providing the most decisive difference between the trinitarian understanding of person and modern. and whether such an ontology does correct and justify the various modern. If the core of Christian faith is communion with God the Father. He is no more superimposing a philosophical system on the Eastern patristic writers than did these same writers Hellenize the teachings of Jesus. which appears in front of us. it is not a philosophy that justiﬁes or inﬂuences the theological. In establishing the meaning of trinitarian personhood. but whether a trinitarian theology that afﬁrms the monarchy of the Father is the only way to ground a personal ontology. or to judge contemporary Orthodox theology as authentic based on its faithful reiteration of patristic texts.18 In the end. such as. a form of patristic fundamentalism. since he admits a knowledge of modern forms of personalism and that some thinkers.17 What is really at issue. according to Zizioulas. Martin Buber. He claims that a personal ontology is the most adequate way to express the realism of divine-human communion. then. thus. and which “precludes any philosophical-personalistic interpretation of God”. when the “in what way” (pwV estin) of God’s existence is revealed in Christ”. only a trinitarian theology that afﬁrms the monarchy of the Father can ground and justify the philosophical notions of person in terms of freedom. challenges. The real issue. 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. in order to disclose a new meaning of person. in the person of Christ. philosophical understandings of personhood. 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. however. 2004 . who did more than simply reiterate their predecessors. 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. by the power of the Holy Spirit. and prevailing philosophical currents of his time. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd.. The latter.e.
22. “Divine Energies or Divine Personhood: Vladimir Lossky and John Zizioulas on conceiving the transcendent and immanent God”. “ ‘Hypostase’ et ‘Personne’ dans la formation du dogme trinitaire (ca. without hypostasis. and Savas Agourides. Ibid. “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council of the Holy Spirit In Historical and Ecumenical Perspective”. 129–155. 22. Ibid.606 Aristotle Papanilolaou NOTES 1 See John Panagopoulos. Ibid. 100. n. Zizioulas cites Nyssa’s Great Catechism in support of the idea that freedom is essential to the Christian notion of the Image Dei. 33 (1990). There are no references to Gregory of Nyssa in “On Being a Person: Towards an Ontology of Personhood” in Person. 46.. 428. Christoph Schwöbel (Edinburgh: T&T Clark. hence.” Modern Theology. p. Gunton (Edinburgh: T&T Clark. also. p. Divine and Human. pp. 67–78.. n. 12. Vol. This understanding of uniqueness in terms of particular relationships can be shown to make sense even without reference to God or the uncreated “other”. Vol. 11–35. 31. “ ‘Person’ versus ‘Individual’. notes 55 and 56). 12). p. 41. notes 20 and 21. ed. 17 (1986). “The Doctrine of God the Trinity Today: Suggestion for an Ecumenical Study” in The Forgotten Trinity (London: BCC/CCBI. 97–109. Synaxis. p. Modern Theology. “The Doctrine of God the Trinity Today”. a person? The answer is yes and no. 34–35. 265–292. pp. the letter is usually cited in support of the general patristic axiom that “substance never exists in a ‘naked’ state. 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. pp. 1). 1991). 1991). “Can the persons of the Trinity form the basis for personalistic understandings of the human being?” (in Greek). 51. n. n. p. n. Zizioulas does also cite the letter to support his interpretation of Basil as understanding the unity of God in terms of koinonia (see. pp. and in the “The Being of God and the Being of Anthropos” (in Greek). p. pp. see also. The works I have in mind are: Being as Communion (Crestwood: New York.. 357–385. 23. The example of an abandoned baby in the ﬁelds especially makes this clear. In both instances. note 23). 37. p. 37 (1991). 79 (1984). 1983). 28 (1975). 41. 35–47. pp. 1985). 1995). and “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity”. p. p. Synaxis. eds. 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. also. Martins (Roma: Libreria Editrice Vatican. For more on this point see. J. p. p. 62. without ‘a mode of existence’ ” (Being as Communion. n. “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council on the Holy Spirit in Historical and Ecumenical Perspective” in Credo in Spiritum Sanctorum. 19 no. ibid. that is. No in the sense that such an abandonment renders this baby a nonperson. 228. Vol. pp. “The Doctrine of God the Trinity Today”. p. n. “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council of the Holy Spirit In Historical and Ecumenical Perspective”. 401–408. Vol. 63–79. 625–670. 101. 31. 13–14 (1985). p. Even taking into consideration Epistle 38. pp. Vol. “Human Capacity and Human Incapacity”. Christoph Schwöbel and Colin E. 34. and to deny this is not to take seriously the reality of dehumanization. pp. Humans in this sense are not inherently persons. 313–369. this one passage from Nyssa is cited in further support of Gregory Nazianzus. “On Being a Person: Towards an Ontology of Personhood”. André de Halleux. n. 2004 . note 23. idem. 43–45. 48. Aristotle Papanikolaou. “Personalisme ou esentialisme trinitaire chez le Pères capdociens? Une mauvaise controversie”. Vol. p. p. 18 no. Is a newborn baby abandoned in the ﬁelds unique and. 3 (July 2003). Scottish Journal of Theology. 4 (October 2002). Synaxis. there is only one reference to Gregory of Nyssa (p. 36. and Other Modern Misreadings of Gregory of Nyssa. 88). In the article that Turcescu cites most often. n. 18. p. Being as Communion. “Ontology or Theology of Person?” (in Greek). 42. 50–55. p. which most scholars attribute to Gregory of Nyssa but which Zizioulas consistently attributes to Basil. p. 37. p.. 37. 41. Vol. pp. The only hope for a baby to still be person and unique is the fact that s/he is always loved by God. note 18. and again. 103. Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique. p. Vol. See “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council of the Holy Spirit In Historical and Ecumenical Perspective”. Revue théologique de Louvain. 31. “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: The Signiﬁcance of the Cappadocian Contribution” in Trinitarian Theology Today: Essays in Divine Being and Act. p. 17. such as On the Holy Spirit. 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. 52. ed. pp. S. 375–81)”.
p. For this example and more on the relational understanding of person see. pp. 38 (1994). “It was after struggling to express these thoughts that I came across the following words of W. I ﬁnd. 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. Vol. note 14. “the person as an ontological category cannot be extrapolated from experience” (“On Being a Person”. pp. 18. section 3. express the same thing in a clearer way” (“Human Capacity and Human Incapacity”. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 18). “[I]s a philosophical justiﬁcation of patristic theology possible? Or does patristic theology in its essence constitute the converse. note 1. note 1). which. “The Church as Communion”. 15–19. . He did not mention John Macmurray. 19 no. and in “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity”. “The Being of God and the Being of Anthropos”. and Abuse: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Feminist Theologies in Conversation”. 13. Modern Theology. p. 37).. elsewhere. “the meaning of person is not borrowed from philosophy . p. a theological justiﬁcation of philosophy. Vol. Kenosis. 1 (January 2003). 19. Pannenberg.Response to Lucian Turcescu 607 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. . p. 28 (1975). “Person. p. Aristotle Papanikolaou. Ibid. 408. See especially. 46). that is. especially his critique of Heidegger. Vol. It is surprising not to see the name of Levinas in Turcescu’s article. In “Human Capacity and Human Incapacity”. but philosophy is able. p. p. since Zizioulas cites him often. St. p. if it wishes. but always in relation to the eternal love of God. also. 413. Scottish Journal of Theology. to borrow this meaning from theology” (“The Being of God and the Being of Anthropos”. 2004 . Zizioulas himself has admitted to me in private conversations that the thought of Martin Buber did inﬂuence his understanding of personhood. 41–65. 59. p. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly.
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