does the 2nd Person of the Trinity tell us about the sacred worth of others?

Tertullian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My interest in the concept of personhood is multifarious as I believe it will help in building a proper theology for various elements in our society and Church. In reading ]], I happened upon this chapter from his Commonitory (ch14). Unlike Tertullian’s less defined, or unrefined, persona in describing the Father, Son, and Spirit, Vincent (a proper Saint) uses persona differently.

BUT inasmuch as we often use the term person, and say that GOD in a person was made man, we must take very great care, lest we seem to say that GOD the WORD took on Him our properties merely in the way of imitative acting; and that whatever made up His human conversation was done by Him not as a true man, but in adumbration, after the manner of theatres, where one individual represents in quick succession several personages, of which no one is his own.

Sed cum personam sæpius nominamus et dicimus, quod Deus per personam homo factus sit, vehementer verendum est, ne hoc dicere videamur, quod Deus Verbum sola imitatione actionis, quæ sunt nostra susceperit, et quidquid illud est conversationis humanæ, quasi adumbratus, non quasi verus homo fecerit: sicut in theatris fieri solet, ubi unus plures effingit repente personas, quarum ipse nulla est.


But the Catholic faith says that the WORD of GOD was so made man as to take on Him our properties, not fallaciously and in show, but truly and actually; and to deport Himself as a man, not as one who imitates the doings of another, but rather as in his own character; and altogether to be what He represented, just as we ourselves, in that we speak, know, live, subsist, do not imitate men, but are such…So also GOD the WORD, in assuming and having flesh, in speaking, doing and suffering in the flesh, yet without any corruption of His nature, deigned even to go so far as not to imitate or represent a perfect man, but to exhibit Himself as such; so as not merely to be seen or to be thought a true man but to be such, and to subsist as such.

Catholica vero fides ita Verbum Dei hominem factum esse dicit, ut quæ nostra sunt, non fallaciter et adumbrate, sed vere expresseque susciperet; et quæ erant humana, non quasi aliena imitaretur, sed potius ut sua gereret: et prorsus quod agebat, hoc etiam esset, quod agebat, is esset. Sicut ipsi nos quoque in eo quod loquimur, sapimus, vivimus, subsistimus, non imitamur homines, sed sumus….ta etiam Deus Verbum, adsumendo et habendo carnem, loquendo, faciendo, patiendo per carnem, sine ulla tamen suæ corruptione naturæ hoc omnino præstare dignatus est, ut hominem perfectum non imitaretur aut fingeret, sed exhiberet: ut homo verus non videretur aut putaretur, sed esset atque subsisteret.

The idea of personhood, then, as showed to us via the Holy Trinity, is that to be a person requires something more than being human.

Note, Christ could still have been a human without being a person. What makes him a person is his life, not that he was born a human. Perhaps he could have grown up completely free from sin and desire, without the need to eat or expel the wastes of eating. Perhaps he could have simply been born a human male, or dropped from the sky as such. Yet, Vincent reminds us that he subsisted as a person.

Jesus lived.

If Jesus subsisted as a person, that means he was afforded the ability to be wrong and to be right, to love (maybe lust), to be tempted, to live as each of us do even within the confounds of having previously held the universe in his hand. If Jesus really was a person and lived as such rather than simply becoming human, how might this help us answer questions about those with a disability or LGBT people?

What is required to be a person rather than just being human? And is this important? Can you see the difference?

Update – Because some do not quite get the idea… humans and persons are technically different concepts in the legal world…See herehere, here, here, and here as well. Then, see here:

The doctrine of divine simplicity is complicated and controversial—even among those who admire Aquinas’ philosophical theology.  But the following account should provide the reader with a rough sketch of what this doctrine involves.  Consider the example human being. A person is a human being in virtue of her humanity, where “humanity” denotes a species-defining characteristic.  That is, humanity is an essence or “formal constituent” that makes its possessor a human being and not something else (ST Ia 3.3).  Of course, a human being is also material being.  In virtue of materiality, she possesses numerous individuating accidents. These would include various physical modifications such as her height or weight, her particular skin pigmentation, her set of bones, and so forth.  According to Aquinas, none of these accidental traits are included in her humanity (indeed, she could lose these traits, acquire others, and remain a human being).  They do, however, constitute the particular human being she is.  In other words, her individuating accidents do not make her human, but they do make her a particular exemplification of humanity.  This is why it would be incorrect to say that this person is identical to her humanity; instead, the individuating accidents she has make her one of many instances thereof.

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11 Replies to “does the 2nd Person of the Trinity tell us about the sacred worth of others?”

  1. One thing separating humans from animals is self-awareness. This is probably the essence of personhood.

    I would also add greed factors into the equation. Mankind has an insatiable appetite for wealth and power.

    On the other hand, lower forms of life typically don’t take more than they need to survive. Thus, one reason cockroaches may be around after humans die off is that, in addition to not worrying about the next life, they only take what satisfies them for the moment.

      1. This may be little more than a matter of semantics. It also, for example, depends on whether one addresses the issue from a biological, legal, or theological perspective. For the sake of argument, my original reply was predicted on the biological perspective.

        On the other side of things, Article I Section 2 of The Constitution of the United States refers to three classes. They are “free Persons [including indentured servants],” “Indians not taxed [and, thus, counted as separate nations],” and “other Persons [i.e. slaves counting are 3/5 for purposes of enumeration and taxation].” Thus, according to The Constitution as written in 1787, whites are endowed with personhood, while Native American aren’t; and blacks fall somewhere in between.

        In reality, the above classification scheme is based on both racial prejudice and perceived economic value of the races. From the rich white man’s point of view, while presumably inferior blacks possessed some economic value, Native Americans may as well have been from another planet.

        Interestingly enough, when intelligence (popularly known as IQ) testing began in the 19th century, Native American were considered to be brighter than blacks in a rank ordering that put lighter skins at the top of the social pecking order. This junk science gave rise to the idea that blacks were only good for manual labor.

        It was not until passage of the 14th Amendment that the former slave population achieved legal equality. Then, a generation later, this presumed equality was refined to mean “separate but equal.” Of course, the Plessy decision remained the law of the land until Brown.

        When it comes to notions of legal equality, one of the curiosities of the American system is that, thanks in large measure to the conspicuous absence of the word “natural” in the 14th Amendment definition of “persons,” artificial entities such as corporations can have rights that equal – and, in some instances, even exceed – those of humans! (Quite frankly, that is why Mickey Mouse has more right than you in the legal fiction that passes for American jurisprudence.)

        In may ways the current battle for homosexual rights mirrors the struggle for black civil rights. After that’s settled, the next fight will be over atheism. When that one comes, a large swath of the Christian Right will attempt to scuttle The Constitution of 1787 and, as they have repeatedly attempted to do, rewrite American history.

  2. You cannot be human and not be a person or vice versa. These are inseparable. Christ was both fully human and fully God. I understand it is a difficult concept to grasp but we know that Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phillippians 2:6-11)

    Also from John the apostle:
    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:1-18)

    1. Mark, I don’t think you understand the separation – which has existed in legal fiction for a long time. For instance, slaves were humans under the Constitution, but they were not considered persons. Personhood is an actual theological and legal construct.

      Let’s deal with that rather than proof-texting.

      Further, you are arguing Scripture through the post-Chalcedonian lens.

      1. That’s funny, wouldn’t the lens of all persons living today, yourself included, be post-Chalcedonian?

        No I don’t understand the separation because it is not possible to separate humanity from personhood in any real sense. Perhaps the legal system has come up with its own theoretical construct to allow for the existence of bigoted ideas, but that does not make it correct. From a theological standpoint, you cannot separate a human being from personhood. It just cannot be done. You can have a dead human body, but a human that is alive must be a person – they have a mind, a spirit, and a body. Show me an alive human that is missing one of these. There are none. In a similar way, you can’t be God yet not part of the Trinity. These are inseparable.

        1. Mark, do not know that there are people who do not consider Chalcedon valid? There are still many, many monophysites.

          It is not merely a legal construct…but a theological construct as well. Please look at the links at the bottom of the post.

          1. Yes I understand that there are many monophysites as I’m sure there are many nestorianists and many miaphysites. What is your point? Eutyches believed that the human nature of Christ was essentially absorbed into His divine nature in a way that both natures were changed to some degree which resulted in a third nature being formed. Are you implying this is the state of people with a disability or who identify themselves as LGBT?

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