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HeyJ LII (2011), pp.




University of Notre Dame, USA

The idea of the person, whether human or divine, has dominated theological discussion in many quarters of contemporary Orthodox theology.2 However, among the most contentious issues surrounding the development of Orthodox theological personalism has been the use and/or abuse of patristic sources in working out sophisticated concepts of God as person (and so persons) in communion, and the human being as potential person, called to incorruptible communion with God, his neighbour, and the world.3 Recently The Heythrop Journal published an important article dealing with this topic by Nicholas Loudovikos, a former student of John Zizioulas.4 What follows is both a response to Loudovikos article, and a preliminary attempt to reassess the parameters of the debate surrounding Orthodox personalism and patristics. Dealing mainly with the theology of John Zizioulas (given that he has been the chief target in recent challenges to the Orthodox personalist project), the issues that are raised by his defenders (including himself) as well as his detractors (especially Loudovikos) will be outlined. It will be argued that several positions are erroneously attributed to Zizioulas, certain valid criticisms notwithstanding. In conclusion, an appeal will be made to the theologian Vladimir Lossky for a nal cautionary yet constructive word on the merits and demerits of nding precedents for personalism in the early church. When looking at theological personalism in contemporary Orthodoxy, the rst step to take (one not often taken by its critics), is to establish what such theology is trying to do. As Aristotle Papanikolaou repeatedly asserts, for Zizioulas as well as Lossky, what lies behind their respective elaborations of personalist theology and anthropology is the realism of divine-human communion.5 For Papanikolaou, simply the fact that their theologies afrm the possibility of real communion between human beings and God (without undermining the nature or personal integrity of either) proves, in a way, that they stand in a patristic lineage: Zizioulas and Lossky are consistent with the Eastern patristic writers in the most substantial way insofar as they afrm as the core of theological discourse the realism of divine-human communion.6 Because of Papanikolaous reluctance to engage with patristic sources themselves, such a conclusion has to be taken at face value, and not all would be inclined to do so. However, his stress on an ideological continuity between the patristic period and the work of Lossky and Zizioulas is an important and often undervalued point. That theologians like Zizioulas are availing of modern and post-modern trends in philosophy (and even science) to engage with the contemporary world is not news to them, however much Lucian Turcescu, Nicholas Loudovikos and others like them would have us think otherwise.7 Zizioulas consciously draws on what he sees as philosophical
r 2011 The Author. The Heythrop Journal r 2011 Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.



achievements in thinkers such as Buber, Macmurray, Heidegger, Sartre, Levinas, and Lacan. However, the basic differentiating feature conditioning his thought is what he sees as a specically patristic and biblical idea regarding the potential, goal, and destiny of the human being, grounded in the doctrine of the personal God. This idea ultimately has to do with attaining undying life in freedom and in love, something impossible, according to Zizioulas, for any philosophical system.8 It is only possible, he explains, in the Eucharist, and hence through the Church. The Eucharist is, for him, the foretaste of true personhood, and the space in which the how of Gods being (as absolute personal communion in absolute personal otherness) is most clearly articulated. This appeal to the worshipping life of the Church as the basis for theological expression is perhaps the strongest general argument for patristic precedents in Zizioulas work. It is Zizioulas emphasis on personhood as the goal of the human being rather than the content of human identity here and now that undermines many of the arguments against patristic precedents to his thought. As he writes (his italics), the truth and the ontology of the person belong to the future, are images of the future.9 This means that if we are to explore the patristic sources for precedents, we must look at the patristic concepts of sanctication and deication rather than simply the uses and applications of words like atomon, prosopon, ousia and hypostasis (which is the usual approach in challenging Zizioulas). Zizioulas himself may place a little too much emphasis on the use and meaning of such words in the patristic period (something he tacitly acknowledges and yet continues to do in Communion and Otherness), but his theology of the person (particularly the human person) does not strictly depend on the minutiae of how these terms were variously applied in the early church. As Norman Russell, perhaps the foremost Western scholar of modern Greek theology, summarizes it: personhood becomes with Zizioulas a way of reexpressing what the Fathers meant by participation. For in virtue of its relational nature, personhood implies difference from God without division, as well as communion with him without confusion.10 In other words, patristic precedents need to be measured conceptually rather than terminologically, on the basis of Christian models of human potential and perfection. The tendency, particularly amongst patristic scholars, to challenge the legitimacy of personalist readings of the fathers by Zizioulas and others has led one theologian, Alan Brown, to pen a somewhat ery and provocative article defending the latter.11 He accuses the whole eld of Western patristic scholarship of being enslaved to a postliberal Anglican model which cannot acknowledge or accept any approach to the sources that is in conict or even tension with the historico-critical method. Such an approach (which seems to be characterized according to Brown by a dull, uncreative repetition or bland historical investigation of the texts) has seeped into Western Orthodox scholarship too, he claims. This results in making the consensus of Anglican patristic scholarship Orthodox theology simpliciter.12 From here he goes on to deplore this attitude encapsulated in the fact that Zizioulas position cannot be derived straightforwardly from the scholarly positions obtainable within the modes of enquiry acceptable within Anglican patristic scholarship which thence entails that it is therefore illegitimate as Orthodox theology.13 Whether or not Browns comments are justied, it is evident that the issue of Orthodox personalism touches not simply on narrow questions of matching a certain patristic text or patristic terms to this or that idea, but stirs up far wider questions related to how we in fact read, study, assimilate, and expound patristic (and not just patristic, but biblical) thought in the modern world. Apart from these general questions of methodology in Orthodox theology, there have been more specic criticisms of the personalism of Zizioulas, not least his use of patristic



sources, which deserve closer attention. One of the most outspoken critics who originated within Zizioulian ranks, as it were, is Nicholas Loudovikos, based in Thessaloniki and the UK. His criticisms have been most forceful in the recent article published by The Heythrop Journal (Person instead of Grace and Dictated Otherness: John Zizioulas Final Theological Position). In what follows I wish to respond to some of the major points raised by Loudovikos, since it is the most detailed and wide-ranging criticism of its kind yet to have appeared in the West. It essentially gives a summary of Loudovikos qualms about Zizioulian personalism, especially as expressed in the latters recent publication, Communion and Otherness. Reading the article, one must rst, I think, look beyond the element of hyperbole in Loudovikos arguments. How far he stands by his allusions is uncertain, but he nevertheless decides to associate aspects of Zizioulas thought not only with Gnosticism and Origenism, but also with Manichaeism, Arianism, Monothelitism, Monophysitism, Neoplatonism, Docetism, and (for good measure) an interminable narcissism.14 Looking beyond these various labels, we nd several clear points of disagreement, some ill-founded, it seems to me, others less so. Loudovikos rst major bone of contention is with Zizioulas use of the concept of nature. He claims that Zizioulas identies nature with necessity, whereas person is identied with freedom. He goes on to claim that Zizioulas relates the image of God in man not to nature, but to personhood, and further that the person is positively unrelated to nature. From here, he argues that Zizioulas conceives of personhood as against nature and as an escape from nature.15 Having made these claims, Loudovikos then uses several patristic sources (mainly Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor) to show that the concept of nature is in fact viewed by the fathers as necessary to the concept of person (not opposed), and that nature is personally constituted (for Maximus at least) because of its logos of being.16 The radical tension between nature and person in Zizioulas thought is indeed a problem when faced with the patristic evidence. Loudovikos may be right to emphasize the role of nature in a new way if Orthodox personalism is to maintain links with the patristic past. Yet the contours of Zizioulas position on the nature/person issue are a lot more nuanced than Loudovikos near caricature will allow. For one, the passages Loudovikos adduces to demonstrate Zizioulas position are mostly out of context, or even misquoted. Zizioulas does not, for instance, identify nature with necessity on pp. 18-9 of Communion and Otherness as Loudovikos would have us believe. These pages simply make the point that while creation is, by nature, perishable, the intervention of Gods personal freedom (which is, incidentally, the free gift or grace of God in Zizioulas), introduces the possibility of persistence and permanence to created being.17 What Zizioulas does consistently do, however, is identify an ontological necessity inherent in all nature that is outside Christ.18 Becoming a person, that is, being incorporated into Christ, is never described by Zizioulas as an escape or release from nature per se, but it is the personalization and/or liberation of nature; in short, one could say the fullment of nature (though Zizioulas shies from such terminology). Loudovikos cites Zizioulas as saying that the notion of the image of God in man cannot relate to nature . . . but to personhood.19 Firstly, the citation without omissions or emendations actually reads, it [the image of God in man] relates not to nature man can never become God by nature but to personhood.20 Furthermore, it is worth citing what precedes this: It is the how of human nature, that is, personhood, that . . . determines whether natures limitations will nally be overcome or not.21 Notice that personhood is described as the



how of human nature, a rare yet noteworthy testimony to the nuances in Zizioulas thought on this issue. Further, when Loudovikos accuses Zizioulas of arguing that the general category of person belongs to an entirely different category from that of nature it belongs to the realm of freedom and is in no way a natural category, or a part of nature, he is again misquoting.22 The context is a discussion of the Chalcedonian denition (not the human person generally). The actual quotation, with context, is:
The properties of each of the natures are exchanged by means of the person of the Word, a fact which enables the natures to remain unconfused. Conclusion: the created takes on the properties of the uncreated, not as part of its nature but as part of a relationship which is created by the person. But the person belongs to an entirely different category from the nature it belongs to the realm of freedom and is in no way a natural category, or a part of the nature. Thus and only thus can we have two natures and one person in the same being (namely, Christ). Otherwise, if the person were based on the nature, we would have had two persons, since we have two natures.23

Zizioulas is arguing here for the need to ensure that the person of Christ not be identied as a natural property in order to avoid the Nestorian assertion of two subjectivities or persons in Christ. On this count, then, he may not be so far from Maximus as Loudovikos would lead us to expect. Moreover, it demonstrates that if this and similar passages are the best that can be marshalled to the cause of Zizioulas alleged hatred for the concept of nature, then perhaps this apparent hatred needs to be re-assessed.24 The reason Zizioulas underplays nature (and, it is true, he does) is linked on the one hand to his desire to distance personal sanctication from the transmutation of nature into the nature of the Godhead, and on the other hand with an attempt to distinguish human nature in itself (which is bound to die), and human nature in Christ (baptized and in loving communion with God, and so fullled). Zizioulas is insistent that without a stark realization of the threat of death and nihilism in nature, we automatically relativise the potential of the human being, covering up the threat with empty laws, ideals, and other objects or causes that are ontologically irrelevant.25 Only by coming to Christ and his Church (which offers new birth through baptism), thereby freeing ones nature from these threats and nding authentic and everlasting personhood, can nature nd its proper telos. So while Zizioulas downplaying of nature in itself could perhaps be revisited on the basis of more afrmative patristic testimony regarding the concept (especially in terms of nature as already in the order of gift or grace, and living according to nature as a positive patristic concept), his Christocentric reasons for doing so are themselves quite patristic. A way of bridging his theology on this issue with Loudovikos and Zizioulas other detractors might be to clarify what each means by nature. It could be more protable and correct, for instance, to conceive of Zizioulas nature/person dichotomy as analogous to the Pauline esh versus spirit. This could, perhaps, explain and solve some of the misunderstandings and misgivings over Zizioulas approach to nature. The next most substantial arguments Loudovikos makes against Zizioulas have to do with the latters trinitarian theology. He claims that Zizioulas doctrine of God is devoid of an ousianic character, and sees no space for reciprocity in his model of the divine.26 On the rst point, he overstates his case (Zizioulas evidently afrms the divine ousia or essence, but as utterly unknowable and unapproachable, and conceivable only in terms of the way or how it is, that is, in terms of communion between the three persons, rooted in the person of the Father). However, it is true that Zizioulas reading of the creedal modication at the First Council of Constantinople (the removal of from the ousia of the



Father), together with his suspicions regarding the use of the homoousios, are slightly curious.27 On these counts, there does not appear to be much evidence to support him in the sources. Again, Loudovikos catches Zizioulas out on the use of atomon (individual) to describe the persons of the Trinity in the fathers, citing John of Damascus.28 However, Zizioulas had already recognized that some texts used atomon to describe the persons of the Trinity, yet maintains that any non-conciliar references to any divine person as atomon cannot be considered as normative.29 He sticks to his guns on this terminological issue, perhaps unwisely. The rest of the article by Loudovikos deals with a topic less directly related to the question of patristic precedents, namely the concept of dictated otherness that Loudovikos ascribes to Zizioulas. It is, again, something of a caricature, but does contain, it seems, one of the more signicant challenges to Zizioulas theology, which can in turn be related to patristic precedents. The argument is essentially that there is no reciprocal say-so between the Son and the Father as well as the Spirit and the Father, when the rst is begotten and the other proceeds: the otherness of Son and Spirit is dictated by the Father.30 However, this argument overlooks the following key statements from Communion and Otherness (p. 140):
Divine nature exists only when and as the Trinity emerges, and it is for this reason that it is not possessed by any person in advance . . . The co-emergence of divine nature with the Trinitarian existence initiated by the Father implies that the Father, too, acquires, so to speak, deity only as the Son and the Spirit are in existence (he is inconceivable as Father without them), that is, only when divine nature is possessed by all three.

If anything, reciprocity is key to the divine life in this passage. Loudovikos goes on to maintain that the alleged intra-trinitarian dictated otherness likewise applies to the Trinitys relationship with man, which Loudovikos claims is in a sense dictated. The Christian is loved, and therefore is, and so is merely a passive recipient of Gods love.31 Again, while Loudovikos may be going slightly too far, he underscores the noticeable lack of an ascetic ethos or an experiential element in the concept of the person according to Zizioulas. There are, of course, passing references to asceticism and its value (especially the value of obedience as a means to freedom),32 but his concern is above all to afrm a eucharistic and ecclesial ethos, and thus he distances himself from any language which might evoke an individualistic, non-ecclesial piety. This ecclesial-centred theology also accounts, it seems, for his general distaste for any overemphasis on the theology of the divine energies (or rather, the potential abuse of this theology), an otherwise prominent feature of contemporary Orthodox theology.33 The resulting absence of any strong ascetic mindset in Zizioulas work could, it seems, be much enriched by the ascetic theology of the early church, something Loudovikos begins to point towards. To give the ascetic tradition only a minor look-in when Zizioulas himself can afrm in a footnote that asceticism enables nature to be in an authentic manner, and that without the ascetic dimension, the person is inconceivable strikes the attentive reader as odd.34 If one were to want to base a personalist vision of the human being on early Christian concepts, perhaps the rst place to look would be the ascetic texts of Christian late antiquity. This is something already being done, incidentally, by the in his 1926 doctoral dissertation on The Problem of Serbian theologian Justin Popovic Personality and Cognition According to St. Macarius of Egypt. It is a topic that deserves serious re-visitation and elaboration.



All that said, it is hard to accuse Zizioulas and hence many other Orthodox personalists as non-patristic or as wildly unfaithful to the heritage of the early church. The result they wish to safeguard is not simply the realism of divine-human communion, which might be construed in an abstract sense, but more concretely the truth and institution of the Church of Christ as the only salvic Body on earth, the only gateway to divine-human communion; and this was a concept at the heart of all early church pedagogy and practice. At the same time, personalism has a complex philosophical history in the West, and what Turcescu describes as the foisting of personalist categories onto patristic texts is a delicate and difcult business.35 This modern aspect of personalism East and West and its relationship to patristic thought deserves a good deal more attention than it has received, and I intend to constructively pursue the topic in the future. To conclude, however, it would be worth turning to Vladimir Lossky for an admirable summary of the whole question. In an essay entitled The theological notion of the human person (rst published in 1951), he writes:
I do not intend to discourse on the notion of the human person either in the doctrines of the Church Fathers or in the works of other Christian theologians. Even if I had wanted to do so, I would have had to ask myself originally, to what degree this wish to nd a doctrine of the human person among the Fathers of the rst centuries is legitimate. Would this not be trying to attribute to them certain ideas which may have remained unknown to them and which we would nevertheless attribute to them, without realizing how much, in our way of conceiving of the human person, we depend upon a complex philosophical tradition upon a line of thought which has followed paths very different from the one which could claim to be part of a properly theological tradition? To avoid such unconscious confusion, as well as conscious anachronisms inserting Bergson into the work of St. Gregory of Nyssa or Hegel into the work of St. Maximus the Confessor we will refrain for the moment from all attempts at nding in these texts the outlines of a developed doctrine (or doctrines) of the human person such as might have arisen in the course of the history of Christian theology.36

He continues further:
For my part, I must admit that until now I have not found what one might call an elaborated doctrine of the human person in patristic theology, alongside its very precise teaching on divine persons or hypostases.37

However, this does not discount the enterprise according to Lossky (although it does put a few question marks against Zizioulas particular approach, even before he put pen to paper). The quest for a Christian personalist anthropology in the Fathers is certainly worthwhile, he argues, since man is created in the image and after the likeness of the personal God.38 It must, however, be pursued with care. With Losskys warnings in mind, as well as Loudovikos admonitions on certain aspects of the enterprise, pursuit of the question of personhood and patristics can receive, I would suggest, a new lease of life. In its details, especially in the theology of Zizioulas, but also in Yannaras and others, the assertion of precedents is often at least from a historians standpoint tenuous, particularly when we come to terminological questions or speculations based on little to no textual evidence. On the broader methodological level, however, as a project of neo-patristic synthesis39 aiming to speak to the contemporary world about the thoroughly patristic and biblical concept of the potential grandeur of the human being in Christ, the precedents are undeniable yet too often denied.
1 I am grateful to the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study for making the research for this article both possible and pleasurable.



2 The chief representative of Orthodox personalism in the West is John D. Zizioulas, a Greek Orthodox metropolitan and academic. His major works are Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1985) and Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church (London: T&T Clark, 2006). de Halleux, Personnalisme ou 3 For misgivings about the personalist enterprise of Zizioulas and others, see Andre ` res cappadociens?, Patrologie et Oecumenisme (Louvain: Peeters, 1990), pp. 215268, essentialisme trinitaire chez les Pe and the articles by L. Ayres, M. Barnes, and L. Turcescu in S. Coakley, ed., Re-Thinking Gregory of Nyssa (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003). The issue is briey discussed in N. Russell, Modern Greek Theologians and the Greek Fathers, Philosophy and Theology 18.1 (2006), pp. 7792. 4 N. Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace and Dictated Otherness: John Zizioulas nal theological position, The Heythrop Journal, no. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00547.x. As of writing, still on advanced access. 5 A. Papanikolaou, Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press), p. 2, and see his Is John Zizioulas an Existentialist in Disguise? Response to Lucian Turcescu, Modern Theology 20.4 (2004), pp. 6017. 6 Papanikolaou, Being with God, p. 160. 7 See especially L. Turcescu, Person versus Individual and other modern misreadings of Gregory of Nyssa, Modern Theology 18.4: (2002) pp. 97109 and Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace. 8 Cf. Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p. 43: Philosophy can arrive at the conrmation of the reality of the person, but only theology can treat of the genuine, the authentic person. 9 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p. 62. 10 N. Russell, The Doctrine of Deication in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 318. 11 A. Brown, On the Criticism of Being as Communion in Anglophone Orthodox Theology in D. Knight (ed.), The Theology of John Zizioulas (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 3578. 12 Brown, On the Criticism, p. 37. 13 Brown, On the Criticism, p. 401. 14 Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace, p. 3 (Gnosticism and Origenism), p. 5 (Manicheaism), p. 9 (Arianism), p. 10 (Monothelitism and Monophysitism), p. 12 (Neoplatonism), p. 13 (Docetism), p. 14 (Neoplatonism, Monothelitism, and Monophysitism), p. 5 (narcissism). 15 Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace, pp. 35. 16 Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace, p. 4. 17 Incidentally, Zizioulas is making his point on the basis of patristic evidence, namely the idea of nature as in itself bound for death, found in Athanasius On the incarnation 45 (PG 25.104/SC 199.27678), a passage crucial to Zizioulas. 18 See, for instance, Zizioulas, Being as Communion, pp. 35, 42, 44, 623n66, and in Communion and Otherness, the sentiment is conveyed, e.g. on p. 3. Loudovikos does not engage with Being as Communion in his article on the basis that he is looking at Zizioulas nal theological position. However, I would argue that Zizioulas never intends Communion and Otherness to be viewed in isolation from Being as Communion: it is a conscious continuation of the rst book, and so should be read in its light (and besides, the original publication of at least one chapter in Communion and Otherness predates those of Being as Communion). 19 Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace, p. 3. 20 Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, p. 165. 21 Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, p. 165 (his italics). 22 Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace, p. 3. 23 Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, p. 277. 24 It is unfortunate to have to point out another quotation out of context, but when Loudovikos cites Zizioulas as saying that the person points to an ontology which does not ultimately depend on the experience of this world (Communion and Otherness, p. 255), it should be noted that Zizioulas is speaking not of person here, but of the concept of presence, specically the perception of the presence of God in human life. 25 See especially Zizioulas, Being as Communion, pp. 4151, and Communion and Otherness, p. 3. See also Christos Yannaras on this issue, another target of Loudovikos attack: C. Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality (trans. E. Briere; Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1984), esp. p. 27 on the problem of such relativisation: Mans ethical problem ceases to be an existential one, a problem of how to be saved from natural necessity from space, time, the passions, corruption and death. It becomes a pseudo-problem of objective obligations which remain devoid of existential justication . . . the problem of salvation is obscured by a shadow that torments mankind, that of a law which leads nowhere. 26 Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace, p. 6. 27 See Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, pp. 190205. 28 Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace, pp. 67. 29 Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, p. 175. 30 Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace, pp. 89. 31 Loudovikos, Person instead of Grace, pp. 911. He cites especially Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, p. 89. 32 See especially Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, pp. 3016. 33 See Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, pp. 2830.



34 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, pp. 62-3n66. 35 Turcescu, Person versus Individual, p. 98. 36 V. Lossky, In the image and likeness of God (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1974), pp. 1112. 37 Lossky, In the image, p. 112. 38 Lossky, In the image, p. 112. It should be based, however, on Christology, specically Chalcedonian Christology: see Lossky, In the image, pp. 11723. This allows Lossky to declare that person signies the irreducibility of man to his nature. It is a question not of something distinct from another nature, but of someone who is distinct from his own nature, of someone who goes beyond his nature while still containing it, who makes it exist as human nature by the nature which he enhypostasizes and which he constantly exceeds. His conclusion is typically apophatic in character, and only God can know the content and meaning of the person. 39 Neo-patristic synthesis was a catch-phrase of Zizioulas mentor Georges Florovsky, on which see G. H. Williams, The Neo-patristic synthesis of Georges Florovsky in A. Blane (ed.), Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1977), pp. 295329.