The grave problem that confronts us culturally is to exist for self. In a metaphysic of Hellenic substance (to-be-in-self-and-not-in another), evil is understood as non-being. In the area of action, it is the non-reflection on the truth as norm of being and acting without the rule or measure of truth (See J. Maritain’s “Existence and the Existent”). The action is vitiated and shot through with “nothingness” (failure to conform to the right order of being), but the “substance” still stands in its ontological in-itself-ness.
However, if one steps into another “horizon” of perception of the self as subject, the “I,” who is only insofar as “it” is in relation to another because it is the image of divine Person of the Son who is nothing but relation to the Father as Son, then the “I” is not “I” if it does not go out of itself. It morphs and implodes into an "individual" [read "substance"].
Such a view is ontologically radical, and depending on the epistemological perspective. Concretely, if the only experience is sense experience and the abstraction from that which forms concepts and syllogistic reasoning, then the metaphysics of that reality must be a conceptual (and imagined) “thing-in-itself” that we call “substance.” But if there is another kind of experience that is of the self in the free moral act, then if we can do a phenomenology of that experience, we are no longer dealing with the Cartesian consciousness that has dominated modern thought until the present moment, and are in contact experientially with Being in a new way. Notice that this takes place in the relational act of moral action. And, it is the moral act of faith which is the supreme act of all acts because it is the only one that demands that we give our selves to the point of death: martyrdom. Notice again that faith is not merely a facultative act of intellect and will, but the existential exuberance of the dislocation of the entire self: Ecce ego quia vocasti me.
Faith, then, is the mime of the divine self-gift that is the divine Person (See also Wojtyla’s doctoral thesis: “Faith According to Saint John of the Cross”). This radical relationality is spelled out in “Introduction to Christianity” thus: “the First Person does not beget the Son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on top of the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving, ‘wave’ not ‘corpuscle’… [Ratzinger had used the analogy of the epistemology of modern physics where the material real from one perspective is wave, and from another corpuscle, and thus resonating between our conceptual categories. Only by transcending them to indeterminacy have we come to grips with quantum theory]. In this idea of relativity in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the ‘individual’” (p132 of the 1990 Ignatius edition). If you want, in the ACPQ 1992, I attempted to say something about this called “Person as Resonating Existential” somewhere on this blog. The huge point is that there are two kinds of experience – external senses and the self in moral action – that yield two kinds of “knowing,” the one conceptual, the other consciousness. To be honest, I got this straightened out reading Wojtyla’s “Acting Person” right from the beginning. The point is that Wojtyla does his own quite simple brand of phenomenology of the experience of the freely acting person and gives a metaphysical account of what has proved to be totally elusive for the whole history of philosophic thought: consciousness, and the “I” as Being that is its ground. That is, consciousness is not the “I” but the result of the “I” determining itself such as to possess itself and either give itself or not give itself.
If it gives itself, the “I” develops and grows. If it turns back on itself, the “I” does not maintain itself but withers and shrivels. It morphs from person into “individual.” I believe this is Benedict’s point on culture now. And that’s why “White Wulff” is on to something when he says: “The Logos is talking to the culture; meanwhile the culture is murdering its people. A few comments on this gruesome fact would help. The problem of time is in there somewhere.” The answer is not coming down hard and repression by structure in order to “make people good.” The problem is “conversion” from within – which in the parlance of Benedict is “The New Evangelization.” It’s a 2000 document that can be “googled.” Read it. It is vintage Ratzinger and subjacent to everything said on this trip to the U.S.
Concretely: immediately after pp. 131-132 of “Intro…” above, look at pp. 134-135 for the meaning of “for”: “The Son, as Son, and in so far as he is Son, does not proceed in any way from himself and so is completely on e with the Father; since he is nothing beside him, claims no special position of his own, confronts the Father with nothing belonging only to him, retains no room for his own individuality, therefore he is completely equal to the Father. The logic is compelling: if there is nothing in which he is just he, no kind of fenced-off private ground, then he coincides with the Father, is ‘one’ with him. It is precisely this totality of interplay that the word ‘Son’ aims at expressing. To John ‘Son’ means being-from-another; thus with this word he defines the being of this man as being from another and for others, as a being that is completely open on both sides, knows no reserved area of the mere ‘I.’ When it thus becomes clear that the being of Jesus as Christ is a completely open being, a being ‘from’ and ‘towards,’ that nowhere clings to itself and nowhere stands on its own, then it is also clear at the same time that this being is pure relation (not substantiality) and, as pure relation, pure unity. This fundamental statement about Christ becomes, as we have seen, at the same time the explanation of Christian existence” (134).
Let me add the quotes from then-Joseph Ratzinger on his take on the Hellenic metaphysical category of “substance:”
More recently, he refers to “person” as a “new philosophical category… a concept that has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man, the very center of philosophical thought;” J. Ratzinger, “The New Covenant,” in Many Religions – One Covenant Ignatius (1999) 76-770).
In the light of this, he remarks:
“The meaning of an already existing category, that of ‘relation,’ was fundamentally changed. In the Aristotelian table of categories, relation belongs to the group of accidents that point to substance and are dependent on it; in God, therefore, there are no accidents. Through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, relatio moves out of the substance-accident framework. Now God himself is described as a Trinitarian set of relations, as relatio subsistens. When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship; it means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence”(Ibid)
3) “I believe that if one follows this struggle in which human reality had to be brought in, as it were, and affirmed for Jesus, one sees what tremendous effort and intellectual transformation lay behind the working out of this concept of person, which was quite foreign in its inner disposition to the Greek and the Latin mind. It is not conceived in substantialist, but… in existential terms… Remaining on the level of the Greek mind, Boethius defined ‘person’ as naturae rationalis individual substantia, as the individual substance of a rational nature. One sees that the concept of person stands entirely on the level of substance. This cannot clarify anything about the Trinity or about Christology; it is an affirmation that remains on the level of the Greek mind which thinks in substantialist terms” [underline mine] (J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 [Fall, 1990] 448).
Let me add that every use of the phrase “gift of self” or “spousal love” by John Paul II is a reference to being “for.” “Spousal love” makes its first appearance semantically on p. 96 “Love and Responsibility” and carries on from there. It totally impregnates the magisterium of John Paul II from the “Theology of the Body” to the 14 Encyclicals, and on and on. Benedict has the same epistemological horizon in view continuously only it is taken from his theological work on John Henry Newman, Bonaventure, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa. Benedict is heavily ontological and reasoning, but it is always within the theological perspective. John Paul II is pre-eminently philosophical within the artistry of moral action from faith through the use of language. In a word, the whole Magisterium from Vatican II to the present moment is being beamed through the prism of the ontological “I” as intrinsically relational as gift. More than being about virtues of a substance, it is about the ontological transformation into “other Christs” as radical self-gifts, and hence, the universal call to sanctity in the world.
To suuplement the discussion, go to the International Catholic Review "Communio" 20 (Fall 1993)580-598 for a discussion on the topic between Fr. Norris Clarke, S.J. and David Schindler. Personally, I do not agree with either one since neither gives up the first order abstraction which is substance as "thing-in-itself" and basically juryrigs it with heavy accidental relation as action and/or receptivity. But the discussion is valuable to see the epistemological difficulty involved. My own solution consists in going into another horizon: consciousness as context and meaning of concepts.
Let me add for the sake of completeness Norris Clarke's "Person, Being and St. Thomas" in Communio 19 (Winter 1992) 601-618; Clarke's The Aquinas Lecture, 1993 "Person and Being;" "Discussion: The Person: Philosophy, Theology, and Receptivity," Long, Blair, Clarke, Schindler in Communio 21 (Spring 1994) 151-190.
Also, my own attempt to deploy the thomistic "esse" as the ground of the resonation between "substantiality" and "relationality:" "Relational Esse and the Person," Volume LXV, Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association (1991) 253-267.
Let me add further: a totally orthodox Modernism which we now have in the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent Magisteria, have Maurice Blondel and Henri de Lubac speaking of an intrinsic and constitutive relationality toward the Divine. De Lubac has offered a thomism that is intrinsically oriented toward the supernatural without a dualism of pure nature and grace. His controvertial but vindicted work has been "The Mystery of the Supernatural."
 J. Ratzinger, “The New Covenant,” in Many Religions – One Covenant Ignatius (1999) 76-770).
 J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 448.