Thursday, August 13, 2015

Person as Resonating Existential

(Published in the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly,1992, Vol. LXVI, No. 1, 39-56)

“The undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality.”

The question of finite substance and relation as equally valid primordial modes of reality is ultimately the question of being and time, of truth as absolute yet advancing. It is ultimately the question of the reconciliation of the absolute and the relative. If substance is being and truth, then it must be absolute and unchanging. Time, change and progress must be accidental appendages to substance and of secondary importance. If time, change and progress enjoy reality in a primordial way, then there can be no truth or unchanging being in a primordial way. Since Hegel, being and time have conceptually become more and more intertwined. “Being itself is regarded as time: the logos becomes itself in history.” The philosophic question of the utmost importance that needs to be addressed today is whether there is an identity of man with himself throughout history. Is there a truth that remains true in every historical time because it is true? Ultimately, the question becomes, what is man?

In this light, then, the above stated thesis of Joseph Ratzinger is at the core of the most important topic ending this millennium and beginning the next. That topic grapples with the nature of the person and hence the central concept on which the very meaning of society and civilization is built. “The problem of the subjectivity of the person, and especially this problem in relation to the human community, imposes itself today as one of the central questions concerning the world outlook.

This is at the basis of the human praxis and morality and at the basis of culture, civilization, and politics. The thesis as it stands is theologically derived from Ratzinger's consideration of the Trinity particularly in the light of St. Augustine. It appears in also Christology as the identity of person and office, or as he says it,

“Here there is no private area reserved for an `I’ which remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be `off duty;’ here there is no `I’ separate from the work; the `I’ is the work and the work is the `I’.”

And it appears most emphatically in his disagreement with the “misunderstanding” of the received philosophic tradition that construes the human person “from below” in terms of substance and accident. In the light of the Second Vatican Council’s assertion that “only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light,” that misunderstanding consists in seeing “Christ as the simply unique ontological exception.” That exception consists in rendering Christ “an object of highly interesting ontological speculation, but it must remain separate in its box as an exception to the rule and must not be permitted to mix with the rest of human thought.”

Here, I would like to propose that the epistemological shift that took place in the Second Vatican Council from object to subject with regard to the meaning of faith, should be mimicked in understanding the human person philosophically. As Wojtyla said, “I am convinced that the line of demarcation between the subjectivistic (idealistic) and objectivistic (realistic) views in anthropology and ethics must break down and is in fact breaking down on the basis of the experience of the human being.” Once we enter into the realm of the experience of the “I” as ontological reality (and merely consciousness), the dynamic of substance and relation as primary and secondary modes of being breaks down. They both can be understood as equally primordial and reciprocating dimensions of the self as being: self-discovery by self-gift. That is to say, both "substance" and "relation" can now be interpreted as resonating manifestations of the deeper existential core of the “I.” 

The ramifications are, of course, immense: globalization together with the autonomy of nations; the mutual resonance between solidarity and subsidiarity for the meaning of the entire social order; the reliance on the human person – working - as the defining center for the economic order; the inseparability of love making and life giving for human sexuality, the elimination of the antinomy between grace and nature: where grace is the divine relation of self-gift and nature is the person being loved and therefore capacitated for self-gift; the complementarity of faith and reason where faith activates the being (person) that reason sees (consciously) and reflects on (conceptually); the formation and development of persons by being affirmed; equality of the sexes though irreducibly different as ontological relations; the ministerial priesthood and priesthood of the laity as radically equal in the priesthood of Christ but irreducibly different in the relationality of their missions; the distinction between secularity and secularism.

The achievement of all of these depends on our ability to craft a metaphysic of the “I” as both in-itself and for-other in-resonance so as to translate Christology into anthropology and praxis so as place Christ at the summit of all human activities. 

Two streams of thought reach us concerning the notions of substance and relation. In the first, the classical Aristotelian notion of substance is an “active nature embedded in a network of relations” where substance has an.ontological priority as act-in-itself over relation as accident. This position, we could say, is an ontologically valuable model which explains reality well, up to a point. In it, however, there is an absolute ontological priority of substance over accident, as is evident from the ordinary and common sense use of the terms. This notion of substance was vitiated from Descartes and Bacon through Locke and Hume by their rejection of the notion of "form" or nature as intrinsic act.

 Thus, substance becomes understood as static structure, pure non-teleologic mechanism with regard to body and the rest of cosmic reality, and it becomes identified with the res cogitans on the side of "the mind." Substance, hence, is split into a mechanistic, static material structure on the one side and on the other into the Hegelian absolute spirit which rockets to earth as the Nietzschean Ṻbermensch, the unrelated autonomous individual. Relation survives but as pure accidental adjunct. Relations are not relations of life and communication but rather of domination, of "will to power." “To be” is to will and to will is to dominate. As Nietzsche says,

"A great man-a man whom nature has constructed and invented in the grand style-what is he.... If he cannot lead, he goes alone; then it can happen that he may snarl at some things he meets on the way. .. he wants no 'sympathetic' heart, but servants, tools; in his intercourse with men he is always intent on making something out of them. He knows he is incommunicable: he finds it tasteless to be familiar... .When not speaking to himself, he wears a mask. He rather lies than tell the truth...." 

The other stream of thought, which is the collapse of being into pure relatedness, springs from the reduction of material reality into res extensa, stripping it of any "formal" causality or intrinsicness.

Real being tends to be reduced to nothing more than a pattern of relations with no subjects grounding them, or a pattern of events with no agents enacting them. The fundamental polarity within real being between the 'in-itself' and the `toward others,' the self-immanence and the self-transcen¬dence of being, collapses into the one pole of pure relatedness to others.

Maritain says it best when paraphrasing Bergson,

"Duration, concrete and real time, is pure change, that is to say, change without anything which changes; it is an activity without substratum; a creation without thing created and without thing which creates; a flux, a flowing constantly adding to itself, swelling as it advances, without however being something which flows and swells." 7

The scandal of such process thought consists in it being fundamen¬tally unthinkable. In his critique of "Bergsonism of fact," Maritain counters that

this metaphysics of pure change must be considered as not thinkable. For to say that change is the very substance of things is to say that things change inasmuch as they are and in so far as they are. And therefore in so far as they are they cease to be what they are, they leave their being, they no longer are what they are but are something else.

More to the point when affirming relations as ungrounded in substance, Wilhelmsen turgidly affirms the absurdity of it when he remarked, “accidents are in their subjects and relations belong to the genus of accidents.” It is unthinkable to affirm accidents as happening to noth ing. Therefore, it seems that relations are indeed “had” by substance as accidents. To be a relation, simply in itself, is unthinkable.
This brings us to a point of stock-taking: (1) either man is a substan¬tial
Uebermensch with no relationality except that of dominion, and such a relation, which is ultimately for self, would be necessarily accidental; or (2) man is pure relation (as becoming) or a nexus of relations with no underlying or developing substantiality; or, (3) we are looking for a new model of being where substance ,and relation would be "equally valid primordial mode(s) of reality."


The provocative cause for refocusing the discussion of the interplay between substance and relation is the enormous ground swell that pretends to explain person as a relational being. The quiet introduction of this notion began in the years 1918 and 1919 with Ebner, Buber, Marcel and Rosenzweig. Von Balthasar calls this “simultaneous emergence of the 'dialogue principle' in thinkers who could not be farther of the strangest phenomena of 'acausal contemporaneity' in the history of the intellect.” With the introduction of the notion of person in the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, #24, as "achieving self by the gift of self," the notion of person as "gift," and hence as relation, has universally and constantly been offered as the core concept in all the papal pronouncements and magisterial offerings in the last 26 years since Vatican II and particularly in the last 13 years in the pontificate of John Paul II. That this notion has impacted heavily in the East as a rallying point for Solidarity and in the collapse of Marxism, as well as in the West where it collides with the individualism of what we could call the "autonomous man," gives testimony to the enormous import of the notion. Hence the need to review the metaphysical state of the question and probe possible new solutions to explain it.

Fr W. Norris Clarke, S.J., confronted with the reduction of being “to nothing more than a pattern of relations with no subjects grounding them” proposes a return to the classical notion of substance and relation of Aristotle as absorbed within the existentialism of St. Thomas and enlightened by such process thought as Alfred North Whitehead's. Fr. Clarke understands substance to be “the integrating center of a being's activities, a center which is constantly pouring over into self-expression through its characteristic actions and at the same time constantly integrating or actively assimilating all that it receives from the action of other substances on it.” This dynamic center is changing; yet it is self-identical because, Clarke says, the change is accidental. Again, he calls it a "perduring principle of dynamic self-identity in an interacting system." Fr. Clarke gives heavy emphasis to St. Thomas's notion of the act of existence (esse) which "powers" that center but itself is not that center. That center is "substance." Consequently, sensitive as Fr. Clarke is. to the relational dynamics entering into and pouring forth from substance, still, being means substance. Ultimately, relation will always be accidental and therefore not an "equally valid primordial mode of reality" with substance.

Lewis S. Ford, a process philosopher, in his treatment of a topic intimately connected with the interconnection of substance and relation, viz., divine immutability (substance) and God's knowledge of contingent things (relation), offers the proposal that the dynamics of relation (knowledge of contingents) could take precedence over the immutability of substantial structure. Without getting into the polemic of the article, I would like to highlight Ford's suggestion. He says,

Given a totality that is both dynamic and static, what would the whole be? It could not be static, for if it changed in any part, then the whole would be changed to that extent. Only the dynamic could be the more inclusive. If there is also divine intentional consciousness, it would include any immutable inner being .... As subject it includes all intentional being as its object, as well as God's inner being. 12

Basically what Ford is objecting to is the hegemony of substance in the ontology of St. Thomas and Clarke. He is not objecting to the notion of substance, but he is objecting to the one-sided identification of substance with being and the real. Ford is implying with Whitehead, modifying him, that being is self-creative; that the process of relationality will precede substance in some way and develop it. "For Thomas, God creates the being by communicating to it its act of being. In my modification of Whitehead, God communicates to the creature its power of becoming whereby the creature acts by creating itself." This notion will meld with the following presentation of MacIntyre.

Alasdair MacIntyre richly develops the thesis in "After Virtue" that there is no subject, self or substance outside of the context of relations, history or story. Germane to the topic, Macintyre affirms that historical, genetic, familial relations are in no way "accidental" to the identity of the subject, self or substance. He says that

“[i]n many pre-modern, traditional societies it is through his or her membership in a variety of social groups that the individual identifies himself or herself and is identified by others. I am brother, cousin and grandson, member of this household, that village, this tribe. These are not characteristics that belong to human beings accidentally, to be stripped away in order to discover 'the real me.' They are part of my substance, defining partially at least and sometimes wholly my obligations and my duties. Individuals inherit a particular space within an interlocking set of social relationships; lacking that space, they are nobody, or at best a stranger, or an outcast. To know oneself as such a social person is however not to occupy a static and fixed position. It is to find oneself placed at a certain point on a journey with a set of goals; to move through life is to make progress-or to fail to make progress-toward a given end...'Call no man happy until he is dead.'

Maclntyre then goes on to balance this thesis concerning the constitutive character of relations by affirming with equal emphasis and scholarship the thesis of structural self-identity (substance). He maintains that the social, historical, narrative context (relation) is "[n]ot more fundamental than that of personal identity (substance). The concepts of narrative, intelligibility and accountability presuppose the applicability of the concept of personal identity (substance).... The relationship is one of mutual presupposition." He dramatizes the question, "What am I to do?" and answers it with "Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?" In other words, I am this self from the context and the self-determination in the context in which I find myself. The relation defines how I will freely define myself. Throughout the work, Maclntyre seems to be calling for the perception of the relational context as "an equally valid primordial mode of reality."


I would like to introduce a narrative, according to the line suggested by Maclntyre, which would dramatize a shift from substance to subject, from substance to person. The value of employing a narrative technique consists in lifting the entire question out the realm of philosophical abstraction where the person is precisely left out of the analysis because he is treated as substance. Narrative returns the subject or person to the field of analysis so that the very interaction as relation which is the plot of the narrative can be studied. The narrative account which reveals personality in its sharpest terms is the gospel account of the rich young man. The rich young man asks Jesus Christ the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Christ answers first with the law of nature, for Everyman let us say, on the level of substance, i.e., have you kept the commandments? Have you lived according to your nature? This is a key question for- Everyman, and the answer for all should be the same because the requirements are the same.

I would compare this part of the narrative with a distinction drawn by Karol Wojtyla as, an introduction to his own thought. He distinguishes between the metaphysical abstraction of the Aristotelian definitions of man as "rational animal" or the Boethian "individual substance of a rational nature," both of which are on the level of substance, and the work of phenomenological description which must be made to sketch out the "irreducible subject" who is the "I." He insists that in order to be realists, we must be faithful to the lived experience of subjectivity (erlebnis) and come to grips with the person in his unique existential reality as subject. He distinguishes this clearly from subjectivism and its consequent idealism. We might call the stage of the questioning of the rich young man concerning the commandments the cosmological stage preparing for the next level, the personalist, which begins with Christ "looking" at him and "loving him."

Here the calling forth of the person begins. There is a shift to a new phase which suggests to me in the light of Wojtyla's analysis that there is a shift from the abstraction of substance which has left the individual subject out of consideration to focus on that subject. And, the focus on that subject takes place precisely by the relation of "looking," "loving" and "calling."

Receiving love: The first step in what we could call "personagenesis" seems to be passivity, receptivity of love from another. "It is only through God's calling Adam, `Where art thou?' that the latter's `Here I am' reveals to man, in the answer, his being as related to God. The ego is at the outset wrapped up in itself and dumb; it waits for its being called-directly by God and indirectly by the neighbor.” 18 Josef Pieper concurs that

“[ does not suffice us simply to exist; we can do that 'anyhow.' What matters to us, beyond mere existence, is the explicit confirmation: it is good that you exist; how wonderful that you are! ... That is an astonishing fact when we consider it closely. Being created by God actually does not suffice, it would seem; the fact of creation needs continuation and perfection by the creative power of human love. 19

And so, Christ's looking on him and loving him is translated into the most personal vocation, "Come follow me." If the rich young man says "yes," he ceases to be Everyman, to be mere substance, and becomes the beloved "I." In contradistinction to the notion of substance, the subject, the "I," becomes "I" only by having first received love from another person. "In the love of the mother the child finds its consciousness and its self. In the mother's heart it finds the support to firm its groping, fragile existence into a form." Going a step back, we arrive at the very relation of creation itself where else is a relational gift that cannot anticipate substance but must coincide with it. In a word, there is no such thing as non-relational substantiality, even less a non-relational subject or person.

Glossing Summa Contra Gentiles IV, 11, of St. Thomas, Josef Pieper
emphasizes the phenomenon of direct proportionality between "intrinsic existence" and relationality throughout the hierarchical range of being from rock to person. 'Me implication is that there is an originating core of which intrinsicness and relatedness are manifestations. It suggests that reality is not substantial being with accidental relations to the "outside" but rather that it is precisely "an inside" that is relating.

It is essential for any genuine relationship to originate from an inside and extend toward an outside .... The higher the form of intrinsic existence, the more developed becomes the relatedness with reality, also the more profound and comprehensive becomes the sphere of this relatedness: namely the world. And the deeper such relations penetrate the world of reality, the more intrinsic becomes the respective subject's existence.

Having established that, for the sake of true realism, subject or person is to be erected on the "metaphysical site" of substance (otherwise we would be dealing with an abstraction) and that the subject or person is a dyad of subject and received relation of love, we return to our narrative of the rich young man. Now, awakened as affirmed and called forth from substance to subjectivity, he must choose to act in response to the call: "Come!" But having been loved and called in that love, he is raised to a new level as person and must choose from that new level. He is "more an 'I'" than before he was loved and called.

Giving love: The narrative solidifies us in the existential and relational (non- abstract) world of the subject. Wojtyla isolates this moment as precisely the moment of "becoming a person." Let us call this the heart of the dynamism of "personagenesis." For it, he reserves the name "vertical transcendence" in which the will, "as the essential of the person" and not as a power (see below), determines itself. That means that in order to give the self to another (or, sadly, back to oneself), the self, as will, must actualize itself, "structuralize" itself, in order to give itself. That is the same as saying that the person determines himself in the very act of transcending self in performing an act as service for another. To transcend self and be relational are the same concept. It is important to note that as the awakening of the "I" as a substance was initiated by the love and call of another person affirming it (the "I"), so also, there can be no growth of the "I," no further self-determination, no increased structuralization, without the gift of self to another person. Therefore, "you only become what you do." This is tantamount to saying that doing precedes being, esse sequitur agere, process coalesces into structure.

Since the dynamic is "personagenesis," let it be noted immediately that any human action performed by a person must be "for someone." It is always for a person, self or other.2A And since the nature of being is intrinsically (i.e., constitutively) relational because it is created in the image and likeness of the Divine Persons who are relationalities in themselves, "to-be-for-another" becomes the very meaning of morality and the reason for the "growth" in being by a self-determination which is for another and not self-referential. Therefore, "[m]an cannot give himself to a purely human plan for reality, to an abstract ideal or to a false utopia. As a person, he can give himself to another person or to other persons, and ultimately to God, who is the author of his being and who alone can fully accept his gift.

Karol Wojtyla explains the dynamic in the following way:

The term 'self-determination' means that man as subject of his action not only determines this action as its agent ... but through this very act at the same time determines his own self. The moment of transcendence [i.e., relation] of the person by an act is based on self-determination ... Thus human action not only transcends its subject, but at the same time remains in it, keeping its intransitivity in its subject 'man'.... While determining them [his actions] he is at the same time fully aware that owing to their personal quality, owing to their moral value, whether positive or negative, they in turn determine him; moreover, they continue to determine him even when they have passed.

We could say that his actions "continue to determine him" because he has most literally become what he did. Agere has become esse. This must affect the notion of virtue as we shall see below.

The dynamic seems to be mutual interaction of structure and relation in the simultaneous moment of self-determination. The more he receives, the more he is himself. The more he gives himself as gift, yet more is he himself. The more he is himself, the more he is able to give, the greater the outreach and depth of the relation. Again, the more I relate the more I become myself; the more I become myself, the more I relate. First agere precedes esse, then else precedes agere. This is the free moral moment of “personagenesis.” The whole process must begin with a minimum self who chooses this act in behalf of another person. But to choose this act, I am co-creating-letting the Divine Motion actualize through me--a more definite, determined, actualized "Me." I most literally achieve myself, determine, fulfill, actualize, "substantialize" myself at the precise moment that I transcend myself (relate) and give myself away to another in act. I become what I do. Esse sequitur agere. Then, I do what I have become. And, besides, the moral correctness of the act-if done true-to-being-translates into joy, because it is an "ek-stasis" of the self which is what it means to be in the image of the trinitarian Persons. The free process of transcending relation is so ontologically profound that, as it takes place, the "to be" (esse) coalesces into an ever increasingly substantial structure. This structure, the more developed "I," now a-growing, in turn self-determines in ever more extensive and profound choices of self-gift. The result is an ever increasing relationality and intrinsic existence the asymptote of which, in the order of grace, is to be “alter Christus.”

This coincides with the notion that man as person is an “unfinished being” who is his own project. Of course, there must be some minimum of substantiality given with the creation of man, because every relation of love (and creation is an immense act of love) coalesces into some ontological structure. “The dynamic structure of self-determination tells man every time anew that he is simultaneously given to himself as a gift and imposed upon himself as a task... as someone who is an assignment to himself.” Ratzinger sums up this dynamic as exemplified in John Henry Newman: “All of Newman's life was a process of conversion; he 'transformed' himself often, and in this way remained always himself while becoming ever more himself.”


Let us return to our initial reference to finite being in which we are seeking the solution to reconciling being and time, the absolute and the relative, substance and relation, truth and process, the static and the dynamic. The answer is always before our eyes in life itself. In all living things, growth means becoming more identically self. The body develops from immaturity to maturity through a constant process, yet becomes ever more identically itself. In a seven year period, all the numerical matter is replaced in the human body. A 56 year old man (myself) has a completely new material organism down to the bones, eight times over. Yet, it is always his body. Scientists are less reluctant, today, to affirm this dynamic teleology of the living organism embracing under its rubric the phenomena of “homeostasis, immunological response or lactation.” When there occurs a lesion of an organ, it can be frequently compensated by a spectacular transmutation of other already specified tissue into the structure and function of the `more necessary" pathological organ. A similar phenomenon is mirrored in the development of thought insofar as thought is an imaging of reality. It grows without changing. St. Vincent of Lerins, followed by John Henry Newman, said the following:

Development (of the Faith) means that each thing expands to be itself, while alteration means that a thing is changed from one thing into another. The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all ... ought ... to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries, but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.¬

I would like to propose a Heisenberg-like solution where the ultimate reality we are discussing is neither substance nor relation in isolation but rather an existential core which is mysterious in itself but emergent as a resonating two-dimensional structure, a dyad, of progressive substantiality and relationality. John Caputo offers a rich phenomenology along the lines of a dyadic nature of person which is identity and non-identity, face/surface and sub-face. He defines person as "the being in whom these two, identity and surpassal, intersect." He speaks of person as "the locus of transcendence ... the resonance ... (as)the rumbling of ...transcendence."
It is in this context that I would like to suggest my own proposal. John Caputo describes the person in such terms as "deep ground,"

"the place within us which (is] ... mystery, ambiguity, undecidability, the desert and which lies at the far remove of proof and disproof, of scientific determination ... ambiguity [that] does not dissolve, even though we make a decision,...a deep decision, a deep hermeneutic resolve, a deep construal.
He does not want to resolve the ambiguity but rather "to point to an ontological structure."

I believe that the "deep. ground" is an ontological structure beyond both the increasing (or decreasing) structure of the "I" and the relational self-gift of that "I." I believe the underlying reality to be the "I" itself as existential core. The proposal is to identify the "I" with the Thomistic act of existence (esse), and the kind of existence we are dealing with is what St. Thomas calls "to understand" (intelligere). St. Thomas under¬
stands the act of existence to be the source of every dynamism since it is the source of every operation and action. He understands it to be intrinsically and constitutively expansive and self-developing, self-determining and relational in our case, unless limited by a really distinct principle. 'ro understand' would be a human and personal "to be, “limited at the level of immateriality which is thought and will with its infinite openness to all reality and its corresponding intrinsicness (structure). This kind of act of existence, because of its degree of immateriality and intellectuality, is a freedom which would be self-determining. What I envision to be going on is this simultaneous "relating-to-other/structuring-of-self” process which "intelligere" undergoes in its dynamic of expansion and which is constitutive of this kind of act of existence as created and "intensive" else. Since there is a double dimension to it, each one forming a higher stage for the next-the more relational, the more determination of structure, the more structure, the greater the relation-the concept of "resonating" suggests itself as the best description, even though they are simultaneous. Also, to apply the concept of "resonance" to the dynamics of the process impedes the reifying tendency of the human intellect to polarize the person with the structure alone which becomes identified with substance. I believe this to be the cause of the continual identification of person or subject with substance leaving relation always in the secondary position of "accident." Ultimately, then, being will not mean substance. "Substance" will be one of the resonating modes of "to be" which, in turn, is deeper and 'beyond" substance as person. Self-identity will not take place on the level of substance, but on the level of this existence, this subject. Substance will actually be a relativized, growing intrinsicness as the relationality becomes more expansive and profound.


The question can be raised, "What is operative virtue?" The question is germane since virtue has been the classical site to locate the actualizing of finite being. But all actualizing has been seen to be accidental. Operative virtue has traditionally been defined as the habit of a power. As such, virtue is a habit of a power of a subject, i.e., it is an accident of an accident of a substance. To make it clear that the treatise on the virtues is using substance as its model, St. Thomas says, “The name `habit' is taken from having .... (I]f to have refers to a thing's being conditioned in a certain way in itself or in regard to something else, then habit is a quality....” The "having" is done by substance and the “quality” is an accident of substance; “...quality, properly speaking, implies some mode of a substance.” 

Now, in the light of my analysis above and the common experience of men, the suggestion is being made that there may be a different model to explain the becoming of the person as person. As Ratzinger said of Newman, “he `transformed’ himself often, and in this way remained always himself while becoming ever more himself.” That model being suggested would be the resonating dynamic of the act of existence which (who), instead of increasing accidentally in being, would be increasing in substantial determination. By exercising myself in true-to-being actions, I have the experience of actually “being more myself” by my self-giving. Wojtyla affirms that “while determining them [his freely chosen actions], [man] is at the same time fully aware that ... they [his actions] in turn determine him; moreover, they continue to determine him even when they have passed.” It seems clear that Wojtyla is referring to the structural state of self-determination rather than to an accidental status of virtue. The failure to move away from the substantialist model, used to explain the increase of actuality through true-to-being activity, tends to obliterate the real nature of self-definition and relegate it to the secondary status of accidental accretion, virtue, added on to substance extrinsically. This has tended to mire us in extrinsicism (as will be exemplified below in the Schindler/Weigel debate) and obfuscate the real issue of the virtues, i.e., to be more.
By way of example, consider such simple, obvious cases as understanding a concept better only after having explained it. One learns to do by doing. There is not first the full, “substantial” appreciation of the concept in all of its detail and application, and then the explanation. Rather, the explanatory process precedes the substantial fullness. It seems that reality grows (structure) as it is lived (relation). And living, as we saw, always involves this resonating between increasing relationality and intrinsicness of existence (structure).
There is, besides, a most telling example being given to us concerning this transmutation of the notion of virtue. The notion of faith has, until the Second Vatican Council, been construed as a virtue of supernatural origin informing the faculties of intellect and will. The act of faith itself was considered formally a conceptual act under the impulse of the will. The act of acceptance in conceptual terms responded to the revelation by God in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. As such, the act of faith is considered as an accident of the faculties of intellect and will. The document on divine revelation, Dei Verbum, of Vatican II moves to new terrain. It puts faith on the plane of a total conversion of self to the Person (Jesus Christ) of the revealing God. “`The obedience of faith’ must be given to God as he reveals himself. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God ...(#5).” It is evident from this example that we are not dealing with virtue as an accident of a power but with the giving of the substantial self contained in the notion of conversion. The center of focus moves from virtue as accident to the enhancing of the subject as the locus of self-giving and self-determining. It takes place at the intrinsic core of being, not at its periphery. Ratzinger says,

The phrase 'I believe' could here be literally translated by 'I hand myself over to In the sense of the Creed, and by origin, faith is not a recitation of doctrines, and acceptance of theories about things of which in themselves one knows nothing and therefore asserts something all the louder, it signifies a movement of the human existence; to use Heidegger's language, one could say that it signifies an 'about turn' by the whole person which from then on constantly structures one's existence.

Think also of such structurally-enhancing realities as being forgiven in the very measure that we forgive; or "blessed is she who believed" or "my soul magnifies the Lord because he has seen the lowliness of his handmaid" where the structural state of blessedness and greatness is the result of the relational "obedience of faith" and humble service.

Karol Wojtyla makes a crucial distinction between the will as a power (and therefore an accident of substance) and the will as an "essential of the person" (i.e., "substantial" as intrinsic). He says, “Man owes his structural 'inalienability' (incommunicability) to the will to the extent to which self-governance is realized by the will, and in acting this is expressed and manifested as self-determination. If this structural trait of the whole person were to be left out of our discussion, it would be impossible to understand the will correctly and to interpret it adequately.” It is the will, not as power, but as “essential of the person” that we can understand self-determination and “personagenesis.” As power, the will can desire the good and choose, but it does not choose in such a way as to make a gift-of-self by self-determination. “The essential function of acts of will, whether of simple willing or of that more complex choice resulting from counteracting motives, is not the tending itself to the object (to the value as object), but the determining of the subject.” Only by the determining of the subject will there be what he calls “vertical transcendence” which is the gift-of-self to another self. It is clear from the analysis, that whatever the will is, it is identified with the person, the self, in his deepest reality and not to be confused with the extrinsic or accidental. It seems, then, that “will” in this sense is the very “to be,” the “intellegere” which is the person.

The above distinction lends itself to immediate application in an important polemic. It is the very nub of the disagreement in the debate of David Schindler vs. George Weigel, i.e., whether American culture is bourgeois. Weigel seems naively to assume that the ontological model of man is substance-cum-accidental operations, which are patently ex¬trinsic: church attendance, voluntary services, etc.
He assumes that since the doings are relational, man must be relational. What he fails to question (and Weigel considers this "arid terrain") is whether such relationality is extrinsic or intrinsic, accidental or constitutive. Extrinsic relation seems to suffice for him. Not for Schindler. Schindler maintains that what seems to be a strong sense of relation (community) in the American founding was not really strong but essentially "voluntarist," i.e., insufficient insofar as it is extrinsic. He finds the ontological model of American society to be individual substance, i.e., “... relation (community) is not given with human being: ...the human being, precisely in its ontologic, remains autonomous (unrelated).” 47 Schindler is convinced, with Ratzinger, that only the intrinsic relationality to God of persons seeking personal sanctity can heal a society. Hence, Schindler is in search of an ontologic of intrinsic structure and relationality which would be an “equally valid primordial mode(s) of reality.” He rejects, with Wojtyla and Ratzinger, the substance/accident model to best describe the human person.

We began with the challenge of Joseph Ratzinger, originating in the theology of the Trinity, to offer an ontological model of being in which substance and relation were each primordial modes of reality. The topic coincides with the perennial struggle to reconcile being with time, the absoluteness of truth with change. The topic has historically been handled on the level of an abstraction where either absolute substance (Nietzsche) or absolute relation (Bergson) prevailed; or a combination of both, such as substance and accident (Aristotle) or essence and the “to be” of St. Thomas where both gave an adequate explanation of the antinomies up to a point. But none of them has been able to give a satisfactory ontological model to explain this ever-emerging awareness of personas-an intrinsically relational being. It would be patently false to affirm person as "nothing but" relation as it would be patently false to straitjacket the notion with a relationality which would be mere accident, and hence not intrinsic'nor constitutive.
Karol Wojtyla may have provided us with such a model in his change of methodology to a phenomenology of the acting subject who is a self-determining existential whom he calls the person. By emphasizing the double effect of the person as intrinsic will, i.e., (a) the transcending action itself and (b) the immanent and lasting determination within the agent (the literal self-determination), we have a model for growth by relating. Such a model relativizes what hitherto we may have been “reifying” as substance, be it static or dynamic. Whatever the case, the identity of the self has been perennially located in substance. With the Wojtyla model, the substance “grows,” i.e., it is relativized, thus liberating the absolute and experiential identity of the self into an existential absoluteness, a deeper freedom, which is identical as he grows in his structural intrinsicness. My effort consists in proposing a metaphysical solution for the phenomenological description of self-determination. This proposal consists in seeing substance and relation as two resonating dimensions manifesting a deeper core, a kind of Heisenberg constant, which is the act of existence itself. As an act of existence, the person would be unconceptualizable, not as lacking intelligibility but as a superfluity of it, while yet manifesting facets variously, now as act, now as growing (or diminishing) structure in a resonating mutual causality. Since all ethical and social structure flows from what we understand person to be, the ramifications of such a proposal as offered above are many and deep. Such a notion represents a task to be achieved, a project for the next millennium.

South Orange, New Jersey 1992/New York, N.Y. 2005


Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius (1990), 132.
Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 16.
Karol Wojtyla, “The Task of Christian Philosophy Today,” Proceedings of the ACPA, 52 (1979) 3.
J. Ratzinger, Introduction… op. cit. 149-150: “For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicalbe. The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer divisible… Jesus did not perform a work that could be distinguished from his `I’ and depicted separately. On the contrary, to understand him as the Christ means to be convinced that he has put himself into his word. Here there is no `I’ (as there is with all of us) which utters words; he has identified himself so clsely with his word that `I’ and word are indistinguishable: he is word. In the same way, to faith, his work is nothing else than the unreserved way in which he merges himself into this very work; he performs himself and gives himself; his work is the giving of himself.”
Gaudium et Spes #22.
J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio Fall (1990) 449.
K. Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Person,” Analecta Husserliana, 7 (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1978), 210.
W. Norris Clarke, S.J., To Be Is To Be Substance-In-Relation in FestSchrift for Ivor Leclerc (1992).
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue University of Notre Dame Press (1984) 257-258 (emphasis mine).
Clarke, 2.
Jacques Maritain, Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955) 128.
Maritain , Ibid., 318.
Frederick Wilhelmsen, “Creation as a Relation in St. Thomas Aquinas” in Being and Knowing, Albany, NY: Preserving Christian Publications, Inc. (1991) 143.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama I Ignatius (1988) 626.
W. N. Clarke, S.J. "What is Most and Least Relevant in the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Today?", International Philosophical Quarterly, 14 (1974), 426.
Lewis S. Ford, from The Universe As Journey: Conversation with W. Norris Clarke, S.J., eds., Gerald A. McCool, S.J., and W. Norris Clarke, S.J. (New York: Fordham, 1988), 119.
Ibid. 125
MacIntyre, 33-34.
Ibid. 218 parenthesis mine).
Mark 10, 17.
K. Wojtyla, op. cit. 210.
Karl Lowith, in Will Herberg’s From Marxism to Judaism: Collected Essays of Will Herberg, (New York: Markus Wiener Publishing: 1989), 80.
'Josef Pieper, An Anthology, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 30.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Convergences, Ignatius (1983) 128.
Josef Pieper, Living the Truth, Ignatius (1989) 81-83.
This is the phrase Wojtyla uses to describe the definition of person as substance. He says: "...the definition of Boethius determines above all the 'metaphysical site,' or in other words the dimension of being in which the personal subjectivity of man is realized, creating, so to speak, the right conditions for building upon this 'site' on the ground of experience" (cfi. “Subjectivity and the Irreducible…,” 109). The “metaphysical site,” according to Wojtyla, is the abstractive definition “rational animal,” or “individual substance of a rational nature.” This is useful and necessary, but incomplete as noetically unrealistic. This is the locus of the insertion of phenomenology into the philosophical methodology.
Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” 107,, Analecta Husserliana, (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1978), vol. 10.
K. Wojtyla, “The Degrees of Being from the Point of View of the Phenomenology of Action,” Analecta Husaerliana, 11 (1981), 127.
“Having come substantially into existence, man changes one way or another with all his actions and with all that happens in him: both these forms of the dynamism proper to him make something of him and at the same time they, so to speak, make somebody of him.” K. Wojtyla, The Acting Person, op. cit. 96-97. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, May 1, 1991, USCC Publication, #41.
Guardini describes, with Kierkegaard, this ascending resonance of being and doing as "leaps" of decision and daring in the process of becoming a person. He describes it as coming to the brink of his hitherto existing level of existence: “he divines the new level and its demand upon him. In order to satisfy the demand, he must let go of the present level and' leap' to the next. He must leap, because he receives no guarantee from his old position that he will gain a foothold on the new one, for the latter is of a higher kind and thus 'other'. He must thus take the risk. Between the two levels lies an abyss, an obscurity. Man must, in the earnestness of the decision, gather himself together, raise himself out of himself, and throw himself across. Then he gains a footing and is able to exist on a higher level; his eyes are opened to a new and superior reality; a new power of evaluation awakens and he is able to appreciate and to love on a higher level;” in “Pascal For Our Time,” (New York: Herder and Herder, 1966), 20-21.
K. Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible…” op. cit. 112.
30 Days, (July-August, 1990) , 59.
Jonathan Jacobs, “Teleology and Reduction in Biology,” in Biology and Philosophy 1, (1986), 389-99. Also, the whole body forms a homeostatic or self-regulating system, with a dynamic stability in which a constant in-put of matter and energy is balanced by a constant out-put of activity and wastage by devices which adjust the flow to meet environmental variation. See Benedict M. Ashley, O.P, “Theologies of the Body: Humanist and Christian” (Braintree, MA: The Pope John XXIII Medical- oral Research and Education Center, 1985), 24.
St. Vincent of Lerins, “From the First Instruction,” 23; PL 50, 667-68.
I would like to note that Norris Clarke calls for a modification in the traditional
as well as Thomist notion of substance and relation (as accident): "Father Clarke believes, (that) unless Thomism's metaphysics of relations is radically modified, it cannot do justice to the world of our contemporary experience. For, in that world, dynamic substances do not live in self-sufficient isolation. They exist as members of a system. Far from being related to other substances in a purely accidental way, each substance, in some way or other, is intrinsically constituted by its relation to a. system that integrates the individuals within it into a higher unity. ..Thus although each substance retains its subsisting identity, its relation to the system in which it exists can enter into its essential constitution ...Thomists must admit that fact and adapt their metaphysics of relations to integrate the reality of system into their category scheme." The Universe as Journey, op. cit., 34-35.
Fr. Clarke responds to Caputo's reflections with his own analysis of the mystery of person. He agrees with Caputo on the experience of being as mystery but assigns the cause of this mystery to finitude and the defectiveness of being. He says: "...each finite being is an act of existence imitating the divine, but mixed in with a lima ' element, which means a,partial negation, almost a kind of infection by non-being, a shadow element. W. N. Clarke, The Universe as Journey, 166.
J. Caputo, “Being and the Mystery of the Person,” in The Universe As Journey, 110.
Ibid., 110-11
This really distinct principle would be the essence composed of form and matter which would receive all of its reality from ease but in a distinct order of causality (formal); it would limit ease to be this ease and this kind of ease. The matter of the essence would receive its being from the "intelligere" which is a completely immaterial kind of ease. This could be the explanation for the "language of the body" where the body is ruled by the same rhythms as the person: love-making is inseparably connected with life-giving.
St. Thomas Aquinas, "Virtue designates a certain kind of perfection of a power....powers are determined to their habits. Therefore, human habits are virtues." Summa Theologiae, I, 66, 1, c.
ST, I, 49, 2, c.
Wojtyla, “The Degrees of Being" (1981)127.
J. Ratzinger, Introduction…, op. cit., 55.
K. Wojtyla, The Acting Person, op. cit., 107.
43 "For St. Thomas, however, the will appears to be first of all a power, which makes man determine his own action." The Acting Person, n. 39, 309.
“The very intentionality of volition as it is revealed in the act of choice does not create the essential dimension of the transcendence which is so marked in the human act, since it is not its constitutive factor. That is why even the analysis of intentional acts alone fails here. The transcendence of the person in action (act) is not reducible to the intentionality of cognitive acts or even to the intentionality of volition itself... The essential function of acts of will, whether of simple willing or of that more complex choice resulting from counteracting motives, is not the tending itself to the object (to the value as object), but the determining of the subject." Wojtyla, The Degrees of Being, op. cit. 127.
What is at stake here is a partial identity between “to be” and “to act” where willing is the very dynamic of “to be” itself (somewhat like the ousia/energeia complex elaborated by Gregory of Nyssa when defending the homo-ousion of God the Father engendering God the Son. “Agennetos and gennetos… designate properties of hupostaseis within the first ousia.”). See Bernard C. Barmann, The Cappadocian Triumph Over Arianism, Stanford University Ph.D. dissertation, 1966, 261.
George Weigel, “Is America Bourgeois?”, Crisis (October 1986) 5-10.
David Schindler, "Once Again: George Weigel, Catholicism and American Culture," Communio, (1988), 97

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