When Does The Person Begin?

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"Each One of Us is an Icon of the Beginning"

A template of human being

Now the question arises as to whether one can take the template of the Blessed Trinity and apply it, as it were, to human being in such a way as to see whether or not it yields, for the individual human being, a metaphysical parallel between the structure of the human individual and the mystery of the Being of the Blessed Trinity.

What then is the conceptual requirement that an image of human being, which is in the image of the Divine Being, must fulfil?  It is twofold: there must be something which expresses the indivisible unity of the human being; and secondly, this being must itself be a unified totality of irreducibly diverse elements548.  The first follows from the reality that God is One and the second follows from the reality that: 'The divine persons are really distinct from one another'549.

The term of unity is the person; and the terms of diversity are the body and the soul.  Therefore, from the point of view of a trinitarian definition of human being, both conditions are fulfilled.  For the person is the unified totality of body and soul; and, secondly, the body and the soul are irreducibly different: the body is corporeal and the soul is spiritual550.

Finally, then, one comes to the question with which one began: what is being?  On the one hand the being of a thing is its unified totality, implying that being - what exists when something exists - is, therefore, a unity in diversity, and on the other hand, that being participates in the mystery of its Maker.  For if God is a mystery, and being is made in the image of the mystery that God is, then it follows that being must in some way confront us with what it at the same time communicates: the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

A synthesis: 'the burning coal' (Is 6: 6)

It is through the mystery of the incarnation that God reveals the unity-in-diversity fundamental to the nature of creation and redemption551, because that unity-in-diversity is fundamental to the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier of man, the Blessed Trinity.

What kind of image would express the different facts and insights that now contribute to one's understanding, however limited, of the nature of human life as biblically perceived.  The one to which I am drawn is the image of the 'burning coal' in The Book of Isaiah (Is 6: 6).  This is because it has the possibility of signifying both Christ and ourselves.  It signifies Christ because it has the power to forgive sin (cf. Is 6: 7); and it signifies man because it signifies what does not have life in itself but which receives its life from a source such as that of the 'altar' from which it was taken (Is 6: 6).  In other words, and in view of the distinction that the Scripture constantly makes between the life of the Spirit and the death of dust, it seems more and more obvious that what is created to exist is created to exist in the life of Christ; and, therefore, just as Christ in His total humanity, in His body and soul, in His flesh, is alive with the Life of the Spirit of God (cf Mt 1: 20), then so it is impossible for me to conceive of any other image which is so fundamentally expressive of what is dead and cold without the fire of the Holy Spirit552, and yet what is alive and full of life with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, this image has been used by the 'Greek Fathers to describe the mystery of man's divinization in the Incarnation and indwelling'553.

Furthermore, this image is now understood to be an imaginative equivalent to an intellectual expression which would parallel554 the union of body and soul with the union of God and man in our Lord Jesus Christ: 'God is conceived as communicating Himself to created reality, which He immediately actuates and unites with Himself; the term of this self-communication is a created, supernatural actuation of the creature's obediential potency by God, the uncreated Act'555.  The metaphysical principle which this translates into an expression of the relationship of the burning union between man and God, is the polar principle of act and potency556: 'God makes Himself, analogously, the act of a created potency'557.

Now in its simplest expression, the work of St. Thomas Aquinas and of the magisterium of the Church to which these terms refer is that the soul is the act with respect to the body's potentiality558.  In other words, if the body is understood to be made of a matter that has a potentiality to be something other than simply matter, which for St. Thomas was a general characteristic of his concept of matter559, then because the soul is that which makes this particular matter into a particular kind of thing560, namely a human being, then the soul is said to be the act of the body: the thing that being what it is, made the matter able to participate in what it could not be of itself.  Now because the matter individuates561 the soul and so participates reciprocally in the making of the whole, the matter is not an accident which inheres in the substance of the soul562 like the white of a wall, rather, the soul and the body are together the one existence of the person; however, so profound is the unity of man that it 'has ontological priority before the real and irreducible plurality of his being'563.

548 Perhaps a surprising confirmation of this idea comes from Cardinal Ratzinger's book, 'In the Beginning,' which I have already referred, where on page 52 he quotes Jacques Monod to the effect: 'all things in the universe cannot be derived from one another with ineluctable necessity.'  He then goes on to say something with which I can only agree if what he means is that there cannot be a formula based on the unity of things to the exclusion of this irreducible diversity.  The Cardinal continues: 'There is no single all-embracing formula from which everything necessarily derives.'  The work from which the Cardinal draws these thoughts of Jaques Monod is from pages 56ff., 179-79 of: 'J Monod, Zufall und Notwendigkeit.  Philosophische Fragen der modernen Biologie' (Munich, 1973).    Back
549 CCC, art 255, page 67.    Back
550 CCC, art 362, page 92.    Back
551 Cf. T. E. Clarke, Created Actuation By Uncreated Act, pages 416-417 of Vol. IV, NCE.    Back
552 Cf. CCC, art 696, page 184.    Back
553 T. E. Clarke, Created Actuation By Uncreated Act, page 417 of Vol. IV, NCE.    Back
554 T. E. Clarke, Created Actuation By Uncreated Act, page 416 of Vol. IV, NCE.    Back
555 Ibid.    Back
556 Cf. J. Bobik, Soul, page 448 of Vol XIII, NCE.    Back
557 Ibid.    Back
558 Cf. J. Bobik, Soul, Human, 4. Philosophical Analysis, page 462 of Vol XIII, NCE.    Back
559 Cf. ST, Pt I, Qu 47, art 1, page 89.    Back
560 Cf. J. Bobik, Soul, Human, 4. Philosophical Analysis, page 461 of Vol XIII, NCE.    Back
561 A, pages 91 and 156.    Back
562 Cf. P. B. T. Bilaniuk, Soul, Human, 5. Theology, page 462 of Vol XIII, NCE.    Back
563 Ibid.    Back

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