Personhood and the notion of self is an important topic in my research, both in regard to the Trinity and to spiritual formation. During my search for resources on the self and personhood I discovered this article from Pannenberg, but also discovered that it has never been officially translated into English. I passed my German exam, but do not have the skills to translate it, thus rendering this article a black box to me. (perhaps I should try to translate it, but I never did). Imagine my delight when I came across Sanders’ blog and was able to read this in English. It was like witnessing a beautiful blossom unfold before my eyes. Thank you!

I will not quote the entire article, in respect to Fred Sanders. Please visit his blog to read the entire article. This is an especially important passage:

A human is first a person in finding himself face to face with God as person. God is a person, not a thing, because as the unknown power over existence he is essentially incomprehensible. Not by accident did ancient man–and children even today–personify everything important to them, which is not thoroughly known, and therefore has a hidden, inner side. Whatever is at least in principle entirely available becomes a thing. Therefore, the Deity remains personal, as long as it is not dissolved into a cosmic function. The Biblical God is essentially personal, because he always brings forth new contingent events, constantly behaving unforeseeably, thereby proving the infinitude of his freedom. That God in the unity of his essence is personal lays the foundation for the personal character of both the distinction of the Son from the Father and the Spirit at work in the Church.

God makes the human being a person. God, being indeed almighty without us, has mankind at his disposal and can deal with humans as things. But in so far as God enters into a history with humanity, to reveal himself to them, he takes them as a “You”. Because the will to revelation and therefore to condescension are characteristic of the eternal being of God, God grants to humanity personhood, not just for show, but from eternal faithfulness. This matter has found expression–Biblically inspired–in the theology of an Augustine, a Duns Scotus, a Luther.

Humans are persons through their orientation to God. The openness to the world which distinguishes humans from all animals, and whose full meaning should be understoood as openness to God, constitutes personhood. This is realized, as Duns Scotus discerned, either as attentive openness to God or as sealed independence from God, which as such (which Duns Scotus did not perceive) has the character of sin. Therefore the human being is not a person on account of a spiritual capacity he possesses, however understood, but on the contrary: He is only to be understood in his individuality as a spiritual being, from his personhood, from his essential openness.

Humans exist as persons in relation to other humans. The co-human relation of I and You is not the basis for personhood, but flows from it: In other humans the I meets with a being which, just like the I, is distinguished by a constant determination (openness to the world!). The other human, therefore, is not at his disposal, and cannot be entirely turned into a thing. Further, this human determination for God, since it is in all people just as it is in the You, can never be the aim of isolated individuals for themselves. Personhood tends to this great extend toward community and the arrangement of every particular in the entire community. Personhood is fulfilled in the act of loving surrender to the particular other and at the same time to the entire community: In the duality, which does not just seek to satisfy itself, but to bless the society, in the calling to serve not just its own state, but to recognize international responsibilities.1

  1. Pannnenberg, “Person,” Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, translated by Fred Sanders. []
subscribe to my monthly newsletter
Holler Box
%d bloggers like this: