This is taken from Lucian Turcescu’s “‘Person’ versus ‘Individual,’ and other Modern Misreadings of Gregory of Nyssa.” Modern Theology 18:4 October 2002.
John Zizioulas’s Being and Communion sought to provide a new approach to personhood by drawing upon insights from the Patristic tradition. Modernity, he tells us, reduces person to individual, the latter being something like an aggregate of properties. The Fathers, on Zizioulas’s reading, saw person in relational contexts.
Is this true? Lucian Turcescu’s argues that it is not. The simple reason is Gregory of Nyssa had no qualms about defining a person as individual. Both Basil and Gregory, perhaps drawing upon Porphyry, saw ‘Peter’ and ‘Job’ “as unique collections of properties” (Turcescu 530). Gregory says that Job is “this man,” going so far as to write “a person (hypostasis) is also the concourse of the peculiar characteristics” (Difference between ousia and hypostasis; I understand this might have been written by Basil, but Turcescu seems to think Gregory wrote it).
Zizioulas writes well and there is much about Being and Communion that is quite refreshing. But the fact remains that the Fathers did not flinch from seeing “person” in individualist terms. True, they didn’t have to worry about Lockean atomism (or maybe they did; they were not strangers to Democritus).
And if we say God’s being is communion, how are we not prey to the criticisms one can level at Thomism, which defines a person as a relation of oppositions?