A patristic ordo theologiae

The following summary comes from years of studying and interacting with Joseph Farrell’s theological works.  I had a breakthrough yesterday on the nature of the soul. Many substance dualists see the soul as the person, yet Christologically this is impermissible, as Christ has two souls yet is one person. Farrell’s definition of the person, as seen below, shows that the person is more than the soul.  This is why animals have souls but they aren’t persons.ghd

Def. Person = an absolutely undefinable concrete uniqueness without analogy to any other person, save in that very uniqueness.  It is important to remember that we are not defining person in terms of the functions of soul or nature.

Leontius refined it to mean “being-for-oneself.”  It is what distinguishes a concrete being from others of the same genus (HuvB 223). It is the ontological subject of the ascription of an essence, not the consciousness of such a subject.

Some terms:

  1. soul: the animating principle.  Not to be confused with the idea of “person.”
  2. nature: the whatness of a thing. Nature exists in a “mode of existence,” which is the hypostasis (Loudonikos 93ff). Essence, substance, being, genus, or nature.  The actual concrete reality of a thing, the underlying essence, (in earlier Christian thought the synonym of physis.)
  3. attribute: the static quality which something possesses (I prefer the term property).
  4. operations: the dynamic quality which something does by virtue of being what it is.
  5. Agency: surprisingly, a nature can function as an agent, in that natures have operations.  This doesn’t confuse person and nature, though, since the doing of a nature is seen more in the category of capacity.
    1. If an individual person acts, then it is the mode of his operation and such mode is exclusively personal.

The ordo:

Persons –> operations –> essence

Who is doing it? What are they doing? What are they that are doing these things? Heresies in the early church arose by confusing the essence with some operation (Eunomianism–seeing the nature in terms of the operation of unbegottenness).




9 thoughts on “A patristic ordo theologiae

  1. From the above, there’s no reason to conclude that animals are not persons, since you can’t describe it and animals are individual instances of some genus. I think it might be better considered as subjectivity, but without the connotations of cognitive difference.

    And I don’t understand the claim that natures have agency. That sounds like weird mysticism.


    1. by agency I mean capacity. For example, newborn babies have the capacity to speak, though they can’t speak.

      As to your comment on animals, I see what you are saying. I am going to modify that claim in a bit


  2. Farrell sent me this which clarifies it: Personhood is an irreducible and indefineable entity that says “i” that is without analogy to any other entity except insofar as those entities can say “I”

    Except I would add “capacity to say I,” since babies can’t physically talk


    1. Thanks, that’s helpful.

      If Farrell responded to you: does that mean he’s comfortable talking about theology again? Or is merely clearing up what he wrote in the past in a detached, objective, sort of way? I know he’s dropped hints that he’s some kind of “Ptolemaic gnostic” (I think that’s the phrase he used), but I’m curious, now and then, what Farrell believes post-EO.


    2. redoves

      Can’t we imagine there existing a person whose nature that does not include reflexive I-ascription among its capacities? Or one whose reflexive I-ascription can be recognized as such only (excepting God) by persons of the same nature?

      I’d propose something like, “Personhood is an irreducible and indefinable entity that if it can say, and when it does say, ‘I,’ it refers to a real entity without analogy to any other entity except insofar as those entities, if they can say, and when they do say, ‘I,’ refer to real entities also without such analogy.”

      (. . . Clunkier, yes. -_-;; )


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