New Evangelization / The World and the Story of Las Casas

Person, Being, and St. Thomas

W. Norris Clarke

"The perfection of being—and therefore of the person—is essentially dyadic, culminating in communion."

The notions of person and being are in fact deeply intertwined, since personal being is the highest mode of being, the most perfect expression of what it means to be. As St. Thomas has put it, "Person is that which is most perfect in all of nature."1 But too often the person is treated merely as a special mode of being, from the point of view of psychology, or ethics, or legal philosophy, or the phenomenology of interpersonal relations, and the like. Yet the person is not something added on to being as a special delimitation; it is simply what being is when allowed to be at its fullest, freed from the constrictions of sub-intelligent matter. So the notions of being and person can each throw much light on the other when brought together on the level of being itself.

My objective in this article is to work out what I might call a "creative completion" of St. Thomas's own thought on these two themes, or perhaps a "creative retrieval," as a Heideggerian might put it. For, on the one hand, Aquinas has an explicit, powerfully dynamic notion of being, of what it means to be, as intrinsically self-communicative and relational through action. On the other hand, he never quite got around to applying this in explicitly thematized fashion to his philosophical notion of person. Medieval discussions of the metaphysics of personhood tended to get fixated on the technical problems of the "incommunicability" of the person, i.e., what makes it unique, not a part of any other being, and distinct in some way from the rational nature which always accompanies it.

 

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