'Personhood' & Divine Love

The question of what ‘defines’ the human person is certainly not a settled issue. At least not from a philosophical vantage point. For the more empirical thinkers, sustained consciousness of self is enough to denote personhood. For Kant, the “transcendental unity of apperception” is the “I” with which each person associates. In modern pop-culture, “mistakes are the only things which we can truly call our own,” and thus inevitably become the measure by which we can rightly be called human persons. All together, it seems that the history of what it means to be a ‘somebody’ is defined completely from the subjective, singular vantage point: we are what we do.

Unfortunately, ‘we are what we do’ turns out to mean that our very existence is equivalent to our essence (i.e intrinsic nature). In other words, the manner by which we function defines the fact that we exist as human beings. This is certainly the underpinning of modern existentialist thought, and a pervasive mentality throughout the world. Fortunately, it cannot be true…

God alone, being perfect and completely self-sufficient, can have for his existence his very essence: who he is and how he ‘works’ are one in the same; they are quite inseparable, except in idea. For us humans, however, to claim that our activity defines our being is to in actuality claim a sort of divinity; it is to presume that we are capable of defining ourselves and sustaining ourselves based completely on our own activity. This is evidently non-Christian and, to be sure, non-theist. One cannot believe in an all-powerful God and posit the self-definition of the human person. They are mutually exclusive and contradictory statements. In the end, if we were in fact defined in our being by our (sinful) actions, the possibility of salvation would not be for us, since we would be incapacitated from freely responding to the generous gift of Christ on the Cross; we would be hard-wired to turn against his gift of self and would perpetually refuse his merciful love. To be self-determining is to be self-effacing.

On the contrary, when we realize the truth of what it means to be a ‘human person’ in the Catholic mindset, salvation becomes not inaccessible but rather most palpable. The human person, in this view, is defined not by personal action but by the love of God, through which it remains in existence and apart from which it cannot exist or function. Instead of viewing personal action—sinful or loving—as the defining characteristic of the self, the Christian definition of person allows for a free ascent to the redemption offered by Christ through the knowledge that we are loved, and that such profound and divine love alone facilitates our being. Even our own acts of love cannot be separated from the divine Love, which created us and sustains us. In all things, we are inseparably related to and dependent upon the Holy Trinity. Keeping this reality in mind, the power of the Paschal Mystery becomes all the more evident for us, and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ attains a realism that is otherwise hidden and undesired.