Interesting article from Science and Theology News.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — When you hear the words “person,” and “personality,” the field of psychology probably comes to mind immediately.
Not according to Philip Rolnick, a professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Rolnick is author of Analogical Possibilities: How Words Refer to God and a forthcoming book on the concept of “personhood.”
Long before these words were appropriated by psychologists, these concepts of “personhood” were rooted in theology. In fact, their meanings were central to early church controversies over the meaning of the trinity and the nature of Christ, said Rolnick, who spoke last month at a meeting of the North Central Program in Science and Theology.
“Personhood” matters because it is the pivotal solution to thinking about who God is and who humans are in relation to God. “Personhood is about identity, relation and intelligent dynamism,” Rolnick said.
Rolnick called the Judeo-Christian understanding of God as a person “our greatest contribution to the global conversation.” He said that Eastern religions have contributed the practice of meditation, from which Christians can learn about listening. “We need to learn to listen,” he said, “but they listen to the oneness — not to a person. We listen for a person.”
Early church leaders distinguished the three-person trinity and unified Christ’s two natures in one person, Rolnick said. “Personhood was a new use for a new concept. Christians were not looking for what they found. They were looking for a solution to the problem of the Father-Son relationship and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” he said. “In person, they found more than they were looking for. In making the search, those who made it transcended their limits.”
In thinking about personhood, Rolnick warned against mixing definitions. “Psychology has so dominated this discussion that we think we’re talking about temperament,” he said. “That’s not the same thing as the theological issue of person.” The task of defining personality is about “defining the indefinable because personality is not a what, but a who,” Rolnick added.
Theology cannot afford to yield the term personality to psychology, he said, because theology best conveys the meaning of personality as incommunicabilis, a Latin term for something non-transferrable. “Personality is unique and irreplaceable, and it is nontransferable, nonfungible,” he said. “The other is treasured as the other. There is a sense of destiny in its uniqueness.”
Because every aspect of human personhood — unity, freedom, dignity, will, intelligence, relationality — is more perfectly fulfilled by God than humans, Rolnick said, understanding human personhood begins with “the reminder that we are not its prime instance.”
Rolnick distinguished the Christian understanding of personality as a gift of grace that is “expansile and unified” from modernist and post-modern views that deny transcendence and, thus, deny personhood. He labeled Darwin, Nietzsche and postmodernism as “three heavy hitters against these notions.”