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Nikos A. Nissiotis

"Secular and Christian Images of Human Person"*

Theologia 33, Athens 1962, p. 947- 989; Theologia 34, Athens 1963, p. 90-122.


The alternatives to Christian faith are usually centered around either philosophical-idealistic or scientific-realistic humanisms. In contemporary revolutionary society, however, as well as in theological circles dominated by a political, contextual and inductive theology, a new type of humanisation is professed and practised, which is too complicated to be objectively defined. The value of the human person is now rooted in his identity and solidarity with his participation in social revolution and resistance to ecological crisis. This either non-Christian or pro-Christian humanism nourished by an utopian hope, in most cases, accentuates the movement forward towards the coming age of authentic selfhood by overcoming a manifold self-alienation of human beings in modern society of consumption and social injustice. The human person can be grasped now only in his struggle for establishing freedom, justice and peace on a universal scale.

The subject of anthropology, already in the past central and complicated, becomes in our days for this additional reason more actual, interesting and imperative for contemporary systematic theology. The ideological-political activist replacing unconsciously by his revolutionary impetus his innate religious trends and the Christian pro-socialist revolutionary interpreting in a radical way the social message of the Bible converge in a new image of man within the framework of the Christian tradition challenging all of our theological concepts of the Imago Dei as unilaterally transcendental and therefore unrealistic. It is the paramount duty of Christian theology to face this challenge, which is to a great extent born in its own milieu, for the sake of elaborating a more authentic Christian anthropology taking into consideration the new signs of our times.

At the same time, scientific research, by overcoming its deterministic trends of the past as well as a mechanistic concept of Creation and its function, invites a new kind of approach to understand human being, which allows greater flexibility in scientific humanism and betrays a greater sensitivity (on account also of the ecological crisis) in face of the non-scientifically observable parts of human existence. Without pretending that modern science can or should adopt the category of mystery in its methodology—it would not be science any more— it can, however, become more easily today a participant in an interdisciplinary approach to anthropological problems with depth-psychology, anthropological philosophy and theology of the humanum.

These preliminary and introductory remarks prescribe the structure of my study. It is evident that we cannot deal directly with Christian anthropology as an isolated subject within systematic theology: I mean not simply with Christology, which is easily understandable, but with cosmology when it is conceived again not only as nature, but as a comprehensive reality of the whole created Cosmos. Secondly, we have to be seriously challenged by modern scientific and societal psychological humanisms, and then thirdly réexamine our concept of the Imago Dei. At the end, fourthly I would like to attempt a reinterpretation of the typical, central Orthodox concept of the theosis of human person (deification of man) as a contribution to anthropology on the part of the ancient Eastern tradition.


*This study is an improved and extended text of the Ferguson Lectures that the author delivered at the University of Manchester upon the invitation of its Theological Faculty, February, 23rd-26th, 1981.
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