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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.

III. The Image of God: Christian Anthropology in Dialogue with Secular Images of Man

The scientific and secular understandings of man do not constitute clear concepts. There is no scientific exact theory on what man really is. It is only by reference to some conclusions of scientific research that one can guess their impact on the possible understanding of the human person when one raises this question with scientists. Certainly, anthropological sciences, like psychology, and especially that which deals with the origin and function of the sub-conscious in order to pre-mote introspective methods in their methodology, are closer to a probable construction of an image of the Self. But this «image» is still an analytical and descriptive diagnosis of the function of psychic life and not a systematic synthesis of a concept about the human person. Psychoanalysis does not suffice to produce an adequate basis for systematic anthropology. Only a «psychosynthesis» could approach the possibility of the construction of a consistent theory about human person, operating on the main issues and conclusions of a scientific anthropology, i.e. the origin, function and growth of «consciousness» in man. And yet, whatever «synthesis» exists in this connection is not what a systematic theologian dealing with the human person understands and tries to conceptualize.

Science in this case also will apply the method of gathering data derived from the analysis of psychic phenomena, experiences and evidence. In the realm of introspective psychologies these data shall be simply used towards the construction of a more comprehensive image of the psychic function in order to gain more efficient therapeutic techniques integrating into a new system of application scattered data derived from diagnoses. This is an extremely complicated process which does not enable scientists to arrive at a notion of man as a whole. The passage from the sub-conscious through conscience to consciousness in operating this synthetic process is possible but never total and adequate. Because, at the final stage, consciousness can be everything relating to hereditary givenness: conscious growth together with esoteric traditions, physiological particularities of an individual, special environmental influences and particular undetectable reactions. The determination of the selfhood of man in science is the most uncertain goal of investigation on the basis of «consciousness» which can be everything from biological and physiological to the most conscious actions including also the paranormal faculties of human being. Awareness of the Self and experience of identity of the «I» transcend human knowledge as another «genos» in cognitive operation. Conscious will and desire also cause this «awareness of Self» to change its center of reference by unforeseen measures and unpredictable developments.

The scientific approach to man by a «psychosynthesis» would be a riddle for science itself. This attitude however does not imply anthropological agnosticism. In the contrary this humble position includes the category of mystery, which is becoming more evident, when scientific way attempts a «synthetic» knowledge out of the analytical data. In this direction biology will specifically define the characteristics of the biological organism and out of the scattered results of observation shall reach more synthetic global visions which accept the human being as an organism in universalistic holistic dimension, rendering thus the definition of man as a biological organism more complex and beyond precise conceptualization. In this sense it will be proved that «(a) the organism is a complex of elements in mutual interaction (b) the behavior of an individual element is influenced by the state of the whole organism (c) the Whole exhibits properties absent from its isolated parts and (d) a biological organism is a basically active system. It has an autonomous activity, and is not basically reflexive or basically receptive» (1). For psychology this broader vision of man in biology would signify the inclusiveness of all acquired observations of behavior and unconscious trends into a whole synthesis of psychical and mutual interaction with the environmental influences and autonomous, inner psychical movements proper to every individual but at the same time communicable on a universal scale. As in physics, the term «complementarity» is used «to account for the fact that two different conditions of observation yielded conclusion that were conceptually incompatible, i.e. light behaved like a particle on one occasion and like a wave on another» (2). Similarly in the whole process of self-consciousness and identity, psycho synthesis has the impossible task of uniting elements of psychic behavior which prove not to be intrinsically incompatible but which are incompatible in scientific observation.

On this basis, science operates in a pre-anthropological area and prepares the anthropologist to admit the difficulty of conceptualization of the human person for the sake of a more comprehensive investigation of human life. In this sense one does not simply speak of «Man, that unknown being» but of «an extended concept of man» (3), which has tremendous implications for scientific epistemology in human sciences and opens the way for the beyond ness and transcendence of man within his immanence, as a biological, mental and psychological organism. Post-scientific epistemology introduces the categories of «universalism», «complementarity-communalism» and «organized scepticism» and affords human sciences the possibility of new points of contact — the most difficult thing in all dialogues especially in anthropology — with psychological, philosophical but especially theological approaches to the understanding of the human person.

Christian anthropology, dealing with this new type of epistemology, would have committed a great error if it had conceived an image of man by an exact theory with rational self-sufficiency. Facing probable contemporary secular images of the human person, Christian anthropology, especially today, has to confess its incapacity to respond fully to their challenge, realizing that it is beyond its power to produce a rational, systematic interpretation of its own image of man. Its first duty would be to proclaim honestly its limitations in face of the «extended concept» of the human person. The first point of contact with scientific models of man has to be established on this new category both of theology and of contemporary epistemology.


1. Arthur J. Deikman quoted I. Bertalanfy in «The Nature of Human Consciousness», edited by Robert, E. Ornstein, New York (The Viking Press, p. 320.

2. Ibid., p. 319.

3. Robert B. Ornstein, ibid., p. 313 ff.

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