I mentioned the doctrine of the Trinity as informing us about the concept of the person, but we need also to touch on the doctrine of Christ, Christology. Together with the dogma that God is Trinity one in essence, the Church also affirms that Christ, the Son of God, is one person in two natures after the Incarnation. He is fully God and fully man, but he is not thereby two different people at once: he is always one Person, the Second Person of the Trinity, who takes on human nature, assuming it into his person and redeeming it through his life, death, and resurrection. The idea that Christ was a conjunction or union of two persons was the heresy of Nestorius. We need to bear in mind another group of heresies, however, that of Apollinarianism, monophysitism, monotheletism, and monoenergism. In all these Christ as one Person (the Son of God) is affirmed, but they each claim in one way or another that after the Incarnation, Christ cannot be said to have a full and complete human nature. The reason they maintained this heresy was that they were afraid that allowing a full and complete human nature to Christ would mean that he was two persons after all. This betrays a misunderstanding of the concept of the person. For clarity, let us take as an example one of these heresies, monotheletism. Here Christ is said to have only one will, the divine will, and not a human will. The main reason for this was because they thought that if you gave Christ a human will, he would thereby become two different persons and no longer be one person. By implication, they thus reduced the concept of the person (the human person at least) to the idea of the will: your human will is what makes you a person.
Here we begin to move away from the concept of the person in the Trinity alone and begin to touch on the concept of the human person. The Orthodox never admitted these heresies I have mentioned, because they knew that the human person cannot be reduced to any particular aspect of his nature, nor to his nature as a whole. They also knew that Christ came to heal every part of human nature: he did not leave anything out. In any case, what is important for us here is the idea that the person or hypostasis is irreducible to nature, both in God himself as we have seen (the Persons of the Trinity each bear the whole of the Divine Nature, and are not reduced to this or that part of it), but also in mankind (the human person/hypostasis cannot be reduced to one part of human nature or even to the whole of human nature).
The Concept of the Person in Modern Thought
Trinitarian and Christological dogma is the Orthodox bedrock for approaching the concept of the person. However, it is not only the Orthodox who have considered and developed this concept. In what follows I will outline some of the developments regarding the concept of the person in recent centuries, and try to highlight where the Orthodox stand in these debates.
Particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the concept of the person has loomed large in philosophical and theological enquiry, especially (at various times) in Western Europe, USA, Russia, and Greece. There is a wide range of motivating factors for this, and a wide range of results. There are also some common denominators we can bear in mind. Whether the motivation was philosophical, theological, or political, those who emphasized the notion of the person and personhood were worried by ideas that relegated or abolished the concept of the person and the personal in God, man, and the world. In reaction, they made the idea of the person the basic axis around which Theology, philosophy, politics, and so on, should work.
This interest in the concept of the person had some good sides, even if it did not necessarily yield a comprehensive Orthodox position. Through this movement, emphasis was placed on several themes that overlap with the Orthodox understanding of the person. First, personhood was linked to the idea of freedom. To be a person implies freedom over and against any mechanistic or fatalistic process. Thus, to state that God is a personal God meant that God was free and had true freedom: He was not bound by any supra-personal or impersonal necessity; He could not be coerced by any external force. Second, persons were affirmed as irreducible to anything else. To be a person in the image of the personal God was to have an intrinsic worth or value that one could not override with another interest or concern. Third, the idea of the person was distinguished from the idea of the individual: to be an individual meant to be alone, atomistic, selfish, and separate from others. To be a person, on the other hand, implied relationship and community or communion in love. Being a person meant being in communion with others, and the fulfillment of personhood could only be found in loving relationship (first with God, then with one’s neighbor), never in isolation. True persons were thus never alone.