What is a Person?
The philosopher, poet and politician Boethius (480-525 AD) defined a person as “an individual substance of a rational nature.” The Western world has functioned with this non-relational concept of a person ever since. But is a person simply a disconnected individual thing that thinks or uses its mind to interact with the world around it? Isn’t relationship critical to any notion of what it means to be a person. “To be a person is to be distinct from other persons, and yet inextricably bound up with them: to be ‘other’ only in ‘relation.’ Just as God is who he is in the inextricable fellowship of Father, Son and Spirit, so for us to be personal is to be what we are in relation to other persons.” (Colin Gunton, The Christian Faith, p. 43).
I much prefer Gunton’s idea to Boethius', yet, while Gunton has hit the target, I don’t think he has hit the bull’s eye. For me, a person is an individual who exists in union with Jesus Christ. And Jesus is the One who lives in union with his Father, and the Holy Spirit, and the human race, and all creation. Existing in union with Jesus Christ means we are included in his relationships with his Father, the Holy Spirit, humanity and all created things. To be a person means that we exists in union with Jesus Christ in his relationships, and are therefore called to participate in his life, called to give ourselves to participate in his own life with his Father, and in his own anointing in the Holy Spirit, and in his own personal relationship with the human race, and his own lordship over all creation. Perhaps an individual is a human being who exists in union with Jesus but is not participating in his relationships, or is violating his relationships in some way. A person is an individual who lives in union with Jesus and gives herself or himself to participate in Jesus’ way of seeing and being with others and his creation.