• Mark D.


    Very nice. However, it must be countered, as I am sure you agree, that even though persons are not fundamentally individuals in the pejorative sense you elaborate, they are nevertheless each uniquely images of God, in his ultimate uniqueness.

    Here, Hopkins helps wonderfully:

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
    Praise him.


    Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves–goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
    Cying What I do is me: for that I came.

    I say more: the just man justices;
    Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
    Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is–
    Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
    Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
    To the Father through the feature of men’s faces.

  • Mark D.

    And then there is the person uniquely gone foul:

    I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
    Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
    Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

    Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
    The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
    As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson


    Right — the person is quite unique — just like the persons in the Trinity are unique and that uniqueness is found in their relations, so is the human person unique, found in their relation but also how they develop that relation (which I plan to discuss more later).

  • Mark D.

    “Even though there is but one human nature, we wouldn’t know it, because the individual is experienced as being greater than our nature, causing self-love to grow.”

    Is this not philosophically misleading in an important sense? Human nature, though that which we all share, only really exists in unique persons, who each are conceived and loved into existence by God in their very uniquenes.

  • Mark D.

    is conceived…in his/her…

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson


    Unique persons, of course, are not individuals, but persons who are open-to-others in communion; that nature of course is only personalized, and the persons are indeed unique; yet it is the same human nature, it is one, which is why the humanity of Christ is our humanity and what happens to him happens to us. This is also like what we see with the Trinity; there is one nature, the persons are unique, yet each person is fully God and that communion of persons makes the issue not self-love, but personal, sacrificial love which opens up and gives to the others — and it is for this reason the experience of one person of the Trinity is the experience, in some sense of the whole Trinity.

    But the point is when we create the egoistic individuality, we turn that individual as above the nature itself; this is why Protestantism in its individualism cannot understand the common destiny of humanity — the universalism of Christ’s work. So the point is that very individual, being unnatural, tries to put itself even above the nature itself. And our experience then is influenced by that individual which closes itself off from the rest of the world, and sees the nature almost as an accidental predicate to that individual, and that there is no “homoousios” between my human nature with yours because of it.

  • Mark D.

    I concur. But a Christian ethic must not only take into account human nature in general, but the unique mission given to one’s self in order to develop true personhood fully. The ‘more’ over common nature can refer to either the relationally severed individual (which you talk about); or, more importantly, the unique X by which God commissions me to be (pesonally) me most fully.

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson


    Of course there is more which needs to be discussed about the person — which is something I am going to be doing (as you can probably tell, I am trying to do this as a series of inter-related posts). The next one (so far at least) should go more into the question of the “uniqueness” of the person and what I hinted about in here — that there is a personal development which not only takes our vocation from God, but where there is freedom of the person to develop their personal uniqueness as well.

    This post was more or less focused on the individual and the problems of individual/individualism because of how individualistic our culture is and the need for Christians to realize how unChristian such individualism is (although, as I pointed out, not entirely in error).

    I agree there are more ethical issues involved. I wanted to say more about Christian personalism vs individualism to deal with that ethical issue — but then I thought this post was probably long enough (for most readers) and if I plan to do more on the person as person, I can reflect more on that there.

  • Mark D.

    Thanks. This is an area in which I have pondered the issues amateurly for the past decade and a half. I look forward to your further posts.

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson


    You are welcome! (I am glad some people at least are reading the longer posts and getting something out of them)

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

    For a point of clarification which might help some people. My use of the term “individual” comes from the meaning of the word which suggests, ” distinct, indivisible entity.”

    We also use the term in other ways, sometimes more loosely, such as when we call an individual an “instance” of some genera. But then it can mean either a distint, cut-off indivisible (and incommunicable) entity, but it doesn’t have to be.

    But I think from the root meaning of the words (and cognates to it) should be considered and used as one investigates what it means to be a human person — and that is exactly what I did here.

  • http://postmodernpapist.blogspot.com Kyle R. Cupp

    Excellent post, Henry. The distinction between person and individual is not one that should be isolated to academic circles like some esoteric protect, but ushered into the public sphere so that every person in society recognizes himself and others for what they are: communal creatures. How many of our social ills could be better addressed if we based our society on an idea of personhood?

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson


    Thanks — and right. This kind of discussion often remains in philosophical and theological circles — and yet needs to move beyond and to become an active and not just passive critique of society by showing not only what is wrong in how society is lived, but what roots of truth are behind it to move and work for something better. It’s why I thought a post like this would be helpful and really demonstrate the root problem of individualism itself.

    Of course, it is one thing to recognize this; it is another to do what needs to be done, to figure out the full ramifications of personalism — and to live it out; I, of course, fail daily and I know it, but it is in the judgment of the self, in that recognition that I can also reach out for that help to move beyond my failings and not feel left trapped in and by them.

  • Morning’s Minion


    Great post,– in fact, this should be in Vox Nova’s all time top 10. It shows very clearly that the social contractrian state (that underpins laissez-faire liberlism) is opposed to the Christian message, on some fundamental level. It also re-inforces the idea that we are one, and that people who try to play up divisions in the human race are turning their backs on the redemption of Christ.

  • http://www.timesandseasons.org Adam Greenwood

    Very interesting. Lots to chew on there.

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson


    Thanks – I don’t know if it is top ten material (I never judge my writing so highly), but I do think it is a helpful post, if nothing else to help move things forward in a positive direction.

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson


    I hope it is digestable :)

  • http://kevinjjones.blogspot.com Kevin Jones

    I suggest that there is another threat to individualism, not from personalism but from the psychological and neurological sciences.

    Some neuroscientists go so far as to claim that the self is illusory, proving that even “self-denial” can go horribly wrong.

    The idea that the individual person is an indivisible entity has difficulty in explaining emotional turbulence or psychological disorder. The assumption of the rational individual ignores or denies the “other law” in our members which Christians often explain as an effect of Original Sin.

    Phillip Rieff has described psychological man as one similar to Plato’s Democratic Man. All his faculties: will, intellect, desire, instinct, have lost their ordering principle. At most, psychological man can turn to therapy to mitigate the negative effects of this dis-order, but he has lost the resources by which he may restore order to his soul.

    This fragility of the ego in the face of *internal* enemies also explains the self-asserting defenses of egoism alluded to in this article.

    The psychological approach also drives me to qualify the idea I see here that all sin is a sin of commission or omission against another. Incontinence, for instance, is obviously also a sin against oneself.

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson


    While I didn’t borrow from Western psychology for my post, I will admit, I did borrow from psychology ( I will let people discern which kind) as I thought through with what I wrote.

    Of course, this whole topic that is expressed in this post could be explored on so many levels and issues — and Western psychology can reinforce some of the points I made; although I would say their view of the conscious and unconscious, the ego and the person are not going to be exactly my own.

  • Mark D.


    Hate to drop names, but I was actually an undergraduate student of Philip Rieff. He literally changed my life. Even had me transfer universities, going into my 4th year (my parents were ready to murder me). Check out the posthumously published Sacred Order/ Social Order. vol. 1 and 2, on U of Virginia P.

  • http://geraldlcampbell.typepad.com/ Gerald L. Campbell

    Kyle says:

    “The distinction between person and individual is not one that should be isolated to academic circles like some esoteric protect, but ushered into the public sphere so that every person in society recognizes himself and others for what they are: communal creatures.”

    Indeed, you are correct!

    In this regard, it has been ushered into the public sphere by Jacque Maritain who was one of the two principles responsible for the drafting of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

    Since Marxism and Capitalism stood at odds over the notion of the “individual”, there was a need to find a term other than “individual” for purposes of the document. Maritain interjected the notion of the “person” into the Declaration.

    Sadly, the substance of the person has not been articulated to the point where it can impact the wider culture.


  • http://houseoftheinklings.blogspot.com/ X-Cathedra

    Gerald beat me to it. I was literally reading Maritain’s The Person and the Common Good when I came upon this post. Well written, Henry!

    Pax Christi,