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535 18 Existence as Reality and Act Person, Relationality, and Incommunicability If one searches back for the moment where rationality of this more-thancalculative kind first enters the definition of the human person, an early and seminal text turns out to be a tract by Boethius (A.D. 480–524), directed against the symmetrical fallacies of monophysitism and dophysitism. Against Eutyches and Nestorius did much to resolve the perplexities over the relation between person and nature that had lingered after the Council of Chaldecon. Boethius’s objective in this treatise is less with articulating a coherent understanding of the Trinity—which he arguably fails to do both here and even in his programmatic De Trinitate—than with desynonymizing the concepts of persona and natura. To that end, he begins by putting much analytic pressure on the concept of natura and showing that “nature” signifies a great deal more than some inert and impenetrable mass “out there.” Not all nature is merely an “object” and, consequently, does not necessarily belong to the domain of appearance and, potentially, deception. There are, for Boethius, four ways in which the concept tends to operate. First, it may apply to entities (substantiae) that “can in some measure be apprehended by the mind,” which is to say, as regards substances and accidents.1 Second, natura may designate things capable of acting or being acted upon, which includes “corporeals and the soul of corporeals” (corporea 1. Boethius, Tractates, quotes from 7–81; henceforth quoted parenthetically as BTr. 536 retrieving the human atque ­ corporeorum anima). The latter definition already edges toward a model of nature as inner determinacy, somewhat on the order of Aristotle’s entelechy, an implication fully realized in Boethius’s third sense of nature as denoting strictly corporeal substances or “bodies.” Here the identity or nature of a body pivots on its integrative or organic, inner determinacy. In such instances, nature signifies a teleologically constituted substance, that is, a body: “Now in accordance with this view, the definition is as follows: ‘Nature is the principle of movement properly inherent in and not accidentally attached to bodies’” (BTr, 81). This third definition brings into view a dynamic, self-organizing, and teleological dimension which, in turn, opens up a vista on the term that had appeared wholly alien to the two earlier senses of natura: reason. Even so, a teleologically constituted body, however successfully it realizes its predetermined developmental trajectory, still does not possess any actual awareness of its own constitution and operation. Such constitutive self-awareness, which by way of translating the logos or divine Word Boethius renders as ratio, constitutes the fourth and final definition of nature; and it is this sense of natura that characterizes Christ’s divinity and humanity, while also linking the human person with the divine. According to this definition, nature is the “specific difference that gives form to anything.” Important, then, is not to confuse this specifica differentia with garden-variety “accidents,” such as whether a table is black or white, etc. For “nature” here does not signify some identifiable trait such as could be abstracted from the “substance” in question. Whereas a torn or dirty shirt is still a shirt, the sense of “nature” here under discussion cannot be separated from the substance without, in fact, dissolving the latter’s very reality. This fourth and pivotal sense of nature conditions the incommunicable reality or identity that we encounter in the living, embodied, and rational “substance” of the human person. In this very specialized sense, then, natura actually denotes the condition under which alone other substances can become possible objects of concern for a specific human being. Thus “we speak of the different nature of gold and silver [alia significatio naturae per quam dicimus diversam esse naturam auri atque argenti], wishing thereby to point [out] the special property of things.” Well aware “that nature is a substrate of Person, just as Person cannot be predicated apart from nature” (BTr, 83), Boethius embarks on a swift sequence of exclusionary moves designed to narrow down the possible application of “person.” It cannot pertain to inanimate things, nor to irrational beasts, though Boethius certainly does not deny the latter understanding or, to use a Coleridgean term, “sentiency” (viventium aliae sunt sensibiles). That leaves only God, angels, and human beings as those to whom the concept of person may conceivably apply. The definitional challenge that now remains, and which Boethius is about to tackle, has been aptly formulated by Philip Rolnick: “Since person can...


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