This is my final installment in my three-week series on personhood. First, I wrote Part One: Personhood—Relational Being. Last week, I wrote Part Two: Personhood—Fallen Individuals. Today, I will focus on Part Three: Personhood Redeemed.
In part one, I talked about what it might mean to think of the human person as a relational being. Last week, I talked about the Fall, how it corrupted our most important relation, the one that most defined who we are as persons, and the consequences of that corruption. Today, I’ll focus on how love can redeem what has fallen in us.
The Fall caused the death of Man’s personhood. Since he chose to undermine his defining relationship to God, he turned away from what he had been. He died as a person. When personhood is dead, Man is a slave.
Our modern idea of slave comes from a legal understanding. When we hear of a slave, we think of someone who is the legal property of someone else. A slave in this sense is someone whose choice is unjustly taken away. They are forced to do something rather than allowed to chose for themselves.
The philosophical sense of slavery will enlighten us when we talk about Man’s voluntary slavery after the Fall. Aristotle discusses it in the Politics when he speaks of “natural slaves”. The only type of person who is capable, according to his nature, of belonging to another, is one who merely participates in reason so far as to apprehend it, but not to possess it.
Such a man is incapable of knowing what he is or what he does. He understands only so far as to see that his master has something he does not. He is, therefore, better than beasts. Still, Aristotle says, it is best for such a man to be ruled; he cannot rule himself.
When Man broke with God, the one whom he was supposed to trust for his good, he lost all sense of what he was and what he was doing. He became such a slave, one who denied his nature. He is a self-created slave.
Love: the cure
Many throughout the world and throughout time have pointed to love as the answer to our fallen state. It is the opposite of hate, the enemy of indifference. It is the truth that sets us free.
Love is the stuff of which relationships are made. It is the balance to the serpent’s lies. We are not, and are not supposed to be, only individuals. Without love, we continue the lie of independence; we participate in our own slavery.
With love, however, we admit that we are intertwined, and we promote the beauty of relationship. Love is the only truly free thing we do. Actions that spring from love are directly tied to who we are. Actions that do not spring from love are at best slavish, at worst mechanical, the result of something outside ourselves, beyond our control.
True love is living for another. It’s not forgetting yourself, just seeing that yourself is the relation to others.
To love, then, is to be most human. But how can a slave—who knows neither what he is or what he does—love? He cannot. But he can be loved, and that is the beginning of relationship.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16
We did not die altogether because God still loved us. That was not all that we were meant to be, however. We were capable of returning his love, and that meant we were called to more. We could never have fulfilled that call, however, because we no longer knew his love. A relationship is two-way. If we did not know whose love we enjoyed, we could never be redeemed from slavery. That is why He had to prove His love.
But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Christ’s death proved His love for us. Here, St. Paul reminds us that we can hardly bring ourselves to die for a righteous person, one who was worthy of love. God proved His deep love for those who chose slavery over Him. He died for us while we were worthless.
Death to self
God’s love for us makes it possible to return His love. Once we know what it is to be loved, we are once again capable of requiting that love. Christ says,
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
St. Paul confirms this understanding:
So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
We are called to friendship with the one who loves us. We are called to be children of God, as Adam and Eve were once called. This relationship will redefine us. But this requires a change on our part. If we are called to be something that we were not, we are called to a “death to self”.
This second death relinquishes our desire to be individuals. Our relational personhood died when we became slaves and chose to turn in on ourselves rather than to God. Now, in the loving death of Christ, we must die to our personhood of individuality. We must once again admit that we exist only in relation to another: God.