Catholicity and Emerging Personhood
A Contemporary Theological Anthropology
- ISBN: 9781626983366
- Published By: Orbis Books
- Published: September 2019
In his study Catholicity and Emerging Personhood: A Contemporary Theological Anthropology, Daniel Horan aims to develop a more complete theological anthropology by placing the “sources” of the Christian tradition into conversation with contemporary “scientific, philosophical, and social-scientific communities” (2). This renewal challenges broadly anthropocentric and essentialist Aristotelian-Thomistic anthropologies that have, at least in Horan’s view, dominated views of the human person in the Christian tradition. To push against this traditional view, the author proposes an alternative way of thinking theologically about the human—a hermeneutic of wholemaking or catholicity in Horan’s words—that eschews human exceptionalism and the essentialist and hierarchical terms that such a view of the human presupposes, offering instead a hermeneutic that emphasizes particularity and our inextricable interrelatedness with nonhuman creation. The study is two parts: the first argues for rethinking the terms to describe the human person, while the second develops an anthropology from this renewed perspective.
Crucial to Horan’s project is “to provide an alternative...grounding for theological anthropology by resituating [it] within a theology of creation” (24) that is sufficiently inclusive of evolutionary theory. The aim here is to undercut the standard view of humanity as “radically separate” from creation by showing our “intrinsic connectivity” (6) with the rest of creation given our commonality with the non-human in virtue of our own creatureliness, corporeality and animality (43–44). To reaffirm our “intrinsic kinship” (24) with non-human creation presupposes an evolutionary cosmology, which for Horan is not only compatible with the central tenets of Christian faith but is precisely how the human person is caught up in God’s desire to create. Naturally, thinking about the human person in these terms raises questions about the imago Dei. Here Horan offers a constructive proposal to reconceptualize the imago Dei in a way that is inclusive of all creation while preserving the distinction of each species: for Horan, “all creatures bear the image of God, but each does so according to its species” (109). While the spirit of this proposal is commendable, there is certainly a further question as to whether the imago Dei might be rendered untenably diffuse.
Having argued for a hermeneutic of catholicity, for reconceiving the terms in which to theologically reflect on the human person, Horan pivots from situating “humanity in the broader community of creation” (18) to focus on human nature and the human community specifically in part two. Perhaps the core of Horan’s argument here is his retrieval of Duns Scotus’ principle of individuation, which is rooted in the concept of haecceitas (that which makes a thing unique) and deemphasizes essences and abstract natures, in contrast to Aristotelian-Thomistic anthropologies. For Horan, Scotus’ haecceitas can be fruitfully re-sourced since it prioritizes the individual in their particularity “against the depersonalizing elevation of humanity in a general and essentialist sense” (138). The emphasis on particularity and intuitive knowledge in Scotus’ thought offers Horan a new epistemological and metaphysical framework to elaborate a view of human nature that deprioritizes thinking about the individual human person as sufficiently participating in or adequately instantiating some abstract, independently existing essence (136). For Horan, this alternative philosophical starting point for a theological anthropology is better able to render the experiences of each person in their particularity.
In the remaining chapters, Horan sensitively unpacks some doctrinal and ethical implications of a theological anthropology renewed in a catholic key. For the author, this renewed anthropology is better able, in comparison to standard Aristotelian-Thomistic frameworks, to capture particular human experiences through a re-emphasis on the particularity of each individual (164). Horan illustrates these points by examining how this alternative anthropology better responds to the experience of sexism and racism, and the “erasure” of transgender experience (239). His discussion of sin in the very next chapter remains focused on the traditionally marginalized. Though Horan’s discussion of sin ranges across its various forms, the most compelling aspect is his emphasis on the experience of being “sinned against.” In keeping with a theology of wholemaking, the author draws on recent theological work to reassert that both the experience of the sinner and the “sinned against” must be understood as “a singular reality that ties together the oppressor and the oppressed” (213) at the level of individual interactions and societal structures.
Horan finds traditional accounts of grace similarly incomplete insofar as they emphasize that grace is extrinsic to the human person and needs to be added onto a deficient nature (232). Instead, a more complete theology of grace for Horan would re-emphasize the intrinsic and “universal human capacity to receive” the very gift of God’s gratuitous self-disclosure (240). Here Horan identifies Karl Rahner as a suitable foundation for an alternative, wholemaking theology of grace that offers a fuller picture of both the human person and the Creator-creature relationship. For Horan, Rahner’s emphasis on God’s gratuitous self-disclosure as presupposing an intrinsic structural dimension of human existence that is “always already open to the divine and capable of receiving the gift of grace” (231) and is itself a gifted dimension of human existence allows the relationship between God and human persons to be rethought as an “inherent and intimate relationship initiated freely by God” (232).
Horan’s study is so capacious and far-reaching that the above covers only a fraction of the book’s rigorously argued reflections. Indeed, the breadth of this study—the author draws on thinkers ranging from the scholars, liberation and feminist theologians, and Continental philosophers—offers much to those interested in theological and philosophical anthropology, theological ethics, and the relation between scientific and theological worldviews. By involving such diverse voices and perspectives in developing an inclusive and expansive theological account of the human person, Horan’s study is a valuable contribution to future discussions in theological anthropology. His attempt to offer an alternative mode of theological reflection is commendable for more than just its synthesis of diverse interlocutors and inclusive perspective, however—it pushes the discipline not to make the human person a “theological abstraction” but instead to reflect actual human experience, as this study itself exemplifies.
Dante J. Clementi is a PhD candidate in St. Mary’s College, University of St Andrews.Dante ClementiDate Of Review:December 17, 2022