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  • Writer's pictureDom Dalmasso

The Christo-logic of Reality

Updated: Sep 26, 2023



Subjectivity, personal agency, and experience have taken up a central place in contemporary philosophy. What is the explanation for this new focus in the history of human thought? As we will see, it is the philosophical notion, which first arose during the early Christological controversies, of “person” (with its associated connotations of relationality). Joseph Ratzinger explains that the notion of person “developed not simply from man’s philosophizing but, rather, from the dialogue between philosophy and the premises of the faith, in particular Sacred Scripture.”[1] This new meaning “opened up a new dimension of human thought.”[2]


Although the Christological controversies are where this notion took center stage, the Hebrew Scriptures anticipated it. In the book of Exodus, it is recounted that God reveals his name to Moses, which has come down to us as Yahweh (I am who I am). Saint Thomas Aquinas later on developed an entire metaphysics on this conception of God as the act of being itself; yet the name Yahweh can also be understood to mean “he who is faithful” or “he who is relation.” This fact can be garnered from the very next verse where God adds “I AM the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:15, NRSV).[3]


This means that Yahweh, “he who relates” to Israel, is the name, the essence of God. He is the God of the covenant with Israel, and ultimately, in light of Israel's priestly status as mediator to the nations, the God of creation and of the aboriginal covenant with humanity. This lends explanatory power to the structure of the second chapter of Genesis: after the creation account of Genesis 1 and after the “seventh” day (“seven,” shaba, being the root of the word used to swear a covenant oath), the text transitions from describing God as Elohim to describing God as Yahweh Elohim.


As will be explored below, this understanding of God will have, through the incarnation, anthropological implications. Saint Thomas Aquinas hints at this by connecting this primordial relationality of God to the “image of God” in the human person: “The Divine image is again found in the word that man conceives in knowing God and in the love that is derived from this knowledge. And therefore, the divine image exists in the human soul inasmuch as it attains God or is capable of attaining him.”[4] Joseph Ratzinger echoes this in his book Eschatology, where, speaking of the immortality of the soul, he writes: “Soul is nothing other than man’s capacity for relatedness with truth, with love eternal.”[5]


In other words, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is relationality; he is life itself. The logic of covenant brings with it the dichotomies of (1) fidelity to one’s commitment to the “other” and the faithlessness which breaks communion, (2) the “blessing” of children and the “curse” of barrenness, and (3) life as represented by “the land” and death as represented by “exile.” This “phenomenology of life and death” explains the necessary distancing of the Hebrews from the ancestor worship of the nations by the understanding of “the pit” of death (sheol): “A certain demythologizing of death was needful before Israel could bring out the special way in which Yahweh was himself life for the dead.”[6] God’s covenant fidelity, by its very inner structure, was seen as an offer of blessing and life to those he entered in relationship with. Ratzinger summarizes: “Life means communion, whereas the heart of death is the absence of relationship.”[7] Here, the burgeoning understanding arose that God is the God “of,” he is Life “for,” he is “fullness of life,” and is therefore, in himself even, “communion.” Thus, we are creatures of communion, made for communion, and destined for eternal life.


As will also be explored below, this “primordial relationality” will enable the Church to come to terms with God’s triunity. Aquinas calls the persons of the Trinity subsistent relations: “In God the relations themselves are the persons subsisting in one nature.”[8] We see here, especially in light of Aquinas’s understanding of God as pure act, as well as the relationality of the divine persons, that the framework of God as ipsum esse subsistens is an existential framework which goes beyond what the Greeks could have fathomed. God is more than “a thought thinking itself” which actualizes the potential of an eternal universe. In the Trinity, grounded in the logic of the Hebrew Scriptures and fulfilled in the revelation of the person of Jesus, a new metaphysics of relationality, ad intra (Trinity) and ad extra (creation), emerges.


And so, the clash of the Greek and the Hebrew takes center stage as Christianity grapples with the meaning of the revelation given to it in the person of Christ. Ratzinger, in Principles of Catholic Theology, summarizes the conundrum at the heart of the Christological controversies: “At the beginning of the fourth century, the question about Christ had been the principle problem of Christian monotheism. Christ was either excluded from the concept of God as required by philosophical monotheism or included as required by biblical tradition.”[9]


The notion of “person” solved this aporia. Thus, “the Christian faith,” writes Ratzinger, “gave a completely new significance to this God [of the philosophers], removing him from the purely academic realm and thus profoundly transforming him.”[10] This universalizing of the God of reason took place by the particularizing of the personal God who speaks. In Christ can be found a particularizing which is universal and a universality which is particular. Here, the full dimensions of the Christian mystery, the paradox of hypostasis, begin to emerge. The Council of Chalcedon, in 451, taught that “the Lord Jesus Christ [is] a single person who is of God and of man,”[11] and again, “this oneness of the person, which must be understood in both natures.”[12]


Although Nicaea I had decisively repudiated Arianism by its adoption of the term homoiousios, the inevitable question concerning the Holy Spirit, and therefore concerning the Trinity, became the new central contention. The fact that the heresy of Macedonianism could not reconcile monotheism with the divinity of the Holy Spirit lead to the labors of several post-Nicaean era saints (SS. Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa). Ratzinger elaborates on this point:

The theologians of the second generation after Nicaea realized that the question of monotheism had to be completely rethought. They understood that belief in Christ and the Holy Spirit was not in opposition to monotheism but rather revealed, for the first time, its true greatness. They adopted the Platonic model of the three hypostases and recognized, on that basis, that the oneness of God consisted precisely in the oneness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[13]

But what accounts for the “oneness of God consisting precisely in the oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” How does the trinity of persons reveal more deeply this oneness? The answer lies in the fact that,

The oneness of being, wisdom and love is a higher oneness than the oneness of undifferentiatedness. […] The true oneness of God was to be understood in terms of the spiritual, not of the atom, the material; […] it was precisely this confession of the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit […] that actually revealed the nature of the divine oneness and allowed the great and illuminating notion of a God who is divine to emerge in contrast to the notion of a God conceived by man.[14]

In other words, instead of an additional problem, the Holy Spirit presented itself as the solution to these controversies: “In this way,” concludes Ratzinger, “the Holy Spirit did not become an additional problem to be reconciled with monotheism but rather […] the solution of the Christological problem and the door to Christian monotheism.”[15]


But this conclusion, at face value, does not seem to fully answer the question. A deeper look at the above-hinted structure undergirding the theology of the Cappadocians is needed. Just as Constantinople I’s teaching on the divinity of the Holy Spirit confirmed the pronouncement of Chalcedon, the pronouncement of Chalcedon provided the fathers of Constantinople I with the necessary theo-logic for the divinity of the Holy Spirit: a Christo-logic of hypostasis. The notion of “person” is a synthesis which makes possible both a unity and a dialogical reciprocity. This would eventually be termed perichoresis (mutual indwelling). Thus, the insight of the Cappadocians was that the notion of “person” illuminates the nature of “spirit” (in contrast to “matter”): Spirit is relatedness, pure relation.


These observations shed light not only on trinitarian monotheism, but also on theological anthropology. Ratzinger explains: “For what applies to God applies equally to man. If there is only one kind of causality, man too as a person is excluded and reduced to an element in mechanical causality, in the realm of necessity.”[16] And thus, “persons,” writes Ratzinger, “are relations, pure relatedness.”[17] The anthropological implications are seismic: From this connection arises the entire matrix of the world of spirit, of freedom, love and truth, of the fact that the human person is an embodied spirit, and, as a particular spirit, is open to the universal, to communion with the whole. “Spirit,” writes Josef Pieper in The Philosophical Act, “is not only defined as incorporeal, but as the power and capacity to relate itself to the totality of being.”[18] The Christo-logic of redemption (being incorporated into the whole Christ), resurrection (entering into the fulness of life itself), glorification (the spiritualization of matter), and the communion of the Saints (the perichoresis of the particular with the universal) pneumatically bursts out of this axis of the “person” as if from a big bang.


To conclude this theological and philosophical survey of the history of the notion of “person,” a quotation of Eric Perl taken from Dr. Jordan Daniel Wood’s book on St. Maximus, The Whole Mystery of Christ, should illustrate the “new dimensions” Ratzinger spoke of above:

“The distinction between hypostasis and nature enables [Maximus] to accept the perfect identity and perfect difference of God and the world […]. Thus in ontology enhypostasization allows him both to avoid the monist and dualist tendencies of the theories of participation, just as in Christology it allows him to avoid both monophysitism and Nestorianism.” […] Perl’s view reaffirms Balthasar’s that Maximus makes Neo-Chalcedonian Christology “a fundamental law of metaphysics.”[19]

This “Christo-logic” becomes a hermeneutic of synthesis, a synthesis which provides a manner in which to navigate the various couplets of philosophical thinking: namely, God and world, matter and spirit, philosophy and theology, nature and grace, history and ontology, and time and eternity. Our history and our subjectivity are illuminated in their being grounded in the objectivity of God’s relationality. Thus, hypostasis provides the existential matrix of a reality founded on freedom and love. In the notion of “person,” Christianity has opened up new vistas of theological and philosophical thinking. Indeed, it has given us a new metaphysics.




__________________________________________________________________________________ [1] Joseph Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018), 181. [2] Joseph Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching, 181. [3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (San Francisco: American Bible Society, 1865). [4] Translated by Ambroise Gardeil in The True Christian Life: Thomistic Reflections on Divinization, Prudence, Religion, and Prayer (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2022), 69-70. [5] Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 259. [6] Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, 84. [7] Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, 82. [8] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 42, a. 3, in Summa Theologiae, Prima Pars, 1-49, Latin/English Edition of the Works of St. Thomas Aquinas, Volume 13 (Green Bay WI: The Aquinas Institute, Inc., 2012), 431. [9] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982), 118. [10] Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 143. [11] Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D. (https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum04.htm). [12] Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D. (https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum04.htm). [13] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 119. [14] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 119. [15] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 119. [16] Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 20. [17] Joseph Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching, 189. [18] Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, including The Philosophical Act (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 98. [19] Jordan Daniel Wood, The Whole Mystery of Christ (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2022), 16.



Dom Dalmasso is a 2023 graduate from Holy Apostles College and Seminary with a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and philosophy. He was a Benedictine monk from early 2011 to late 2012 at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma and was an active-duty United States Marine from August 2014 to August 2018. He runs the YouTube Show / Podcast The Logos Project, and is the editor-in-chief of The Ecclesia Blog. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Dogmatic Theology at Holy Apostles.

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