Some links about Persona

For those who tuned in to my brief guest spot on the Aquinas Institute Ireland lecture, hosted by Fr Conor McDonagh OP, the links which I promised are set out below:

New Catholic Encyclopedia on Person in Philosophy and Person in Theology These two articles are good general surveys of the concept of person/persona in philosophy and Catholic theology. Bear in mind that the concept of person in its original theatrical sense and its later legal sense don’t give us the actual use we have of it now, in English and the Romance languages especially. That usage is due to the philosophical groundwork needed to make sense of the theological demands of Trinitarian theology on the one hand and Christology on the other, in the Latin West.

Geddes’ original article from the classic Catholic Encyclopedia (1912) The Catholic Encyclopedia is a classic of its kind but please be careful using it. Some of the material is very good but it is more than a century old. My own print copy is a joy, not least for the colour illustrations! However, scholarship has moved on a great deal since then – there is no longer an emperor in Vienna nor is there a Tsar to placate with episcopal appointments etc.etc.

Boethius’ Opuscula Sacra (Be aware: A tough read, older translation!) There is a more modern edition of Boethius in Latin and English in the Loeb Classical Library series. It has Stephen Tester’s revisions of the Latin text and his updates to the translation also. For the Greek-Latin transition from Hypostasis to Persona, the work to read is the de Duabus Naturis also known as the Contra Eutychen. The first three or four chapters are the ones to concentrate on but be aware that Boethius was a bi-lingual high level scholar of Aristotle who was keen to preserve Greek learning in a time of gradual social & political collapse. (He ended his days in Ravenna rather than Rome, executed for treason by a Visigothic king.) So it’s difficult to read, even if you already know your Aristotle. NB If you have read the Consolation of Philosophy and find it out of kilter with the explicitly Christian works we are referring to here, don’t worry, so does everyone else! The Anecdoton Holderi, an contemporaneous reference to Boethius, makes it clear that he was the author of both the Theological Tractates and the Consolation.

St Thomas (An even tougher read! – 2 texts, 3 links) For St Thomas himself, we have three texts but only two in the original Latin. Translating St Thomas’ Summa Theologiae is deceptively easy at first sight but actually quite difficult once you get into it. The Blackfriars edition, translated by the Fathers of the English-speaking Dominican provinces and published from 1965-75 approximately has very good essays and commentaries in my experience but the translation is uneven, and often a bit problematic. The popular approach at the time was dynamic equivalence, which held that you translate the idea rather than the words in a slavishly literal way. Sometimes that works, but for philosophy, often it does not. So I have chosen an older more literal translation, by the “English Dominican Fathers” or more accurately Fr Laurence Shapcote OP, who did the work while running a mission station in South Africa. The second version of the Ia Q29 text is a translation by Professor Alfred J. Freddoso of Notre Dame. This is an entirely fresh translation by an eminent scholar, and if you can’t compare a translation to the original Latin, having a second version is always good to bring to light what you might otherwise miss. Lastly, there is a text from the Disputed Questions on the Power of God – these are edited and spruced up records of the formal public debates that were a periodical feature of medieval university life. In this case, Question 9 article 1 is the most relevant text.

Lastly, as a general reference when reading St Thomas, Bernard Wuellner’s Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy is always of use. It is also available in print, which I personally find more comfortable to read. Finally, Deferrari and Barry’s magisterial Lexicon of St Thomas Aquinas will shed light on his terminology where other scholars fear to tread! This last book has been in print until recently but its publishers Loreto Publications seem to have discontinued it, sadly.

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