A critical study on Zizioulas' ontology of personhood

  • Tingcui Jiang

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This research is about a theological ontology which is based on Zizioulas’ ontology of personhood. His ontological thought is manifested by a renewed view of God and the human person. Therefore, this thesis includes three parts. The first part examines the being of God as personhood. The second part examines the being of the human person as personhood. The third part analyzes and criticizes Zizioulas’ ontology of personhood. In Part I, I explore the background and source of Zizioulas’ ontology of personhood in the Cappadocian Trinitarian theology. Zizioulas claims that there has been an ontological revolution against Greek substantialism: based on the identification of hypostasis with personhood rather than ousia; the ontological principle of God is traced back to the person (hypostasis). It means that God first is God the Father rather than his substance or nature. This is a reversal of a view which has prevailed in Western theology. The Father is the personal cause of the generation of the Son and of the procession of the Spirit. One of the significances of the Father as personal cause is that the personal Father generates personal otherness in the divine being. Zizioulas’ ontology of personhood is based on the concepts of communion and otherness. He excludes essence or ousia from his ontological categories. In Part II, I will explore the being of man as personhood. The Father as personal cause bequeaths us an ontology of personhood which also provides the metaphysical ground for the being of human persons. Personhood rather than human nature is the centre of anthropology. The mode of existence of the Trinity is the foundation for the transformation of human existence from a biological hypostasis to an ecclesial hypostasis. Personal otherness is constitutive of human person. Otherness as an ontological existence transforms the relationship between human beings in communion. The coexistence of otherness and communion in a Trinitarian model provides a foundation for the criticisms of Levinas’ concept of otherness without communion. In Part III, I will criticize the Western views of God and person, but also analyze and criticize Zizioulas’ ontology of personhood. The significance of the ontology of personhood is shown by its providing an insightful and radical critique of the substantialist Trinitarian theology which understands One God as substance foremost. At the same time, it provides strong criticisms of individualist understanding of the concept of personhood. I conclude that Zizioulas has reconstructed a new theological ontology and a new systematic theology which are significantly different from our customary thinking of theology. But because of his overlooking of the views of sin and justice in the ontological sense, I also criticize Zizioulas’ ontology of personhood for its lack of a critical reflection on the society.

    Date of Award10 Oct 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKai Man KWAN (Supervisor)

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Christianity
    • Theological anthropology
    • Theology
    • Trinity
    • Zizioulas, Jean 1931-

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