Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (1985)

ZIZIOULAS, John D.


  • Moral assessment: (P-B2) Readers with Christian formation and specific background about the subject matter
  • Public: Teologians

This is a profound work full of insightful ideas. Zizioulas explains, for example, how love makes us both personal and eternal. We are persons because we love. He equates love, personhood and eternity. God’s own life is the ultimate form of personal relationship, love and eternity. Personhood in our fallen and biological state, however, both enables us to form relationships and cuts us off from others. Thus, for a person to affirm himself, he has somehow to cut himself off from his parents. We find our fulfilment in both a hypostatic and ecstatic existence: being fully ourselves and going out of ourselves to others most constitutes us as persons. "Personhood is the total fulfilment of being" but it must be related to social life in which we act as "persona", fulfilling a role, although, again, in our fallen state, social life can precisely lead us to act as "persona" in the negative sense, i.e. falsely, and so be less truly persons. He describes the Eucharist as "communion within the community": the communion of Trinitarian life which has become flesh within the community of the Church. Truth has taken on flesh and so is not merely propositional or logical but ontological. Truth therefore necessarily needs to arise from within the community, as a share in the community life of God. Truth also has a cosmic dimension which science can help to explore. "The eucharistic or priestly function of man reconnects created nature to infinite existence". The work of the Christian scientist can be seen as "para-eucharistic" in that it relates creation back to God and "may lead to the freeing of nature from its subjection beneath the hands of modern technological man. The eucharistic conception of truth thus liberates man from his lust to dominate nature". History is true not so much because it is aiming towards an end but because of the end itself, "since it is the end that gives it meaning". However, Zizioulas seems to have a slightly negative vision of freedom. Our ontological necessity (the fact that we are necessarily created, creatures, that we owe our existence to another - God) somehow "destroys" our freedom. Yet at the same time he beautifully describes freedom as more fulfilment than choice, not so much "yes" or "no" but affirmation, "a continual ‘Amen’". This is a profound and unpolemical work which though coming from an Orthodox position and, therefore, necessarily expressing Orthodox views, avoids confrontation and seeks for a deeper synthesis whenever Catholic beliefs are touched on. But a number of the author’s positions are not in full agreement with Catholic teaching. J.E. (U.K., 2017)

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The assessments are divided into two groups, one for Literature (L) and the other for Thought (P). For Literature the assessments are as follows:

  •  L-A1: Nothing morally inappropriate.
  •  L-A2: Nothing morally inappropriate, although may be unsuitable for younger readers (e.g. because there are topics requiring a certain maturity on the part of the reader).
  •  L-B1: Some morally inappropriate content.
  •  L-B2: Contains significant sections contrary to faith or morals.
  •  L-C1: Contains some lurid passages, or presents a general ideological framework that could confuse those without much Christian formation.
  • L-C2: Contains several lurid passages, or presents an ideological framework that is contrary or foreign to Christian values.
  •  L-C3: Explicitly contradicts Catholic faith or morals, or is directed against the Church and its institutions.

What do the moral assessments mean in relation to non-fiction works?

Works of Thought (P) are assessed according to the degree of knowledge required to evaluate the implications of affirmations made with respect to the Christian faith.

  • P-A1 or P-A2: These books present doctrinal matters in accordance with the teaching of the Church as set out, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They avoid complicated topics and subjects not yet theologically settled. They are grouped according to whether or not they require a certain minimum of Christian formation.
    •  P-A1: General readership.
    •  P-A2: Readers with general cultural or basic Christian formation.
  • P-B1 or P-B2: To appreciate how certain topics impinge on the faith, the reader requires a good cultural formation with respect to the matters dealt with (P-B1), or even university-level studies in these areas (P-B2). In particular, these books may take for granted certain widely-held opinions opposed to the faith, even though such ideas may not be central to their argument – and can be easily detected by readers with a certain amount of formation.
    •  P-B1: Requires prior general knowledge of the subject.
    •  P-B2: Readers with Christian formation and knowledgeable about the subject matter.
  • P-C1, P-C2 or P-C3: Because of the implications of the topics dealt with, or the need to be aware of the reasons why some of the theories set out in the book are invalid, it is always necessary for the reader to have very good formation in the area in question, whether university-level (P-C1) or specialist (e.g. a doctorate: P-C2). Hence the assessments place emphasis on the objective content of the book, rather than on its possible readership. The P-C3 assessment is reserved for those works which set out to contradict or deny certain aspects of the faith or the teachings of the Catholic Magisterium.
    •  P-C1: Contains doctrinal errors of some importance.
    •  P-C2: Whilst not being explicitly against the faith, the general approach or its main points are ambiguous or opposed to the Church’s teachings.
    •  P-C3: Incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

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