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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Communion and Otherness, 11 Sep 2007
A. Goodliff (stevenage, uk) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church (Paperback)
In 1985 John Zizioulas gave us Being As Communion, now twenty years later, Zizioulas offers us Communion and Otherness, which is in many ways a companion and sequel to his earlier work. The book is in part a difficult read and in others Zizioulas at his most accessible. Chapters 2 ('On being a person') and 4 ('The Trinity and personhood') are fantastic introductions to Zizioulas' reading of the Cappadocians and his ontological understanding of personhood. This is where to begin with Zizioulas and in my opinion a great place to start if trying to understand the doctrine of Trinity. (Both these papers were originally published in the Research Institute for Systematic Theology books Persons, Divine and Human and Trinitarian Theology Today).

The first chapter 'On Being Other' is a long and difficult read, which I guess is first because it discusses the book's title of communion and otherness - How are they reconciled? What are implications of a theology of otherness for the doctrine of God, creation, Christ, church and the human being?

I found the most interesting chapter was chapter 3, 'The Father as Cause' where Zizioulas attempts to defend and rebut criticisms that his assertion that the Father is the cause of Trinity is problematic. In particular he is responding to the objections raised by Alan Torrance in his monograph Persons in Communion (T & T Clark, 1996), where, although appreciative of some aspects of Zizioulas' theology, Torrance is unconvinced by Zizioulas' description. Zizioulas responds by first saying that 'Father' is a relational term and so it is 'impossible to make the Father ontologically ultimate without, at the same time, making communion primordial' (p.126), that is, we cannot speak about the Father without also speaking of the Son and the Spirit. Zizioulas thinks the problem with Torrance and others is we still tend to understand 'person' in a individualistic way rather than a relational way (p.127). Second, he says 'causal language ... refers to the how, not to the what of God' (p.128), that is, the Father does not give ousia ('being') to the Son or the Spirit, but the personal origin of the Son and the Spirit is from the Father. Third, Zizioulas says there is a taxis or ordering in the Trinity and so we find that 'Every movement in God, ad extra as well as ad intra, begins with the Father and ends with him' (p.138). It is perhaps helpful to understand Zizioulas here with a longer quote:

It is only when divine nature is somehow confused with the person of the Father, and personal causation with a process of imparting of divine nature by the Father to the other two persons, that the equality of the Trinitarian persons as fully divine is put at risk ... Divine nature does not exist prior to the divine persons, as a sort of possession of the Father who grants it to the other persons ... Divine nature exists only when and as the Trinity emerges, and it is for this reason that it is not 'possessed' by any person in advance (p.140).

This reader finds Zizioulas' argument a convincing case, although interestingly Colin Gunton joins the conversation in his chapter in The Theology of John Zizioulas (Ashgate, 2007) where he is in agreement with Zizioulas, but suggests that while recognising the Father as the cause, we also acknowledge that it is 'the Spirit is the one who, to use Basil's words, "completes the divine and blessed Trinity"' (Gunton, 2007, 103).

John Zizioulas is always a challenging, but rewarding read. His theology of personhood and the implications it has for the doctrine of the Trinity, the church, the human being are difficult to match and his theology will continue to be one that others find helpful. He has done us a great service in drawing Western theology back to the Cappadocian Fathers. Communion and Otherness will surely join Being as Communion as a much read and much quoted book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another classic from Zizioulas, 31 Oct 2009
Aquinas "summa" (celestial heights, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church (Paperback)
Metropolitan John Zizioulas is an important person in the Orthodox world, heading up at the moment the Orthodox delegation meeting with the Roman delegation in Cyprus to discuss the role of the Pope in the first millennium of Christianity. Prior to this book, he was known for his magnum opus: "Being and Communion". This work is a complementary volume emphasising the difference between the persons that exists right at the heart of the Trinity. I think what is most fascinating about this book is that it brings home to us the extraordinary wisdom of the Fathers, in this case, the Cappadocian Fathers. In he West, brought up on Newman's development of doctrine, we are inclined to assume sometimes that our understanding of the Truth has been enhanced by the passing of time. If anything, this book shows that this may in some cases be simply untrue. Thus, one comes away with a degree of astonishment of the Cappadocian Fathers' grasp of the hidden mystery of the Trinity.

Father as Monarchia

I was particularly taken by the discussion on the Father as Monarchia of the Trinity, a concept which Zizioulas argues hard for. He takes the view that in the West since Augustine, the One "substance"of God has been given two important a place, as if the "substance" somehow precedes the persons of the Trinity. My knowledge is insufficient to agree or to disagree with him on this point.

Communion generating otherness

Whereas, "Being as Communion" was all about not surprising God as communion, here we have a difference take, namely: the absoluteness of otherness: "The Father, Son and the Spirit are absolutely different" and "Communion does not threaten otherness: it generates it".

Death and Chalcedon

In the West, particularly with John Paul II's theology of the body an increasing positive assessment of sexual procreation has developed but Zizioulas reminds us of the close connection between death and procreation; it is not particular human beings that live on, but only the human genus and that only occurs via procreation. He also gives Adam's rejection of God an unusual spin: "The rejection of God by Adam signified the rejection of otherness as constitutive of being. This gave rise to the Self as having ontological priority over the Other. It also meant that otherness and communion could not ultimately coincide". Further, I was pleased to see how he takes death seriously; increasingly in the West there has been a kind of tendency to celebrate funeral masses as if they were precisely "celebration ", a kind of denial of the existential horror of death. Zizioulas is down to earth and real: "Death is the worst enemy of otherness. No human being can really ignore it".

He gives this assessment in an important analysis of the Council of Chalcedon, showing that the hypostatic union and Christ maintains "otherness" as primordial, Christ assumes human nature but there is no mingling with his divine nature; thus otherness is preserved. Further the theosis which we undergo on earth and which will be completed in heaven does not threaten our otherness.

The One and the Many

I found his analysis of the ancient conundrum of the One and the Many fascinating. The "One of platonic and Greek ontology does not precede the "Many" but is itself "One " of the "Many"and "requires the "many" from the very start in order to exist". For Zizioulas, "nature" corresponds to the "One" and "Personhood" corresponds to the" Many". In Good, Oneness and Personhood are in unity but, for fallen humanity, nature precedes the person. In humanity, we have this conflict between otherness and nature, a conflict which does not exist in God. Sometimes however I think Zizioulas goes too far, as he does when he says: "The Other must always have priority, even if this means going against one's own conscience". (page 91). In the west, conscience is where the heart meets God - conscience is, as it were, the very voice of God, a voice which should not be rejected.

The primacy of Person hood over nature

"Openess of being" and "ek-stasis of being", moving beyond the boundaries of the self is a key theme in this book ", What one longs for is a dialogue between Zizioulas' thought and that of personalist thought of John Paul II, Edith Stein and others (John Crosby's book "The selfhood of the human person" comes to mind) to bring out common elements and differences. Zizioulas takes the view that the West has been damaged by individualism which he sees (I think) as traceable to Augustine's and defining person as an individual (Boetheus).

Death and the soul

I found this part of the book a little weak - I have never been able to understand what precisely is the Orthodox view of the soul between death and the eschaton and I don't think this book clears it up in any way.

Final thoughts

It must be said that this book is a difficult read at times (note: Rowan Williams even says so himself in the preface!); I freely admit that his chapter on presence and absence was lost on me but I could follow his thought in the rest of the book. This is the kind of book to be read and re-read but above all, it again reminds us that the mystery of the Trinity is right at the heart of the Christian mystery. And, it underscores how important is the explicit celebration of the Trinity in our Liturgy but also in our private prayer. In other words, our personal prayer life must be both a celebration of God as communion but God constituted in Otherness but yet One. We come to God in our otherness and he loves us in our otherness, guaranteeing that theosis brings to completion our created otherness - we are never absorbed into the Divine being.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good way of interlacing dialogical thinking and theology, 4 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church (Paperback)
I've known of this book because I'm working on dialogical thinking in theology; I think this book gives a good application, among other things, of the dialogical perspective in theology.
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