Catholicity and Emerging Personhood

by Father Daniel P Horan, OFM

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism


My middle son teaches Anthropology at a Chicago University. After studying Horan’s book, it is somewhat clear to me that I’ve had the initial conversations brought forth by the chapters written by professor Horan with my son. The movement of anthropology into theology and vice versa is evident. This is also true for psychology. This book contributes to moving the theological conversation about what it means to be human from the repetition of antiquated and incomplete perspectives of ages past to a place where discussion about the Christian traditions view of humanity takes seriously what we have learned about the world, ourselves, and the rest of creation in conversation with what we rightly call tradition. The author calls for us to strive always to deepen our knowledge of and appreciation for the faith that has been handed on to us. The way we proceed in seeking greater knowledge and understanding of, and appreciation for the human person within the Christian tradition is by way of catholicity. Horan includes a brief discussion of the development of doctrine at the beginning of this book because it pertains directly to the constructive systematic exploration of what it means to be a human person from a Christian theological perspective. He reports that Newman anticipated this task and the necessity of reminding theologians and others of doctrinal development. Newman states the ideas are very much alive in context, culture, and increasing knowledge. Newman holds that it is precisely the complexity, nuance and richness of doctrinal expression that require time for fuller understanding of this or that tenet of faith.


This book contributes to our collective responsibility as Christians to seek a fuller understanding of our faith, which is another way of saying that we are tasked with the ongoing development of doctrine. The call to move beyond the binary of so much of Christian theological reflection and articulation is not novel, but it is one to which the author joins his thought and voice. This book is tentative and exploratory. It is neither a complete doctrinal explication of theological anthropology nor is it an attempt to reject outright what has come before. Rather, it is a contribution to the ongoing effort to clarify and understand more deeply the faith that Christians profess, especially as it pertains to those who are making this same profession of faith: human beings.


The first part of the book argues for a broader theology of creation as the starting point for any theological reflection on the human person, and it is composed of three chapters. The first chapter It articulates a theological anthropology in the key of examines the manner in which we must understand our won species as part of creation alongside all else that exists in the cosmos. Drawing on the natural science, the wisdom traditions of indigenous peoples, and the creation accounts of the Book of Genesis, this section argues for a renewed sense of our human animality as the starting point for reflection on human personhood. To articulate a theological anthropology in the key of catholicity or whole-making, we must take developments in the natural sciences seriously. It also explores the meaning, challenges and promises of evolutionary biology. Opening with an explication of the meaning of evolution. The engagement with Darwin, Chardin and others refers to deep incarnation and resurrection, evolutionary theodicy and suffering and the meaning of the human person as it continues to develop and emerge in its evolutionary view of the world.


The second part of the book shifts its focus from humanity within the broader community of creation to the human person as such. It introduces the philosophical theology of John Dunn Scotus as an alternative foundation to the nearly hegemonic thought of Thomas Aquinas in Catholic theology beginning with a stark examination of the meaning of human nature, it provides an overview of Scotus’s principle of individuation and its significance for theological anthropology in the key of catholicity. The case studies provided a more capricious understanding of the human person that can accommodate the experiences and realities of women and men that do not fit comfortably into the relatively inadequate theological anthropology grounded in an Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical anthropology. This section considered the sexism of gender complementarity, the reality of transgender persons and the dehumanization of racism. This section also includes a reconsideration of the world in which we live in light of the gift of God’s self as grace.


The last chapter concludes with a notion that brings together the various themes explored by offering a reflection on the spirituality of theological anthropology articulated by the series of books entitled catholicity. This is a fun book to read that is also mind-boggling. As the Cardinal of Chicago relates the paradigm shift that we all are experiencing is one in which the Holy Spirit continues to reveal His working to all of us. This is a hopeful time to belong to the Catholic Church as we realize both the fruits of.

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