Frederick Wilhelmsen, The Metaphysics of Love

New York: Sheed and Ward, 1962.

In this work, Wilhelmsen outlines that the question of identity is really inseparable from the revelation of Christ. If, as MacIntyre write, human identity is found questing for human telos, then because human telos is “divinization . . . we are constituted persons by our beatitude” (14). Wilhelmsen would agree with MacIntyre that the unity of human life is a narrative quest fulfilled in God: “there are questions we ask and question we are. . . . the answer to my being, is the Christian God” (16-17).

The identity of a particular human life is found in self-giving agape. Faced with a fallen nature, we seek healing. Even though we are impoverished contingent beings, we nevertheless are compelled to give of ourselves. If we try to appropriate the being of others to make up for our own ontological poverty, we end up losing our being, “the slave of [our] own conquest” (22). We become ourselves, find our identity, only by giving ourselves away: “the human person is that whole in being who, experiencing himself as finite and contingent, without any grip on his own being, nonetheless exists within an order of being to which his own being is open and in which he must seek his destiny, even to the surmounting of the world and to the giving of himself to a Being who, in no sense needing him, nonetheless gives Himself and thus heals the wounds of his contingency” (37). Given a universal telos, some social roles, particular circumstances, and a set of stories that describe how some men found or failed to find their telos, a man’s identity is formed and transformed as he quests through life, towards a telos which demands the emptying of the self.

Man’s identity is not static, because he is not static: “man is never frozen in such a moment that he can say to himself: this I am and neither more nor less” (55). Identity is linked to our tradition, forefathers, local community: “what we are today in our present is the convergence of the possibilities we possess as a result of having been what we were yesterday” (70). Thus, to the question “Who am I?” Wilhelmsen answers “It is that person who says to himself: ‘I am this man, flesh and blood, bone and spirit,’ a man related in a uniquely historical manner to the whole of reality, a man situated in a world proper to himself within which he must carve out salvation and personhood” (48-49).

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