Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Human Person, The Dignity of. Part Two.

 I'm finally getting around to posting the second installment of my The Human Person series.
 I cheated in this one a bit because it's baiscally the same as a paper that I recently handed it.
Here goes:

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Our knowledge of the inviolable dignity of the human person is founded on two scriptural assertions: that man is made in the image of God (Gen 1:26) and that God became Man (Cf Jn 1:1-18). The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude.” (CCC 1700)

What is to be discussed, then, is this: what it means to have been created in the image and likeness of God, what about man’s dignity is transcendent and in what way - or how this is - and what is meant by divine beatitude. Along the way, we will explore how each of these things impacts what approach we take to justice generally and, in particular, to social justice.

God’s nature is communitarian; this is reflected in us. Blessed John Paul II comments that we are essentially social creatures. That is to say, it is part of our essence to be relational. Just as the Persons of the Trinity share in the one Nature or what-ness, we too share in common human nature yet are different persons. We are all able to do what pertains to properly to humans but it is not a nature that acts, it is a person. My nature doesn’t write this reflection, I write it; my nature is not in relation with other natures, I - as a person - am in relation. It is possible that all this talk about nature and personhood does not seem to relate to the inviolable dignity or social justice; but it does. It relates because social justice rests on the inviolable dignity of each human person who, because of his nature, is relational just as God is.  Moreover, just as the Father is not the Son, nor the Spirit either of Them, I am not you, nor you I. However, since we share the same nature, and our share of that nature is equal (for one cannot possess a lesser measure of nature), we are equal in our image-ness and likeness of God, particularly our ability to relate to other persons. This ability to relate is at the heart of social justice because it is from this - that is, the ability to relate - that society comes.

The word ‘society’ comes from the Latin societas, and that from socius, words that give rise to a new understanding of ‘society’ that can and should deeply effect the actions of those seeking social justice. The Latin socius, companion, connotes a deeper relationship than merely being civil to another. A companion is literally someone one shares bread with. (From the Latin cum - with , and panis - bread.) The intimacy of sharing food, and in particular bread, is not lost on the Christian mind: the sharing of bread is a powerful symbol of the Eucharist. The union of Christ with the believer; the believer with Christ; and the believers with is a principle effect of Holy Communion; they truly become one body by sharing in His Body. Companionship -  and, thus, society - for the Catholic, then, is realised when each responds to the call to become one with the Other. This call to oneness is best understood in light of Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “That they all may be one, as you, Father, in me, and I in you.” (Jn 17:21) The perichoresis - mutual indwelling - that is the Trinity is the image in which we are made.

Christ, who is the Image of the Unseen God, (Col 1:15) is the fullness of humanity (Gaudium et Spes, 22, 41); Jesus Christ, who is bodily in Heaven and in whom the fullness of divinity is pleased to dwell (Col 2:9) has bestowed on humanity, the glory of Heaven. Pope St Leo the Great says on this:
“…the Nature of mankind went up, to pass above the angels' ranks and to rise beyond the archangels' heights, and to have Its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, It should be associated on the throne with His glory, to Whose Nature It was united in the Son.”
(Sermon LXXIII on the Ascension.)
Indeed, St Ephrem writes, rightly, that our nature is “our nature is worshipped in the heavens by every creature seen and unseen.” (Catechesis 7) The angels are naturally - that is to say, ordinarily by nature - higher above human nature than human nature is above ant-nature; the angels naturally transcend us. Yet, as Sts Leo and Ephrem say, our nature has now been taken infinitely above that of the angels when it was united to Christ in His Divinity and then ascended to the right hand of God the Father where it is worshiped - and honour due only to God - in the Person of the Son. Our dignity is in our nature, it is from what, rather than who, we are that our dignity comes; that is why we can say that it inherent. Because our dignity is inherent and our nature has been raised about all other created natures, we can truly say that our dignity is transcendent.

This amazing gift of God to us in our nature, the transcendence of our nature and, thus, dignity, draws us to love and serve one another. Since our inherent dignity not only stems from its creation in the likeness of the Creator but has also, and further, raised, the respect due to all persons with this nature (that is, all human persons) is easily understood. This is a further grounding for social justice.

‘Divine beatitude’ is difficult to find a meaning for. Most of the good, online, theological dictionaries do not contain the phrase. However, it is possible to discern the meaning from etymology and brief theological reflection. ‘Beatitude’ comes from the Latin beatus, an adjective meaning ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate.’ It is the same root of the Latin for felicity, beatitudo. The Vulgate translation of Mt 5:3 reads, in part, “beati pauperes spiritu…” which is commonly translated as “blessed are the poor in spirit.” We can conclude, therefore, that ‘beatitude’ is the state of felicity or perfect happiness. We know, of course, that ‘divine’ denotes having to do with God or His nature. Thus, ‘divine beatitude’ is taken to mean the happiness or felicity which God enjoys. We are made for happiness; we are called to eternal and supreme happiness; we have a “vocation to divine beatitude” (CCC 1700); we are created to share in a joy, a felicity that is infinitely above our nature. More still, we are called to allow others to enjoy the same.

Social justice, then, must be rooted in the understanding of this immense dignity of the human person. Human nature is made in the image and likeness of God, who is communitarian in nature. Therefore, we must commune with others and to totally empty ourselves for the love of them. God, in His unnecessary, unjustifiable goodness, united our nature with His own Divine Nature and then, at His Ascension, bestowed on this human Nature and even greater gift: to ascend far above the angels. The respect that is due to all who share in the human Nature, then, is multiplied. This respect manifests itself in wanting the very best for each. In the mind shattering realisation that God wants to share with us the supreme happiness that He, in Himself, enjoys, we come to realise that this felicity manifests itself in overflowing gratuitousness that wishes to share the Good with all whom it comes into contact with.

We know that God’s Will is unchanging and unchangeable. Concretely, we know this dignity of ours cannot be taken away or changed: there is an inviolable dignity which is inherent in every human person. Truly, then, we can say with Pope John XXIII that “the Church‘s social doctrine, in fact, develops from the principle that affirms the inviolable dignity of the human person.” (Mater et Magistra)


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