Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: On the Human Person

This will be the first in a series of posts on Catholic social teaching as expressed in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. First we will look at the teaching on the human person.
The Church sees in men and women, in every person, the living image of God himself. This image finds, and must always find anew, an ever deeper and fuller unfolding of itself in the mystery of Christ, the Perfect Image of God, the One who reveals God to man and man to himself. (Section 105)
Jesus perfectly expressed the image of God that was given to humanity in the beginning. In the Incarnation God joined himself to humanity in a unique way - not only by taking on human nature but also by dying on behalf of humanity. This bestows on every human person a dignity that demands recognition.

God's gift of his image to humanity points us to the purpose of our creation. "The likeness with God shows that the essence and existence of man are constitutively related to God in the most profound manner. ... The whole of man's life is a quest and a search for God" (section 109). Or in Augustine's more felicitous expression (via Chadwick), "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." This capacity for relationship with God is reflected in humanity's capacity and desire for social relationships ordered by love and mutual care.

Humanity, however, fell into sin, which disrupted its relationships with God and all his creatures. For more on the "twofold wound" of sin see my earlier post on the structures of sin. Nevertheless, "the doctrine of the universality of sin must not be separated from the consciousness of the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ. ... Christian realism sees the abysses of sin, but in the light of the hope, greater than any evil, given by Jesus Christ's act of redemption, in which sin and death are destroyed" (section 121). As St. Paul says in Romans 5, "For just as by the one man’s [Adam's] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s [Jesus'] obedience the many will be made righteous." Jesus is the new Adam who "fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling" (section 121).

"The new reality that Jesus Christ gives us is not grafted onto human nature nor is it added from outside: it is rather that reality of communion with the Trinitarian God to which men and women have always been oriented in the depths of their being, thanks to their creaturely likeness to God" (section 122). Jesus places humanity back onto the path toward the beatific vision, which was their ultimate goal from the beginning.

There are many aspects to human persons, which may be summarized as follows.

1. The person is a unity of body and soul:
Through his corporeality man unites in himself elements of the material world. ... Through his spirituality man moves beyond the realm of mere things and plunges into the innermost structure of reality. ... The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. (sections 128 and 129)
2. The person is open to transcendence:

"Openness to transcendence belongs to the human person: man is open to the infinite and to all created beings" (section 130). The human person has the capacity to transcend the self and open up to relationships with God and others. This same capacity gives the ability of self-understanding and self-awareness. (It is important to note that these characteristics flow out of the person; they do not define the person. Even if they are absent there remains the fundamental human dignity belonging to the person as a creation of God.) The openness to transcendence allows the person to distinguish themselves as an "I" apart from "thou", thus marking out each individual as a "unique and unrepeatable being".

3. The person flourishes in freedom:

Persons must be free to seek God and the true good. Economic, social, or political injustices are injurious to freedom; removing them allows humanity to flourish. "In the exercise of their freedom, men and women perform morally good acts that are constructive for the person and for society when they are obedient to truth" (section 138).

4. All people possess equal dignity:

Since all people bear the image of God and are the objects of God's love, then it follows that they must be regarded as equal.
Together with equality in the recognition of the dignity of each person and of every people there must also be an awareness that it will be possible to safeguard and promote human dignity only if this is done as a community, by the whole of humanity. Only through the mutual action of individuals and peoples sincerely concerned for the good of all men and women can a genuine universal brotherhood be attained; otherwise, the persistence of conditions of serious disparity and inequality will make us all poorer." (section 145)
The equal dignity of all persons gives rise to the idea of human rights. "The ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings, in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his Creator" (section 153).

5. The person possesses a social nature:
The human person is essentially a social being because God, who created humanity, willed it so. Human nature, in fact, reveals itself as a nature of a being who responds to his own needs. This is based on a relational subjectivity, that is, in the manner of a free and responsible being who recognizes the necessity of integrating himself in cooperation with his fellow human beings, and who is capable of communion with them on the level of knowledge and love. (section 149)
This teaching about the human person is the foundation of the Christian belief in human dignity. Only with the recognition of this dignity can there ever be a just society:
The person represents the ultimate end of society, by which it is ordered to the person: "Hence, the social order and its development must invariably work to the benefit of the human person, since the order of things is to be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around". Respect for human dignity can in no way be separated from obedience to this principle. It is necessary to "consider every neighbour without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity". Every political, economic, social, scientific and cultural programme must be inspired by the awareness of the primacy of each human being over society. (section 132)

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.