Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Human Dimension

PIGEONHOLING HUMANITY IS SOMETHING THE CHURCH will not do as she knows that she is dealing with a mystery, and she is used to handling mysteries, including the mystery of mysteries which she handles with a humeral veil or confects on the altar. With respect to the mystery of man, she disdains the "various reductionist conceptions of the human person," those that are predicated upon ideology and not sound notions of the human person, those that would limit man's personhood to function. Man's ability to limit man is quite prevalent: homo faber, homo ludens, homo economicus, homo loquax, homo politicus, or a homo technologicus, as if man were all work, all play, all about money, all about chatter, politics, or technology.

Instead, the Church's social doctrine "strives to indicate the different dimensions of the mystery of man, who must be approached 'in the full truth of his existence, of his personal being and also of his community and social being.'" (Compendium, No. 126) (quoting JP II, Redemptor hominis, 14)

What the Church does know is that there is no such thing as homo solus, man alone. "The human person," the Church insists, "may never be thought of only as an absolute individual being built up by himself and on himself, as if his characteristic traits depended on no one else but himself." (Compendium, No. 125) There is no such thing as atomistic man.

"It is not good for man to be alone," says the Lord in the beginning of creation. (Gen. 2:18) Likewise, it is not good to think that man is man alone.

There are certain qualities, certain large features in the landscape of the personhood of man that the Church identifies: a unity of body and soul, an openness to transcendence, the subject of free will, a source of intrinsic uniqueness, dignity, always open to, and formed by, others.

Man is a unit of body and soul, with the soul being spiritual, immaterial, and the "principle of unity of the human being." In Aristotelian terms which the Church has borrowed and made her own, the "unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the 'form' of the body." (Compendium, No. 129) The Church rejects a Platonic notion of that man is spirit, imprisoned, as it were, in a body. She rejects a Cartesian dualistic vision of man as a "ghost in a machine." The body is part of the person every bit as much as the soul. Corpore et anima unus.

The body is not a tool, something separate from man, that he may use for pleasure. Nor is the body to be regarded as something to be despised or unholy. The body is not a pariah, an untouchable. Though wounded by sin, the body remains a holy thing, a temple of the Holy Spirit to use St. Paul's words. (1 Cor. 6:19) The body is intrinsic to man, and for that reason participates in the moral act, and participates in the redemption through the promised resurrection of the body.

The Church travels in between the extremes of spiritualism and materialism: "Neither the spiritualism that despises the reality of the body nor the materialism that considers the spirit a mere manifestation of the material do justice to the complex nature, to the totality or to the unity of the human being." (Compendium, No. 129)

Along with his freedom and with his disposition toward desiring truth, the human person is intrinsically open to others of his kind, but also to the transcendent, the infinite "Other," the holy "Beyond," ultimately He whom we know as God. This openness to the entirety of existence even God was described by the Scholastics as the capax universi and the capax Dei, the capacity towards the universe and the capacity towards God in man.

The Compendium hearkens back to these notions of man as capax universi and the capax Dei, when it says: "The human person is open to the fullness of being, to the unlimited horizon of being . . . . In a certain sense the human soul is--because of its cognitive dimension--all things." Anima quodammodo est omnia, said St. Thomas. The soul is in a manner of speaking all things.

Indeed, the soul is in a manner of speaking greater that all material things, for "in fact, man in his interiority transcends the universe and is the only creature will be God for itself." (Compendium, No. 133) This brings to mind St. Thomas's striking statement: "The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe."*

Each human being is also "a unique and unrepeatable being," who "exists as an 'I' capable of self-understanding, self possession, and self-determination." (Compendium, No. 131) Here again the Church rejects a functional understanding of person and insists an an ontological notion of person. It is not function that makes a person, it is the person that allows the function.

"[I]t is not intellect, consciousness, and freedom that define the person; rather, it is the person who is the basis of the acts of intellect, consciousness, and freedom. These acts can even be absent, for even without them man does not cease to be a person." (Compendium, No. 131)

The Church clearly spurns functional definitions of personhood which have their source in John Locke and receive their full flower in the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, whose functional definitions of personhood as "self-awareness" have led him to justify such evils as abortion and infanticide as well as those in persistent vegetative states.

The openness to the transcendent and his uniqueness give the human person a unique dignity which society and its structures must respect, and which is the foundation of his moral and civil rights and freedoms. "[T]he 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. . . . Every political, economic, social, scientific, and cultural program must be inspired by the awareness of the primacy of each human being over society." (Compendium, No. 132)

Freedom, a gift of God to man, is another essential quality of personhood, and freedom is ordered to the good, to truth, ultimately to God himself from whence it came. "Man can turn to good only in freedom, which God has given to him as one of the highest signs of his image." (Compendium, No. 135)

Yet this freedom so intrinsic to man is not a false autonomy. Man is not an autos nomos, a law unto himself, "self-law." Man's freedom is not independent from God and his law, for it is not in man to define good and evil. Contrary to the teaching of the Greek philosopher Protagoras, the Church maintains that man is not the measure of all things. Rather she sides with Plato who in his Laws maintained against Protagoras that God is the measure of all things.

Man's freedom "is not unlimited: it must halt before the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil,' for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law." (Compendium, No. 136) (quoting JP II, Veritatis splendor, No. 35)

The moral law is therefore fundamental to the proper exercise of man's freedom, and any suggestion that freedom requires man to travel beyond the boundaries of the moral law is nothing other than an argument that a proper use of freedom is to fall into the abyss of immorality. No. The moral law is a reality, which is only ignored to the peril of freedom.

"The proper exercise of personal freedom," the Compendium insists, "requires specific conditions of economic, social, political, and cultural order that 'are too often disregarded or violated. . . . By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.'" (Compendium, No. 137) (quoting CCC, § 1740)

*St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2.

No comments:

Post a Comment