Made in His Image: Catholic Anthropology and Human Dignity
little or no value. The end result is the reality of abortion: one person exerts deadly power over another who lacks any ability for defense, inflicting bodily death upon the helpless.
As Dr. J. Brian Benestad noted in an essay on Gaudium et Spes, careful education is necessary in order for people to "understand that the dignity of the human person is not essentially constituted by the ability to make choices" (Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition 151). With this statement, he is affirming both that human dignity is not solely defined by abilities, as well as that human dignity is not a possession unaffected by our choices of free will. By man's choices of this or that, good or evil, action or inaction, he shapes his character and thus fathers his own being.
Therefore Dr. Benestad is able to say that "Christians continually achieve or perfect their dignity by seeking the truth, resisting sin, practicing virtue, and repenting when they succumb to temptation" (ibid.). Human dignity is to be advanced by living a moral life within the boundaries of the natural law, in accordance with truth, in free and loving obedience to divine law. Christians are called to perfection through a life of holiness. As Dr. Benestad noted in his essay, Pope Leo XII stated in Rerum novarum that "True dignity and excellence in men resides in moral living, that is, in virtue."
But from where does man obtain his dignity originally? Basing her teaching on Sacred Scripture, the Church proclaims that man's dignity is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26; GS 12; CCC 1700), which is to say at the outset something spectacular. Man does not merely and only reflect something of his Creator, as a sign which points to something beyond itself, but rather bears a real and substantial likeness to God. And that is not all, for man is destined, redeemed as he is by Christ, to share in God's divine life.
Blessed John Paul II wrote in his apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici: "The dignity of the person is manifested in all its radiance when the person's origin and destiny are considered: created by God in his image and likeness as well as redeemed by the most precious blood of Christ, the person is called to be a 'child of the Son' and a living temple of the Spirit, destined for eternal life of blessed communion with God" (37). As Dr. Benestad noted, it is Catholic teaching that man receives his dignity from God in the following three ways: his creation in the image and likeness of God; his redemption by Christ's sacrifice on the cross; his destiny to eternal communion with God.
The human person is indeed special! The future held in store for those who love God is an unending state of supernaturally infused bliss and love in eternal communion with the Holy Trinity. In a word, man is made for God. The human person is clearly not just "something" but rather someone whose exceeding dignity and beauty is founded on his destiny to share in God's divine nature: man is brought forth from the darkness of nonexistence into the light of existence in order to participate in God's life. Man is destined for eternal glory. His dignity is, therefore, of transcendent value which reaches beyond the natural into the supernatural life of God.
Further, the anthropology of the Church points to the Incarnation as the definitive answer to man's deepest questions about himself, for "it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" (GS 22 § 1). During his general audience on 8 November 1995, Blessed John Paul II stated that "the nature and destiny of humanity and of the world can be definitively revealed only in the light of the crucified and risen Christ."
Jesus is the "key, the center and the purpose of the whole of man's history" (GS 10). Our origin, purpose and destiny, all that we are and all that we are suppose to be, the entire seemingly unsolvable equation of man is revealed in God's only Son who died for our sake. God who became man is the perfect man. Christ is the supreme example of holiness, perfection and dignity; his life is the paradigm of our own. Jesus, who is "the way and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6), is the answer to every hope and to every question which dwells in the depths of man's complex, mysterious and often turbulent heart.
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at catholicpathways.com
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: anthropology, man, woman, what is man, dignity, human dignity, beauty, wonder, Fred Bartels
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