Made in His Image: Catholic Anthropology and Human Dignity
The anthropology of the Church points to the Word made flesh as the definitive answer to the mystery of man
The Incarnation is 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). 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." There are many questions man asks of himself: Why am I here? What is my origin and purpose? What does it mean to be human? What is my end? In Christ we find the answer.
The dignity of man is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God, whose destiny is one of eternal glory in communion with God.
When we ask the question, "Who is man?" and seek to answer it from a position of reason informed by the light of faith, we enter into the realm of the anthropology of the Catholic Church. It is especially important to have some knowledge in this area, for if we do not understand what it is to be human, we cannot live rightly nor properly interact with others in society. Our full human potential will remain unrealized. Our growth as a human person stunted. These are serious problems indeed, which can potentially effect for all eternity not only ourselves individually but others collectively with whom we come into contact through interpersonal relationships.
There are many questions man asks of himself: Why am I here? What is my origin and purpose?What does it mean to be human? Who and what am I? What is my end? These are certainly very ancient questions that, both with every new generation and repeatedly within each generation, rise to the surface of the human mind. The pressing question that follows is, where are the answers?
Given the daunting array of proposed solutions to questions about man, some insist that there are no answers: the truth about who man is, will forever remain illusive. The Church does not agree with that position. For the Church, "endowed with light from God," offers solutions to man's irrepressible quest to know himself (Gaudium et Spes 12). The Church, instituted by the Son of God and guided by the Spirit, is a holy dwelling place in which men drink from the wellspring of truth.
If man should want to know who he is, is it not most logical that he consult his Maker? That is essentially what the Church claims to do. It is, then, crucial to note that what we learn from the Church about who man is, is based on what God himself, as the Creator of man, has revealed man to be. The Church's anthropology is not in any way solely the product of natural human reason; nor is it merely and only a set of facts distilled from the fruits or failures of man's own self-examination over the centuries. It is not merely list of ideas or a set of propositions. Nor is it derived from human experiment. So, the Church's solutions are much more than simply men talking about man or men analyzing man. The Church insists upon her anthropology as one which is informed by God's divine revelation.
What the Church has to say about who man is, then, nearly infinitely surpasses in quality whatever man, working in disregard of God's revelation, can say of himself by himself, since her teaching is founded upon God's own immutable truth. This does not disparage in any way the wonderful progress of the natural sciences in understanding more of the inner workings of the human body. The distinction made here is between information derived strictly from empirical study, and the truth about man's existence communicated to the Church through the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Church's anthropology provides a glimpse into the depths and meaning of man's being that is otherwise impossible to attain. While it is true that man is a vastly complex and deeply mysterious being, who, in large part, remains hidden even from himself, what the Church has to say on the matter floods the mystery of man with heavenly light.
For those who are interested in learning more about who man is, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has many sections dealing with anthropology, is an excellent place to start. There are also numerous encyclicals written by popes who have covered the subject in some form or other. And there is Vatican IIs Gaudium et Spes, one of the four Constitutions produced by the Council having much to offer in relation to the greatest questions facing humankind, and which should be read and understood in light of Lumen Gentium.
As emphasized above, the absence of sound theological anthropology results in untold errors that effect individuals and society in horrifying ways. For instance, let us look for a moment at the dignity of the human person. It is often the case today that people tend to equate human dignity with abilities or the lack of them, such as the ability to make choices or to exercise power over others. Those who lack certain abilities, such as the very young or the very old, are deemed to be less than human. That is, because of what some people cannot do, they are judged by others to be of ...
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