Whereas the form of dignity just discussed is a natural dignity deriving from man’s natural aptitude to know and love God as Being under the aspect of the True and the Good, there is a further form of dignity accessible to man which is of a supernatural nature and which derives from man’s actual knowledge and love of God in conformity with supernatural Grace. Now the first way in which St. Thomas understands that man is in the image of God is, as we have seen, in his aptitude to know and love God; a second way is in his actual or habitual knowledge and love of God. (A third way which does not concern us here since it refers not to man in his life but to his nature in Heaven is in his perfect knowledge and love of God.)
St. Thomas describes the second way as follows:-secundum quod homo actu vel habitu Deum cognoscit et amat, sed tamen imperfecte: et haec est imago per conformitatem gratiae…
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Prima ergo imago invenitur in omnibus hominibus: secunda in iustis tantum, tertia vero solum in beatis: inasmuch as man actually or habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly, and this image consists in the conformity of Grace… The first is found in all men, the second only in the just, the third only in the blessed (Summa I 93 a 4). Let us emphasize the fact that the dignity which derives from man’s actual knowledge and love of God in conformity with supernatural Grace is the property not of all men but only of the faithful who are just: it is the dignity possessed by a saint and not by a sinner, and possessed in a higher degree by a more holy than a less holy man. We may call this second form of dignity the supernatural dignity of man.7
Now, as we have seen, original sin brought about the loss of Sanctifying Grace and of the gifts of integrity, and has been inherited by all the sons of Adam. However it is possible to eradicate original sin, in its narrower sense as the lack of Sanctifying Grace, by Justification. Justification is translatio ab eo statu in quo homo nascitur filium primi Adae, in statum gratiae et adoptionis filiorum Dei per secundum Adam Jesum Christum Salvatorem nostrum: a translation from that condition in which man is born of the first Adam into the state of Grace and adoption among the children of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer (The Council of Trent session 6). Justification in the negative sense is the eradication of sin; in the positive sense it is a sanctification and renewal of the inner man: non est sola peccatorum remissio, sed et sanctificatio et renovatio interioris hominis. Justification is effected by the infusion of Sanctifying Grace into the soul of the faithful in the sacrament of baptism. The Council of Trent quotes St. John 3.5 to the effect that ‘No-one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven if he is not reborn of water and the Holy Spirit’. The faith that is required for Justification in the case of young children is the faith of the Church (Summa III 68 a. 9 ad 2), in the case of adults it is a firm acceptance of the Divine truths of Revelation on the authority of God Revealing and the good works that proceed from this faith, as well as the fear of God, hope, love of God, sorrow, and penance.
If a man loses sanctifying Grace by his actual sin, he is able to regain it through the Sacrament of penance: he regains Grace, is forgiven his sin, and reassumes the dignity of the sonship of God. (Summa III 89). It is this supernatural dignity of adoption by baptism which is referred to in the following words of St. Leo: ‘Recognise, O Christian, your dignity and become a participator in the Divine nature, do not return by depraved conduct, to your ancient misery’ (Serm. de Nativit.); and in the following words of St. John Chrysostom: ‘[The Apostle] affirms that if, being baptized, you do not let yourselves be guided by the Spirit, you lose the dignity with which you were honoured and the privilege of adoption’ (Hom. XIV in Rom.).
iii) The Dignity of Vocation
Let us now proceed to present two further forms of dignity taught by the contemporary Magisterium. The first may be termed the dignity of vocation, and is expressed in The New Catechism – or Catechism of the Catholic Church – (1700) as follows: “The dignity of the human person… is accomplished in his vocation to Divine beatitude”.
We shall first consider the type of vocation at issue here, then the type of dignity.
Now, to say that man has a vocation to a given end suggests that God has put man into a state such that he is oriented towards that end. This was true of our first parents, who God, by means of Grace, endowed with the state of Original Justice which oriented them towards Heaven; this is also true of the baptized, who God, again by means of Grace, puts into a state which orients them towards Heaven. This is not however the case with the vocation to Divine beatitude, for there is nothing in human nature which orients man towards Heaven: since Heaven is absolutely supernatural, man needs something supernatural (that is supernatural Grace) to orient him towards it.
The type of vocation at issue here does not derive from a state of human nature, then, but rather from the constant calls which God makes to man. As The New Catechism states (1): ‘… at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength … ‘ etc. Moreover these calls do not constitute an immediate orientation to Heaven, but only a mediate one, through the acquisition of Sanctifying Grace.
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We see that this sense of vocation is diluted. It manifests a naturalizing and universalizing tendency on the part of the contemporary Magisterium which seems to aim at attributing to man in general a characteristic which otherwise belongs to the baptized alone.
We proceed to examine the dignity of this type of vocation. In order to do so, we shall contrast it with the dignity of vocation referred to above, which is treated by St. Paul at Ephesians 4,1: ‘I beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called’. We notice here that this dignity is characteristic of Christians, and refers to Christian faith and virtue (‘… supporting one another in Charity…one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ vv. 2-7) and consequently amounts to the supernatural dignity presented above; whereas the dignity at issue in this section is a feature of all men and purely natural in character. In a word, the vocation is of a universal and natural character, and the is so too.
What type of dignity is the dignity of vocation? It is not a moral dignity because Christ ‘came to call sinners’ (Mt. 9, 13) nor is it an ontological dignity: it does indeed derive from an ontological dignity namely the natural dignity of man described above, but is not identical to it, at least not in the contemporary theories of the dignity of man. Rather it is a merely relational dignity. In scholastic terms it is a predicamental relation: an accident the entire being of which consists in its reference to another.
This dignity does not reside in man’s intrinsic excellence, but derives from the excellence of his goal, inciting him to achieve it and shaming him if he fails. This is why the most fitting context for the dignity of vocation is that of exhortation (e.g. ‘Walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called’ Eph. 4,1, see above).
The dignity of vocation may be understood as a form of nobility. A nobleman possesses a form of excellence which consists solely in its reference to another, namely a noble forbear. This form of nobility is an incentive to ‘walk worthy’ of a heritage, to live a noble life, and is a source of shame for a nobleman if he fails to do so. We recall the admonishment of St. John the Baptist to the Jews: ‘Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.’ As St. Cyril comments in the Catena Aurea: ‘What profits the nobility we inherit through the flesh, unless it be supported by kindred feelings in us? It is folly then to boast of our worthy ancestors, and to fall away from their virtues.’
In conclusion, the dignity of vocation is a natural and relational dignity. It should serve as an incentive to the life of virtue. It is less perfect than that form of dignity which is supernatural, intrinsic, and moral. The New Catechism, by stressing the former at the expense of the latter, again manifests a naturalizing tendency.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.