Another form of dignity taught by the contemporary Magisterium is expressed in the following section of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (see chapter 12): ‘By His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every human being… This saving event reveals … the incomparable value of every human person.’ In a similar vein in his speech ‘on the Dignity of the Human Person, the Pope to be, while enumerating the grounds for human dignity, writes: ‘Furthermore God also became a human being’, redeems man, and ‘permeates the human being with divine Grace… The matter of the dignity of the human person … is certainly an ecumenical element, an element common to all people of genuinely good will.’ (viz. the last section of chapter three).
How are we to interpret this form of dignity? The Pope seems to conceive it as a form of ontological dignity, indeed of the supernatural order. However, the Incarnation did not change human nature, and only Christians in a state of Grace possess a supernatural dignity. How can we understand it in the light of the Catholic faith?
In Fr. Matthias Joseph Scheeben’s analysis of the patristic Tradition in his ‘Mysterien des Christentums’, as presented by Fr. Johannes Dörmann, the Incarnation constituted a form of ‘simple union’ or ‘dead union’ with the whole human race in the sense of a material precondition for the ‘living union’ in the mystical body of Christ and the Church through faith and baptism. We may conclude that if we wish to speak of a dignity consequent on the Incarnation then we should speak of the dignity consequent on the simple union of Christ with mankind, which is but another form of dignity of vocation, namely vocation to the Christian faith.
We note in passing that if this were true, then the Incarnation would furnish a basis for the vocation to Divine beatitude comparable to Original Justice or baptism (see the previous section).
Comparing this fourth type of dignity to the third, namely to the dignity of vocation as taught by the contemporary Magisterium, we note that both are merely relational dignities, the former as to Divine beatitude, and the latter as to the Christian faith.
Leaving aside the fourth form of dignity due to the indeterminacy of its content, let us briefly review the two principal forms of dignity, as well as the dignity of vocation to Divine beatitude in virtue of its prominence in The New Catechism (especially part III).
We may say then that a person may possess three forms of dignity: first a dignity of vocation to union with God, second a natural dignity of orientation (albeit weakened by original sin) to God as Being under the aspect of the True and the Good; and third a supernatural dignity together constitute the Image and Likeness of God in man.
Which in the interpretation of the Fathers of the Church of actually knowing and loving God, which is at the same time the sonship of God and a sharing in the Divine life. We see that these three forms of dignity belong to one and the same scheme of things. God desires union with man in Heaven (the ground of the first dignity), to this end he gives man a natural orientation (the ground of the second dignity), and offers him supernatural assistance thereto (the ground of the third dignity).
Before moving on, let us show that the third form of dignity is superior to the others, and this in three ways.
The first way is causally: the vocation and the orientation are means towards the end, namely the (supernatural) union: the vocation is a vocation to union with God and the orientation is an orientation to union with God. The vocation and the orientation are but the necessary means for union with God (although not sufficient means because they constitute natural perfections whereas the union with God in question constitutes a supernatural perfection). In addition, since the dignity of union with God is in fact the final end of man, it follows that it is the highest form of dignity even on earth.
The second way is morally: the dignity of union with God on earth is a moral dignity (leaving aside the case of a baptized infant who is united to God but not as a result of his actions); a moral excellence is higher than a natural or a teleological excellence.
The third way is ontologically: the vocation and the orientation are related to the union as potency to act: the vocation is related to the attainment of the goal (namely the union), the orientation which is the potential to know and love God (in the ultimate, supernatural sense) is related to the actual knowledge and love of God; act is superior to potency. In addition, the dignity of union is a supernatural excellence whereas the dignity of vocation and of orientation are merely natural excellences.
4. On the Nature of Love
Now in the previous section we have noted that it is dangerous to use the term ‘dignity of the person’ in a sense that is undefined and hence open to misinterpretation. The same is true of the term ‘love’. Love in particular may be understood merely emotionally. In order therefore to understand properly the love relevant to sexuality, let us begin by offering a brief analysis of the nature of love.
i) God’s Charity
In order better to understand man’s love, let us begin by considering that perfect love which is God’s love. St. John tells us in his First Epistle 4.8 that ‘God is love’ which may be understood in the following terms: The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is their united act of love. Two general features of this love which are of note are that it is self-giving and unitive.
As for God’s love for man, St. John tells us in his Gospel 3.6 that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting’. Here again God’s love is manifest both in self-giving, for in the Person of the Son He gives Himself to mankind, and as unitive, for in so doing he unites Himself with mankind. A third feature of the love here described is what we might term its fruitfulness, or its promotion of a good, in this case life everlasting. The fruitfulness of love is most evident where the object of love is created being, expressing God’s will that created being should exist and should attain its end.
ii) Man’s Charity
Man’s love for God in Heaven is a sharing in God’s love for Himself. It is therefore a self-giving and unitive love. It is also a fruitful love with regard to man because it constitutes the attainment of man’s final end. In an extended sense it is also a fruitful love with regard to God, not because it gives anything to Him Who possesses, and indeed is, the sum of all perfections, but because it increases His gloria externa: it magnifies Him as in the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist magnificat, magnificari: it accomplishes His purpose in creating the universe which is the communication of His goodness and the manifestation of His glory in Creation.
The love so far described: God’s love for Himself, God’s love for man, man’s love for God in Heaven, is known as ‘Charity’. This love is supernatural. For man it is a participation in God’s love and life, a participation which is only possible by means of Supernatural Grace. Without this Grace it is impossible for man to love with a love of Charity. This love is possible in the present world as well as in Heaven and has as its objects God or one’s neighbour for the sake of God. The love of God comprises acts of the love of God such as acts of adoration, as well as all of a man’s actions when he performs them for God, for the sake of God: to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10.31), to God (Col. 3.23), in the name of God (Col. 3.17): ‘All whatsoever you do in word or in work do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ’; the love of neighbour includes the love of enemies. Charity transforms the actions it accompanies, elevating them to a Divine level. As with all realities revealed by God, Charity can only be understood in a limited sense. It cannot be comprehended by philosophy, and so is not an object of philosophy.
To the comments on the three general features of love noted above, one may add in the case of man’s Charity on earth that it is always characterized by giving, since it consists in actions performed for the sake of God; and that it is also always characterized by union with God, since it is a sharing in the love and life of God. It is fruitful for the agent in promoting his final end, it is fruitful for any human object it may have either in directly promoting his final end, or in indirectly promoting it as for example it consists in bringing him happiness and peace, the best conditions for progressing towards the final end.
In Heaven in the Beatific Vision, man will behold God as He is in Himself according to his own ineffable mode of being: sicuti est (I St. John 3.2), and will hence love God as He is in Himself in Charity.
Now the basis for man’s knowledge and love of God in the next world is the radical orientation of his intellect to God as Being under the aspect of the True and the radical orientation of his will to God as Being under the aspect of Good. As for this world, these radical orientations form the basis equally for man’s knowledge of God as the True and the Good in the light of reason alone (albeit weakened by Original Sin); for his knowledge of God as He is in Himself: in seipso by Faith; and his love of God as He is in Himself in Charity.
Man’s love of the Good in all its finite embodiments and his love of God as the Good is known as rational love. It is a purely natural love and is distinguished as such from his supernatural love of God in Charity.
iii) Rational and Sensible Love
Now man is not merely a spiritual being; he is also a physical being and to preserve him in his journey towards his final end, and to ensure that he has progeny, he has been given the faculties of sense perception by which he apprehends individual being under the aspect of the true, and of sense appetite by which he desires it under the aspect of the good. This sense appetite is known as sensible love or the passion of love.
Sensible love is a feature of man as a psychophysical organism. Its goal is pleasure which it seeks by taking, by attaining union with its object, for pleasure arises from union (Summa II 1 a.30). It is in the service of biological life: the conservation and promotion of the individual organism or the species. It looks to what is presented by the senses as requisite and congenial here and now. It is subjective, and its dynamic is that of potency seeking its own fulfilment. Examples of it are the desire for food and drink and, unless and until they are informed and elevated by rational love or Charity, family love and sexual (or ‘erotic’) love.
The nature of sensible love is largely the same for man as for the animals, although in man it is elevated by the presence of the spirit to a status higher than in its animal counterpart.
Rational love is a feature of man as spirit, its term is Being itself. The radical dynamism of spirit is one of act, of abundance. It looks to absolute being and seeks to promote it in all its finite embodiments by giving. Examples are the natural love for God and the love of friendship.
Comparing sensible love and rational love in regard to the three features of love noted above, we may say that sensible love involves taking, rational love giving; sensible love is characterized more markedly by union than rational love – as in the case of doing good to an enemy; sensible love promotes the good of the self as psychophysical organism and of the species, rational love promotes the good of the other as a rational being as well as the good of the self as rational being, since in promoting the good of the other the agent gives, and in giving he advances towards his own final end: his perfection in love. (It should however be noted here that since rational love is not a supernatural love (like Charity) but only a natural love, it does not promote the agent’s final end, which is supernatural, immediately (like Charity) but only mediately, in disposing the agent towards this supernatural end.) The fruitfulness of rational love in regard to the other may be described in terms of the Aristotelian-scholastic phrase as ‘willing the good of the other’.
Now rational love when it has man as its object, is known as the virtue of love. The virtue of love differs from Charity in quality and scope: it is a natural and not a supernatural form of love, and has a narrower range, not including the love of God or the hallowing of man’s every action. The virtue of love is often contrasted with the passion of love, which is another name for sensible love. The virtue of love may be defined as that virtue by which a man altruistically wills the good of his neighbour by promoting it to the best of his ability wherever and however he can. A prime example of the virtue of love is the love of friendship, which is characterised by its mutuality and by the virtuousness and likemindedness of the pair: idem velle idem nolle. Further examples are family love and marital love where the virtue of love informs and elevates that family love or erotic love which are initially merely sensible. Let us note that ‘friendship’ is here understood in a narrow sense. In a broader sense it is understood to characterise other forms of rational love too, such as family love and marital love, as well as Charity itself, as St. Thomas shows in the Summa II II q.23.a.1.
Sensible family love is the love between parents and children or between children. It can become inordinate to the detriment of justice. When it is informed and elevated by rational love it becomes unselfish, the child regarding the parent as a good person for example, or as worthy of his love, and the parent relinquishing his possessive hold on the child. Erotic love is in man’s fallen nature tinged with lust, seeking pleasure for its own sake and regarding persons as objects, tending to transfer from one person to another even though the mediation of successive ‘marriages’. When erotic love within marriage is informed and elevated by rational love it is transformed into marital love regarding persons as persons. Such are the ways in which sensible love becomes truly human, receiving depth from rational love and becoming an expression of it. For Christians in the state of Grace this rational love is in its turn informed and elevated by Charity and thus becomes a form of supernatural love.
To recap, we have briefly examined Charity in its fourfold aspect: God’s love for Himself, God’s love for man, man’s supernatural love for God, man’s supernatural love for man. We then examined rational love, including man’s natural love for God and the virtue of love, and finally sensible love.
In most general terms, the following may be said of human love: Human love is rooted in man’s imperfection and indigency. On the natural level he is unable of his own resources to preserve himself as an individual or as a species: he needs to eat, drink, and to procreate. On the supernatural level he is unable of his own resources to attain his goal which is supernatural perfection: he needs the help of Grace. These goods which man needs are fruitful for him and must be communicated to him from without. Human love pertains to the communication and fruitfulness of these goods, and hence has two elements: the element of communication (or union) and the element of fruitfulness. The element of fruitfulness is primary because it regards his perfection; the element of union is secondary, because it regards the means to this perfection.
Let us conclude by briefly comparing and contrasting the love of God for man and man for God in two of its aspects.
Amor Dei est infundens et creans bonitatem in rebus (Summa II q.20a.2) the love of God infuses and creates the goodness which is in things. His love is the principle of the creation and continuing existence of all that is. It is the principle of their desirability. Man’s love by contrast is essentially passive: a response, a movement elicited from without. God gives goodness to things, He does not, like man, submit to their attractions. His love is sheer benevolence, gratuitousness, selflessness. He gains nothing from us while we gain everything from Him.
The love of God is a love of self-giving, as is the love of man to God to which man is called. The love of man for his neighbour (whether rational love or the love of Charity) may by contrast more aptly be characterized simply in terms of giving: it may be described as self-giving only in a secondary sense (e.g. in phrases such as: ‘he gave of himself’).
Let us briefly show the application of this introductory section to the particular moral themes of this book.
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The Final End of man, Heaven, or the Beatific Vision, provides the foundation of all morality. Since this vision is purely supernatural, the means for attaining it must also be purely supernatural, that is to say, Sanctifying Grace. This Grace is acquired by baptism alone, with the result that the unbaptized are unable to attain Heaven.
Now, since there are only two final destinations for man, namely Heaven and Hell, it follows that the unbaptized are consigned to Hell. Hell consists essentially of the deprivation of the beatific vision: the consequence of mortal sin, whether original or personal. Unbaptized infants are deprived of the beatific vision because they have inherited the stain of original sin from which they have not been purged by baptism. Since, however they have committed no personal sin, they are not liable to suffering, which is the punishment for personal sin, but rather dwell in a place in Hell characterised by a purely natural happiness, the purely natural Final End. The name given to this place is ‘Limbo’(See Appendix B).
Aborted children cannot be supposed to enjoy either of the two substitute forms of baptism allowed for by the Church, namely baptism of desire and baptism of blood, for the former requires perfect contrition of heart of which, having not yet attained the age of reason, they are incapable, and the latter requires martyrdom for the faith of Christ. Neither can they be considered to be baptized by the pious practice of prayer together with the sprinkling of Holy Water, for baptism requires the infusion of water over a living person.
The moral law entails the principles quoted above that man as a living being must respect and conserve the being he has received from God, and that man as a member of a species must work for the conservation of this species in marriage and in the procreation and education of children. These principles in their turn entail the fifth and sixth Commandment, namely Thou shalt not kill (prohibiting abortion) and Thou shalt not commit adultery (prohibiting all forms of sexual immorality).
Moving from general ethics to special ethics, in particular to interpersonal ethics, we may proceed to consider these moral themes in the light of the dignity of the person and the virtues. Since it is by the practise of the virtues that man attains his final end and obeys the moral law, it is possible to analyze a moral act in terms not only of the final end and the moral law but also in terms of the virtues. Taking account of the dignity of the person and the nature of the unborn we conclude that the virtues relevant to the issue of abortion are both justice (suum cuique dandi)-the virtue of rendering to each his due, and the virtue of love – that of selflessly promoting the good of the other. Taking account of the dignity of the person and the nature of sexuality, we conclude that the virtue requisite to sexuality is the virtue of love: that of selflessly promoting the good of the other.
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Of course if the agent is a Christian this love should in both cases be transformed into Charity.
The dignity of the other requires justice and love (or Charity) in the first case and love (or Charity) in the second case, but what of the dignity of the agent? We have seen that the primary dignity of the person derives from his actual knowledge and love of God, which is at the same time the sonship of God and a sharing in His Divine life, or in other words it derives from his Charity. The means by which a Christian agent respects this dignity in himself is by performing all his actions with Charity, or in other words for the sake of God. It is then not only the dignity of the other person but also his own dignity that obliges a Christian to act for the sake of God, to act with Charity, when he acts towards the unborn or in his marital relations, or indeed, in a more general sense, in everything that he does.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.