Friday 28 November 2014

The dignity of the human person

It is good to see Francis bringing a message of hope and confidence to Europe - hope based ultimately on the resurrection, and proximately on human beings and their transcendent dignity. He recalls the distant springs of the concept of human dignity, in Greece and Rome, in Celtic, Germanic and Slavic cultures; and remembers that the concept of 'person' was forged within the crucible of Christian thinking about the mysteries of the trinitarian God and of Jesus Christ (he does not exactly say that, but he does say that Christianity forged the concept of 'person' - and he does use the word 'forged' - exactly the word used by De Smet).

He even knows the difference between individual and person:
At the same time, however, care must be taken not to fall into certain errors which can arise from a misunderstanding of the concept of human rights and from its misuse. Today there is a tendency to claim ever broader individual rights – I am tempted to say individualistic; underlying this is a conception of the human person as detached from all social and anthropological contexts, as if the person were a “monad” (μονάς), increasingly unconcerned with other surrounding “monads”. The equally essential and complementary concept of duty no longer seems to be linked to such a concept of rights. As a result, the rights of the individual are upheld, without regard for the fact that each human being is part of a social context wherein his or her rights and duties are bound up with those of others and with the common good of society itself.
The deepest proximate source of dignity is the fact that we are human beings: I like that, especially as coming from the pope. It is a continuous and continued distancing from the tendency or the temptation for Christians to fall into a merely tribal mentality, praying for Christians, concerned about Christians, and so on. The pope does of course speak of 'most especially Christians' being the target of persecution today; and that, if it is a fact, is something that certainly bears being said.

And then, the intrinsically social aspect of being human: being human means being in relation:
To speak of transcendent human dignity thus means appealing to human nature, to our innate capacity to distinguish good from evil, to that “compass” deep within our hearts, which God has impressed upon all creation.[4] Above all, it means regarding human beings not as absolutes, but as beings in relation. 


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