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dignity of man (Gaudium et Spes)

Rev. Rama Coomaraswamy



(part 3)


The Council says a great deal about the 'dignity' of man which is said to originate in 'man's call to communion with God' The Council also tells us that 'Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in him, has been raised in us to dignity beyond compare. For, by His Incarnation... the Son of God, in a certain way united Himself with each man'(Gaudium et Spes). John Paul discusses this in his encyclical Redemptor Hominis. 'we are dealing', he says, 'with 'each' man, for each one is included in the mystery or Redemption, and with each one Christ has united Himself forever through this mystery.' Again, in a speech given in 1981 he states that 'from now on and always, without regret and without turning back, God shall be with all mankind, becoming one with it, to save it and to give it His Son, the Redeemer... For all time, the Incarnation bestows upon man his unique, extraordinary and ineffable dignity... Man redeemed by Christ, and... to each man without any exception whatever - Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it.' He repeats this in his Christmas message for 1980: 'Man was taken up by God as son in this Son of God becoming man... in this Son we are all made new to ourselves.' He repeated the same message in a General Audience in 1981: 'From now on, and always... God shall be with all mankind, becoming one with it to save it... for all time the Incarnation bestows upon man his unique, extraordinary and ineffable dignity' (General Audience March 25, 1981).

Now the traditional Church teaches that man, despite the fact that he is made in the image of God, is in a fallen state. Hence it follows that his true dignity lies in his conforming to that image. Man, being free is capable of cooperating with grace or rejecting it; capable of being raised to the dignity of the sons of God or remaining in his fallen state destined to perdition. Sin is never dignified. It also teaches that Christ is primarily and principally the head of those who are united to him in act, whether by glory in heaven, or by charity, or at least by faith, on earth. Christ is also the Head of those who are united to Him potentially - that is, who have the real possibility of converting to Him. In this latter category fall the infidels, who, as long as they are alive, are able to acquiesce freely to the grace received from Christ. I quote St. Thomas Aquinas who continues, with regard to those who do not convert to Christ during their lives: 'as soon as they leave this world, they cease totally to be members of Christ'. So it is not the sole fact of the Incarnation that unites all mankind to Christ - rather, each man must freely adhere to the Grace of Christ. To the best of my knowledge neither Vatican II nor John Paul II make any mention of the need for personal conversion as the sine qua non for this claim to dignity.

Admittedly John Paul II often speaks in a circuitous and ambiguous manner. We must however take him at his word, and presumably post-Conciliar Catholics consider this as 'authoritative' and binding. But if it is the Incarnation that redeems us, and indeed, all men, and this regardless of whether they conform to it or not, what becomes the purpose or the Cross and Passion? John Paul II gives the answer in his Encyclical Dives et Misericordia. the Passion is only a 'witness' to man's supernatural dignity, 'it demonstrates,' he tells us, 'the solidarity of Christ with human destiny... a disinterested dedication to the cause of man'.

'It is precisely beside the path to man's eternal election to the dignity of being an adopted child of God that there stands in history the Cross of Christ, the only-begotten Son... who has come to give the final witness to this wonderful Covenent of God with humanity, of God with man - every human being'.

Now, it we accept John Paul's doctrine, it follows that all men (or all 'people' in current non-sexist language) are saved. He tells us as much in Dives et Misericordia, for he states 'The mystery or election concerns all men, all the great human family' He is even more specific in a sermon given at Santa Maria in Travestere in 1980:

'(Christ) obtained, once and for all, the salvation of man - of each man and of all men, of those whom no one shall snatch from His hand... Who can change the fact that we are redeemed - a fact that is as powerful and fundamental as creation itself... the Church announces today the paschal certitude or the Resurrection, the certitude of salvation.'

Certainly God desires that all be saved, and certainly the Passion of Christ is sufficient to redeem all men. But not all men are saved, but only those who believe in His redeeming power and conform their lives to it. Perhaps this is what the Pontiff meant, but it is not what he said, and what he said, as we shall see, is consistent with other 'developments' offered to us by the post-Conciliar Church.

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