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INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION

THE DIGNITY AND RIGHTS OF THE HUMAN PERSON*

(1983)

 

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. The Importance of This Study

The Church’s mission is to announce the kerygma of salvation for all mankind, which was achieved by the death and Resurrection of Christ. This salvation has its origin in the Father, who sent the Son, and it is given to individual human beings as a participation in the divine life, through the infusion of the Spirit. The acceptance of the Christian kerygma demands faith; and the new life that results from grace implies a change of life, a conversion, with many consequences in all phases of the life of the believer. It is not possible for the Church to omit preaching the dignity and rights of the human person. Every Christian must strive to realize these values for every human being. This duty and right of God’s people to proclaim and defend actively the dignity of the human person is particularly urgent today because of the simultaneous appearance of two compelling factors: on one hand, there is a deep crisis as to the nature of human and Christian values; on the other, the modern conscience is profoundly sensitive to injustices perpetrated against human beings. The new Code of Canon Law (747 2) speaks clearly about this obligation and right: “It is in the Church’s competence to proclaim the moral principles of the social order in all times and places and to make judgments on all human matters, when this is demanded by the fundamental rights of human beings or the salvation of souls.” Today in the preaching and action of the Church, this proclamation has happily an outstanding place.

The International Theological Commission wishes to cooperate in this thrust to the best of its ability. When certain possible misunderstandings (1.2-3) have been excluded, some propositions of a theological nature will be presented (2.1-2.2.3) in this regard, first from the teachings of Holy Scripture (2.1.1) and from the present teaching of the Roman Magisterium (2.1.2). The movement of thought will be twofold. The “natural law of nations” (GS 79) and the theology of salvation history will both be scrutinized. Special attention will be paid to these, especially in today’s situation, so that it will appear how human dignity, both actively and passively, should be viewed in man as created (2.2.1), in man as sinner (2.2.2), and in man as redeemed (2.2.3). Finally, in the last part certain comparisons will be made and certain points of a philosophical and juridical nature will be proposed.

1.2. The Hierarchy of Human Rights

Certain human rights are so “fundamental” (Decl. 1948) that they can never be gainsaid without belittling the dignity of human persons. In this regard the International Pact of 1966 (art. 412) presents certain rights that can never be put aside, e.g., every person’s inherent right to life (art. 6), recognition of the dignity of the physical person and the fundamental equality of persons (art. 16), freedom of conscience and religion (art. 17). Religious liberty may in some respects (the Supreme Pontiff, John Paul II, speaking to participants in the Fifth Colloquium Juridicum: L’Osservatore Romano, 11 March 1984, p. 6) be regarded as the basis of all other rights. Some, however, would claim this primacy for equality.

There are other rights of a lesser nature (International Convention, 1966, art. 5.2) but also basically essential. Among these are civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights concerned with more particular situations. Indeed, in some sense these rights will appear at times as contingent consequences of fundamental rights, as conditions involved in practical application, and also as closely bound to actual circumstances of times and places. Consequently, provided there is no denial of the fundamental rights themselves, these lesser rights may present themselves as less immune, especially in difficult circumstances.

Finally, there are other human rights that are not requisites of the rights of nations or strictly obligatory norms but postulates of an ideal of progress toward a universal “humanization”. What is at stake here is the achievement of the highest human ideal, and this is the obligation—since this is the desire of all citizens—of all those charged with the care of the common good and political life. International assistance may be necessary here in particular cases (Decl. 1948, end of Prologue).

When it comes to a judgment about the practical implementation of these lesser rights, the demands of the common good must be borne in mind or, in other words, the totality “of social conditions that make possible, for groups and for individuals, the full and timely attainment of their own perfection” (GS 26).

1.3. Variation in the Meaning of “the Dignity of Human Persons”

The notion of human dignity is not presented univocally today Some define it in terms of man’s absolute autonomy without any relationship to a transcendent God, denying moreover the very existence of a God who creates and cares (GS 20; cf. 3.1.3). Others, while certainly taking due account of man s intrinsic worth and honoring his personal freedoms, in a word his relative autonomy, see all this as ultimately grounded in the supreme transcendency of God, even if this is presented in differing versions (GS 12, 14-16, 36; cf. 2.1.2, 2.2.1, 2.2.3). Finally, others find the source and meaning of man’s status, at any rate since the fall (2.2.2), above all in man’s union with Jesus Christ, our Lord, who is God and man in a perfect way (GS 22, 32, 38, 45; cf. 2.2.3).

2. THE THEOLOGY OF THE DIGNITY AND RIGHTS OF MEN

2.1. In Some Theological Sources

2.1.1. The Biblical Perspective

It is true that the Bible does not use a twentieth-century vocabulary, but it does supply premises from which a developed doctrine about the dignity and rights of human beings may be deduced.

The basis of the moral and social life of Israel is the Covenant between God and man. In this merciful attitude toward man’s deprivation, God manifests his intimate character, his justice (sedaqua Yahweh), and demands in turn man s obedience to the divine ordinances. Such obedience includes reverence for the rights of others with respect to life, honor, truth, the dignity of marriage, and the use of possessions. In a most special way the anawim Yahweh, the poor and oppressed, are deserving of respect. In return for his gifts God asks of man a life spirit of mercy and loyalty (hesed weemeth). The rights of people involve obligations and duties on the part of others, a fact that the apostle Paul will demonstrate later by showing in depth the implications of charity in the second part of the Decalogue (Rom 13:8-10).

In the Old Testament the prophets hammered home the need for utter sincerity in observing the demands of the Covenant (Jer 31:31-39; Ezek 36); they protested with passion against individual and corporate injustice. They fanned the hope of the people in a future Savior.

This new and final Kingdom of God was preached by Jesus and in fact set in motion in his Person and in his activity. He demands a complete change of heart, metanoia, in his disciples and announces to them a new way of living, a new justice, in which they will imitate the ways of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:48; Lk 6:36) and, as a result, hold and treat all men as brothers. Jesus favored the poor and miserable and opposed the arrogance of those made self-sufficient by power and wealth. In his death and Resurrection, by words and example, he championed existence for others, that is, the supreme gift of his own life in sacrifice. He “did not count ... a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6) and so “emptied himself” (Phil 2:7). “He was made obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8), and for the good of all he poured out and offered his blood in a New Covenant (Lk 22:20).

The apostolic writings show the Church of Christ s disciples to be a new creation brought about by the Holy Spirit. By his operation human beings are given the dignity of being God’s adopted children. Where relations with others are concerned, the harvest of the Holy Spirit is love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, restraint, gentleness. On the other hand, excluded are quarrels, contentiousness, envy, rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, murder, etc. (cf. Gal 5:19-23).

2.1.2. The Roman Magisterium Today

The Roman Magisterium, which is supreme in the Catholic Church, is in our time a staunch protagonist in many documents of the doctrine of the dignity of the human person and of human rights. The constant preaching and action of the following Popes should be brought to mind: John XXIII (Pacem in terris), Paul VI (Populorum progressio), John Paul II (Redemptor hominis, Dives in misericordia, Laborem exercens, and his addresses during his worldwide pastoral visits). More attention too should be paid to the teaching of Vatican II, especially in the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes, 12ff., on human dignity, 41, on human rights, etc. The new Code of Canon Law (1983), which is, as it were, the last act of Vatican II,1 gives special treatment to “the obligation and rights of all the faithful” (208-23) in the life of the Church.

In today s apostolic preaching two main and complementary lines appear. The first, which may be called a line of ascent, belongs to the natural law of peoples, buttressed by reasoning and debate but confirmed and raised to a higher level by Divine Revelation, thanks to the Gospel. Here man appears not as an object and instrument to be used but as an intermediate end in himself, whose welfare both personal and ultimately as a being for God must be our aim. Man enjoys a spiritual soul, reason, freedom, conscience, responsibility, an active role in society. All interpersonal relationships between people must be conducted in such a way that this fundamental human dignity be given full honor, that justice and kindness be fully observed, and the needs of all be fulfilled to the best of our ability.

The second line of today s apostolic preaching on man s rights may be called a line of descent. It shows the basis and demands of human rights in the light of the Word of God coming down to share the human condition and in the paschal sacrifice, so that all men should be endowed with the dignity of God s adopted sons and both benefit from and contribute to a deeper justice and charity In the course of propositions still to come, this Christological foundation for human rights will get very special attention when considered in the light and grace of the theology of salvation history At this point all that needs to be noted is that the principle of reciprocity, affirmed by so many religions and philosophies as the foundation of human rights, should find a Christological meaning in the preaching of Christ: “Therefore be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful... Do to men as you would wish them to do to you” (Lk 6:36, 31).

2.2. The Dignity and Rights of Human Persons in the Light of “the Theology of Salvation History”

2.2.1. Man as a Created Being

According to the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council, special attention should be paid to the theology of salvation history by seeking out the links between this theology and our human dignity. This link is especially obvious in the light of Christ as Creator (Jn 1:3), as incarnate (Jn 1:14), as “given up to death because of our sins, and raised to life to justify us” (cf. Rom 4:25).

In the first place let man be looked at as a created being. Therein the wisdom, power, and goodness of God appear, a fact that Scripture often recalls (especially Gen 1-3). And even human reason is at home here (Rom 1:20). Indeed, the theological doctrine that sees man under certain aspects as Gods creation converges with metaphysics and moral philosophy.

The biblical model of the creation of man reveals three very important considerations.

Man in his fullness is historically spirit, soul, body (1 Thess 5:23). He is not simply the product of a general evolution of matter but the result of specialized divine action and made in Gods likeness (Gen 1:27). Man is not simply body; he is endowed too with intelligence, seeking for truth, with a conscience and a sense of responsibility that he is to follow in the pursuit of the good in freedom. It is in these attributes that the foundation of man’s dignity is to be found, a most prized gift always and in everyone.

Indeed—and this is the second biblical datum—human beings are created as social beings, differing in sex (Gen 1:27; 2:24). Sex is the source of marriage, in which the spouses are united in mutual love and respect for each other, as also for the children born of this love considered in all its fullness. Families go on to form larger units, communities and societies, where the same respect for persons must flourish. All human beings, since they are God s creation and endowed with the same fundamental characteristics, deserve the highest consideration. Granted man’s social nature, personal growth, and social progress go hand in hand. Indeed, since human beings absolutely need society, the origin, the subject, and the goal of all social institutions is and should be the human person (GS 25 1).

The third aspect of man considered in his state of “created nature” is in his God-given mission to “preside” (Gen 1:26) over all created things as a terrestrial viceroy. Herein he develops his dignity in various ways, in the creation of art, in scientific discovery and invention, in philosophy and culture in general, etc. Nor can a preoccupation with human rights be omitted here, since all human activities must be governed by just distribution among all of common responsibilities, efforts at production, and distribution of the fruits of labor. “As mans potential grows, so do his personal and social responsibilities” (GS 34 3).

2.2.2. Man as a Sinner

The second stage of the history of salvation is marked by the reality of sin. As Paul the apostle wrote to the Romans (1:21): “Knowing God, they have refused to honor him as God, or to give him thanks. Hence all their thinking has ended in futility, and their misguided minds are plunged in darkness.” Abandoning justice toward God and their brothers, they gave priority to selfishness, a spirit of domination, wealth unjustly acquired, the jettisoning of responsibilities, and false pleasures of all kinds. This conduct led to blindness and hardening of heart, which the Magisterium constantly denounces in these times as the loss of a sense of sin, a phenomenon that is very widespread. Because of this most serious moral vacuum, there is a danger that the preaching and practice of human rights will often be rendered simply sterile. At times, in effect, all efforts are directed at changing sinful structures, with no allusion whatever to the need for a radical change of heart. We must not forget that such structures are the result of personal sins, which in turn are rooted in original sin, and, when viewed cumulatively, are at times referred to as the sin of the world. What is worse, granted man’s permanent selfish bent since the fall, the more technical and economic capabilities he enjoys, the more subject he becomes to the temptation to see himself as an absolute lord (rather than as a viceroy under God) and go on to create for others even more oppressive structures.

Since the Church puts forth her doctrine of sin in the fullest terms possible, she urges men to metanoia, so that they will abandon injustice and embrace justice in all its scope. This justice must recognize God’s rights and those of man, our brother. In that way the preaching of the doctrine of sin is a valid contribution toward promoting the rights of persons. By means of this doctrine Christians have an original contribution to make in the universal effort to promote the quest for these rights. In the forceful preaching of the Church, sin and its influence in creating sinful structures are highlighted not as an exercise in pessimism but so that men may look to that way of recovery and rebuilding to be found in the grace Christ offers to all. Historically speaking, fallen nature is an expectation of the redemption. Besides, fallen nature—even in the case of the most depraved—is not to be regarded as stripped of every right and dignity and incapable of anything positive in the social field (cf. Rom 2:14). It is God’s image deformed but to be remade by grace, and which, even prior to this reformation, has its rights and should be urged both personally and as far as the world is concerned to move toward better things. This exhortation should not be made in such a way as to lead men to think this earth is the sum of their hope. A Christian’s theological hope is focused on the ultimate, and not on anything less. The effort to make this earth better must always go on, even if, as in the case of Christ himself, the only earthly results are the Cross and human failure. Even in this likeness to the crucified Christ, the man who strives for justice is preparing God’s final Kingdom.

2.2.3. Man Redeemed by Christ

The importance of the theology of salvation history taught by Vatican II also comes to the fore if the effects of the redemption won for us by Christ, our Lord, are considered. By his Cross and Resurrection Christ, the Redeemer, offers to men salvation, grace, and an active charity and opens in a most ample way access to participation in the life of God. At the same time, “by the same token [he] animates, purifies, and strengthens those generous aspirations that urge on humanity to make human life better and to subject the whole earth to that enterprise” (GS 38 1).

Christ gives these gifts, tasks, and rights to redeemed nature, and he calls all men to become one with him in his paschal mystery, “by that faith that is active in love” (Gal 5:6). It is by this that we know what love is: that Christ laid down his life for us. And we in our turn are bound to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 Jn 3:16), indulging no more in selfishness, envy, greed, wicked desires, the boast of wealth, concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn 2:16). For his own part Paul the apostle describes this death to sin and new life in Christ in such a way that, as a result, Christ’s disciples will not be conceited or think too highly of themselves (cf. Rom 12:3) but will as members of the Christian fellowship honor the different vocations and “gifts” allotted by God to different people (Rom 12:4-8): “let fraternal love breed warmth of mutual affection and give pride of place to one another in esteem” (Rom 12:10), “care as much about each other as about yourselves. Do not be haughty, but go about with humble folk. Do not keep thinking how wise you are. Never pay back evil for evil. Let your aims be such as all men count honorable” (Rom 12:16-17; cf. Rom 6:1-14; 12:3-8).

The teaching, example, and paschal mystery of Jesus are a confirmation that men’s efforts to build a world more in keeping with human dignity are just and reasonable. And they also act as the index of crisis whenever these efforts become misdirected, either by aiming at a purely earthly Utopia or by using means opposed to the Gospel. And they surpass these efforts when the latter take on a merely human cast inasmuch as the Gospel opens up a new and specifically Christian religious foundation for human rights and dignity and gives men new and wider perspectives as God s adopted sons and brothers in Christ—who suffered and rose again.

Christ was present and is present to all human history. “In the beginning was the Word... All things came to be through him” (Jn 1:1-3). “He is the image of the invisible God; his is the primacy over all created things. In him everything in heaven and on earth was created” (Col 1:15-16; cf. 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:1-4). In his Incarnation he conferred maximum dignity on human nature. For that reason the Son of God is united in some way to every man (GS 22 2; RH 8). He shared the human condition in all its aspects, except sin, in his life on earth. In the spiritual and bodily sufferings he underwent, notably in his Passion, he took his part with us in our common nature. His passage from death to Resurrection is a new gift to be communicated to all men. In Christ, who died and rose again, are to be found the first fruits of the new man, transformed and transformable to a higher state.

In that way in heart and action, every follower of Christ must shape himself in terms of the demands of the new life and act according to Christian dignity. He will be particularly sensitive to honoring the rights of all (Rom 13:8-10). Following the law of Christ (Gal 6:2) and the new Commandment of charity (cf. Jn 13:34), he will not be selfish or insistent on what is his (cf. 1 Cor 13:5).

In his use of terrestrial realities, the Christian should cooperate with the revelation of the glory of creation and so free it from the shackles of servitude to sin (cf. Rom 8:19-25), so that it will serve to give justice to all on the lines of “the values of human dignity, fraternal union, and freedom” (GS 39 3). In that way we who bore the likeness of the terrestrial Adam in our mortal lives because of sin must now through a new life bear the likeness of the heavenly Adam (cf. 1 Cor 15:49), who is always the one who exists for the good of all men.

3. COMPARISONS AND SUGGESTIONS

3.1. Comparisons

3.1.1. The Variety of Human Conditions

Having explained the specific Christian teaching on the dignity and rights of human persons as it is presented in current Christian theology, the International Theological Commission regards it as opportune to look at the same topic in terms of its relationship with other disciplines, various cultures, and the present-day social, economic, and political milieus in the so-called First, Second, and Third Worlds.

The concept of the dignity of the human person and of the rights of man, which in a very special way was worked out under the influence of the Christian doctrine on man, has also been buttressed by all the statements of this century. Today, however, whether through misinterpretation or direct violation, it is too often seriously obstructed and even disfigured!

Looking back over the last thirty years we find good reasons for rejoicing at the significant progress made in this field. We cannot at the same time pass over in silence the fact that the world in which we live has more than its share of instances of injustice and oppression. One is easily inclined to observe that there is a growing divergence between the genuinely significant statements of the United Nations and the at times massive increase in violations of human rights at all levels of society and worldwide.2

Faced with this state of affairs, today’s Christian wishes to distinguish good from evil not, indeed, to condemn, but to ensure that all become more aware and effective in pursuing the welfare of all by observing and esteeming the rights and dignity of human persons. As a Christian he urges not alone the acceptance of the Kingdom of Christ, a Kingdom of justice, love, and peace, but also seeks to create human and reasonable conditions among human beings. He is aware of his own specific Christian identity, which involves obedience, even on earth, to the “paradoxical laws” of God’s Kingdom,3 and of the intimate ties that link him to all men of goodwill. In this spirit the International Theological Commission was of the opinion that two suggestions in particular could be proposed even to non-Catholics.

The first belongs to general philosophical inspiration, whether traditional or contemporary. The second is more concrete and aims at securing better international collaboration and a better juridical approach even by powers and governments that in certain cases may care little for people’s liberties.

3.1.2. The First World

In the so-called First World4 the dignity and rights of man are loudly proclaimed and care is taken toward their practical implementation. This is a considerable value. But, if the rights of men are understood merely in a formal way with stress on the factor of autonomy, such a view may bring on a view of liberty that runs the strong risk of not producing genuine human dignity. Paradoxically, genuine liberty and dignity can be corrupted in such a situation, as the following examples indicate. Many countries in the First World are very rich, and the citizens enjoy great personal liberty, and both are strongly fostered. However, in these societies the incentive to “consumerism” often bears in itself the seeds of selfishness.5 In these First World societies the sense of higher values is often lost (naturalism); everyone looks only to his own interests (individualism); and the willingness to accept moral norms vanishes (autonomism,6 practical laxism; the right, so-called, to be different). What happens then is that limits imposed on one’s liberty with a view to the common good or for the maintenance of the rights and liberties of other people are resented, and an exaggerated libertarianism becomes the principle of social and moral life.7 Further, in one and the same country extreme social differences exist, and not enough is done to avoid this or oppose it. While this is not exclusively true of the First World, it must be said that the prevailing mentality leads to the exploitation of the weak by those who are more powerful. And this is a sure way to a crisis in the matter of rights.

What has been said so far reveals that the legal norms that are promulgated in such societies with skill and much fanfare for the protection of the dignity and rights of man are insufficient—for that matter, they are never sufficient anywhere—unless men, having changed their hearts, and being renewed in the charity of Christ, do their very best to live according to the demands of social justice and in the spirit of their religious conversion.

3.1.3. The Second World

If we move from the First to the Second World, that is, to the world that has for its common characteristic what is called real Marxism, we meet various difficulties, the principal ones possibly being the evolution of Marxism itself and the differing complexions of post-Marxist theorizing. Here we shall consider only the kind of Marxism that is in vogue in some particular regime or other today, where the constitutions and laws have one way of looking at man and another way of acting, so much so that while the rights of man are verbally recognized, the meaning is quite different. This problem is presented not merely as a piece of information but for the sake of the Christians who must coexist in such places and who are required to cooperate. They are more-or-less tolerated as citizens but, in fact, tainted with suspicion.

According to historical materialism man is not created by God (a myth distorting reality) but is simply a result of the evolution of matter. Genuine human progress will be attained when the conditions of production and the human labor entailed are changed for the collective good by changing the economic structures on which the whole so-called superstructure is built and sustained. To attain this end each and every citizen must collectivize himself to the utmost.

As far as the rights and liberties of the citizen are concerned, three points are given maximum consideration.

All must embrace the law of the necessary evolution of matter realizing itself in the life of the collectivity; any concessions made to the individual are never to be regarded as a strictly private possession, but as an interim moment on the way to definitive common possession in the collectivity— and this in the light of the theory of a future final and perfect collective society.

Good and evil are defined solely in terms of historical evolution favoring the collectivity

Therefore, the individual conscience does not exist but only the collective conscience as mirrored in the individual.

It is clear that the Marxist vocabulary on human dignity, rights, liberty, the person, conscience, religion, etc., differs altogether not only from the Christian teaching but also from the concepts of international law as expressed in many charters. Marxism sieves all these through its own mind.

In spite of these difficulties a wise and efficacious dialogue should be entered into and kept going.

3.1.4. The Third World

Other problems concerning the rights of man arise in the context of the so-called Third World. Here, obviously, conditions differ, where the new peoples may wish to make a large issue of retaining their native culture, to increase their political independence, and to promote technical and economic progress. It is therefore the social aspects of the rights of man that are paramount in these cases. The postcolonial period is not without an ambiguous inheritance; the colonial period was guilty of many injustices, and, consequently, these peoples properly expect a greater justice in political and economic relationships.

The new peoples frequently voice the objection that the full rights of international justice are not sufficiently acknowledged in their case. Their public power and political weight seem to them to be weaker than what prevails in the countries of the First and Second Worlds. A poorer nation can rarely vindicate its sovereignty fully unless it makes a pact with a richer or more powerful nation, which will wish to dominate.

The economy and international trade are often laden with injustices, for example, in the sale of what the country produces or in the wages of those who labor for the foreign and multinational concerns. Assistance from the rich nations is often minimal. Often again, rich nations show to poor nations that hardness of heart that was castigated by the prophets and by our Lord Jesus himself. Rarely are the indigenous cultures prized as having value for the peoples themselves or for others. It is clear that in the Third World regions, also, there are deficiencies that must be removed if we are to make real progress. In these circumstances there is serious need for the witness of the Catholic Church in favor of those who are so sorely weighed down.

3.2. Suggestions

3.2.1. The Insights of Personalistic Philosophy

We have seen that there are many difficulties in the First, Second, and Third Worlds when it comes to the real definition and application of human rights. The Christian response to such difficulties is, we remember (3.1.1), the vitality “of a faith, believed and applied in the moral order” (LG 25 1), as well as theology and Christian philosophy. Nor should other aids be forgotten, both practical (as far as international law is concerned, 3.2.2) and doctrinal (cf. 2.1 and 2.2). Especially in the field of philosophy, the International Theological Commission wishes to draw’ attention to helps of an introductory and explanatory kind that the present insights of personalism offer, particularly when they are rooted in a “permanently valid philosophical patrimony” (OT 15), and in that way strengthened by traditional teaching.

As against materialistic naturalism (3.1.3) and atheistic existentialism, modern communitarian personalism teaches that man by his very nature, or at a more eminent level of being, has a finality that surpasses the physical processus of this world. This personalism is radically different from individualism; its primary approach is to see man in his relationship to others, and only in a secondary way does it see him as related to things. A person exists as such, and is able to attain fulfillment, only when he is united to and communicating with others. Understood like this, a personalist community is altogether different from purely political and social societies, which make little of spiritual reality and real autonomy.

In this perspective we should do well to seek out the basis of this personalism in traditional Christian philosophy, and Saint Thomas Aquinas in particular. To grasp this more readily, it will help to recall that for Aquinas natural substances exist for action. Actions constitute the perfection of things. Among natural things, however, man has a singular status since he has intellect and liberty. Man, as a rational substance, has control of his own action, and this fact is honored by a special name. Man is a person. Some actions he shares with the animal kingdom, but certain actions belong to him alone: actions of reason (intellect) and will. Inasmuch as he is a free person, he must follow the vocation his reason will have shown him. This does not tie him to a single course. He is free to choose his own type of life and follow his own path. Every person, therefore, is defined also in terms of a vocation to be realized and a final destiny.

The exigencies that spring from his intimate personal being are so many tasks for his will. This duty (or necessity), which he may accept or reject, demands in the first place that man be conscious of who he really is and live in accordance with his own level of being. This duty can be understood in a more special way under the influence of religion. God’s design is the source of what a man is as a human being and what it implies. To seek ones own perfection is to obey God’s will.

Before all else he must inquire into the nature of that perfection, which should be regarded as the proper end and final destiny of the human being. This involves two questions: In what reality will man find this perfection (finis qui)? Through what action will he attain that thing that will make him happy (finis quo)?

According to personalism, the reality is another person, and the action is love. Love unites. However much a person is one and the same (ego) and consequently remains subjectively his own center in life, at the same time, if he is to be a full person, that ego center must journey somehow in love to another person, who then becomes the objective center of his life (other ego, other self, thou). In mutual love I and thou remain two, and still they become one (us in personalist usage). It is obvious that we have here a Gospel tracer leading toward the New Testament doctrines of the union of the Divine Persons in the Most Holy Trinity as well as the union of people between themselves and with Christ, the Head, in the Mystical Body.

In human society justice guards and protects the otherness of the person, which can never be denied a free man. This virtue is founded on the respect every man owes to another. A person is not a means to be used but an end in himself and must be honored as such. Love involves this respect and justice inasmuch as it invites men to work in full freedom to ensure the good of others.

The rights of the human person depend on justice. Man has a right in justice to all the means necessary to develop himself and attain to fulfillment, subject indeed to the common good. What is specifically due him is the right to life. Then, since a man cannot develop himself without the enjoyment of material goods, he ought to have disposition of them. On the other hand, as master of himself, he should have the right to appropriate freedom and to coresponsibility.

In this perspective, which touches on faith, theology, and philosophy, certain hopes are now put forward, as a practical conclusion, toward a common and universal respect for human rights.

3.2.2. Proposal for a Common and Universal Observance of Human Rights

We have seen that in today’s world there is a reasonably general consensus on the normative moral value of the rights of man. It is also clear that there is considerable disagreement when the discussion is centered on philosophical justification, juridical interpretation, or political possibilities, where the rights of man are concerned. As a result there is much ambiguity in this field. In practice we frequently meet injustices and violations of the freedoms of the person.

This granted, today in the matter of the realization of the rights of men, we should note what follows: since the value of human dignity makes it the highest good to be pursued in the moral order and the basis of juridical obligation, human rights must be clearly defined and given juridical expression.

The possibility of applying these fundamental rights in this way will depend on achieving a consensus that transcends differing philosophical and sociological conceptions of man. Should such a consensus be arrived at, it will serve as a basis for a common interpretation of the rights of man, at least in the political and social fields.

Such a basis is to be found in that triad of fundamental principles, namely, liberty, equality, and participation. This triad underlies the rights attached to personal liberty, juridical equality, and the exercise of the activities belonging to social, economic, cultural, and political life. The links that exist between the elements of this triad exclude a one-sided interpretation, e.g., liberalistic, functionalistic, or collectivistic.

All nations, then, in putting these fundamental rights into practice, should see to it that the elementary conditions for a dignified and free life exist. In such a matter it will of course be necessary to keep in mind the special conditions of each nation from the point of view of culture and social and political life.

Once the fundamental rights have been defined, they should be written into the Constitution and everywhere given juridical sanction. But it will be impossible to have the rights of man fully and universally acknowledged and reduced to practice unless all states, especially in the case of conflicts, recognize the jurisdiction of some international institution and refrain from using absolute power in the matter. To reach indeed this international juridical consensus, it will be necessary in a methodical way to set aside old ideological conflicts and also the narrower conception of ways of living that distinguish certain communities.

In the same way, in the family of nations each and every citizen should treasure these fundamental rights and cultivate the values that sustain them.


* This document was approved by the Commission “in forma specifica”.

l The Holy Father, John Paul II, has often spoken in this vein, e.g., Address to Participants in the Course on the New Code of Canon Law and Address to Bishops, 2: L’Osservatore Romano, 21-22 November 1983, p. 4; Address to Canon Lawyers, 3: L’Osservatore Romano, 9-10 December 1983, p. 7; Address to Sacred Roman Rota, AAS 76 (1984): 644; the apostolic exhortation Redemptionis donum, 2, AAS 76 (1984): 514.

2 John Paul II, Letter to K. Waldheim, United Nations Secretary-General, thirtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, AAS 71 (1979): 122. On this matter the Holy Father added further: “If the truths and principles in this document [i.e., the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man by the U.N.] were to be forgotten or ignored and were thus to lose the genuine self-Evidence that distinguished them at the time they were brought painfully to birth, then the noble purpose of the United Nations Organization could be faced with the threat of a new destruction.” Address to U.N., 9; .4.4S 71 (1979): 1149.

3 Epistle to Diognetus 5; Funk, 1:396-400.

4 The expression First World is little used, and then only among politicians and sociologists. It derives from the use of the term Third World, a term that arose in India after World War II. GS 9 contrasts “developing nations ... with other richer nations developing more rapidly”.

5 “The blind love of one’s own interest and the preoccupation with domination constantly allures the soul.” Paul VI, apostolic letter Octogesima adveniens to Card. Roy, 15; AAS 63 (1971): 412.

6 Those who defend this self-autonomy absolutely do not see that “in the divine disposition of things itself the just autonomy of the creature is by no means removed; rather, it is given its true dignity and stability” (GS 41). On the contrary, in any false conception of autonomy, “the dignity of the human person is by no means saved but perishes rather” (ibid.).

7 John XXIII gives a good description as to how the elements of social life should be balanced in the best way possible: “Since men are by nature gregarious, it is right that they should live side by side and seek each other’s good. For that reason a proper way of living together demands that they should be unanimous as to mutual rights and obligations in principle and practice.” Encyclical letter Pacem in terris; AAS 55 (1963): 264f; cf. Paul VI, Octogesima adveniens, 23, pp. 417f.

     

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