The Human Person in God's Plan of Love

III. THE HUMAN PERSON IN GOD'S PLAN OF LOVE
a. Trinitarian love, the origin and goal of the human person
b. Christian salvation: for all people and the whole person
c. The disciple of Christ as a new creation
d. The transcendence of salvation and the autonomy of earthly realities

CHAPTER ONE

GOD'S PLAN OF LOVE FOR HUMANITY
From the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

 III. THE HUMAN PERSON IN GOD'S PLAN OF LOVE

a. Trinitarian love, the origin and goal of the human person

34. The revelation in Christ of the mystery of God as Trinitarian love is at the same time the revelation of the vocation of the human person to love. This revelation sheds light on every aspect of the personal dignity and freedom of men and women, and on the depths of their social nature. “Being a person in the image and likeness of God ... involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other ‘I' ”[36], because God himself, one and triune, is the communion of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In the communion of love that is God, and in which the Three Divine Persons mutually love one another and are the One God, the human person is called to discover the origin and goal of his existence and of history. The Council Fathers, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, teach that “the Lord Jesus Christ, when praying to the Father ‘that they may all be one ... as we are one' (Jn 17:21-22), has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine Persons and the union of the children of God in truth and love. It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself (cf. Lk 17:33)”[37].

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35. Christian revelation shines a new light on the identity, the vocation and the ultimate destiny of the human person and the human race. Every person is created by God, loved and saved in Jesus Christ, and fulfils himself by creating a network of multiple relationships of love, justice and solidarity with other persons while he goes about his various activities in the world. Human activity, when it aims at promoting the integral dignity and vocation of the person, the quality of living conditions and the meeting in solidarity of peoples and nations, is in accordance with the plan of God, who does not fail to show his love and providence to his children.

36. The pages of the first book of Sacred Scripture, which describe the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27), contain a fundamental teaching with regard to the identity and the vocation of the human person. They tell us that the creation of man and woman is a free and gratuitous act of God; that man and woman, because they are free and intelligent, represent the “thou” created by God and that only in relationship with him can they discover and fulfil the authentic and complete meaning of their personal and social lives; that in their complementarities and reciprocity they are the image of Trinitarian Love in the created universe; that to them, as the culmination of creation, the Creator has entrusted the task of ordering created nature according to his design (cf. Gen 1:28).

37. The Book of Genesis provides us with certain foundations of Christian anthropology: the inalienable dignity of the human person, the roots and guarantee of which are found in God's design of creation; the constitutive social nature of human beings, the prototype of which is found in the original relationship between man and woman, the union of whom “constitutes the first form of communion between persons”[38]; the meaning of human activity in the world, which is linked to the discovery and respect of the laws of nature that God has inscribed in the created universe, so that humanity may live in it and care for it in accordance with God's will. This vision of the human person, of society and of history is rooted in God and is ever more clearly seen when his plan of salvation becomes a reality.

b. Christian salvation: for all people and the whole person

38. The salvation offered in its fullness to men in Jesus Christ by God the Father's initiative, and brought about and transmitted by the work of the Holy Spirit, is salvation for all people and of the whole person: it is universal and integral salvation. It concerns the human person in all his dimensions: personal and social, spiritual and corporeal, historical and transcendent. It begins to be made a reality already in history, because what is created is good and willed by God, and because the Son of God became one of us[39]. Its completion, however, is in the future, when we shall be called, together with all creation (cf. Rom 8), to share in Christ's resurrection and in the eternal communion of life with the Father in the joy of the Holy Spirit. This outlook shows quite clearly the error and deception of purely immanentistic visions of the meaning of history and in humanity's claims to self-salvation.

39. The salvation offered by God to his children requires their free response and acceptance. It is in this that faith consists, and it is through this that “man freely commits his entire self to God”[40], responding to God's prior and superabundant love (cf. 1 Jn 4:10) with concrete love for his brothers and sisters, and with steadfast hope because “he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). In fact, the divine plan of salvation does not consign human creatures to a state of mere passivity or of lesser status in relation to their Creator, because their relationship to God, whom Jesus Christ reveals to us and in whom he freely makes us sharers by the working of the Holy Spirit, is that of a child to its parent: the very relationship that Jesus lives with the Father (cf. Jn 15-17; Gal 4:6-7).

40. The universality and integrality of the salvation wrought by Christ makes indissoluble the link between the relationship that the person is called to have with God and the responsibility he has towards his neighbour in the concrete circumstances of history. This is sensed, though not always without some confusion or misunderstanding, in humanity's universal quest for truth and meaning, and it becomes the cornerstone of God's covenant with Israel, as attested by the tablets of the Law and the preaching of the Prophets.

This link finds a clear and precise expression in the teaching of Jesus Christ and is definitively confirmed by the supreme witness of the giving of his life, in obedience to the Father's will and out of love for his brothers and sisters. To the scribe who asks him “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mk 12:28), Jesus answers: “The first is: ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength'. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:29-31).

Inextricably linked in the human heart are the relationship with God — recognized as Creator and Father, the source and fulfilment of life and of salvation — and openness in concrete love towards man, who must be treated as another self, even if he is an enemy (cf. Mt 5:43-44). In man's inner dimension are rooted, in the final analysis, the commitment to justice and solidarity, to the building up of a social, economic and political life that corresponds to God's plan.

c. The disciple of Christ as a new creation

41. Personal and social life, as well as human action in the world, is always threatened by sin. Jesus Christ, however, “by suffering for us ... not only gave us an example so that we might follow in His footsteps, but He also opened up a way. If we follow this path, life and death are made holy and acquire a new meaning”[41]. Christ's disciple adheres, in faith and through the sacraments, to Jesus' Paschal Mystery, so that his old self, with its evil inclinations, is crucified with Christ. As a new creation he is then enabled by grace to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). This “holds true not for Christians alone but also for all people of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the Paschal Mystery”[42].

42. The inner transformation of the human person, in his being progressively conformed to Christ, is the necessary prerequisite for a real transformation of his relationships with others. “It is necessary, then, to appeal to the spiritual and moral capacities of the human person and to the permanent need for his inner conversion, so as to obtain social changes that will really serve him. The acknowledged priority of the conversion of heart in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they are an inducement to sin, so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance the good rather than hinder it”[43].

43. It is not possible to love one's neighbour as oneself and to persevere in this conduct without the firm and constant determination to work for the good of all people and of each person, because we are all really responsible for everyone[44]. According to the Council's teaching, “they also have a claim on our respect and charity that think and act differently from us in social, political and religious matters. In fact the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through kindness and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them”[45]. This path requires grace, which God offers to man in order to help him to overcome failings, to snatch him from the spiral of lies and violence, to sustain him and prompt him to restore with an ever new and ready spirit the network of authentic and honest relationships with his fellow men[46].

44. Even the relationship with the created universe and human activity aimed at tending it and transforming it, activity which is daily endangered by man's pride and his inordinate self-love, must be purified and perfected by the cross and resurrection of Christ. “Redeemed by Christ and made a new creature by the Holy Spirit, man can, indeed he must, love the things of God's creation: it is from God that he has received them, and it is as flowing from God's hand that he looks upon them and reveres them. Man thanks his divine benefactor for all these things, he uses them and enjoys them in a spirit of poverty and freedom. Thus he is brought to a true possession of the world, as having nothing yet possessing everything: ‘All [things] are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's' (1 Cor 3:22-23)”[47].

d. The transcendence of salvation and the autonomy of earthly realities

45. Jesus Christ is the Son of God made man in whom and thanks to whom the world and man attain their authentic and full truth. The mystery of God's being infinitely close to man — brought about in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, who gave himself on the cross, abandoning himself to death — shows that the more that human realities are seen in the light of God's plan and lived in communion with God, the more they are empowered and liberated in their distinctive identity and in the freedom that is proper to them. Sharing in Christ's life of sonship, made possible by the Incarnation and the Paschal gift of the Spirit, far from being a mortification, has the effect of unleashing the authentic and independent traits and identity that characterize human beings in all their various expressions.

This perspective leads to a correct approach to earthly realities and their autonomy, which is strongly emphasized by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: “If by the autonomy of earthly affairs we mean that created things and societies themselves enjoy their own laws and values which must be gradually deciphered, put to use and regulated by men, then it is entirely right to demand that autonomy. This ... harmonizes also with the will of the Creator. For by the very circumstance of their having been created, all things are endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and order. Man must respect these as he isolates them by the appropriate methods of the individual sciences or arts”[48].

46. There is no state of conflict between God and man, but a relationship of love in which the world and the fruits of human activity in the world are objects of mutual gift between the Father and his children, and among the children themselves, in Christ Jesus; in Christ and thanks to him the world and man attain their authentic and inherent meaning. In a universal vision of God's love that embraces everything that exists, God himself is revealed to us in Christ as Father and giver of life, and man as the one who, in Christ, receives everything from God as gift, humbly and freely, and who truly possesses everything as his own when he knows and experiences everything as belonging to God, originating in God and moving towards God. In this regard, the Second Vatican Council teaches: “If the expression ‘the autonomy of earthly affairs' is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them without any reference to their Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator, the creature would disappear”[49].

47. The human person, in himself and in his vocation, transcends the limits of the created universe, of society and of history: his ultimate end is God himself[50], who has revealed himself to men in order to invite them and receive them into communion with himself[51]. “Man cannot give himself to a purely human plan for reality, to an abstract ideal or to a false utopia. As a person, he can give himself to another person or to other persons, and ultimately to God, who is the author of his being and who alone can fully accept his gift”[52]. For this reason, “a man is alienated if he refuses to transcend himself and to live the experience of self-giving and of the formation of an authentic human community oriented towards his final destiny, which is God. A society is alienated if its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer this gift of self and to establish this solidarity between people”[53].

48. The human person cannot and must not be manipulated by social, economic or political structures, because every person has the freedom to direct himself towards his ultimate end. On the other hand, every cultural, social, economic and political accomplishment, in which the social nature of the person and his activity of transforming the universe are brought about in history, must always be considered also in the context of its relative and provisional reality, because “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31). We can speak here of an eschatological relativity, in the sense that man and the world are moving towards their end, which is the fulfilment of their destiny in God; we can also speak of a theological relativity, insofar as the gift of God, by which the definitive destiny of humanity and of creation will be attained, is infinitely greater than human possibilities and expectations. Any totalitarian vision of society and the State, and any purely intra-worldly ideology of progress are contrary to the integral truth of the human person and to God's plan in history.

 

 

[36] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, 7: AAS 80 (1988), 1664.

[37] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 24: AAS 58 (1966), 1045.

[38] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 12: AAS 58 (1966), 1034.

[39] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 22: AAS 58 (1966), 1043.

[40] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 5: AAS 58 (1966), 819.

[41] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 22: AAS 58 (1966), 1043.

[42] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 22: AAS 58 (1966), 1043.

[43] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1888.

[44] Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38: AAS 80 (1988), 565-566.

[45] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 28: AAS 58 (1966), 1048.

[46] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1889.

[47] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 37: AAS 58 (1966), 1055.

[48] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 36: AAS 58 (1966), 1054; Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7: AAS 58 (1966), 843-844.

[49] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 36: AAS 58 (1966), 1054.

[50] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2244.

[51] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 2: AAS 58 (1966), 818.

[52] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 41: AAS 83 (1991), 844.

[53] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 41: AAS 83 (1991), 844-845.



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