Promoting the Dignity of the Person

Excerpted from the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici of His Holiness John Paul II: On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World [Emphasis added]

37. To rediscover and make others rediscover the inviolable dignity of every human person makes up an essential task, in a certain sense, the central and unifying task of the service which the Church and the lay faithful in her are called to render to the human family.

For this reason every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offense against the Creator of the individual.

Among all other earthly beings, only a man or a woman is a “person,” a conscious and free being and, precisely for this reason, the “center and summit” of all that exists on the earth.[135]

The Personalistic Norm

The human being … demands being considered and treated as a person and never, on the contrary, considered and treated as an object to be used or as a means or as a thing.

The dignity of the person is the most precious possession of an individual. As a result, the value of one person transcends all the material world. The words of Jesus, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to forfeit his life?” (Mk 8:36) contain an enlightening and stirring statement about the individual: value comes not from what a person “has” — even if the person possessed the whole world! — as much as from what a person “is”: the goods of the world do not count as much as the goods of the person, the good which is the person individually.

What are the four sins in Scripture that cry out to heaven for vengeance?

  1. Murder (Gn 4:10)
  2. Sins of the flesh (Gn 18:20-21)
  3. Affliction of widows and orphans (Ex 22:21-22)>
  4. Unjust treatment of workers (Dt 24:14-15)

What do these sins have in common considering “the personalistic norm”?

The dignity of the person is manifested in all its radiance when the person’s origin and destiny are considered: created by God in his image and likeness as well as redeemed by the most precious blood of Christ, the person is called to be a “child in the Son” and a living temple of the Spirit, destined for the eternal life of blessed communion with God. For this reason every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offense against the Creator of the individual.*

The dignity of the person constitutes the foundation of the equality of all people among themselves. As a result, all forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable especially those forms which unfortunately continue to divide and degrade the human family: from those based on race or economics to those social and cultural, from political to geographic, etc. Each discrimination constitutes an absolutely intolerable injustice, not so much for the tensions and the conflicts that can be generated in the social sphere, as much as for the dishonor inflicted on the dignity of the person: not only to the dignity of the individual who is the victim of the injustice, but still more to the one who commits the injustice.

Just as personal dignity is the foundation of equality of all people among themselves, so it is also the foundation of participation and solidarity of all people among themselves: dialogue and communion are rooted ultimately in what people “are,” first and foremost, rather than on what people “have.”

The dignity of the person is the indestructible property of every human being. The force of this affirmation is based on the uniqueness and irrepeatability of every person. From it flows that the individual can never be reduced by all that seeks to crush and to annihilate the person into the anonymity that comes from collectivity, institutions, structures and systems. As an individual, a person is not a number or simply a link in a chain, nor even less, an impersonal element in some system. The most radical and elevating affirmation of the value of every human being was made by the Son of God in his becoming man in the womb of a woman, as we continue to be reminded each Christmas.[136]

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