RORATE CÆLI: The Council and the Eclipse of God by Don Pietro Leone : CHAPTER VIII – part 2 – THE DIGNITY OF MAN

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“The novel doctrines  that Our Lord joined Himself to every man in the Incarnation, and redeemed him by His Death and Resurrection, offer the logical justification for Ecumenism and for treating members of other religions in a similar, friendly way: Every-one is redeemed so there is no need to convert them to the Catholic Faith. Once again we see an implicit denial of two further dogmas: that there is no salvation outside the Church, and that the Church’s final end is the salvation of the whole of mankind.” (Don Pietro Leone)

RORATE CÆLI: The Council and the Eclipse of God by Don Pietro Leone : CHAPTER VIII – part 2 – THE DIGNITY OF MAN

C    The Dignity of Man

If in section B we saw man in a negative light as a consequence of the Council’s scepticism in regard to the Faith, we see him in the present section in a positive light, that is to say as a form of god. We proceed to enquire into the foundation that the Council gives for his dignity.

The Council situates man’s dignity variously in:

a)     Man’s Spiritual Faculties;

b)    Man as an End in himself;

c)     Man’s Vocation to Union with God;

d)    Man’s Relation to Christ.

a)    Man’s Spiritual Faculties

i) ‘It is in accordance with their dignity that all human beings, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore bearing responsibility, are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth…’ (DH 2).

We have examined this text in our discussion of the dignity of man as the basis of his putative right to religious liberty. In order to provide a context for understanding this text from the standpoint of Tradition, we shall begin by summarizing the Traditional understanding of man’s natural dignity. Tradition situates man’s natural dignity in his possession of reason and will, more precisely in the

intrinsic orientation of his reason to the knowledge of the True and of his will to the love of the Good respectively: above all God Himself, the Absolute Truth and the Infinite and Absolute Good. Herein lies man’s natural dignity, then: a dignity which the Fathers describe as his being ‘made according to the image of God’.

The Council situates man’s natural dignity, by contrast, in his possession of reason and free will, and without specifying the ultimate orientation of these spiritual faculties to God.

The Council understands reason in a traditional way in its orientation to truth, and yet at the same time, with its rationalist mentality, deifies it [1]. Rationalism deifies reason in pretending that reason is sufficient to attain all Truth. This pretension, together with the capacity of reason perfectly to comprehend its objects [2], effectively deifies the rationalist: he possesses all Truth, he thinks, and is able to comprehend all Truth perfectly. He refuses to believe that there can be a higher mode of knowledge, and higher objects (in the ultimate instance God Himself) that cannot perfectly be comprehended by man, but must be accepted as true in a spirit of self-abasement und humility.

If reason is understood in its orientation to truth, free will is understood in its capacity to adhere to truth. The shift which the Council effects from the faculty of the will to free will as a source of man’s dignity is significant, because in effect it deifies his freedom. We recall the quotation we gave above [3]: ‘ genuine freedom is an exceptional sign of the image of God in humanity’ (GS 17).

We must reply that whereas the will is an absolute perfection, in the sense that it is a faculty orientated to the Good,  free will is not an absolute perfection: it is simply a capacity of the will to choose good or evil [4]. Free will is not then an absolute, but only a relative, perfection: it is a perfection inasmuch as it may be exercised to do good, but an imperfection inasmuch as it may be exercised to do evil. For this reason, man’s dignity cannot be said to reside in his free will tout court.

Text (i) may be criticized, in summary, first for its tendency to emancipate man from God by not manifesting the ultimate orientation of his reason or will to God; and second by glorifying and deifying him in his reason and freedom.

ii)  ‘The Vatican council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom…’ (DH 2);

We have examined text (ii) in our discussion of Religious Liberty in chapter 4. Here we examine it again for the insight it gives into the Council’s appreciation for man’s freedom.

Now in this text the Council grants man the right to choose his own religion, regardless of whether it might be objectively true or false, right or wrong. It follows logically that the Council places his freedom higher than objective reality itself, and so effectively deifies it. We here see an expression in the practical domain of the deification of free will as a spiritual faculty. We see too a further example of the false principle of antirealist subjectivism by which some putative good is accorded logical priority over the true.

iii) ‘Catholic theologians… searching together with separated brothers and sisters into the divine mysteries… [will bring about] a deeper realization and a clearer expression of the unfathomable riches of Christ’ (UR 11); 

We have also examined text (iii) above, in regard to the Council’s championing of the Protestant preference for Holy Scriptures. By this text the Council approves not only the Protestant preference for Holy Scriptures, but also its theory of ‘self-interpretation’: in other words it effectively wrests from the Church Her prerogative and duty to interpret the Holy Scriptures [5] and arrogates it to man himself. Father Fahey writes [6]: ‘The autonomous man who decides on his own authority what he will accept of the Gospel God Himself came to deliver to us, is already well on the way to self-deification.’    

b)    Man as an End in Himself

i) ‘Believers and unbelievers agree almost unanimously that all things on earth should be ordained to humanity as to their center and summit’ (GS 12);

ii) ‘… man… [is] the only creature on earth that God has wanted for his [man’s] own sake (propter seipsam)’ (GS 24);

iii) ‘… humanity… is and it ought to be the beginning, the subject and the object of every social organization’ (GS 25).

These texts contradict Catholic dogma [7]: ‘If any-one denies that the world was made for the glory of God, Anathema sit.’ The dogma expresses the truth that God made everything (including man) for His [God’s] own sake. The truth is expressed in various places in the Holy Scriptures including the book of Proverbs (16.4): Universa propter semetipsum operatus est Deus: God has worked all things for Himself. Because of the similarity in wording between the biblical passage and text (ii), it appears indeed that the former has inspired the latter.

The perennial theology explains that the end of everything is God, or more fully the glory of God, because God, being the Supreme, Absolute, and Infinite Good, is the ultimate end of everything: of  the entire creation, and indeed also of God Himself. God cannot succumb to the attractions of any created good, since He possesses in Himself to an infinite degree any good which a creature may possess to a finite degree.   

As to text (iii) in particular, we reply that:

1.     The State and all the social organizations that it may comprise is ordered to man (that is to say to man’s temporal and eternal welfare) as to its proximate end, but to God as its final end: for man is ordered to God, and man’s temporal and eternal welfare is ordered to the glorification of God. In short, ‘the end of human life and society is God’ [8];

2.     Man is not the ‘beginning’, or principle, of society in the sense that society’s authority derives not from God but from man, for as Pope Pius XI states [9]: ‘With God and Jesus Christ… excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation’;

3.     To designate man as the ‘beginning, subject, and object’, or, in other words, as the supreme,  or formal, principle, of society is, as we have said above in chapter 4, illicitly to substitute Christ the King with man and effectively to deify him.

In the final analysis, texts (i), (ii), & (iii) are an infelicitous amalgamation of two contradictory theological theses: pantheism and creationism. According to the former, man is God, and thus is an end in himself; according to the latter, man is created by God, and thus has God as his end.   

c)       Man’s Vocation to Union with God

i) ‘Human dignity rests above all on the fact that humanity is called to communion with God’ (GS 19).

ii) ‘Christ… fully reveals humanity to itself and brings to light its very high calling’ (GS 22).

iii) ‘All women and men are endowed with a rational soul and are created in God’s image; they have the same nature and origin and, being redeemed by Christ, they enjoy the same divine calling… there is here a basic equality between all…’ (GS 29).

In these texts the Council attempts to elevate the World to the supernatural level. And yet, as we explained in our book ‘Family under Attack’ [10], the dignity of calling (or vocation) here referred to cannot be described as supernatural, but only natural, since it has no foundation in any supernatural quality of man, but only in his capacity to receive something supernatural, that is to say Grace and Glory. In Aristotelian – scholastic terminology it is a relatio praedicamentalis: an accident the entire nature of which consists in its relation to another. In fact the remoteness of the capacity to receive Grace from the possession of Grace means that we can here speak of ‘vocation’ and ‘dignity’ also only in a remote sense.

The reference to redemption by Christ in text (iii) does nothing, of course, to lend man any supernatural dignity of vocation, since, as we shall argue in the next section, the ‘redemption’ in question is entirely lacking in any substantial theological content.

As for the type of vocation referred to in these texts [11], it must be distinguished from that referred to by St. Paul (Eph. 4.1) when he says: ‘Walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called…’ The dignity of this latter vocation, in contrast to the former, is indeed supernatural in quality, having its foundation in the Grace that the man already possesses, which orients him to Heavenly Glory. In this latter case we are indeed talking about ‘dignity’ and ‘vocation’ in the true sense of the words.

As for the assertion in text (ii) that Christ ‘fully reveals humanity to itself’, it should be said that Our Blessed Lord came to reveal not man to man but God to man: Faith is called ‘Revelation’ in this sense. But perhaps this very fact serves as the key to understanding the conciliar text. Is the text not perhaps suggesting that Christ reveals man’s godliness to man? that at the very center of man’s nature is God [12]?

Such a surmise is confirmed by a retreat given by the future Pope John Paul II (one of the principal authors of Gaudium et Spes) in 1976 to the then Pope Paul VI entitled  Le Signe de Contradiction. We quote: ‘The Mystery of the Incarnation, that is to say Christ… manifests man to himself in his plenitude… he takes up what is essential, what constitutes man in his humanity… we must organically link this idea, which was so fertile for the Council’s teaching, to the thinking behind Gaudium et Spes. Christ there showed Himself Revealer of the mystery of man, of all that constitutes his essential and inviolable dignity…’ An example of Our Lord manifesting man to man is given elsewhere in the retreat in the words Ecce Homo by Pilate, which, according to the future Pope, constitutes a revelation of the Kingship of man to himself [13].

d)    Man’s Relation to Christ

i) Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed… in him, has been raised in us… to a dignity beyond compare. For, by his incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each individual (cum omni homine quoddammodo se univit)’ (GS 22).

ii) ‘In the human nature united to himself, the Son of God, by overcoming death through his own death and resurrection, redeemed humanity and changed it into a new creation’ (LG 7).

iii) ‘He… has restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin.’ (GS 22)

In this subsection we see the Council again attempting to elevate the World to the supernatural level. It does so by declaring in texts (i) & (ii) that all mankind has been united to, and redeemed by, Christ [14]. It implies, in other words, in text (i), that all have been united to Christ supernaturally, but without baptism (which constitutes a heresy); and in text (ii) that all have been saved, but without baptism, Faith, good works, and dying in the state of Grace (which constitute four heresies). This is the doctrine of the ‘anonymous Christian’ to be found in Blondel, Cardinal de Lubac and Father Rahner: a doctrine which, as we have seen above, poses as the theological ground for identifying the Church with the World. 

Text (iii) obviously refers to Pauline texts such as 1. Cor. 15.22: ‘And as in Adam all die, also in Christ all shall be made alive’, meaning, of course, that the Grace that Adam lost for the whole human race, was regained by the Death of Christ, and is now available to all men through the sacraments (particularly baptism). Text (iii) again purports to ascribe to all men what is a property only of the baptized: that is to say the possession of Grace.

All three texts furthermore entail the denial of Original Sin and / or of its effects. Text (i) suggests that man attains supernatural union with Christ through the Incarnation alone; text (ii) suggests that he is redeemed by Our Lord’s Death and Resurrection alone: in neither case is there mention of Original Sin or of Baptism which, according to Church doctrine, is the only means by which the taint of Original Sin may be cancelled; text (iii) claims that Our Lord restored the likeness to Godwhich had been disfigured by Original Sin. It is true that He restored that likeness in respect to Grace (although not for all mankind, as we have noted above), but He did not do so in respect of the other supernatural gifts that had been lost: immortality, impassibility, and Integrity. In other words He left man disfigured by mortality, suffering, by the weakness of the intellect and the will, and by concupiscence: the lack of control over the disordered sense faculties.

In conclusion, then, the Council attempts to extend salvation to the entire world without the means that the Church dogmatically requires for this end. As part of this optimistic doctrine, it is pleased to deny Original Sin and (the fullness of) its deleterious effects. We here have, then, a second denial of the necessity of Baptism, the sacraments, submission to the Pope, and the state of Grace [15] for salvation, together with an additional denial, that is of the fact of Original Sin. The novel doctrines  that Our Lord joined Himself to every man in the Incarnation, and redeemed him by His Death and Resurrection, offer the logical justification for Ecumenism and for treating members of other religions in a similar, friendly way: Every-one is redeemed so there is no need to convert them to the Catholic Faith. Once again we see an implicit denial of two further dogmas: that there is no salvation outside the Church, and that the Church’s final end is the salvation of the whole of mankind.

Corollary: The Denial of the Supernatural Order

Before proceeding to the last section, we note that in the entire chapter (as indeed in almost all the texts quote in the present book) the supernatural dimension of man, as taught by the Church, is entirely ignored. This was particularly apparent in section C on the dignity of man. There we saw how the Fathers of the Church place man’s natural dignity in his capacity to know and love the True and the Good, above all God Himself. They place his supernatural dignity, by contrast, in his actual exercise of this capacity in a supernatural mode: that is in knowing and loving God and neighbor with the assistance of supernatural Grace. Such an exercise consists in man’s practice of the two supernatural theological virtues of Faith and Charity: a practice intended by God to culminate in man’s sanctity. This supernatural dignity, according to Catholic teaching, is man’s higher and true dignity, because it unites Him to God in His intimate nature, so that it may be said in this sense to ‘deify’ him.

The Council, however, ignores man’s supernatural dignity. Its motive for so doing certainly resides in its egalitarianism. This motive impels it to set aside first the supernatural order in general, which distinguishes the Church from all other Christian confessions, Religions and men; and second, supernatural Charity in particular, which distinguishes one Catholic from another: a Catholic with a higher degree of Charity having a greater dignity than a Catholic with a lower degree.

In its presentation of man’s dignity, the Council only ever considers his natural dignity, then: it treats the dignity of man in general, man on the purely natural level, man on the social level, man in the purely natural operation of the faculties of the reason and the will, man called to union with God on the basis of his humanity. Nothing is said of that supernatural dignity of his, which derives from the Grace communicated to him by baptism and from Faith; which grows with Charity, and which  culminates in sanctity: the dignity with which Catholic faith is essentially concerned.

It is true that the Council speaks of a type of dignity that results from the Incarnation and the Redemption, but this cannot amount to supernatural dignity in the true sense of the word, but only to some form of pseudo – supernatural dignity which demands neither Grace, nor Faith, nor Charity for its existence. Here we see how the Council, in the best traditions of modern philosophy represented by thinkers such as Hegel and Scheler, attempts to amalgamate supernatural Truths with philosophy.

We shall now go on to see precisely in what the Council’s novel theory of the dignity of man is purported to consist.

Next:

Chapter VIII part 3 – The Deification of Man


[1] according to the false principle of naturalism that we have outlined in the Introduction

[2] reason comprehends its objects perfectly, whereas Faith does not. 

[3] in chapter 4 in the section on the justification of the right for Religious Liberty

[4] see our discussion of Religious Liberty in chapter IV above

[5] we note that this has in fact been the result of modern churchmen’s insistence on the ‘Word of God’

[6] The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World (op.cit.), p.13

[7] First Vatican Council, D 3025

[8] ‘Finis autem humanae vitae et societatis est Deus St. Thomas Summa II I 100. 6

[9] in Quas Primas

[10] in chapter 2

[11] and later in the ‘New Catechism’ (or CCC) n. 1700

[12] see the discussion of the deification of man at the end of this chapter 

[13] quoted in the Abbé Georges de Nantes’ Liber Accusationis secundus (la Contre-Réforme Catholique-saint-Parrès-les-Vaudes, 1983, p.6): ‘Le mystère de l’Incarnation, c’est-à-dire le Christ… manifeste en plénitude l’homme à lui-meme… il réassume ce qui est essentiel, ce qui constitue l’homme, dans son humanité… cette idée si féconde dans la doctrine du Concile et pour la reflexion qui en est resultée, nous devons la lier organiquement à la pensée directrice de Gaudium et Spes. Le Christ y est montré comme le Révélateur du mystère de l’homme, de tout ce qui constitue sa dignité essentielle et inviolable. A maintes reprises, le Concile a démontré que cette dignité est étroitemente liée au message du Christ, a l’Evangile, et qu’elle y demeure comme un ferment qui suscite chez les hommes aussi bien la conscience de cette dignité que la nécessité  permanente de la rechercher et de la réaliser dans la vérité’.

[14] We have considered this text in the first chapter of this chapter on the nature of man. We are reconsidering it here as a putative ground for man’s dignity.

[15] at the end of chapter III

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