Rorate Caeli

“Dignitas Infinita” as a Naturalistic Vision of Mankind — Article by Jeanne Smits


Following the presentation in Rome of the Declaration on Human Dignity, Dignitas infinita, the most frequent reactions, including in so-called conservative circles, are focused on its reminder of the prohibition of abortion, surrogate motherhood, euthanasia, assisted suicide, gender theory and sex reassignment, not to mention its plea for respect for the disabled. None of this is new, nor should it be. What needs to be analyzed, however, are the arguments deployed and the principles asserted. As might be expected, the Declaration Dignitas Infinita (“infinite dignity”) is, despite many traditional assertions, in line with a naturalistic vision of man. While it quotes extensively from Vatican II, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and—in abundance—Pope Francis, the magisterium of earlier popes is virtually absent.

The fruit of five years’ work and back-and-forth before the Doctrinal Section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (now a Dicastery under the leadership of Cardinal Victor Manuel “Tucho” Fernandez), the French and English versions of the introduction written by the latter strangely evoke “the infinite and inalienable dignity due to every human being”, as if dignity could be a “due”. In Italian, we read spetta (“belongs”); in Spanish corresponde. But it’s the term “infinite” that really stands out, even though it was first used by John Paul II in relation to the respect due “to persons suffering from certain limitations or handicaps”. Infinite dignity, in fact, belongs only to God, and it is in God’s name that we must respect the human life He created and which belongs to Him—and especially that of the “least” among His own...

Dignitas Infinita forgets the Ten Commandments

In such a context, Cardinal Fernandez writes quite logically in his introduction that in Fratelli Tutti “Pope Francis wanted to emphasize with particular insistence that this dignity exists ‘in all circumstances’, inviting everyone to defend it in every cultural context, at every moment of a person’s existence, regardless of any physical, psychological, social or even moral deficiency”. Even moral! Would the criminal, the genocidist, the devil worshipper, and why not the damned soul still benefit from this “infinite dignity”? Better still, according to Fernandez, this “universal truth that we are all called to recognize” is a “fundamental condition for our societies to be truly just, peaceful, healthy and, ultimately, authentically human”. Has respect for natural law evaporated, and are the Ten Commandments no longer as relevant? God has chosen to explicitly remind man of this charter, which indicates to every human being the duties that are imposed on all, and which condition justice and peace. The language of “dignity”, which would form the basis of “rights”, does something different. It considers man sacred, unconditionally sacred, and no longer God, even when it relies on man’s creation in God’s image (which it doesn’t always do!), and ends up, as some have written, sacralizing any human desire.

Let’s be clear from the outset: Dignitas Infinita does not go that far. But for all that, the Declaration’s intellectual construction is built on the sand of modern confusion, which dissociates the “rights of man” from both his duties and the rights of God. This is not a new phenomenon, but here it is even more acute.

Thus, the first paragraph of the Declaration states:

An infinite dignity, inalienably founded in his very being, belongs to every human person, in every circumstance and in whatever state or situation he may find himself. This principle, fully recognizable even by reason alone, is the foundation of the primacy of the human person and the protection of his or her rights. The Church, in the light of Revelation, reaffirms and confirms without reservation this ontological dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed in Christ Jesus.

By its absolute formulation, which affirms “the human person”, as such, “redeemed in Christ Jesus”, Dignitas Infinita misses the point that while Our Lord shed his blood “for the many”, and wants the salvation of all, not all men acquire this redeemed dignity, and indeed can lose it through mortal sin.

Diane Montagna, a journalist in Rome, raised the question of hell and original sin, which caused Adam and Eve and their descendants to lose the dignity of their “likeness to God”, at the press conference given by Cardinal Fernandez on Monday. Cardinal Fernandez replied:

Pope Francis has often said that the affirmation of the possibility of condemnation to hell is above all a kind of worship of human freedom; that the human being can choose, that God wants to respect this freedom even if it is a limited freedom, and even if it is sometimes an obscure and even sick freedom... But that God wants to respect. So much for the principle. After that, the question Pope Francis asks himself is that with all the limits that truly exist in our freedom, wouldn’t hell be empty? That’s the question Pope Francis sometimes asks.

The naturalistic vision opens the way to an “empty hell”

This would indeed remove the difficulty, while at the same time devaluing the Passion of Christ, for whom we wonder why He chose to suffer so much for the salvation of mankind, and echoing a very “20th century” optimism about fallen humanity, despite its peaks of totalitarian horror, and despite, above all, the systematic rejection by a large part of humanity, one by one, of the Ten Commandments mentioned above.

On the subject of original sin, Cardinal Fernandez declared that “even” this had not undermined man’s “ontological dignity”, which “always remains”. In fact, number 7 of the Declaration states:

The most important meaning is that of ontological dignity, which concerns the person as such by the simple fact of existing and being willed, created and loved by God. This dignity can never be erased and remains valid beyond all the circumstances in which individuals may find themselves. When we speak of moral dignity, we refer rather to the exercise of freedom by the human creature. Although endowed with a conscience, it is always open to the possibility of acting against it. In doing so, the human being adopts a behavior “unworthy” of his nature as a creature loved by God and called to love others. But this possibility exists. And that’s not all. History testifies that the exercise of freedom against the law of love revealed by the Gospel can reach incalculable heights in the evil inflicted on others. When this happens, we are faced with people who seem to have lost all trace of humanity, all trace of dignity. In this respect, the distinction introduced here helps us to discern precisely between the aspect of moral dignity that can indeed be “lost” and the aspect of ontological dignity that can never be undone. And it is precisely because of the latter that we must work with all our strength so that all those who have done evil repent and are converted.

Paragraph 9 specifies that ontological dignity is situated “at the metaphysical level of being itself”. In fact, the Declaration totally ignores the question of man’s “moral dignity”. While it is good to emphasize the goodness of being, while it is good to show that God created all men out of love, and while it is true that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, but “in the manner” of Our Lord, by wishing their good and their salvation, even to the point of sacrificing ourselves, in the Declaration we arrive at a kind of systematization and “egalitarianization” of dignity through the confusion of planes, through the oblivion of the distinction yet affirmed.

Dignitas Infinita: every human being is “inviolable in his dignity”.

Paragraph 11: “Being created in the image of God means possessing a sacred value that transcends all sexual, social, political, cultural and religious distinctions. Our dignity is given to us, neither claimed nor deserved. Every human being is loved and wanted by God for his or her own sake, and is therefore inviolable in his or her dignity.” This is how we end up outlawing the death penalty (but then, why not prison too, which deprives man of his freedom?), as we’ll see later in the Declaration.

Curiously, paragraph 11 states that men and women are “called to care for and nurture the world”. Not to “fill” the earth and “subdue” it. Yet it is the earth, and all that it contains, that was created to serve and nourish man...

Paragraph 13, which outlines the notion of dignity and leads to twentieth-century “personalism”, is most interesting for its footnote:

Some of the great Christian thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as Saint J.H. Newman, Blessed A. Rosmini, J. Maritain, E. Mounier, K. Rahner, H.U. von Balthasar, and others, have succeeded in proposing a vision of man that can validly dialogue with the currents of thought of our early 21st century, whatever their inspiration, even post-modern.

Von Balthasar is the man who theorized the empty hell; Rahner is the father of the open, democratized Church, based on grassroots communities; Emmanuel Mounier, inventor of personalism, embodied modernism and openness to the left; Jacques Maritain, initially a traditional Thomist philosopher, went on to focus on human rights and democracy, playing an active role in drafting the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The latter is quoted unreservedly and repeatedly in Dignitas Infinita. While it is certainly less radically revolutionary than the Declaration of 1789, it is nonetheless open to criticism.

Jean Madiran wrote in Itinéraires in June 1986:

There should remain no ‘ambiguity’ about the Masonic declarations of rights of 1789 and 1948. Alongside a number of good and true rights that have always been known and recognized, their characteristic novelty, their essential purpose, is to proclaim as fundamental an unprecedented right, that of not recognizing or submitting to any authority that does not expressly emanate from the popular will through universal suffrage. It is obviously the spiritual authority of the Church that is specifically targeted, morally destroyed by this new right. And yet, Catholic social doctrine has decided not to listen to what is being shouted in its ear. It has nothing more to say against it. It praises modern “formulations of rights” as if it no longer contests what is their heart and soul, the radical negation of ecclesiastical authorities (and also of natural authorities such as that of man over woman in marriage, and of parents over children) which are not founded on the democratic vote, a new, and henceforth unique, legitimacy. Since the death of Pius XII, there has thus been an implicit acceptance of the Masonic rejection of all authorities that do not emanate expressly. This is one of the forms of “self-destruction.”

In Dignitas Infinita, everything starts from the “dignity” of the person, even if this is linked to an “indelible image of God” in the human being called “to know him, to love him and to live in a covenant relationship” with Him, and “in fraternity, justice and peace with all other men and women” (no. 18).

A naturalistic vision distorts the Incarnation

The next paragraph quotes Gaudium et Spes, affirming that “by uniting himself in some way to every human being through his incarnation, Jesus Christ confirmed that every human being possesses an inestimable dignity”, with communion with God presented as the “final destiny of the human being”.

Since nowhere in the Declaration is there any mention of the grace that is necessary for human beings to reach this “final destiny”, which, unlike “fate”, is not automatic, we understand that at least some clarification is lacking. Baptism is only mentioned in a note, via a quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Christ has indeed given to the baptized a new dignity, that of ‘sons of God’.” On the contrary, no. 21 assures: “The Church believes and affirms that all human beings, created in the image and likeness of God and recreated in the Son made man, crucified and risen, are called to grow under the action of the Holy Spirit to reflect the glory of the Father, in that same image, partakers of eternal life.” All men. Everyone. It’s a familiar tune with Pope Francis, and was sung again at the press conference...

Dignitas Infinita deliberately ignores man’s wounded nature, bases everything on the value of the person, and ignores the need for grace. Despite a few assertions to the contrary, Dignitas Infinita is, on the whole, a horizontal utopia. But it will undoubtedly appeal to those who see in it a condemnation of certain excesses of the times.

Where is divine grace?

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Declaration Dignitas Infinita, as we saw yesterday, makes an almost total omission of grace—that unheard-of free gift from God which the human creature needs to escape eternal damnation—and of mortal sin, in order to attribute to man an “infinite”, “intrinsic” dignity, which nothing, not even a “moral deficiency”, can touch in his existence. Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, the man responsible for “finalizing” the document, which had been in preparation for five years, pointed out at the press conference that Pope Francis, the reference most frequently cited in the Declaration, readily raises the question of “empty hell”, suggesting that man’s will carries so many limits that no one really deserves to go there.

The Church believes and affirms that all human beings, created in the image and likeness of God and recreated in the Son made man, crucified and risen, are called to grow under the action of the Holy Spirit to reflect the glory of the Father, in that same image, sharing in eternal life.

There is no longer any real condition for access to eternal happiness with God; man would gain access, so to speak, through the greatness of his condition, which is part of his nature, automatically assumed in Christ, and notwithstanding even the worst sins.

Dignitas Infinita makes no mention of original sin

Since original sin, man has not been “worthy” of God’s friendship, he has not been “worthy” of the condition of child of God, he has not been “worthy” of entering Heaven, he has not been “worthy” of receiving Christ unless he is washed in his blood. “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but say only one word and my soul will be healed”, says the baptized before taking communion: only Christ can restore us to our original dignity, as the offertory of the traditional Mass (here in its literal translation) reminds us: “O God, who created the dignity of human substance in an admirable way and reformed it in an even more admirable way...”. Substance is not essence. The reference is to the person, the person whom Leo the Great called upon when he exclaimed: “Agnosce o christiane, dignitatem tuam”—recognize, Christian, your dignity. It is indeed the dignity of the Christian, the dignity of the man who has received the grace and indwelling of God in his soul, the dignity of knowing that he is loved by God, and of loving him in turn... Not loving God, or no longer loving him, therefore, by committing grave sin, leads to the loss of this dignity.

Man after the fall is dust who will return to dust; he is a slave to sin and must be redeemed from this slavery, so that even the greatest of the children of men, Saint John the Baptist, said of the Lord: “And the Blessed Virgin Mary, all immaculate, preserved from original sin from the moment of her conception, presents herself as the humble handmaid of God: it is through and thanks to her humility that she can be “full of grace”, and become, freely and by her fiat, the Mother of God. Her dignity, then, is to be free, but to exercise that freedom in accordance with God’s will.

It is all this that is tragically absent from Dignitas Infinita, and the consequences of such glorification of man as such—which fatally turns into the cult of man, and thus into the old false promise, “you shall be as gods”—must be brought to light. For what we’re talking about here is turning our faith and man’s relationship with God upside down.

In the name of a naturalistic vision, man’s “moral dignity” is forgotten

Dignitas Infinita saw the objection coming. The Declaration distinguishes between “ontological dignity” and “moral dignity”, as we saw yesterday. The theme is taken up again a little further on; we read at no. 22:

Although every human being possesses an inalienable and intrinsic dignity from the very beginning of his existence as an irrevocable gift, it depends on his free and responsible decision whether to express and manifest it fully or to obscure it. Some Fathers of the Church—such as St. Irenaeus and St. John Damascene—drew a distinction between the image and likeness spoken of in Genesis, thus enabling a dynamic look at human dignity itself: the image of God is entrusted to the freedom of the human being so that, under the guidance and action of the Spirit, his likeness to God may grow and each person may attain his or her highest dignity. Indeed, each person is called to manifest the ontological scope of his or her dignity on an existential and moral level, insofar as, with his or her own freedom, he or she orients himself or herself towards the true good, in response to God’s love. Thus, being created in the image of God, the human person on the one hand never loses his dignity and never ceases to be called to freely accept the good; on the other hand, insofar as the human person responds to the good, his dignity can manifest itself, grow and mature freely, in a dynamic and progressive way. This means that human beings must also strive to live up to their own dignity. In this way, we understand how sin can wound and obscure human dignity, as an act contrary to it, but, at the same time, that it can never erase the fact that the human being was created in the image of God.

This is the only use of the word “sin”, and yet it was through Adam’s sin that man lost his original dignity, and it is through personal sin that every human being can undermine his own dignity. A central question, but one that’s missing.

From this omission, the Declaration naturally moves on to a sub-section entitled: “Dignity, the foundation of human rights and duties.” In this way, dignity—the dignity of man—is presented as an absolute: it becomes the reference point for good and evil. But it is God’s commandments, which our sovereign good consists in following, that affirm our duties and, secondarily, the rights that flow from them (I can claim the right to practice the true religion because I must worship the true God); and rights as well as duties, which are exercised within the framework of the freedom we are given, find their foundation in God, in his will that must be done.

Admittedly, Dignitas Infinita rejects (at no. 25) the “arbitrary multiplication of new rights” through the guarantee of the fulfillment of “subjective, individualistic desires”, and affirms instead the “constitutive requirements of human nature”, duties and “corresponding rights” deriving from a “concrete and objective content”. But once again, it is “common human nature” that is presented as their foundation. Now, if it’s true that as a human being I have specific duties towards other human beings, whatever their smallness, their stage of development, their weakness at the end of life, their physical or mental handicap, it’s because of the law that God has given to our nature, and which we have understood... more or less well since original sin.

Dignitas Infinita, an overture to situationist morality

To conceal the source is to weaken and even distort what flows from it. Paragraph 30 states: “Detached from our Creator, our freedom can only be weakened and obscured. But the Declaration goes on to emphasize the “conditioning” of freedom (e.g., poverty, “inferior education”, “limited resources to care adequately for one’s illnesses”), to affirm: “liberation from injustice promotes human freedom and dignity”. The leap is significant, leading to the vow to build “the alternative social structures we need”: “Freedom is often obscured by numerous psychological, historical, social, educational and cultural constraints. Real, historical freedom always needs to be ‘liberated’.” This is the source of situationist morality.

The political shift in the discourse on human dignity can be seen here, as Pope Francis takes up the usual language from “theology of the people”, itself an avatar of liberation theology. The remark about “alternative social structures” is taken from one of Francis’ speeches to “popular movements”. This is how we start from “ontological dignity” and end up justifying unlimited migration, since we’re talking about their arrival “in the countries that should be able to welcome them”. No. 40 quotes Fratelli tutti as saying of migrants:

What’s more, once they arrive in the countries that should be able to take them in, “they are not deemed worthy enough to participate in social life like any other person, and we forget that they have the same intrinsic dignity as anyone else. [...] We will never say that they are not human beings, but in practice, by the decisions we make and the way we treat them, we show that they are considered as people of less value, less importance, endowed with less humanity.

Here we see that human dignity, absolutized, detached from any moral consideration and any right to seek the common good on the part of States, from any prudence linked to the mixing of cultures, serves as a political tool in the service of egalitarianism, with the concomitant forgetfulness of the Christian duty to evangelize. For the best way to serve the dignity of others is to help them acquire the dignity of the baptized...

In this logic of detachment of human dignity from relationship with the true God—the true dignity we enjoy being the free gift of God’s infinite and astounding love for the insignificant human creatures we are, a dignity we can lose by failing to respond to it—n° 31 ends with this lapidary sentence: “The fundamental right to religious freedom must also be reaffirmed.”

For its part, the Church’s traditional magisterium affirms that there is no such thing as a “right” to practice a false religion. Thus: “It is madness to assert that freedom of conscience and of worship is a right proper to every man, which every State must proclaim and guarantee as a fundamental law” (Quanta cura, Pius IX), and “One cannot objectively recognize to error the same rights as to truth” (Pius XII, October 6, 1946). The tolerance of error that may prevail in certain circumstances cannot be transformed into an assertion of absolute right.

The naturalistic vision is opposed by the distinction between “radical dignity” and “operative dignity”

In this respect, we might quote Father Victor Berto on the subject of Vatican II’s schema on religious freedom. He distinguishes between man’s “radical dignity”, which belongs to him as a creature endowed with reason and free will, and “operative” dignity, stating:

Human dignity properly considered requires that we take account of his actions. The ignorant and the cultured do not have the same dignity; and above all, dignity is not equal between those who adhere to truth and those who adhere to error, between those who want good and those who want evil. The drafters, who have built their entire scheme on an inadequate notion of the dignity of the human person, have on this account alone presented a deformed work of extraordinary unreality; indeed, whether we like it or not, there are, between human persons adequately considered, immense differences in dignity. And this is all the more true when it comes to the scheme of religious freedom; for it is clear that religious freedom is appropriate to the person not according to his radical dignity, but according to his operative dignity, and thus freedom cannot be the same in the child and in the adult, in the fool and in the penetrating mind, in the ignorant and in the cultured man, in the demon-possessed and in the one inspired by the Holy Spirit, and so on. Now, this dignity, which we call operative, does not belong to the physical being, but is clearly of the intentional order. The neglect of this intentional element, namely science and virtue, is in the scheme of things a very serious error.

Once again, the problem lies in confusion. Deliberate confusion, since it is by affirming the difference between “ontological dignity” and “moral dignity” that the Declaration Dignitas Infinita, all imbued with the thought of Pope Francis meekly and greedily taken up by Cardinal Fernandez, “forgets” the consequences of the loss of the second to found—for example—the prohibition of the death penalty recently enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Having denounced all “subhuman living conditions”, no. 34 of the Declaration affirms: “the death penalty, too, violates the dignity of every human being, inalienable in all circumstances”.

Saint Thomas Aquinas affirms the exact opposite:

It must be said that man by his sin departs from the order of reason. And so he departs from human dignity, according to which man is naturally free and existing for himself. He can fall in a certain way into the servitude of the beasts, so that, concerning him, he will be ordered according to what is useful to other [human beings]. We read in Psalm 48: “Man, constituted in honor, has not exercised his intelligence. He has been compared to stupid animals and made like them.” And in chapter 11 of the Book of Proverbs: “The fool will serve the wise.” And so although killing a man remaining in his dignity as a man is in itself evil, yet killing a sinful man can be good, like killing a beast. Indeed, the wicked man is worse than a beast and is more harmful, as the Philosopher indicates in Politics.

Or to put it another way: we become what we do. And in the name of the common good, legitimate authority can draw the consequences here below; in the hereafter, they will be too, even if every man has the possibility of relying on God’s mercy in his earthly life. The 5th Commandment teaches: Thou shalt not kill the innocent.

Dignitas Infinita proposes a catalog of rights

The final part of the Dignitas Infinita Declaration sets out a catalog of obligations arising from this asserted dignity, without the necessary distinctions. The prohibition of the death penalty is joined by denunciations of poverty, the unequal distribution of wealth, war - there is "no just war today", asserts no. 39 - human trafficking, arms dealing, sexual abuse, violence against women, abortion, surrogate motherhood (but not artificial procreation), euthanasia, assisted suicide, the "discarding of the disabled", "digital violence". It also criticizes, but not absolutely, gender theory, and denounces "sex change" which "risks, as a general rule, threatening the unique dignity a person has received from the moment of conception" in the name of respecting our humanity "as it was created".

It's all on the same level, and while the particularly vigorous condemnation of abortion is to be welcomed, generally speaking and except in this particular case, it's more a question of the harm done to man than of the offense done to God, who all too often appears in this catalog only at the margin.

By basing everything on the "infinite dignity of man", a being created and so dependent on God who alone possesses infinite dignity, the Declaration hypertrophies the created in relation to the Creator; the adoration and service due to the latter take second place, stranded somewhere in the swamp of "religious freedom"; it magnifies man to the point of facilitating the worship of man, until the rightful wonderment at the created leads this thinking to forget God and to a pantheism, a global spirituality that is already taking shape with increasing precision.In any case, it does not contradict them, failing to recall that without grace, man in his fallen condition here below is in a state of submission to evil.

His true, indeed his only, greatness is to love God in spirit and in truth: "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him," says Jesus. We must love God, that's the condition, which is done by respecting his law, and then the Holy Trinity makes its dwelling in the soul of the one who loves, and who lives by his very life.

Have they no inner life, those who write page after page and forget this true dignity of man?

(source in French: Reinformation.TV, Part 1; Part 2)