Dignitas Infinita, a Confusing and Naturalistic Declaration

Dignitas Infinita, a Confusing and Naturalistic Declaration

After the widespread negative repercussions about Fiducia supplicans, with entire episcopates refusing to bless “homosexual couples” and “irregular couples,”1 the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has published a new document, also with the pope’s approval: “Dignitas Infinita,” the Declaration on Human Dignity (which we will refer to as DI).2

A Traditional Document?

Unlike Fiducia supplicans, DI was welcomed, to some extent, even by some conservative and traditionalist Catholics, because of its criticism of abortion, transgenderism and euthanasia. However, many commentators pointed out ambiguous aspects within the document or points clearly at odds with Catholic doctrine.

In fact, DI criticizes abortion, transgenderism, and euthanasia for opposing human dignity but invokes the same human dignity to condemn the death penalty (no. 34) and the concept of just war (especially for religious reasons) (no. 39). Likewise, it is disfavorable to the free market economies, implying that they cause poverty and injustice (no. 31). Yet, it fails to criticize socialism, which has reduced the people of once-prosperous countries like Cuba and Venezuela to misery.

However, Scripture confirms the legitimacy of both the death penalty and just war, which both the Church’s magisterium and Catholic treatises on moral philosophy teach. Thus, to claim that the death penalty runs counter to human dignity is to deny what the Church has always taught as right and legitimate.3

Ontological Dignity

DI deals, above all, with “ontological dignity,” which comes from man’s rational and free nature. It affirms that ontological dignity is superior to “moral dignity,” arising from the conformity of our conscious actions with our nature’s rationality (nos.2 and 7).

Does Authority Come from Revelation or the UN?

To affirm man’s “ontological dignity,” DI invokes “the light of Revelation” (n. 1) and UN “authority”: “This ontological dignity and the unique and eminent value of every man and woman in the world was reaffirmed authoritatively in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, issued by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948” (no. 2, emphasis added).

There is no parallel between the authority of divine Revelation and that of the UN. Furthermore, this international body’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been criticized for its ambiguity. For example, Gilles Lebreton, Professor of Public Law at the University of Le Havre, France, points out: “In 1948, the objective assigned to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafters was to reconcile Western and Marxist conceptions of human rights. Of course, it was an impossible mission, as these conceptions are at odds with each other.”4

Does Man Have “Infinite Dignity”?

DI repeats what its title affirms in the text: man has an “infinite dignity.” This raised many eyebrows, especially as it speaks of “ontological dignity,” meaning that it derives from his very nature. According to DI, “[e]very human person possesses an infinite dignity, inalienably grounded in his or her very being, which prevails in and beyond every circumstance, state, or situation the person may ever encounter.” This is the “ontological dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed in Jesus Christ” (no. 1, emphasis added).

Despite the reference to man’s likeness to God, DI is not referring to the supernatural dignity added to our nature by grace but to the dignity “grounded in his or her very being,” i.e., the dignity of our nature as such. Hence, DI calls it “ontological dignity.”

Can man, a created and finite being, have an “infinite dignity?” Is not that attribute exclusive to the infinite being that is God?

Saint Thomas distinguishes between the “relative infinite dignity” possible for creatures and the “absolute infinite dignity” only possible for God:

“Things other than God can be relatively infinite, but not absolutely infinite. … [F]or example, wood is finite according to its own form, but still it is relatively infinite, inasmuch as it is in potentiality to an infinite number of shapes. … But because a created form thus subsisting has being, and yet is not its own being, it follows that its being is received and contracted to a determinate nature. Hence, it cannot be absolutely infinite.”5

The Angelic Doctor adds, “God … cannot make anything to be absolutely infinite.”6

In his booklet De Rationibus Fidei, in which he refutes the Islamic doctrine, the same Holy Doctor explains that someone with infinite dignity was needed to satisfy the infinite majesty of God offended by Original Sin. He says:

But no mere man has the infinite dignity required to satisfy justly an offence against God. Therefore, there had to be a man of infinite dignity who would undergo the penalty for all so as to satisfy fully for the sins of the whole world. Therefore, the only-begotten Word of God, true God and Son of God, assumed a human nature and willed to suffer death in it so as to purify the whole human race indebted by sin.”7

Therefore, DI is ambiguous when speaking of human nature’s “infinite dignity” without clarifying that it is a “relative infinity” and not the “absolute infinity” of God alone.

Did the Divine Word Unite with All Men?

The ambiguity is all the greater as DI says that with the Incarnation, the Son of God united himself to all men:

“’In the mystery of the Incarnation, the Son of God confirmed the dignity of the body and soul which constitute the human being.’8 By uniting himself with every human being through his Incarnation, Jesus Christ confirmed that each person possesses an immeasurable dignity simply by belonging to the human community” (n. 19, emphasis added).9

So, the Word of God would have become incarnate in “every human being,” not only in the man conceived in the Virgin Mary’s purest womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, in humanity itself! Therefore, every human being is supposedly united to the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, regardless of their faith, the practice of the Commandments, or even if they worship idols. It is sufficient to belong “to the human community.”

Does Moral Dignity Matter?

DI recognizes that man also has a “moral dignity,” but it would be less important than “ontological dignity.” Thus, paragraph 7 says:

“This brings us to recognize the possibility of a fourfold distinction of the concept of dignity: ontological dignity, moral dignity, social dignity, and existential dignity. The most important among these is the ontological dignity that belongs to the person as such simply because he or she exists and is willed, created, and loved by God” (Emphasis added).

Naturally, one can distinguish between ontological and moral dignity, but they cannot be separated, or they become unrelated. Indeed, the moral dignity of human actions derives from their perfect conformity with the dictates of reason, which tells them what is right and wrong.

On the other hand, one cannot give the impression that man’s dignity is reduced to the dignity of his nature. Man is not just his nature, as if he were a disincarnated spirit. He is a living being with intelligence and free will to direct his actions and govern his own life. Because of Original Sin, which caused concupiscence that inclines him toward evil, he can act contrary to his nature and his proximate and ultimate end by sinning.

Therefore, man’s dignity comprises his rational and free nature. Fidelity to the dictates of reason shows him that “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.”10 In other words, he must obey the natural law, which God placed in human nature (cf. Rom. 2:14-15).

When man acts against his rational nature through sin, he falls from his dignity, as Saint Thomas teaches:

“Now in human actions, good and evil are predicated in reference to the reason; because as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv), “the good of man is to be in accordance with reason,” and evil is “to be against reason.”11

By sinning, man departs from the order of reason, and consequently falls away from the dignity of his manhood, in so far as he is naturally free, and exists for himself, and he falls into the slavish state of the beasts, by being disposed of according as he is useful to others.”12

Therefore, since God gave man a rational and free nature (ontological dignity), the latter must act according to the dictates of reason, which intuits the precepts of the natural law (moral dignity).

One cannot deal with human nature without referring to man’s actions because, as Saint Thomas says, the term nature, taken here as the essence of a thing, “means the essence as ordered to the operation proper to it, and that is because nothing can be deprived of the operation that is proper to it.”13

Since “agere sequitur esse” (doing follows being),14 each man’s action must follow what his rational nature indicates.

On the other hand, no one is judged morally or legally for their ontological dignity but rather for their actions and behavior.

Therefore, to claim simpliciter that ontological dignity is more important than moral dignity suggests that sin is unimportant. Man retains his natural dignity even in a state of sin. If that were the case, morality and fidelity to the Commandments lose their meaning, and people could live in sin while retaining their dignity.

DI Recognizes the Loss of Moral Dignity, But Not Its Consequences

DI recognizes that man can lose his moral dignity through acts contrary to reason. However, it fails to say what the consequences of this loss are in this life and in eternity.

“When we speak of moral dignity, we refer to how people exercise their freedom. While people are endowed with conscience, they can always act against it. However, were they to do so, they would behave in a way that is “not dignified” with respect to their nature as creatures who are loved by God and called to love others. Yet, this possibility always exists for human freedom, and history illustrates how individuals—when exercising their freedom against the law of love revealed by the Gospel—can commit inestimably profound acts of evil against others. Those who act this way seem to have lost any trace of humanity and dignity. This is where the present distinction can help us discern between the moral dignity that de facto can be “lost” and the ontological dignity that can never be annulled. And it is precisely because of this latter point that we must work with all our might so that all those who have done evil may repent and convert” (No. 7, emphasis added).

DI insists upon discerning between “the moral dignity that de facto can be ‘lost’ and the ontological dignity that can never be annulled” (no.7, emphasis added).

If “Infinite” Dignity Is Not Lost, Could Hell be Empty?

DI absolutizes ontological dignity in relation to moral dignity. It does not mention the Commandments of God’s Law, the natural law or sin, except once in passing.15 It fails to say sin offends the Creator and that Hell is the punishment for those who die in this state of rebellion.

However, if ontological dignity matters—and no one ever loses it—how can we explain Hell? That was the question the American journalist Diana Montagna asked Cardinal Fernandez during DI’s presentation. The cardinal’s confused answer ended by saying, “Isn’t Hell empty? This is the question Pope Francis is asking himself.”16

Indeed, if natural (ontological) dignity matters more than conscious and free human acts that determine man’s destiny, sin does not exist or even matter. Therefore, unrepentant sinners won’t suffer the penalties of Hell. Hence, you have blessings for “gay couples” and “irregular couples.”

Naturalism and Theological Optimism

DI is a naturalistic document that mentions divine grace in passing once, without showing its most important role in our salvation:

“Even when God draws us to him with his grace, he does so in a way that never violates our freedom.” (n. 30). However, Saint Augustine states, “No one can lead a holy life without God’s grace.”17 Saint Thomas adds that man “cannot remain for a long time without mortal sin” without the help of grace.18

The document fails to mention the need for prayer and asceticism to obtain grace and remain faithful. Thus, it seems that man, created by God and restored by Christ, can, by his own nature, do good and avoid evil without the help of grace. This is reminiscent of Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heresies.19

Refuting Pelagians, Saint Augustine explains what grace is and how to attain it:

“To achieve this grace, we ask God not to let us fall into temptation. This grace is not nature but the help of a fragile and vicious nature.”20

The Theological Basis for Fiducia Supplicans

DI’s confusing explanation of man’s infinite dignity serves as a philosophical and theological “justification” for Fiducia Supplicans. If ontological dignity is never lost, even with sin (when moral dignity is lost), then those in sinful relationships have the right to have their relationships blessed just like those in legitimate and holy matrimony. Likewise, with the new concept of the Incarnation, sinners and believers, Christians and atheists are united with Our Lord since they are not required to accept his divinity for this union. It suffices to be human by nature. This would explain Francis’ statement in Abu Dabi that God wants all religions.21

True Human Dignity

Human nature has a dignity of its own because, unlike animals, it is rational and free, thus allowing man to understand and choose what to do to improve himself.

However, a higher dignity comes from grace—the dignity of the children of God. In his Gospel, Saint John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but not everyone accepted Him as they were blinded by worldly pleasures. “But as many as received him, he gave them the power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.” (John 1:12). In his first epistle, the Seer of Patmos is adamant: “In this, the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. Whosoever is not just is not of God” (1 John 3:10).

Saint. Thomas comments:

So he [Saint John] says he gave them power to become the sons of God. To understand this we should remark that men become sons of God by being made like God. Hence, men are sons of God according to a threefold likeness to God. First, by the infusion of grace, anyone having sanctifying grace is made a son of God. “You did not receive the spirit of slavery… but the spirit of adoption as sons,” as said in Romans (8:15). “Because you are sons of God, God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts” (Gal 4:6).

Secondly, we are like God by the perfection of our actions because one who acts justly is a son: “Love your enemies… so that you may be the children of your Father” (Mt 5:44).

Thirdly, we are made like God by the attainment of glory. The glory of the soul by the light of glory, “When he appears we shall be like him” (1 Jn 3:2); and the glory of the body, “He will reform our lowly body” (Phil 3:21). Of these two it is said in Romans (8:23), “We are waiting for our adoption as sons of God.”22

Saint Paul writes to the Galatians, “For you are all the children of God by faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal.3:27).

Therefore, we become and remain children of God through grace by accepting Our Lord Jesus Christ with faith enlivened by works.

True Christian dignity only comes from becoming God’s child through divine grace.

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Footnotes:

1. Declaration Fiducia Supplicans On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings, December 18, 2023, https://press.vatican.va/conte...; see Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Pope Francis Authorizes Blessing Homosexual Couples and Adulterers with a Declaration and a ‘Clarification’ that Favor Sin,” https://www.tfp.org/pope-franc... 4/17-24.

2. Dated April 2, 2024. https://www.vatican.va/roman_c... 4/17/24

3. Cf. Charles Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (London-New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955), 281-3; E. Thamiry, s.v. “Mort (Peine de),” Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique (Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1929), vol. 10, Second part, cols. 2500-8; Avery Cardinal Dulles, “Catholicism & Capital Punishment,” First Things, 112, Apr. 2001:30-35, http://www.firstthings.com/art...; Edward Feser and Joseph M. Bessette, By Man Shall His Blood be Shed (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017); Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, Pope Francis’s Teaching on the Death Penalty: A Rupture With Divine Revelation and the Church’s Constant Teaching, https://www.tfp.org/pope-franc... 4/17/24.

4. Gilles Lebreton, “Critique de la Déclaration universelle des Droits de l’homme”, Cahiers de la recherche sur les droits fondamentaux [Online], 7 | 2009, Online since 15 December 2020, connection on 14 May 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.or... ; DOI: Critique de la Déclaration universelle des Droits de l’homme

5. Summa Theologica, I, q.7. a. 2 c.

6. Id. Ibid. ad 1.

7. Thomas Aquinas, De Rationibus Fidei Reasons for The Faith Against Muslim Objections (and one objection of the Greeks and Armenians) to the Cantor of Antioch, translated by Joseph Kenny, O.P., cap. 7, https://isidore.co/aquinas/eng... 4/23/24 (Emphasis added.)

8. Footnote of the DI: “Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Dignitas Personae (September 8, 2008), no. 7: AAS 100 (2008), 863. Cf. also Irenaeus of Lyons, Adv. Haer. V, 16, 2: PG 7, 1167-1168.”

9. In a footnote, DI refers to no. 22 of Gaudium et Spes, which states, “by his Incarnation, the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man.” (Emphasis added). The restrictive clause, “in some fashion,” does not dispel the confusion because it fails to explain whether He united himself hypostatically with each man, as happened in the Incarnation, or whether it was some other type of union. That had to be explained in such an utmost important matter. It lacks the precision and clarity that theological concepts must have. By interpreting the conciliar text without the restrictive clause “in some fashion” and presenting it as the meaning of Gaudium et Spes, DI turned a dangerously ambiguous statement into a patent error.

10. Summa Theologica, I-II, 94.2. c.

11. Id. I-II q.18, a.5 corpus

12. Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 64 a. 2, ad 3.

13. Saint Thomas d’Aquin, De ente et essentia, cap. 1.

14. Id. Commentary on the Sentences, lib. 3 d. 3 q. 2 a. 1 c.

15. Except in passing in no. 22 to emphasize human dignity: “In light of this, one can understand how sin can wound and obscure human dignity, as it is an act contrary to that dignity; yet, sin can never cancel the fact that the human being is created in the image and likeness of God.”

16. Conferenza Stampa di presentazione della “Dichiarazione Dignitas infinita, circa la dignità umana,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?..., 54,36m. 4/18/24

17. Santo Agostino, Obras completas – versión Española, ACTAS DEL PROCESO A PELAGIO, https://www.augustinus.it/spag... 4/30/24.

18. Cf. Suma Theologica, I-II, q. 109 a. 8 c.

19. See Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, English translation James Canon Dastible, D.D., Tan, Rockford, Illinois, 1974, pp. 222-223.

20. Santo Agostino, Obras completas – versión Española, ACTAS DEL PROCESO A PELAGIO, https://www.augustinus.it/spag... 4/30/24.

21. “The Pluralism and the Diversity of Religions … Are Willed by God” The Document on Human Fraternity signed by Pope Francis during his Apostolic Journey to the United Arab Emirates (February 3-5, 2019), Theological and Canonical Implications of the Declaration Signed by Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi by Luiz Sérgio Solimeo February 27, 2019, https://www.tfp.org/theologica....

22. Saint Thomas Aquinas, COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF SAINT JOHN, chap. 1, no. 150, https://isidore.co/aquinas/Joh... retrieved 5/13/24.

Source: https://www.returntoorder.org/...