Redeemer of Man, Understanding the Human Person

As we move into the main section of Redeemer of Man we must come to terms with John Paul II’s philosophy of the person. Our very efforts at self-understanding involves a certain form of evaluation of human life. The Pope urges us therefore to be critical of “immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being.” (§10) Yet the media, the education, and the culture propose to us a reduced measure of man. We easily accept the lack of challenge, looking to “general norms of behavior” or therapeutic approaches which lower or eliminate standards for personal excellence and virtue.

Indeed, in his work on Reconciliation and penance, John Paul said that one reason we have lost a sense of sin is that we approach personal existence by way of social science. There are “errors made in evaluating certain findings of the human sciences. Thus on the basis of certain affirmations of psychology, concern to avoid creating feelings of guilt or to place limits on freedom leads to a refusal ever to admit any shortcoming. Through an undue extrapolation of the criteria of the science of sociology, it finally happens that all failings are blamed upon society, and the individual is declared innocent of them. Again, a certain cultural anthropology so emphasizes the undeniable environmental and historical conditioning and influences which act upon man, that it reduces his responsibility to the point of not acknowledging his ability to perform truly human acts and therefore his ability to sin.” (§18) Freedom disappears; virtue is forgotten.

We must approach the person with fresh eyes, through a philosophy of personalism. And ultimately we must acknowledge the mystery of the person before God. When Pope John Paul II visited the Unites States in 1987 he made some remarks about the need to find a proper approach to understanding the human person. He expressed concern that the use of social science data alone leads to relativism. We need metaphysics and theology, he proclaimed.

“Today there exists an increasingly evident need for philosophical reflection concerning the truth about the human person. A metaphysical approach is needed as an antidote to intellectual and moral relativism. But what is required even more is fidelity to the word of God, to ensure that human progress takes into account the entire revealed truth of the eternal act of love in which the universe and especially the human person acquire ultimate meaning. The more one seeks to unravel the mystery of the human person, the more open one becomes to the mystery of transcendence. The more deeply one penetrates the divine mystery, the more one discovers the true greatness and dignity of human beings.” (Sept 12, 1987 New Orleans, LA)

The relationship of faith and reason is not a simple one of imposition of theology upon the study of the person; nor do we simply reason from propositions of philosophy to affirmations about morality. We must re-discover the mystery of existence, and the dignity of the person. Faith is an aid in this journey, for the relationship of faith and reason is one of mutual influence and a spiral of self-discovery — of discovering the divine through the human and the human through the divine. This approach must be kept in mind as we study Redeemer of Man.

“He must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must ‘appropriate’ and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself.” (§10).

1 Comment
  1. A comment/response was made by UST Physics professor Jim Clarage; please visit his blog at this link.

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