Three points to understand "Dignitas infinita".

Priest and theologian Ricardo Bazán analyzes in this article the long-awaited document on human dignity published this week by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, with topics such as abortion, gender ideology and surrogate motherhood, among others.

Ricardo Bazan-April 10, 2024-Reading time: 5 minutes

A girl fills a bottle to carry drinking water in Buenos Aires. Poverty is one of more than a dozen topics covered in Dignitas infinita ©OSV News photo/Agustin Marcarian, Reuters

On April 8, 2008, the declaration was finally published. Dignitas infinita on Human Dignity, of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

It is a long-awaited document because of the subject matter it deals with. As the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, pointed out in the presentation of the document, it has taken five years to arrive at the final product, something that should be emphasized since we would find ourselves before a mature document and in no way improvised, but rather one that has gone through various drafts and under the supervision of many experts of that Dicastery. 

In this sense, the declaration presents a first part (the first three chapters) that seeks to lay the foundations of human dignity, resorting to the magisterium of St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. The latter has made important contributions in the fourth chapter, where a list of serious violations of human dignity is presented.

The origin of Dignitas infinita

The name Dignitas infinitaThe term "infinite dignity" comes from a quote by St. John Paul II on the occasion of the Angelus with people with disabilities, to point out that this dignity can be understood as infinite, that is to say, that "goes beyond all outward appearances or characteristics of people's concrete lives." (Dignitas infinita, Presentation). 

This allows us to address a theme that is the common thread of the statement, the basis of everything else, and that is that man possesses an infinite dignity that is based on his own being and not on circumstances. 

This aspect is even more important to reflect on in these times when dignity and so many moral questions depend on totally arbitrary criteria. This is why this document is important, not because it is necessarily innovative in terms of the theory of human dignity, but because it dares to go against the tide, faithful to the Church's mission, which St. John Paul II pointed out in Veritaris splendoras the diakonia of truth.

Ontological dignity, moral dignity, social dignity and existential dignity.

Another point to highlight is the distinction he makes between ontological dignity, moral dignity, social dignity and existential dignity. 

The first is the concept that the document works on in depth and consists of the dignity that we all have by the mere fact of being a person, which is based on two pointsto exist and to have been willed, created and loved by God". (Dignitas infinita, n. 7). Remember that this dignity is never lost, it cannot be disposed of and does not depend at all on circumstances, something that is very common in these times. 

The second meaning, moral dignityis related to freedom, that is, when the person acts contrary to his conscience, therefore, the person would be acting against his own dignity. This is a very useful distinction, since freedom tends to be conceived as a mere capacity to choose between one option or another, but it is not seen as a capacity that allows the person to grow and perfect himself precisely when it is exercised and acted upon correctly, let alone when it is understood that the morality of the acts depends on whether it has effects on others or whether the person feels that he has done something wrong or not.

On the other hand, the social dignity focuses on the social conditions in which people live. These conditions may be below what is required by ontological dignity. How can we not think of people who are in a state of extreme poverty, who do not have access to water or sewage, children suffering from malnutrition, anemia and who cannot even access the most basic health services. Finally, existential dignity is focused on those circumstances that do not allow the person to live a dignified life, not so much in the material or external sphere that contradict ontological dignity, but are internal or existential conditioning factors, such as illnesses, violent family contexts, etc.

The dicastery emphasizes a very subtle but potentially dangerous distinction, preferring to use the term personal dignity instead of human dignity, since the person is understood as the subject capable of reasoning so that, if we are faced with a subject that does not possess this capacity, or at least in full, therefore, it would not be worthy of the recognition of dignity, for example, a fetus or a person with a mental illness or disability. 

The text, in addition to all the fundamentals it presents, considers that human dignity is far above what we may think thanks to three convictions: we are all created in the image of God, Christ has elevated that dignity and the vocation to the fullness that we have, to be called to communion with God, something that cannot be said of any other creature. 

Thus we understand that the Church must be the first to respect human dignity, to promote it and to play the role of guarantor of the dignity of every person, without exception.

Violations of dignity

In the presentation of the document, Cardinal Fernandez tells how the draft text was sent with the following clarification: "This new wording became necessary to respond to a specific request of the Holy Father. The Holy Father had explicitly requested that greater attention be given to the grave violations of human dignity that are currently taking place in our time, along the lines of the encyclical Fratelli tutti. The Doctrinal Section therefore took steps to reduce the initial part [...] and to elaborate in greater detail what the Holy Father had indicated." (Dignitas infinita, Presentation). 

Thus, the fourth chapter offers us a list, which is not an exhaustive or closed list, of the serious violations that we can find in our times, many of them already known and on which the Magisterium has already pronounced itself, for example, St. John Paul II in Evangelium vitaeWhile others are violations that are more present in contemporary society and are gradually becoming normalized or are little talked about. 

Prior to the release of the long-awaited statement there was doubt as to whether it would address gender ideology, as Pope Francis had recently stated that. "the ugliest danger is gender ideology, which cancels out differences." (Pope Francis' audience with the participants in the conference "Man-Woman Image of God. For an anthropology of vocations"). In fact, the text points to gender theory as one of the serious violations since it The "aim is to deny the greatest possible difference between living beings: the sexual difference. This constitutive difference is not only the greatest imaginable, but also the most beautiful and the most powerful: it achieves, in the male-female couple, the most admirable reciprocity and is, therefore, the source of that miracle that never ceases to amaze us which is the arrival of new human beings into the world." (Dignitas infinita, n. 58).

Dignitas infinita is a contribution of the Church to that struggle which, as Pope Francis points out, never ends and must never end (cf. Dignitas infinita, n. 63) when it comes to human rights and human dignity, while at the same time warning us against the temptation to remove human dignity as the foundation of human rights, so that these are left to the sway of ideologies and the interests of the strongest. 

We appreciate the clarity of the document as it refers to the bases of human dignity, as well as the serious violations that may occur and that, unfortunately, will always occur, hence it is not possible to make an exhaustive list of all violations nor offer solutions for each case, it is about becoming aware of the value of each person and the dignity that precedes them: "Respect for the dignity of each and every person is the indispensable basis for the very existence of any society that claims to be founded on just law and not on the force of power. It is on the basis of the recognition of human dignity that the fundamental human rights, which precede and sustain all civilized coexistence, are sustained." (Dignitas infinita, n. 64).

La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising