Summary: The dignity of man affirmed by God in Scripture contrasts with the attitude of ancient and modern pagan cultures
Monday of 5th Week in Course
February 11, 2013
Our Lady of Lourdes
Gaudium et Spes
“As many as touched the fringe of His garment were healed.” On this World Day of the Sick, it is particularly appropriate to look at the healing power and history of Jesus as it is displayed in the Gospels, and to take up again our study of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the third of the three major documents of the Vatican Council.
Genesis holds God up as a God of goodness. This contrasts starkly with the idea of the divine in the minds of most ancient cultures. What they experienced in their lives was conflict–conflicts between man and nature, between man and man, between man and woman, between man and his very self. So they invented gods of conflict–superhuman beings with the same lusts and loathings of us mere humans, but with powers and emotions cosmic in magnitude. So if Zeus became angry with a human, he was likely to get a thunderbolt in the tummy. For the ancients, too, there were truly evil gods, and these were constantly trying to hurt humans.
The God of Abraham and his descendants, however, was “all good and deserving of all our love.” And so when He revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus, His Son was all love, all healing, all reconciliation. Yes, Jesus showed indignation with the Pharisee and Scribe hypocrites, because they paid lip-service to God’s law and constantly thwarted God’s will, shown through Jesus. Worse, they tried to attribute the mighty works of good that Jesus did to the Evil One, the Adversary of man. But even for Pharisees, Jesus made His Father’s mercy real, as when He met with Nicodemus the Pharisee at night, and taught how much God loves the world.
Pagans not only had it wrong about God, they also had it wrong about humans. Pagan ethics often centered on “might makes right.” That every human being had innate, God-given dignity was not part of their mindset. For instance, if they liked, fathers could just take their newborn child out to a nearby forest and expose them for wild animals to devour. Slaves were just property to be bought, sold, treated any way the master wanted. And, lamentably, modern man has adopted many of these horrible attitudes of the ancients.
To the modern world, the Church proclaims first the dignity of every human person, of every being of human origin. They affirmed that this dignity comes from the creation of man by God as a creature in God’s own image and likeness. So why is it, the Fathers ask, that there is so much evil and corruption in humanity?
“Although he was made by God in a state of holiness, from the very onset of his history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One. Man set himself against God and sought to attain his goal apart from God. Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, but their senseless minds were darkened and they served the creature rather than the Creator.(3) What divine revelation makes known to us agrees with experience. Examining his heart, man finds that he has inclinations toward evil too, and is engulfed by manifold ills which cannot come from his good Creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his beginning, man has disrupted also his proper relationship to his own ultimate goal as well as his whole relationship toward himself and others and all created things.
“Therefore man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness.”
This is not the last word on man’s struggle, however. “man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains. But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly and casting out that "prince of this world" (John 12:31) who held him in the bondage of sin.(4) For sin has diminished man, blocking his path to fulfillment.
“The call to grandeur and the depths of misery, both of which are a part of human experience, find their ultimate and simultaneous explanation in the light of this revelation.”
With this in mind, the Council Fathers proceed to look at modern humanity and how the Church can answer the most critical questions of our day.