Q: Archbishop J, what is the anthropology of your recent pastoral letter?
The word ‘anthropology’ is derived from two Greek words, anthropos and logos—meaning literally, a word about humanity.
How do we understand the human being? If God became flesh and “pitched his tent” among us, then the human is fundamentally open to the Divine.
Many heresies pose the view of the human as fundamentally fallen, incapable of union with God. This has never been the Catholic view (see Gen 1:31).
The pastoral letter, Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue, presents a rich tapestry of Catholic anthropology that I wish to explore, which must be read against the view of the human that we hold in Trinidad and Tobago.
Human flourishing requires God
The first section of the letter establishes a basic principle—human flourishing is impossible without God. The sombre realisation is that on our own, strife and division flourish—Babel.
Building genuine community requires God’s intervention. Successive Old Testaments covenants prepared us for the Messiah, more so, Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit which gave birth to the Church and the overcoming of human division— “each one heard them (the multitude) speaking in his own language” (Acts 2: 6).
This view of the human sees the human as graced but fundamentally flawed by the Fall. We cannot save ourselves. The ancient heresy, Pelagianism, holds that we can, with a little more work, pull ourselves up by the boot strap. St Augustine responded to this by affirming that it is by grace we are saved through faith (Eph 2:8–9).
We can exist without conscious relationship with God, but we cannot flourish without the God-human relationship. For this reason, Christ died, and the Holy Spirit was sent. These are not optional extras for human flourishing; they are essential.
The move to communion opens another dimension of the human. The word could be traced back to the Latin, moenia, a city wall, fortifications, an embankment, or dyke.
One might say people who are in communion find themselves together behind a common embankment. Like people together in a trench at war, they not only have a life in common, but they depend on each other for their very existence. Thus, they partake in a third reality that is bigger than the individual’s.
In considering this image, we need to understand it is the whole of humanity that is called to the embankment. St Paul teaches: “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
When we consider that God chose to join us, fallen humanity, in the embankment, we recognise this third reality as the life of grace. By virtue of Baptism, the word ‘communion’ now speaks of the existential reality of humanity in the embankment with God. Here, the third reality is nothing less than the Kingdom of God, for those who live communion.
Communion has a second sense, munus, task or service. Whoever lives in communion puts himself/herself at the service of another. We were created for each other and for God and this is both a gift and an obligation.
Communion requires a third reality. We are all members of Christ’s body, with Christ as the head. By participating in Christ’s body, we are bonded together in an existential reality, but we all have a task to work for this unity.
Through grace we participate in the divine mission to bring broken humanity back to God. Here again, the God-human relationship is inseparable.
Does our society promote the dignity of the human, communion, and dialogue, or do we promote division and strife?
In the section on Catholic DNA, the pastoral letter presents the heart of the anthropology. The deep belief that every human has a vocation is a significant marker.
All are called by God to live full communion. At the Ascension, Jesus sent the disciples out to the whole world (Mk 16:15). All are called, all deserve an opportunity to respond. Not only are we all called, but we have also been gifted uniquely for this vocation (Eph 4:7).
Turning to values, we now see a full-blown anthropology: integral human development. I have argued that this is the touchstone of 21st century Catholicism. This view says: 1. Each human is capable of growth and development in all areas of their life; 2. we have a vocation to help others to grow and develop in all areas of their lives; 3. this vocation is to the whole Church; 4. in living this vocation, the ultimate is to become a saint.
This view of the human is grounded in the Catholic sacramental view. In 1967, when Pope Paul VI wrote Populorum Progressio (PP), ‘On the Development of Peoples’, neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change and develop—was in its infancy.
Today, we call this a ‘growth mindset’ and there is much neuroscience to back this view of the human; we are not static and fixed by our birth or upbringing. We are all capable of growing and developing at every stage of our existence. This capacity to change is in all spheres of our life.
No zodiac sign, or race or nationality, or gender or DNA closes us off to deep transformation. There are inhibitors, including personality type and social structures that act on us. Even these only make transformation more difficult, not impossible.
For Pope Benedict XVI, this is the view of the human we must have for the 21st century. In looking at the steps of development since Paul VI, we see a movement from a focus on the scourge of the social and moral to consciousness of others and a turn towards poverty.
Ultimately it is about faith, God’s gift to people of goodwill, and unity in the charity of Christ, who calls us all to share God’s life, as sons and daughters of the living God, the Father of all (cf PP, 21).
This is an integral approach that moves away from dualistic views of the human, and which is consistent with the New Testament teaching.
Biblical scholar N T Wright, reflecting on the biblical model of anthropology, sees the use of the terms: body, mind, heart, and soul, as referring to the whole person. These non-dualistic terms allow us to understand and speak about the dimensions of the human person. He says:
The word ‘body’ doesn’t denote a particular part of the human being; it denotes the whole human being as a material object within the present space-time continuum of the world, an object which is present to itself, to the world and to other people. Likewise, the ‘mind’ isn’t a particular part of the human being to be set off against others. I don’t know how much Paul knew about brain science, but he might have agreed with us that the brain itself is linked so intimately to the heart and the body that the word ‘mind’ ought not to be thought of as referring to a different entity but to the whole entity seen now from the point of view of thinking, reflecting and (clearly, here) deciding.
Catholic anthropology is integral as we see from the biblical witness. It is dynamic, inclusive and holds the God-human relationship in an integral and essential relationship.
We know that there are competing anthropologists in our society that do not promote communion or dialogue, nor value the human, nor all the dimensions of the human, and do not always see the God-human relationship in a dynamic and essential way.
Catholic anthropology sees the human as valuing communion, the human person, and the relationship with God.
Consider deeply how you see the human, and the way our society and media portray the human. Listen to your thoughts and comments about others.