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A reflection on Dignitas Infinita

By Fr Stephan Alexander

General Manager, CCSJ and AMMR

In the ever-evolving tapestry of Catholic social teaching (CST), the principle of human dignity stands as a foundational pillar that guides principles of justice, compassion, and respect.

To highlight “the indispensable nature of the dignity of the human person in Christian anthropology” (what it means to be human) and illustrate the significance and impact of this fundamental truth in the social, political, and economic realms, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith released the Declaration ‘Dignitas Infinita’ on Human Dignity, dated April 8, 2024.

This document not only reaffirms the timeless truths encapsulated in the Church’s teachings but also sheds light on contemporary challenges, offering a compass for navigating the complexities of the modern world.

Dignitas Infinita resonates deeply with the rich tapestry of Catholic tradition, echoing sentiments expressed in previous documents such as Dignitatis Humanae from the Second Vatican Council.

At its core, the declaration reaffirms the inherent dignity of every human person, a principle enshrined in the very fabric of Catholic social doctrine. Drawing from the wellspring of Scripture and centuries of theological reflection, it upholds the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, regardless of race, creed, or circumstance.

Hence, it reaffirms the emphasis of Vatican II, which recognised all offenses against life itself and all violations of the integrity of the human person as contrary to human dignity.

Some offenses within these categories include murder, genocide, abortion, mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures, subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where individuals are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons, and the death penalty.

Dignitas Infinita also speaks prophetically to the challenges of our times, offering fresh insights and perspectives on pressing issues. In an age marked by rapid technological advancement and social upheaval, the declaration confronts emerging threats to human dignity with clarity and courage.

Key insights in this regard concern issues such as the drama of poverty, war, the travail of migrants, human trafficking, sexual abuse, violence against women, abortion, surrogacy, euthanasia, and assisted suicide, the marginalisation of people with disabilities, gender theory, sex change and digital violence.

In a world where the boundaries between the natural and the artificial are increasingly blurred, Dignitas Infinita reaffirms the inviolable dignity of the human person, warning against any manipulation or commodification of life.

An intense focus on global poverty and inequality, which draws attention to the plight of the marginalised and vulnerable can be easily discernible from the document.

It challenges societies to move beyond mere material prosperity and embrace a culture of solidarity and compassion, echoing the prophetic voice of Pope Francis in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti where he reminds us of the need to respect human dignity by stating: “Every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally; this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country. People have this right even if they are unproductive or were born with or developed limitations. This does not detract from their great dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstances but on the intrinsic worth of their being. Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity.”

Furthermore, the declaration emphasises the centrality of human freedom in the pursuit of truth and virtue. Echoing the teachings of St John Paul II, it recognises freedom not as a license for self-indulgence but as a call to authentic self-gift and responsibility. This echoes the perennial wisdom of the Church, which has long championed the rights of conscience and religious liberty, recognising them as essential elements of human flourishing.

In essence, Dignitas Infinita serves as a bridge between tradition and innovation, weaving together the timeless truths of Catholic doctrine with the exigencies of the contemporary world. It reminds us that while some of the challenges we face may be new, the principles that guide us remain steadfast and unchanging.

As we navigate the complexities of the modern age, Dignitas Infinita beckons us to uphold the dignity of every human person, to champion justice and solidarity, and to strive for the common good.

It calls us to be vigilant guardians of human dignity in a world fraught with moral ambiguity and ethical dilemmas. It reminds us that amidst the tumult of human history, the dignity of the human person remains an immutable truth, a reflection of the infinite love and mercy of our Creator.

May we heed its call and embrace our vocation as stewards of human dignity, building a world where all may flourish in peace and harmony.


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