Human Dignity and Life from the Perspective of the Union of Love Between God and Man: From Creation
Instructor: 艾立勤 神父
Date: January 5th, 2009.
Key words: God, Man, Human Dignity, Human Life, Love, History of Salvation, Creation, Salvation, Baptism.
An important question of Christian faith seeking understanding is how the creation of New Creature in the baptism is connected with the “Old Creature” and what is the value and the dignity of both. The present essay shall attempt to throw some light on this question from the stand point of the revealed truths of the Old Testament and some famous recent theological contributions to this topic.
It should first be noted that this matter is important for a series of theological disciplines, including the Biblical exegesis of the Old Testament, the sacramental and liturgical aspects of Christian baptism and divinization (the New Life), which it brings, from the point of view of human dignity and the value of human life both before and after baptism, and it is certainly of the utmost importance for the issue of the relationship between God and man in the course of the history of salvation.
The present essay is based on the study of this issue, which is incited by the work of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger The Spirit of the Liturgy. This theological treatise of the well-known Catholic theologian is especially significant for the study of Liturgics, however, it may also provide a lot of insight into other theological disciplines, including Sacramentology, Moral theology, Biblical theology and other. Thus, this article greatly relies on the ideas and concepts developed in The Spirit of the Liturgy of Cardinal Ratzinger. However, all the ideas are subject to further reflection and integration into the general topic of this article, namely – the Christian Baptism and the relationship between God and man in the history of salvation.
The significance of the creation, exodus and covenant of the Old Testament have a very great significance for the Christian Baptism. It must be noted that the Baptism is not an absolutely New Testament concept. The whole history of salvation of humanity is reflected in the individual Baptism of a Christian. Thus, it is of utmost importance to have a deep understanding of the principles and significance of the creation, exodus and covenant, which took place in the Old Testament times, in order to get a deeper understanding of the truths, which are internal to Christian Baptism.
Creation, Salvation and Covenant in the Old Testament.
The journey of man and of the whole of the created Universe begins with the mystery of the Creation. God created the Universe ‘ex nihili’ – obviously there existed none of the created things before the creation, and they had no value, since they did not exist. One may still argue that they have an eternal value as being eternally present in God’s “Mind”, however this is not an issue to be considered for the purposes of the present essay. It will suffice to say, that the Creation is the point of departure of the created Universe, which includes man, in its voyage to God, Who is the Ultimate Beginning and the Ultimate End.
In the present discussion it is the man, or the humanity, and his journey to God is the central subject matter, or, in scholastic terms, the formal object of inquiry. The Creation being the point of departure, there must be a critical point of transition, which also gives the whole meaning to the journey, viewed as a process: both historical and spiritual. This event may be called “exodus”.
A great and highly significant model or an archetype of such an “exodus” is the Exodus of Jews from Egypt. It is important to consider its theological meaning and significance. It is certainly significant for Christians, as members of the Church – the ‘electi’. However, it is also significant for every other human being at every point of human history. This must prove to be true as long as one realizes that God calls everyone to salvation, and thus everyone is on the trip to salvation, no matter at which stage of this trip he presently is, and even if he is moving in a direction, which varies from to the one leading to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Cardinal Ratzinger observes that “the goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man. The freedom and equality of men, which the Sabbath is meant to bring about, is not a merely anthropological or sociological vision; it can only be understood theo-logically. Only when man is in covenant with God does he become free.” From this observation it can be easily inferred that the creation and the covenant are inseparable, they are not two distinct happenings, which are separated by time and have little in common. Instead, they have everything in common: they are inseparable like two facets of a brilliant. Their internal relationship due to the same origin – love of God, His care for humanity and His blessing of it, and also due to the same goal – the ultimate union between God and man.
In creation we see that, “God created man in His image, in the image of God created He him… And God blessed them… And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Thus, it is evident that God created man according to His image and out of His love. Moreover, God blessed humans and gave them the authority and ability to have a dominion over the entire creation: “and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” Thus it is man for whom God created the entire Universe out of His love, and blessed the whole creation, which “was very good.” We may notice lack of any tension or disharmony upon creation. Thus, creation is salvation – the state of creation is similar to the state of salvation, since in both there is a union between God and man, and there is no privation of any kind.
It is important to notice that man enjoys perfect dignity upon the very creation. God makes humans be the highest and most important creatures in the world, who are the images of God Himself, and who thus participate in God’s governance of the Universe. There is no need for humans to wait until future Salvation to acquire this perfect dignity.
However, as was already mentioned above, “the goal of creation is the covenant.” The two are logically and ontologically connected. The ontological connection is in the same source and the same goal of both, while the logical connection is in the necessity of explicit establishment of principles governing God-man relationship after the experience of sin and the alienation, which is brought by sin.
All of the above discussed ideas are directly related to the Christian Baptism.
The Exodus into the New Life: the “Baptism” in the Red Sea.
Having looked at the significance of the Israel’s Exodus, one may consider closely its theological meaning. The Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger puts it this way: “Israel departs, not in order to be a people like all the others; it departs in order to serve God. The goal of the departure is the still unknown mountain of God, the service of God.” From this it is clear that the Exodus is not simply an escape from the bonds of slavery, but it is a step towards the new stage of relationship with God, which is reflected in the covenant made between God and the Jews.
In addition to this, it should be noted that the covenant is an expression of God’s love and care for man. It is the humanity, which is invited by God to restore the unity between God and man, which was broken by man. Isn’t this a great example of the limitless mercy and love of God? A man is never alone in this world, unless he makes himself alone by breaking the covenant and returning back to sin, as some Jews wanted to return back to Egypt.
The covenant is extremely significant from the point of view of human dignity. Cardinal Ratzinger says that “only then [in covenant with God] are the equality and dignity of all men made manifest. If, then, everything is directed to the covenant, it is important to see that the covenant is a relationship: God’s gift of Himself to man, but also man’s response to God.” Thus it is the relationship of love, to which a man is called, and it is precisely because man has the human dignity, that he is called to this relationship. So it is not after the covenant or after the salvation that a man would have this dignity, but much earlier – right from the time of creation that man has this dignity as an image of God, and in covenant a man learns how he may actualize the possibilities, which he has as a consequence of him having this dignity, namely, to establish the love relationship with God.
Cardinal Ratzinger develops his reflection about this relationship of love: “True surrender to God looks very different [from the act of simply acknowledging God’s sovereignty over all things]. It consists – according to the Father, in fidelity to biblical thought – in the union of man and creation with God. Belonging to God … is rather a way of being.” The relationship between God and man is thus existential, but such existence is possible only when man is an image of God, and has a free will in order to “surrender” to God and to enter into the unity of love with God, to which God invites him.
The principle of freedom is very significant here. As Cardinal Ratzinger says, “the act of God’s being, which causes created being, is an act of freedom. In this respect, the principle of freedom is present in being itself, from its ground upward. The exitus, or rather God’s free act of creation, is indeed ordered toward the reditus… The creature, existing in its own right, comes home to itself, and this act is an answer in freedom to God’s love.” It is obvious that man is free to return to “home” to return to the normal mode of existence in the unity of love with God. And actively God makes it possible for man to do this in inviting man to the covenant. Cardinal Ratzinger adds: “this reditus is a “return”, but it does not abolish creation; rather, it bestows its full and final perfection. This is how Christians understand God being “all in all”.” Thus, the whole discussion above is a very vivid demonstration of the relationship existing between the creation and exodus, and the covenant, in which it found its culmination. Moreover, the very clear connection with the New Testament may be easily observed.
All of these are thus very clear images of the truths contained in Christian Baptism. Baptism also brings a covenant, in which man is invited to restore the broken relationship with God. In Baptism, the creature of God is re-created and restored from its fallen state. It is the exodus from sin, which is actualized in Baptism, which makes one recall the Exodus of Jews from the bonds of slavery in Egypt – both are the reditus of man to God for the sake of establishing the full communion of love with God.
Baptism and the Dignity and Value of Human Life Before and After the Return.
The title of this section bears an ambiguity for a certain purpose. Throughout this essay there is and intertwining of two stories central to the Christian faith and salvation: on the one hand, there is the Exodus of the Jewish people, who were chosen by God, and on the other, there is the ‘story’ of salvation of every human being, which has the sacrament of Baptism as its critical point. Now it is time to make some further reflection upon the connections existing between the history of salvation, the Baptism and the dignity of man.
As was discussed in the previous section, it is the unity of love with God, which is the mode of existence of a human being, which is possible as a consequence of man being an image of God, which is in turn the source of human dignity.
At first, it is necessary to look closer at the Christian Baptism. It is the Sacrament, in which a person partakes in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the events, which brought salvation to the mankind. This salvation of mankind is the reditus of man to God upon the destruction of the bonds of sin and corruption. Thus it is very closely related to the exitus and reditus, which took place in the Old Testament times. Cardinal Ratzinger puts it this way: “as the God-Man He carries man the creature home to God. And so reditus becomes possible. Man is given a homecoming.” Thus the ultimate salvation is possible because of and through Jesus Christ, and it is in the Baptism, when a man walks into this new mode of existence, where he can unite with God.
However, the above does not mean that prior to the return to God, or prior to the Baptism, a man has no dignity, or his/her dignity is somewhat impaired. Rather, it is the human dignity, which makes the invitation and the return possible. God invites man, as His Own image, to enter this unity of love, in which man may fully actualize his dignity and reach a proper mode of existence.
It is in the creation, where God gave man perfect dignity. Thus the dignity is enjoyed by each and every human being, and it is the creation which is especially significant in the reditus taking place in Christian Baptism. Cardinal Ratzinger says that Christ’s Sacrifice “is an act of new creation, the restoration of creation to its new identity. All worship is now a participation in this “Pasch” of Christ, in His “passing over” from divine to human, from death to life, to the unity of God and man.” Thus, there is a deep relationship between the original creation and the re-creation of human being, which is ultimately possible through Jesus Christ in the Christian Baptism. And it should be noted that it is not the Baptism, which gives human dignity, but it is because of human dignity, which was bestowed upon man upon creation, that the Baptism is possible.
From the above discussion it is evident that there is a close link between the creation, exodus and the covenant of the Old Testament and the issues of human dignity and Baptism. It is in creation, that a man is created by God according to His image, and thus given a perfect dignity, being able to partake in God’s governance of the Universe, and, most importantly, to live in a unity of love with God. Even after man’s fall, God did not abandon him and invited him into the restoration of relationship through the exodus and Sinai covenant, which was possible due to human dignity, and which was a step in preparing the most ultimate and perfect reditus and union which God, which is possible through Christian Baptism. It is thus evident, that it is not the Baptism, which supplies human dignity, but it is because of human dignity, which was bestowed upon man upon creation, that the Baptism is possible.
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