Saturday, June 07, 2014

Dignity and The Meaning of Person

“Human Dignity and Human Nature”[1] – by Robert Spaemann

Blogger: Since Christ is the meaning of man (GS #22), Christ defines the meaning of “dignity.” But the meaning of person is self-gift, and the condition of self-gift is self-possession. And self-possession “discloses” itself as being veiled and “modest.”  Such is God.  But precisely as self-gift, the Son, “though he was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to …emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2, 6-7). And so, Christ discloses the nature of dignity as  internal self-possession and self-mastery. Loss of self-mastery - and the pain involved in achieving it - is the loss of dignity.

Consider Robert Spaemann:

 “What can be taken from the other person… is the opportunity for dignified self-presentation. When Roman law prohibited the crucifixion of Roman citizens, this was not only because crucifixion was more painful than beheading. It was chiefly because crucifixion puts the victim in a position exposed to the gaze of all, stripped of the possibility of any kind of self-presentation. The executed victim is confronted by others, while, from his perspective, this confrontation lacks the ‘self-disclosing’ character essential for personal communication. Objectively the situation is undignified. So it was with the stocks. The stocks subject the offender to a situation of objective indignity. Again and again, Christian art has taken up afresh this ‘adverse object’ (Goethe) so as to highlight the dignity of the crucified one even in this situation of objective indignity. The crucified one thus remains for centuries exposed to our gaze, yet now as an object of worship. The cross is the giant leap toward the radical internalizing of the concept of dignity, toward the awareness of something in the phenomenon of dignity at once veiled and unveiled.
                “So what do the different ways in which dignity appears have in common? Obviously dignity always has something to do with an inner self-possession independent of circumstance…. Dignity is about mastering one’s existence and then displacing that mastery. In their depiction of Christ, the Gospels highlight his powerlessness, presenting it as voluntary renunciation. And in such a way they highlight his dignity. So before his arrest, when Jesus tells the soldiers, ‘I am he,’ they immediately fall to the ground. [2]And when he commands Peter to sheathe his sword, Jesus reminds Peter that, if he wished, he could summon twelve legions of angels to His defense.[3]

Consider Joseph Ratzinger:

TENTH STATION of the Cross - 2005

Jesus is stripped of his garments

Jesus is stripped of his garments. Clothing gives a man his social position; it gives him his place in society, it makes him someone. His public stripping means that Jesus is no longer anything at all, he is simply an outcast, despised by all alike. The moment of the stripping reminds us of the expulsion from Paradise: God's splendor has fallen away from man, who now stands naked and exposed, unclad and ashamed. And so Jesus once more takes on the condition of fallen man. Stripped of his garments, he reminds us that we have all lost the "first garment" that is God's splendor. At the foot of the Cross, the soldiers draw lots to divide his paltry possessions, his clothes. The Evangelists describe the scene with words drawn from Psalm 22:19; by doing so they tell us the same thing that Jesus would tell his disciples on the road to Emmaus: that everything takes place "according to the Scriptures". Nothing is mere coincidence; everything that happens is contained in the Word of God and sustained by his divine plan. The Lord passes through all the stages and steps of man's fall from grace, yet each of these steps, for all its bitterness, becomes a step towards our redemption: this is how he carries home the lost sheep. Let us not forget that John says that lots were drawn for Jesus' tunic, "woven without seam from top to bottom" (Jn 19:23). We may consider this as a reference to the High Priest's robe, which was "woven from a single thread", without stitching (Fl. Josephus, a III, 161). For he, the Crucified One, is the true High Priest.


Lord Jesus, you were stripped of your garments, exposed to shame, cast out of society. You took upon yourself the shame of Adam, and you healed it. You also take upon yourself the sufferings and the needs of the poor, the outcasts of our world. And in this very way you fulfill the words of the prophets. This is how you bring meaning into apparent meaninglessness. This is how you make us realize that your Father holds you, us, and the whole world in his hands. Give us a profound respect for man at every stage of his existence, and in all the situations in which we encounter him. Clothe us in the light of your grace.

[1] In “Love and the Dignity of Human Life” Robert Spaemann, Eerdmans Publishing Co. (2012) 31-32.
[2] Jn. 18, 5-11.
[3] Mt. 26, 23.

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