The Preeminence of the Eternal and the Dignity of the Human Person

Do all men and women have their origin in the One True God? If so, have they been created to be concerned solely with what can be manipulated and obtained during this life, regardless of morality? Has mankind lost an awareness of the Eternal, living out their lives as if there are no eternal consequences to their actions? And what accounts for this loss of perception, this failure to recognize God, He Who exists outside of all time and space, He Who is wholly involved with, and yet beyond, the temporal affairs of this world and all of the people within it?

In contemplating these questions, one must consider the modern-day attempt to redefine Truth — the willful refusal to acknowledge its utter objectivity, the reality that the Truth exists completely separate from our personal beliefs and opinions and from any refusal on mankind’s part to acknowledge its existence.

One such example is the Big Bang Theory, the hypothesis that all matter came into existence at the same time, roughly 13.8 billion years ago. While this sounds reasonable to one who has faith, that God created all matter in an instant, nevertheless, there are those who seek a purely scientific explanation, that they might eliminate God from the equation entirely. But does this theory make any reasonable sense, that at a completely random time, a singularity, a small ball of matter with infinite density and intense heat began to expand, and out of this phenomenon all matter was distributed throughout the universe and came into being?

The first question which should come to mind is, where did this ball of matter originate and what generated the heat within it? And the second question, how did the resulting debris develop into planets with atmospheres, stars, and a sun, following the expansion of this small ball of matter with infinite density? How did it morph into water, air, fire, plant life, animals, and human beings? With all of their variety and complexity, in all of their beauty and majesty, the odds of this occurring completely by chance are unfathomable. And, what possible conclusion could a person who holds this theory offer, concerning the end or purpose of anything being created in the first place, if the act itself is completely arbitrary?

Out of all of the artifacts fashioned by man, buildings, bridges, cell phones, and computers, it should be clear to us that none were constructed without intellect, without a clear end or purpose in mind.

The Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are well-defined when speaking about the advent of creation:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (cf. Gen 1:1). Holy Scripture begins with these solemn words. The profession of faith takes them up when it confesses that God the Father almighty is “Creator of heaven and earth” (Apostles’ Creed), “of all that is seen and unseen” (Nicene Creed). We shall speak first of the Creator, then of creation and finally of the fall into sin from which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to raise us up again.

Creation is the foundation of “all God’s saving plans,” the “beginning of the history of salvation” (cf. GCD 51) that culminates in Christ. Conversely, the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”: from the beginning, God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ. (cf. Gen 1:1; cf. Rom 8:18–23)1

Here we see that God created the Heavens and the Earth — not fashioned — but created. While men and women are able to fashion artifacts, they do not accomplish this task without manipulating material that God created out of nothing: “We believe that God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create, nor is creation any sort of necessary emanation from the divine substance (cf. Dei Filius, can. 2–4: DS 3022–3024). God creates freely ‘out of nothing’” (cf. Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 800; cf. DS 3025).2

If God created the Heavens and the Earth, is it fair to state that He did so for all of mankind, those whom He created in His Own Image? As the Catechism says:

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (cf. Gen 1:27). Man occupies a unique place in creation: (I) he is “in the image of God”; (II) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (III) he is created “male and female”; (IV) God established him in his friendship.3

Thus, men and women occupy a unique place in creation because they have been created in the image of God, every human being is a composite of body and soul. And every soul, or form of the body (that which animates), is created by God:

The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not “produced” by the parents — and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection (cf. Pius XII, Humani Generis: DS 3896; Paul VI, CPG § 8; Lateran Council V (1513): DS 1440).4

Thus, if every man and woman occupies this unique place in creation because they were created in the image and likeness of God, and if Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation revealing the end, that God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ, does it not make sense that a great dignity has been bestowed upon the human person?

Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.5

Being created in the image and likeness of God, a human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. Was not the Prophet Jeremiah inspired by the Holy Spirit to record words that affirm this dignity within the Holy Scriptures? “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”6 Even before God formed us in the womb, He knew, dedicated, and appointed us. Does this not speak of His Great Love?

Even so, we are familiar with another example in modern-day society which subverts the Truth in favor of convenience. How does one get around the dignity God has bestowed upon mankind in favor of convenience? Through a war of words and ideologies, through an attempt to redefine when life begins. The doubt was raised regarding whether or not we can be sure about the moment human life begins. But the more important question to consider is, why was this question being raised? In terms of morality, if one is unsure whether or not a particular act has the possibility of ending another human being’s life, shouldn’t the Christian, or any person of good will forego carrying out this act, in favor of the preservation of life?

Nevertheless, in 1965 the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology deliberately endeavored to redefine the moment a new human life begins from the long-held process of fertilization, to a process which occurs one week later in the child’s existence, implantation in the uterine wall of the woman’s reproductive system. To their minds, this would allow for a moral cessation of processes which lead to new human life, by preventing, or eliminating, this life before implantation, through the use of contraception or chemical abortifacients.

The reality is that the scientific community prior to 1965, clearly defined the moment new life begins: when the male sperm meets and fertilizes the female ovum within the woman’s reproductive system. Once the ovum is fertilized, the ovum becomes a zygote, a completely distinct new human being (who is genetically separate from his or her parents). And, at the instant of his or her fertilization (conception) it is clear that innumerable traits are established: gender, ethnicity, hair color, eye color. And, following this fertilization the new human being travels down the mother’s fallopian tube for implantation in the uterine wall.

Thus, if the soul is the animating or life-giving principle of the body, one must hold that ensoulment occurs at fertilization (conception). Clearly there is a new human life, and because there is great dignity in being created in the image and likeness of God, He has not granted mankind dominion (sovereignty or control) over other human lives:

Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being. (CDF, instruction, Donum vitae, intro. 5)7

For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. The sexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfully exceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence. Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law. (cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter Quadragesimo Anno: AAS 23 (1931), p. 214; John XXIII, encyclical letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), p. 429)8

Because all of mankind has been created in the image and likeness of God, endowed with the gift of reason (separating men and women distinctly from brute animals) we are called to safeguard other human lives in the Truth. We are not to utilize language to obscure reality in an attempt to justify grave and immoral means — contraception and abortifacients.

For many years, society has focused itself upon promoting sexual relations outside of the covenantal union of the Sacrament of Marriage, and conversely, with the prevention of pregnancies for reasons of age or convenience. Clearly, a young girl in grammar school or high school should not be birthing a child, nor should a married couple who can only afford to provide for the number of children they already have.

While it is true that a girl in high school should not be birthing a child, and that a married couple should not have additional children if they cannot afford to provide for them, the source of these problems has never been sufficiently explored, nor has there been a sufficient desire to do so. Instead, the focal point has been on instant gratification. The sexualization of media, television, movies, and the internet, increasing exponentially the likelihood of a pregnancy, while promoting and devising contraceptive methods to prevent a pregnancy from ever occurring, or, in the event that a pregnancy has occurred, by securing an opportunity for the mother to obtain an abortion.

But why does society focus on this, instead of on traditional family values? The problems would be better solved by teaching morality to children in public and private schools, and the true purpose of human reproduction, the reasons every single young man and woman should remain chaste. They need to be taught the reality, that they should remain chaste even after they are called by God to enter into another state of life: the Sacrament of Marriage, religious life, lay consecrated life, or the priesthood. And, if they have a vocation to the Sacrament of Marriage, and are blessed to become a parent, society should be assisting them in recognizing the great gift God bestows through associating them in His creative work: “‘By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory’ (cf. GS 48 § 1; 50).

Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God himself said: “It is not good that man should be alone,” and “from the beginning [he] made them male and female”; wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Hence, true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day. (GS 50 § 1; cf. Gen 2:18; Mt 19:4; Gen 1:28)9

If children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves, this again expresses the great dignity God has granted the human person, and when the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this, we see that it uses the word spouses: “The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).”10

Thus, sterilization, contraception, and abortion are morally unacceptable means toward the regulation of births, as the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, states:

14. In conformity with these landmarks in the human and Christian vision of marriage, we must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth (14).

Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman (15). Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible (16).

To justify conjugal acts made intentionally infecund, one cannot invoke as valid reasons the lesser evil, or the fact that such acts would constitute a whole together with the fecund acts already performed or to follow later, and hence would share in one and the same moral goodness. In truth, if it is sometimes licit to tolerate a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil or to promote a greater good (17), it is not licit, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil so that good may follow therefrom (18), that is, to make into the object of a positive act of the will something which is intrinsically disorder, and hence unworthy of the human person, even when the intention is to safeguard or promote individual, family or social well-being. Consequently it is an error to think that a conjugal act which is deliberately made infecund and so is intrinsically dishonest could be made honest and right by the ensemble of a fecund conjugal life.11

Thus, every action or method that would render the conjugal act infecund, that is, make procreation impossible, is intrinsically evil; and it is never morally permissible to employ an evil means that a good may follow therefrom.

This being so, is there an acceptable means that married couples can utilize to regulate births? The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses this question in paragraph 2370:

Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality (HV 16). These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil (cf. HV 14):

Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality (cf. FC 32).12

Here we must recognize, a married couple that desires to regulate births must do so for a just reason (iustae causae):

The Church is the first to praise and recommend the intervention of intelligence in a function which so closely associates the rational creature with his Creator; but she affirms that this must be done with respect for the order established by God.

If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier (cf. Pius XII, AAS XLIII (1951), p. 846).13

Spouses may, for a valid physical, psychological, or external condition, undertake the sacrifice of (periodic continence) that is, abstain from relations during fertile times and choose to engage in relations with their spouse during an infertile period. Yet one must always remain open to life, and this should be reflected in the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife. This means, that although the spouses consent to engage in relations solely during an infertile period, they must remain open to the possibility of a pregnancy should one result. The open and loving communication between spouses, increases their understanding and reverence for life, not just within their own lives as spouses, but also, for the way in which God associates them in His creative work — bringing a new human life into this world.

This truth should assist the spouses greatly in avoiding a contraceptive mentality. The need to avoid such a mentality was explained by the Pontifical Council for the Family:

The contraceptive mentality causes the will to become detached from its tendency towards the good and therefore towards true love. Thus sexuality and corporality become trivialized; their links with transcendence and the mystery at the origin of human life are overlooked or rejected. In consequence, human values such as chastity, fidelity, fertility, the gift of self, come to be despised and are not rightly understood. The unborn child itself comes to be thought of in an instrumental way as only the “inconvenient and unwanted fruit of sexual activity.” The unborn is not welcomed in his truth, dignity, and value as a human person destined to love and be loved. All this opens the way to the tragedy of abortion.

It is certainly no accident that the forces which promote abortion are the same as those spreading contraception. In fact, the connection between the two phenomena, at first above all psychological and sociological, is always effected and made concrete through so-called contraceptives that also have an abortifacient effect.

This mentality also strikes at a woman’s dignity, often entailing her being used as an instrument, conditioning her to live in situations which are not fully in accord with her will and which contradict her deep yearning for motherhood (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 18).

To overcome the culture of death a change of mentality is necessary and urgent. We need to rediscover the deep meaning and value of each human being and to teach respect for his or her right to life, from conception until natural death – that is, to find once more the significance of each human person.14

So, what accounts for this loss of awareness concerning the Eternal — this loss of faith? Assuredly, it is fallen human nature, concupiscence, and sin — mankind’s tendency to exalt himself above the state God has bestowed upon him: “Sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin’” (cf. John Paul II, RP 16).15

Thus, following the entrance of sin and death into the world — through the original sin of Adam and Eve — mankind was in need of a Savior. Jesus Christ, the Word, He Who was sent to save us from our sins by offering His Life upon the Cross, merited the grace we need to live our lives according to the will of God, that we might be forgiven, restored, and transformed, freed of the consequences of sin — that we might receive freedom and life. God offers all of mankind a freedom like no other, the freedom from sin and the promise of Eternal Life: “For such is the power of great minds, such is the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was visible.”16 “Between temporal and eternal things there is this difference: a temporal thing is loved more before we have it, and it begins to grow worthless when we gain it, for it does not satisfy the soul, whose true and certain rest is eternity; but the eternal is more ardently loved when it is acquired than when it is merely desired.”17

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II, 2nd ed. (Vatican City; Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; United States Catholic Conference, 1997), 279–280 (hereafter cited as CCC).
  2. CCC, 296.
  3. CCC, 355.
  4. CCC, 366.
  5. CCC, 357.
  6. Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Church, Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible (Washington, D.C. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 2011), Jer. 1:5.
  7. CCC, 2258.
  8. Vatican Council II, Pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world: Gaudium et spes; promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965 (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1998) §51, p. 54–55.
  9. CCC 1652.
  10. CCC, 2399.
  11. Pope Paul VI, Encyclical letter of Paul VI of human life: Humanae vitae (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1968), §14, 6–7.
  12. CCC 2370.
  13. Humanae vitae, §16, 7–8.
  14. Pontifical Council for the Family, In the service of life: A Summit Meeting of Experts on Human Life, Rome, April 20–22, 1991 (Instrumentum Laboris) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1992), para. III. The Cultural Aspect, 3.
  15. CCC, 1869.
  16. St. Leo the Great, Sermo 2 de Ascensione 1–4, PL 54, 397–399; quoted in Stephen Mark Holmes, The Fathers on the Sunday Gospels (Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2012), 155.
  17. St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine (Hoboken, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1958), XXXVIII, para. 42, p. 32.
Rev. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC About Rev. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC

Rev. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC, is a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and was ordained a priest in 2010. He is currently serving as Provincial Secretary for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province, located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and an MDiv from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.