When Does The Person Begin?

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"Each One of Us is an Icon of the Beginning"

Part II: Finding a place to begin

The call for an "integral" vision of man.

On the one hand there is the origin of this call for an integral vision of man in the works of the Magisterium, some of which I have already drawn upon; and on the other hand there is the beginning of a program for its realization

The modern context of the call for an integral vision of man

The three great currents of thought to which I wish to refer here really flow into one.  The first is the work of the Second Vatican Council and its perception of the doctrine of the Incarnation as the cornerstone on which to build our understanding of Scripture, the Paschal Mystery of Christ, and the Church and the mission of the Church.  The second is the work of Pope John Paul II in which he thinks through the incarnational nature of reality.  Finally, there is the perception of Hans Urs von Balthasar that the Church is an institutional expression of the person72.  These three great rivers of thought are one integrated opposition to the forces of disintegration.

Towards an integral vision of man

A perspective which starts from the beginning of God who is without beginning, is a perspective which constitutes the beginning out of which to formulate an integral vision of man.  This perspective is the first of a two part context to the question to which this book tends: what is the nature of the first instant73 of conception?  The second and final part of the introduction to that question is a brief summary of a thought implicit in St. Thomas Aquinas: the unity in diversity of law.  There will then follow Part III of this book: a theological investigation of the first instant of conception.

There now follows a preliminary three points which will contribute to the foundation of a perspective out of which to consider the beginning of an integral vision of man.  A first consideration is that a fact comes before a thought. Secondly, God is the First fact and therefore thoughts about God are first in an order of thoughts.  Thirdly, what is the significance of this for the individual person.

Human thought follows the marital event of a faith-fact

A fundamental problem of our time is that the society in which we live, is a society in which things which belong together are either increasingly separated, such as procreation and sexuality74, or the difference between things is denied, such as the difference between the body and the soul.  The antidote to this problem is a return to the integrity of what comes before thought; and what comes before thought is the integrity of what exists; and what exists is creation: a marital event75 of a faith-fact: a 'sign' of the mystery that is both ontologically and epistemologically prior: the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

The root of this problem of the separation of things and its converse, the denial of differences, seems to be expressed by Bishop Angelo Scola when he says: 'Human thought is made to grasp reality, thus it communicates with reality.  (...)  Today however this elementary capacity of thought related to reality is very often ignored'76.  This suggests the priority of what he later calls: listening to what is real77.

In G. K. Chesterton's Aquinas, this idea is put in a way which makes a contribution to understanding both the problem and the solution; he says: 'M. Maritain has used an admirable metaphor, in his book Theonas, when he says that the external fact fertilises the internal intelligence, as the bee fertilises the flower.  Anyhow, upon that marriage, or whatever it may be called, the whole system of St. Thomas is founded; God made Man so that he was capable of coming in contact with reality; and those whom God hath joined, let no man put asunder'78.

A third voice which contributes to this subject is C. S. Lewis, who says in The Abolition of Man: "It is no use trying to 'see through' first principles.  If you see through everything, then everything is transparent.  But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.  To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see"79.

A final voice on this phenomenon of disintegration, and the Church's response of the way of integration through Christ, is at the heart of Pope John Paul II Veritatis Splendor, in which he turns to Christ to unite all that can be united, quoting as he does from the Second Vatican Council: "In fact, it is only in the mystery of the Word incarnate that light is shed on the mystery of man"80.

In other words, it is almost as if the capacity for analysis is as destructive as it is divorced from the capacity to see things in the context of the synthesis which is anticipatorily81 inherent in their actual existence.  Furthermore, Bishop Angelo Scola led me to see that this phenomenon of the divorce between the polarities of analysis and synthesis, is really an expression of the divorce between thought and reality, precisely because thought that does not follow on the 'given' of reality, is thought which fundamentally expresses a rejection of that reality as 'given.'

However, while it is not possible to go into a detailed origin of this phenomenon of the rejection of the 'given,' nor could I, it is nevertheless useful to note one modern root of it is, according to Pope John Paul II in Crossing The Threshold Of Hope: 'Descartes, who split thought from existence'82.  The Pope also observed a corollary to this when he says in the next paragraph: 'it is not thought which determines existence, but existence, "esse," which determines thought!  I think the way I think because I am that which I am - a creature - and because He is He who is, the absolute uncreated Mystery'83.

It could be said, therefore, that the theology of the Nuptial Mystery is not just at the heart of the Church as if this has nothing to do with the contemporary situation; rather, the Nuptial Mystery is at the heart of the Church precisely, as it were, as an eternal ointment which is also a remedy to be applied in our time.  Bishop Angelo Scola puts it this way: 'The mystery of nuptiality which rests on the weaving together of sexual differences, love and fertility, appears thus at the centre of the "debate concerning the humanum" which as John Paul II reminds us is at the heart of the mission of the Church (12)'84.  In other words, the theology of the Nuptial Mystery is an answer to the rejection of reality as 'given': it is a call to begin again with the perception of what "is."  For, as Bishop Angelo Scola suggests: to turn towards the acceptance of what is given is an inseparable part of the movement of conversion85 to Christ.

In conclusion, Bishop Angelo Scola observed one thing and then indicated another.  In the first place he observed that The Nuptial Mystery At The Heart Of The Church is the interpretative key 'to help us read the central aspects (dogma) of our faith'86.  In the second place he shows through the meanings of the Nuptial Mystery what Christ magnifies, as it were, from the seed of meaning in the created reality sign87 with which he began in the quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar: "The act of union of two persons in one flesh and the fruit of this union should be considered together which go beyond distance in time"88.  The Bishop's exposition of this mystery confirms and elucidates what he said in his article on The Formation of Priests: 'we are forced to acknowledge that ultimately the structure of the act of knowledge in its (intentional) relation to reality has the form of faith (but not of a generic concept of belief).  Thus, faith conceived in this way is not extrinsic to reason, but in a certain sense constitutes its truth'89.  In other words, and in so far as I am able to understand him, the Bishop is saying that the fundamental datum of faith is epistemologically prior to human thought because the reality of Revelation is, logically and mysteriously in truth: the prior ontological reality which determines thought.

Finally, if it can be said that the datum of faith is epistemologically prior to human thought, yet human thought follows on the marriage of what exists and, lastly, the activity of what exists manifest the being of what exists90.  Thus it can be said that reason manifests faith, just as thought manifests existence, just as activity manifests being.  This order constitutes, as it were, an answering response of love to what is "given," and expresses, in my view, the integrity of the fundamental ingredients of that "given."

72 Cf. Antonio Sicari, Mary, Peter and John: Figures of the Church, Communio, Vol XIX, No 2, (Summer 1992), pages 187-207.  Abbrev. MPJ.    Back
73 Cf. Pope Pius IX, Defining The Dogma Of The Immaculate Conception , 1854, (Ineffabilis Deus), (Boston: St. Paul Books & Media), page 21, The Definition: 'the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception ...'    Back
74 Cf. Angelo Scola, page 1 of his conference paper on The Nuptial Mystery At The Heart Of The Church, 21 March 1998. Abbrev Angelo Scola.    Back
75 Angelo Scola, page 7    Back
76 Ibid.    Back
77 Angelo Scola, page 8.    Back
78 G. K. Chesterton, Aquinas, (London: Hodder And Stoughton, 1943), pages 148-149. &nbasp;Abbrev AQ.    Back
79 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (London: Fount, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1978), page 48.    Back
80 This is as quoted by Pope John Paul II, in Veritatis Splendor, (Published by the Catholic Truth Society, London, in collaboration with Veritas Publications, Dublin, in 1993, [Do 616]), at art 2, on page 5.  Abbrev VS.  The quotation is from Gaudium et Spes, 22.  Cf. also Angelo Scola, Following Christ: On John Paul II's Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Communio Vol XX, No 4 (Winter 1993), page 725: Christ 'is the full way toward man and throws reason wide open.'    Back
81 Cf. Pope John Paul II on the nuptial meaning of the body, General audience of January 9, 1980, pages 106-112 of OUMW.    Back
82 Pope John Paul II, Crossing The Threshold Of Hope, translated from the Italian by Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee, (London: Johnathan Cape, 1994), page 38.    Back
83 Ibid.    Back
84 Angelo Scola, page 2; and footnote 12 in his paper is: Cf John Paul II, On the occasion of the Academic Year 1996-1997, 8 November 1996, in Nuntium I (1997) 15.    Back
85 Cf. Angelo Scola, page 7.    Back
86 Angelo Scola, page 13. Cf. also Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Logic: On the work as a whole, Communio, Vol XX, No 4, (Winter 1993).  A thought of his on page 623 suggests to me that natural truth was ordered, as it were, to supernatural truth: 'we shall have to reflect on the relationship between the structures of creaturely and divine truth ...'.  Cf also page 624 of this same article.    Back
87 Cf. Angelo Scola, page 17: 'the burning analogy of von Balthasar ... that man, woman and child are the most adequate natural analogy of the Trinity.'    Back
88 H. U. Von Balthasar, La preghiera contemplativa, Milan 1982, 89.    Back
89 Angelo Scola, The Formation of Priests in the Pastoral Care of the Family, Communio Vol XXIV, No. 1 (Spring 1997) pages 70-71.  Cf also page 66 of this same article and footnote 23.    Back
90 Cf. A, page 158.    Back

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