When Does The Person Begin?




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

A clarification

While it can be said, then, that philosophy is investigating the question of the nature of being, it can be observed that this investigation falls into the two, complementary investigations characteristic of its two points of departure: the biblical and the philosophical.  The biblical investigation of being in some way proceeds through the biblical data on the fact of the creation of man, with the implication that each existent thing somehow mirrors the mystery of the whole.  The philosophical investigation, which in some cases is inescapably influenced by the development of theologically originated expressions, is by contrast an increasingly subtle extrapolation of distinctions and relationships which follow on the rational appreciation of the fact of existing things.

It appears, therefore, that the question of the definition of being is one of those fundamental questions to which the interaction of Revelation and reason can be so particularly useful; and secondly, it is this biblical line of development which, it seems to me, the work of Pope John Paul II particularly contributes, albeit in an almost incidental way.

The contribution of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II says three things which seem to be especially indicative of the mystery of created being.

Firstly, he has made 'gift and task'540 a pair of terms that make me think he has translated St. Thomas Aquinas's act and potentiality into the language of a pastoral theology - itself a requirement of the dialogue of the Church with the world which Pope Paul Vl called for in Ecclesiam Suam (para 87)541.  But in this 'translation' perhaps he has drawn attention to the relationship inherent in work.  In other words, perhaps the Creator intends to be known precisely as Creator542, through the 'task' of man's work which, while truly the work of man, also requires man to turn to God precisely because the scale of this work is in proportion, as it were, to the relationship of man to God and clearly reveals, in the immense task it is, the necessesity of this co-operation.  Thus the work of feeding the people's of the earth is a work which calls for the corresponding expression of the co-operation, as it were, between man and God the Father: a co-operation offered us in Christ.

Furthermore, this emphasis on the work of the Creator, is precisely the emphasis that calls us to consider the paradigm of every 'gift' and 'task', namely that of God's work of our Creation and Redemption: a paradigm of the relationship of 'activity' to 'being': of the activity which reveals the identity of the one who acts.

Thus being is something which, while 'given' is also something which is ordered to the activity of the one whose being it is; and it may even be possible to say that being is ordered to the relationship between the Creator as the author of being and the activity of the person whose being it is.

This calls to mind the phrase, 'activity manifests being'543 and raises the following question: can 'activity' constitute a third metaphysical term co-fundamental to being.  For if activity manifests being, can there be being without its manifesting activity? &nbnsp;In other words, is activity something which flows from being, just as light flows from the sun.  For light is an activity itself which causes other activity and is from a source which is in a constant state of activity, namely the sun; however, although the sun is in a constant state of activity it does not follow that everything around it is also in a constant state of activity, precisely because the relation of the sun to everything else is regulated through the movements which constitute night and day.  Thus activity would have to flow from being in such a way as to say that being cannot exist except as in activity, but not in a state of activity that cannot be regulated, but nevertheless an activity which does itself, in its own way, indicate something fundamental about the nature of being?

Secondly, in Familiaris Consortio, the Pope says: 'family, become what you are' (art 17)544.  Thus again he presents us with a conception of being which is dynamic: it is seed like: it is ordered to growth; and, just as there would be no point in commanding us to become what we are, if we were neither what we are in some sense already, nor capable of becoming more completely what we already are.  Thus what is 'given' is not just the particular 'good' which is under discussion but the greater good of creation as a whole which makes a particular good within it, what it is.

A third idea of his is from this same Apostolic Exhortation.  He says: 'a soul which expresses itself in a body ...' (art 11) is 'an incarnate spirit' (art 11)545.  In saying this the Pope implies, it seems to me, a conception of being which reveals that the biblical principle that God made us in the image of God can be translated into the understanding of the general principle that the corporeal is a manifestation of the spiritual and indeed that creation is a manifestation of the Creator.

This does not mean that the being of creation is generated out of the substance of God as if it were an inseparable 'part' of God from all eternity and, therefore, in some sense also God: a kind of creaturely extension of God that would also have to be God.  Rather, it is as if the being of creation makes visible the invisible Being of its Creator - God.  And knowing this is both dependent on the Revelation in Genesis that 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' (Gn 1: 1), that God made man in the image of God (cf Gn 1: 27) and that Christ is the definitive Revelation of the mystery of their being Three Persons in One God546.

Therefore it seems as if Pope John Paul II is suggesting, in support of his vision of the nature of the family as he develops it in Familiaris Consortio, that God has made His own Being the 'image' of the being of creation.  But because of the other general principle that God's Being is what it is to be a diverse unity, then it seems that the existence of corporeality in creation is fundamental to God's creation of a diversity in being - particularly the diversity inherent to human being - that then makes the 'unified totality'547 that the person is, so capable of expressing, in the image of human being, the unity and diversity that is God.




References
540 Pope John Paul II, Gift and Mystery, (co-published by Doubleday, a division of Transworld Publishers Ltd and the Catholic Truth Society, 1997), page 79.  Abbrev. GM.    Back
541 Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, translated by the Rev. H. E. Winstone M.A., (London: CTS [Do 354],1964), page 48.  Abbrev. ES.    Back
542 Cf. Cardinal J. Ratzinger, 'In the Beginning ...' A Catholic Understanding Of The Story Of Creation And The Fall, translated by Boniface Ramsey, OP, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), page ix.  Abbrev ItB.  Questions which arise from this stimulating work are: Is God called the Creator because this is both what God is and how, in one respect, He wants to be known?, and is there a connection between the 'loss' of a catechesis on creation and the 'crisis of paternity' of which Bishop Angelo Scola writes in The Formation of Priests in the Pastoral Care of the Family, Communio 24, (Spring 1997), page 66.  Cf. also LE, art. 25, page 97.    Back
543 A, page 158: 'activity follows, that is manifests, being (operatio sequitur esse ) ...'    Back
544 FC, page 32.    Back
545 FC, page 19.  I have reversed the order of these expressions and in so doing modified them.    Back
546 It is beyond this discussion to enter into the question of whether it can be naturally known that God created creation and that He did so out of nothing, where nothing is not a something.    Back
547 FC, art 11, page 19.    Back

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