Dear Father Angelo,
My name is Carlo and I am a student. Before asking my question, I would like to express my gratitude for the service you perform with such devotion and constancy.
The question I ask you concerns the dignity and condition of men and stems from the simple observation that unfortunately (but obviously it must be so) not all of us are born in a position of privilege but, in the course of history as still today, many people find themselves born in degraded economic, social, cultural, and generally human, conditions that are source of physical suffering and injustice. It suffices, for example, to think about the slaves of ancient Rome (bought, sold, considered as objects, at the mercy of their masters, punished or tortured even for pure sadism), about the feudal serfs under more or less the same conditions, up to today’s migrants. At this point I wonder, where is God in their lives? Where are all those slaves now who have known nothing but suffering in life? Why is every privilege granted to someone (even the others’ subjugation) and others are only called to serve? Today perhaps those who are born servants can get out of their condition more easily, but the same could not be said for the serfs in Russia at the times of Catherine I. And although they managed to redeem their freedom with work, yet there was no answer as to why they were obliged to do so and had to live as servants until liberation (each one might have thought “Why did I have to be born a servant and work to be free while others are free since birth?”). Should we think perhaps that individual lives don’t matter? And instead what about God’s plan concerning all humanity? However, it remains the fact that individuals live aware of their unjust condition. So, what is the explanation that Christianity offers about the existence of slavery, of abuse and, generally, of social injustice? Who created the conditions for all this to exist, God or men with their mismanagement?
I apologize if the question appears not very linear and I thank you if you will answer me.
Reply of the priest
1. Regarding the question you asked me, it is necessary to distinguish between the dignity of persons and the variety of roles.
2. The answer that Christianity gives to the disparity between the dignity of persons refers to original sin and, in particular, to what God said to Eve: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master” (Gen 3:16).
Which means: you will feel the desire to love and dedicate yourself to your husband, but now as a consequence of sin he will feel the disordered desire to dominate you, to possess you.
3. Before sin, Adam felt that his wife had equal dignity like him, so much so that he said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23).
In fact, God drew her from his rib, from his flank, a symbol of equal dignity, as St. Augustine observed.
4. Sin obscured the equal dignity of all men created in the image and likeness of God.
So, that generated a rupture, not only in the relationship with God, but also among men.
The sacred text makes it clear that, since then, the male has felt something that led him to discriminate against the woman and, by then, he is tempted to dominate her and therefore not to respect her.
5. This first discrimination led to others, such as those you mentioned, making some people feel totally masters of other people, no longer regarded as persons, but as things, as happened in the regime of slavery.
This subordination of some to the other is unfortunately still today legitimized and claimed in some religions and in different cultures.
6. It is with the coming of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, that equal dignity is re-established, in that all are called to the highest vocation of becoming partakers of the divine nature, indeed, of becoming adopted children of God: “He gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12).
St. Paul draws the consequences by saying: “For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.
For all you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free person; there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).
7. Because of this, St. Louis IX, king of France, replied to those who told him not to sign “Louis of Poissy”, a village which no one knew where it was, but “Louis of Reims”, where he had been crowned king: “But in Poissy I received a greater dignity”, that of becoming a child of God, a dignity of a supernatural order.
8. Christians have this awareness: that if people discriminate and some consider themselves superior to others, indeed, masters of others, all instead are called to become children of God and to acquire a greater dignity.
A dignity no longer transient like human ones, which sooner or later must be abandoned, but supernatural and eternal.
9. Thanks to God, because of Christianity humanity regained the concept of equal dignity between people, even if as a matter of fact this equal dignity is defiled when the other is reduced to an object or is deprived of the fundamental rights of a person.
10.Having said this about the equal dignity of people, for which nobody is more “person” than others, it must be said that the roles among people are not identical.
Society and also the Church are like an organism and an organism is made up of many members and each one plays its part in favor of the others and of the whole.
Saint Paul says: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you”, nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you” (1Cor 12:17-21).
There are therefore different roles, but each role is fundamental for the good of the whole.
So, every job, even the humblest according to human categories, has the greatest nobility because it is done by a person and is in favor of people.
11. In conclusion, it is only in Christ that people recover their equal dignity as persons and as children of God.
Excluding Christ, the concept that everybody was created in the image and likeness of God is obscured as well as the dignity of each person too.
I wish you to always be a promoter of the dignity of every person, I remind the Lord of you and I bless you.