Synthesis of the Human Act – 2, Mons Anton Borg, Kummissjoni Teoloġika Interdjoċesana

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18 ta’ Lulju 2013

Synthesis of the Human Act – 2

Il-Kummissjoni Teoloġika Interdjoċesana se tkompli twasslilkom materjal dwar l-Att Uman.

  1. The dignity of man in his freedom and autonomy

3.1 The greatness of man

God created man on his own image. All intellectuals agree that the greatness of man is found more in his freedom than in his intelligence. If the greatness of man were to be found in his intelligence, then the purpose of his life would have been the contemplation of Truth or of Beauty. Man’s greatness is found in his freedom, for, following God’s example he is able to mould his destiny. In fact, while intelligence is the understanding of the good and the evil, it is the Free Will that in accomplishing the good and avoiding the evil, leads man to build himself. In fact man’s ideal in life is that of Love: “Love God… love your neighbour as you love yourself”. Man’s greatness is found in his openness (availability) towards God and his fellow human beings.

Though freedom is a right, so fundamental for man and defended by everyone, yet not everyone shares the same meaning or understands its exact meaning. It is easy to state that man is free, but only once the real meaning of freedom is grasped, that the dignity of the human person can be really understood. Once such a dignity is grasped, there follows the responsibility to act according to one’s human dignity.

3.2 What do we mean by Freedom?

Without any doubt, freedom has numerous meanings. Some authors state openly that freedom is Self-Realisation: Man is free when he realises himself in choosing whatever he wants. However man is never totally free; his freedom depends on the situations and circumstances he finds himself in. Thus, the situation of the sick or of the imprisoned man is limited compared to that of a healthy man or of a free citizen. But man experiences deeply the absence of freedom when he finds himself conditioned or restricted from doing what he wants to do by the will of another man. Man wants to act as he desires, he wants to implement his own plans and to satisfy his desires undeterred. Throughout his life, man has always fought and sacrificed his own life to achieve this form of freedom.

Other persons look at freedom as Self-Perfection: in man one notices an internal conflict between human reasoning and his instincts and passions; between what he ought to do and what he wants to do. Man feels imprisoned by these passions and instincts and tries to take absolute control of himself. This form of freedom built on human reasoning is the one that gives absolute control to man on what he desires. It is the freedom of moral perfection. This kind of freedom is not something inherent but it is an ideal that has to be achieved with utmost strength and force.

However we would like to affirm freedom as Self-Determination: When man decides, he is aware, that the one who takes a particular decision, the one who made that particular choice is none other than himself: “I chose and nobody else”, “I could have decided differently but I didn’t want to”, “Nobody forces me, I simply wanted to express what I felt”, “I felt that I had to do so”. As one observes in these expressions, the ‘I’ is the cause and, consequently, the one responsible for all that occurred, for the actions and their effects. I had various ways to choose from and I could have opted not to choose at all, but it is my decision. Therefore, one tried to give a free form and shape to his life, to his destiny. In such a decision one started to create and form oneself. This is the kind of freedom that is needed in the human moral act and confirms the connection between freedom and the human person.

3.2 The genuine experience of freedom

It is true that man is really free when in the decision which he takes there is no reason to justify his decision? Is it true that acting without any reason, without any value in mind, one experiences real freedom? It would be mistaken to affirm that we are really free when we decide and choose without any motive, reason or value in mind. Such a choice is void from reason and therefore is not worthy of rational human being. Man always needs an aim to focus on, for even in choosing without any reason such a choice implies that there is a reason, namely choosing without a reason.

Due to certain studies in psychology, especially in the so-called ‘Depth Psychology’ (that shows how much man is conditioned and determined by certain factors in his behaviour), many are doubting whether man, ultimately, is really free. They also assert that by ignoring certain hidden factors and certain mechanisms in man we believe that we are free. It is true that no one other than God has got absolute freedom, for not only He created from nothing, but nothing could have conditioned him for the simple reason that he was alone. Human freedom is a limited one, a freedom that is conditioned by various factors: culture, environment, the subconscious, etc. Man’s freedom is limited, but when one decides, even if there are certain factors that condition one’s decision, that person is the one who must bear responsibility for his actions. The fact that one gets sick may not always be one’s fault but the way one tackles one’s sickness depends only on him.

The genuine experience of freedom is when the choice to be taken requires prior reflection as when one’s future is at stake as in the choice of one’s state in life. Such deep decisions are evident when one’s state in life, marriage or priesthood is chosen. This experience of freedom is so evident, that often the human person, after having chosen his state in life and enthusiasm has gone, falls into a situation similar to a crisis. In that situation he reflects again on the decision taken on his state of life to justify or to condemn his decision. Freedom is also experienced in situations, in which one is faced with a conflict, in which one would probably have preferred not to have the freedom of choice, feeling so undecided about which way to choose.

Man’s greatness is found in his ability to examine and understand himself. Through this self-analysis, man becomes aware of what his self-realization entails. Though the dignity of the human person is found in his ability to accomplish personal acts, his human dignity does not cease when these acts cannot be accomplished. It is true that through human acts one becomes a person in the true and perfect sense, for one passes from an ontological level to a moral level. However, on the ontological level, being a human being always entails the human dignity as in the case of the unborn child.

Moreover, the dignity of the human person does not arise from the fact that he forms part of a society, because he is part of a social or political organism. Human society has got dignity because it is made up of members who have got dignity. Society is intelligent and free due to the fact that its members are intelligent and free. It is the human person that has the aim to exist for himself, while society is created to serve man.

It is clear that man is able to dominate and guide himself and that these actions spring from a common source called freedom. Through freedom, the human person can decide whether he has to act or not, in which way he is going to act and also carries the responsibility for all the actions he makes.


3.4 Man as an incarnated spirit

Up till now, this study has only discussed the spiritual aspect of man’s human dignity, his self-understanding and his free-realisation. Man has a body, man is made up of flesh. Man is an incarnated spirit and therefore in his corporeal actions there is always the spiritual and one should not look negatively at one’s body. The spiritual cannot function without the corporeal and the corporeal manifests – in a material and sensible manner – what he feels internally. The external act should be the manifestation of what there is internally. The body is the epiphany of man.

Being corporeal, man builds up himself gradually, step by step. Nobody becomes an expert in a moment. Man’s life is a continuous progress that takes place in time. Man builds himself by each of his human actions and by every free decision he takes. These acts are not separate from one another but one built on the other. Such a process takes time and becomes history in the decisions taken. Thus, life’s orientation is much more important than particular acts.

Being created in God’s image, man’s greatness is found in imitating God. Man was not only created but he is also ‘creating himself’ in every day and in each single moment of his life. It is due to this that we affirm that, without freedom, man would be nothing. It is only by freedom that man has got the possibility to become or to realize himself.

Freedom is not only freedom from but freedom for. Man has the moral duty to be truly Man and in his human essence man finds the project man to be fulfilled. True freedom aims at an ideal or at certain values that in a particular situation imply a call to duty: “I have to choose this value”. Freedom underlines man’s autonomy, but values, which freedom must choose, and the ideal, for which it must aim, show us that man’s freedom in not absolute but enjoys a limited autonomy. When one chooses a value, one incorporates that value in a very personal way. However, values exist and are found in man’s human nature; values are not created by man. Values do not exist in a vacuum but constitute man’s essence. In realizing the human values found in human nature, man is building himself in an objective way, otherwise, without human nature, freedom creates its own nature and everything becomes subjective and relative. Here comes to light the true similarity of man with God, when in his behaviour, in the choice of values brought about by every decision in every situation, man accomplishes all that entails to be really human. Freedom is of utmost importance to man, because freedom brings about the possibility to become someone. It is in building himself on objective values found in human nature that he becomes really human.

Mons. Anton Borg

Membru tal-Kummissjoni Teoloġika

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