The meaning of persons

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “the human person, made in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual” (no. 362). The human body ishuman and living precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul (ibid, no. 364). So closely united are body and soul in the human person that one must consider the soul to be the “form” of the “body.”  It is only because it is animated by a spiritual soul that the body in question is a living, human body.  As Pope John Paul II has said, the human person’s “rational soul is per se et essentialiter the form of his body,” and the “person, including his body, is completely entrusted to himself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his own moral acts.”

Genesis 2 clearly shows that the human body is personal in nature; the human body in fact reveals or discloses the person. For the “man,” on awakening from the deep sleep that the Lord God had cast upon him and on seeing the “woman” who had been formed from his rib, declares: “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2:23). In uttering this cry, the man, as John Paul II has noted, “seems to say: here is a body that expresses the ‘person’.’’  The bodily, sexual nature of the human person is a matter of utmost importance. In fact, sexuality, “by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts mutual and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something merely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such.”

The human body reveals a human person; and since the human body is necessarily either male or female, it is the revelation of a man-person or a woman-person. Precisely because of their sexual differences, manifest in their bodies, the man-person and the woman-person can “give” themselves to one another bodily. Moreover, since the body, male or female, is the expression of a human person, a man and a woman, in giving their bodies to one another, give themselves to one another. The bodily gift of a man and a woman to each other is the outward sign of the communion of persons existing between them. And this sign, in turn, is the image of the communion of persons in the Trinity. The human body, thus, is the means and sign of the gift of the man-person to the woman-person and vice versa in the communio personarum we call marriage. John Paul II calls this capacity of the body to express the communion of persons the nuptial meaning of the body.

Moreover, in the bodily, personal act whereby they “give” themselves to each other, the man and the woman open themselves to the “gift” of new human life. The marital or conjugal act, one proper and exclusive to them, is the kind of act per se apt for communicating both a unique kind of love—marital love—and for handing on life from one generation of human persons to the next. The marital act is more than a meregenital act between a man a woman who “happen” to be married; it is indeed one that actualizes their marriage, for in it the husband gives himself to his wife in a receiving sort of way and the wife receives him in a giving sort of way and in this bodily act they are called to cooperate with God in the raising up of new human life.

Finally, the human person, no matter what his condition, is a being of moral worth, the subject of inviolable rights that are to be recognized and respected by others, including the inviolable right of innocent human persons to life, not to be intentionally killed, and the right of children to be born in and through the conjugal act.