The meaning of man

The Church receives “the meaning of man” from Divine Revelation. “In order to know man, authentic man, man in his fullness, one must know God,” said Pope Paul VI, and he went on to quote Saint Catherine of Siena, who, in prayer, expressed the same idea: “In your nature, O eternal Godhead, I shall know my own nature.”

Christian anthropology therefore is really a chapter of theology, and for this reason, the Church’s social doctrine, by its concern for man and by its interest in him and in the way he conducts himself in the world, “belongs to the field … of theology and particularly of moral theology.” The theological dimension is needed both for interpreting and solving present-day problems in human society. It is worth noting that this is true in contrast both to the “atheistic” solution, which deprives man of one of his basic dimensions, namely the spiritual one, and to permissive and consumerist solutions, which under various pretexts seek to convince man that he is free from every law and from God himself, thus imprisoning him within a selfishness which ultimately harms both him and others.

When the Church proclaims God’s salvation to man, when she offers and communicates the life of God through the sacraments, when she gives direction to human life through the commandments of love of God and neighbour, she contributes to the enrichment of human dignity. But just as the Church can never abandon her religious and transcendent mission on behalf of man, so too she is aware that today her activity meets with particular difficulties and obstacles. That is why she devotes herself with ever new energies and methods to an evangelization which promotes the whole human being. Even on the eve of the third Millennium she continues to be “a sign and safeguard of the transcendence of the human person,” as indeed she has always sought to be from the beginning of her existence, walking together with man through history.