Towards a Christian Anthropology

(L.M. Rulla, Journey to Freedom, 215 – 227)

 

The basic Dialectic: There is in the human person the possibility, the ‘capacity’ for theocentric self-transcendence. This is an anthropological possibility which providentially can converge with God’s call in the Christian vocation. On the other hand God’s call encounters another anthropological reality: the various limitations inherent in the human person may in varying degree constitute an obstacle to the person’s freedom to live out the anthropological tendency to theocentric self-transcendence.

 

The interdisciplinary perspective on the two basic anthropological realities in the three convergent perspectives of theology, philosophy and social psychology enriches the study of human person, each of the three perspectives brings its own contribution. This approach helps to reduce the partial or biased perspectives, i.e. the mistake of exchanging a part of the whole of the human person is reduced and lessens the danger of our knowledge of the human person remaining fragmentary.

 

When one of these two anthropological realities are overlooked certain distortion can take place. Theocentric Self-transcendence, which commits the human person to a ‘you should’ regarding the realization of objective moral and religious values, is often replaced by the person’s claiming the right to determine values and norms in an a priori manner, establishing for oneself that which is good or evil. Objective values then become subjectivized, mere projections of the needs of the individual (conscious or unconscious in varying degree).

 

A religious institution may proclaim the desire to live according to moral or religious values, while – in fact – relegating these values to a subordinate position, so as to live according to values which are predominantly natural or humanistic. Here the reality of theocentric self-transcendence proper to the human person is ‘forgotten’.

 

As regards the possible limitations inherent in human freedom, even after redemption by Christ, there is the tendency to ‘forget’ that these limitations in the capacity for theocentric self-transcendence are the common heritage of the human person. There is the tendency to ‘forget’ that every family, every religious community must struggle daily to overcome the disruptive inner forces that threaten its functioning or even its existence as a force for growth in the Christian vocation. In this way, a false capacity for autonomy, an illusory vision of their capacity for freedom in vocational growth is attributed to the individual, to the religious family. The above-mentioned ‘forgetting’ of the nature of human person may undermine generous effort toward vocational growth. Such ‘forgetting’ leads to lose sight of a realistic vision of the human person, and inclines us to a vision which corresponds more to our desire to avoid difficulties of the ‘narrow door’ indicated to us by Christ as the way toward Christian growth.

 

Contributions by an Interdisciplinary Christian Anthropology

 

An institution which does not try to elaborate its own anthropological vision, will end up accepting others, particularly those that are more fashionable. This is what has often happened in the Church after Vatican II, even on the issues relating to lay, priestly and religious formation.

 

a) An interdisciplinary approach favours a more complete understanding of the existential reality of the Christian.

 

We need to consider the dialectical differences of horizon of these anthropologies as different from complementary and genetic differences.

 

According to Lonergan the term ‘horizon’ refers to the range of objects to which one attends, including the criteria used to interpret or evaluate these objects. The objects in question here are the constitutive elements of the process of Christian vocation.

*        Complementary: difference between two specialists on the Christian vocation, one being a theologian, the other a psychologist. The two specialists may consult each other without encountering significant points of disagreement.

*        Genetic: are those existing, for example, between an author’s first or earlier account of the nature of vocational ‘call’ and a second or later account of the same matter which resolves or improves on some uncertainties present in the first account.

*        Dialectical: characterized by the absence of compatibility between two positions and therefore they are mutually exclusive. The differences between the two positions are so fundamental that they cannot be resolved or overcome. They could be overcome only by a change of mind or heart or in Lonergan’s term ‘conversion’.

 

The two types of anthropologies considered here constitute a dialectical difference of horizon.

 

The fundamental points in the anthropology of Carl Rogers is the importance of ‘positive self-regard’, so that any judgements or evaluations of oneself are considered by him to be undesirable. In some situations it can be of great help. But it is inadequate as a general view of vocation and of Christian living, in which we are called to self-surrender rather than to a self-fulfilment centered on ourselves.

 

Different people have different opinions regarding self-transcendence:

Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger >> egocentric connotation. Its primary objective is the perfection of the subject who transcends himself.

Marx, Garaudi, Marcus, Bloch >> Primary objective is the philanthropic perfection of humanity, of the human community.

Augustine, Thomas, Rahner, Lonergan >> to transcend oneself means detachment from oneself in order to reach the ultimate objective that is God.

 

? Only the last position is compatible with the Christian vocation.

 

An Anthropology of Christian vocation cannot simply borrow other anthropologies without making a proper critical analysis of their basic positions and of the dialectical differences of horizon which may be involved with regard to the human person. It is the more subtle differences which are dangerous, precisely because they escape conscious evaluation on the part of those who accept fashionable ideas without adequate critical discernment.

 

It is also necessary to avoid errors of omission through accepting anthropologies which fail to make explicit their basic anthropological position, their view of what the human person is and of the function, direction, goal of human life. This may lead to the acceptance of the peripheral aspects of these anthropologies which might appear useful .. but they end up becoming obstacles for vocational growth. E.g. Transactional Analysis of Eric Berne or Erick H.. Erikson (anthropological vision not made explicit).

 

Many of those who endorse the ideas of Erikson as guides in priestly or religious formation also defend the idea of abolishing fixed and defined purposes as goals to be aimed at in such formation. It is similar to that of Rogers’ views that asks one to abolish the ‘oughts’ and the ‘shoulds’, the obligations and the responsibilities corresponding to clearly defined values. A vocational formation based on these theories can be of some help in the natural sphere of human development but can become an obstacle to the development of theocentric self-transcendence. It also leads to a marked tendency towards indiscriminate autonomy.

 

b) A Christian anthropological vision is of great help for a genuine discernment of spirits.

 

Discernment especially between a real good and a merely apparent good (Rules for the discernment of the Second Week).

 

Three dimensions as openness to three kinds of values: Self-transcendent, Natural and both in combination.

 

These three dimensions are always present in the human person, they are a characteristic of each individual; yet, in a motivation of any given person, one or two of the dimensions will be prevalent, either as positive pole or as a negative pole.

 

This approach is used for personal accompaniment and psychotherapy. In such professional work, it has proved both useful and anthropologically illuminating. It is to be noted that the subconscious, through its influence in the second and third dimensions, exercise a function also in Christian anthropology.

 

c) Christian Anthropology and the question of Freedom

 

Freedom understood as an ability to stand before God as a partner in the New Covenant.

  • The human person with the help of grace is free to participate and responsibly cooperate in the vocational dialogue with God.
  • It is also undeniable that the human person experiences limitations as partner, despite the action of grace.
  • This sense of limitation, this doubt, is to be overcome first of all through a lived and felt life of faith. It is not a matter of dichotomy between freedom and unfreedom, but of being free in different ways and to different degrees, and nevertheless remaining sufficiently free to be able to cooperate effectively and responsibly with grace.

 

d) An interdisciplinary anthropology which aims at a more complete, more articulated and more realistic vision of human freedom can also provide a valid help to reduce the limitations of the individual’s freedom. It renders the person more free to use his energies to love the Other and others.

Formation in the Christian vocation should not be limited to teaching the person what it means to live as a priest, lay person or religious; it should also provide the person with the possibility of growing in various aspects of inner freedom, so as to live more fully one’s vocation. V.G.S. >> a direct personal help which strives to reach the deeper roots of human freedom in order to increase the person’s capacity love both God and neighbour.

 

e) A deeper understanding humanum christianum can, with the help of grace, give the members a deeper appreciation of the transcendent nature of their mission and lead to more incisive apostolic action on the part of the institution.

The formulation of ‘constitutions’, of norms directing the life of an institution will also be richer and more realistic, if based on a more comprehensive Christian anthropological vision.

 

f) Courses on ACV as part of seminary, religious formation.

g) Combination of ACV with other ecclesiastical disciplines.

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