Christian Anthropology as a Basis for Human Rights

Interview With Theologian Juan Luis Lorda

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ROME, NOV. 9, 2004 ( Christian anthropology is the historical foundation that inspired human rights, explains a theologian in his book «Christian Anthropology: From the Second Vatican Council to John Paul II.»

Juan Luis Lorda, an industrial engineer, holds a doctorate in theology. He has taught at the University of Navarre since 1983 and is the author of «To Be a Christian» and «The Art of Living.»

In this interview with ZENIT, Lorda discusses John Paul II’s contribution to a greater understanding of Christian anthropology.

Q: How has Christian anthropology been renewed since Vatican II?

Lorda: What is most important is the interpretation and development that John Paul II has given to the council and, above all, to «Gaudium et Spes.» This constitution is one of the pillars of the council and John Paul II collaborated directly in its writing. Since then, he has made a profound commentary on it in the course of his pontificate.

Today everyone is familiar with the famous Number 22 of «Gaudium et Spes»: «Christ fully reveals man to man himself.» However, before John Paul II, it wasn’t famous. This can be seen in many commentaries of the time, which don’t even mention it.

There are other philosophers and theologians who have had much influence on Christian anthropology, because it has been a very rich period. But the doctrinal synthesis of the principles is owed to John Paul II.

Q: Edith Stein, the Carmelite killed by the Nazis and canonized by John Paul II, also made an important contribution to anthropology. What did Europe’s patroness intuit?

Lorda: The figure of Edith Stein is most interesting, and I think that she will occupy an increasingly important place in Christian thought. By origin, she is a Jewish intellectual. By formation, she belongs to the first school of phenomenology, with important studies.

After her conversion, she tried to establish relations between these philosophic currents and St. Thomas Aquinas. She died as a Carmelite in a concentration camp, at the height of the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust.

It is difficult to find personalities of so much human depth. Phenomenology, especially that practiced by Edith Stein’s group — Reinach, Max Scheler, Conrad-Martius, von Hildebrand — is one of the most fruitful and clear currents of philosophy, especially to understand the human inner being. In Edith Stein, as later in John Paul II, it is connected with the Christian tradition. And this is very important.

It must not be forgotten that the discovery of that philosophic current freed her of prejudices and placed her in a position to listen to truth. It was the first step of her conversion.

It is the type of philosophy and anthropology that we need today: that opens to truth, discovers the human inner being, and connects with the Christian faith. It is also the type of philosophy we need in our faculties.

Q: What is Karol Wojtyla’s contribution to Christian anthropology?

Lorda: It is still difficult to judge Karol Wojtyla’s influence on Catholic theology because we lack perspective. Nevertheless, my impression, after studying him for years, is that his influence is gigantic, especially in the anthropological foundation of morality: the doctrine on sexuality, conjugal love, procreation and the dignity of human life.

I believe one can honestly say that he has markedly improved theological teaching in all these topics. And it is clearly reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There is a before and an after.

Q: Why is Christian anthropology one of the strong points of evangelization?

Lorda: Because it discovers how man is and what his most profound aspirations are. The center of Christian evangelization is God: to lead modern man to discover that God loves us because he is our Father. This is the heart of Jesus Christ’s message.

But that path is made easier when a person discovers how he is, and that his most profound aspirations are directed to God. The Church has a wisdom about man, a Christian humanism, which is a cultural treasure of the first order, because it gives meaning to life, it leads one to live with dignity, and makes people happy. It is a marvelous light in the world.

Many of our contemporaries, when they think of themselves, think they are the blind result of material forces, a protozoan evolved by chance. We know that we are children of God, that we have a Father who loves us, that we are brothers and that a destiny of love awaits us which we can already live.

We understand the meaning of intelligence and freedom, of love and family. This is beauty. The other is darkness and degradation. Dostoyevsky said it: «Only beauty will save the world.»

Q: Is Christian anthropology a good foundation for human rights, as Archbishop Fernando Sebastian of Pamplona points out in the prologue of your book?

Lorda: It could even be said that Christian anthropology is the historical foundation of human rights, because those who contributed to form that doctrine, although in some cases they had lost the faith, they had the Christian cultural matrix.

They believed that we men are free and responsible for our acts; that we are equal; that we are persons; and that we have an inalienable dignity. All this comes from the Christian faith.

If someone thinks that man is the blind result of the evolution of matter, a protozoan evolved by chance, as I said earlier, he does not get this result. He cannot deduce that we are free and responsible. He cannot deduce that we are equal. He cannot deduce that we are persons or that we have an inalienable dignity.

In fact, scientific materialism is destroying the juridical and moral culture of modernity. In bioethical questions, we are at the height of the attack on human life.

Embryos are being made for therapeutic use, because it is thought that the embryo — which is a human being — is only a packet of cells without dignity, like any cellular culture.

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