Infinite Dignity – Proper Theological Methodology

In this segment from Episode #31 (“Modern ‘Arianism?’”) I talk about the flawed theological methodologies of some modern-day Catholics, comparing their errant theological attitudes to those of the ancient Eunomians, a subset of Arian heretics. Using as my example the assertion that the Pope is a heretic for approving the document, Dignitas Infinita (on the Infinite Dignity of Man)

I attempt to highlighting logical inconsistencies, and offer what I consider proper theological methodology regarding the concept of human dignity, using biblical references and Church teaching that demonstrate similar apparent paradoxes of things that are eternal, yet have a beginning.

Below is a write-up derived from the transcription of the video

The Unomians were a cocky, self-assured bunch, ready to use rational syllogisms and arguments to poke holes in the ideas of their opponents, yet all the while blind to the drastic implications of their own theological methodology. In other words their conclusions were flawed because their theological methodology was flawed.

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Some Catholics today err similarly to the Eunomians. For instance, some are very vocal in asserting that Pope Francis is a heretic because, while only God is infinite, the Holy Father calls human dignity ‘infinite.’ The assertion that this makes the pope a heretic is a clear example of flawed theological methodology.

Here is what I would consider proper theological methodology on the question of the infinite dignity of man. 

New and Eternal Covenant

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the proper understanding of something being new (or created) yet eternal can be derived from the scripture and Church teaching regarding the covenant.

‘This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant (or testament). It will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.’

How can something be new and eternal? The eternal has no beginning or end, and therefor couldn’t be ‘new’ since newness requires that a thing did not exist before, and came into existence later. How can a covenant be both new and eternal? This seems paradoxical, but understanding it is key to a proper theological methodology. 

Let’s take God’s law as an example. God’s law is never new; it has always existed. The covenant, similarly, has always been. In Matthew 19:8, for example, Jesus says “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But from the beginning this was not so.”

Truth—all truth—does not have a beginning, because it comes from God, it is the nature of God, and ‘God is the eternal Truth’ (St. Thomas Aquinas). There is no new “truth” in all of creation, there is only revelation of it. This applies to covenant and divine law. Our knowledge of divine law has a beginning, but God, who is eternal, is the chief legislator of the law (or of the covenant.) So, in the case of the covenant, it is eternal, because God is eternal, but it is new for man. The covenant we enter into is new for us, but the covenant itself is rooted in a law and truth that has always existed.

On to Human Dignity

With that in mind, where does human dignity come from? God did not create human dignity as a separate entity and implant it in us; it comes directly from Him. ‘Let us make man in our own image and likeness,’ says God, who is eternal. This implies that our dignity is eternal because it comes directly from God, in his image and likeness. Therefore, human dignity is not something created but is intrinsic to us because it derives from an eternal source.

Before coming across documents like ‘Dignitas Infinitae,’ I had never considered human dignity as infinite. Initially, it seemed peculiar, but through proper theological methodology, this understanding becomes clearer. Applying theology thoroughly and honestly to understand a theological question, or to solve a theological problem is the cornerstone of correct theological methodology, whether we’r etrying to understand the trinity, or the infinite dignity of human persons. While it might initially seem that only God is eternal, theology provides a framework for understanding how statements from the Church can be correct and true. This is the difference between correct and incorrect theological methodology.

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