Human Dignity: The Cornerstone of Catholic Social Teaching

February 13, 2013
by 
Luke Stocking, Deputy Director, In Canada Programs and John Gabor, Animator, British Columbia
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;”
– Genesis 1:26

Scripture makes it clear that each and every person is made in the image and likeness of God. This radical claim is the source of our belief in the inherent and inviolable dignity of the human person. The dignity of the human person is the cornerstone of all Catholic social teaching.

Being made in God’s image, we are all God’s children. This is true no matter where we are born and no matter what our economic or social status. As you read this, there are seven billion living and breathing unique images of God on the face of the Earth. You are one of them.

Because it comes from God, human dignity is not something that we can bestow or take away from another person. It is intrinsic to our existence. What we can do is enter into relationships that respect our mutual human dignity. When respect for human dignity forms the basis of our relationships, God’s divine nature shines forth in a true communion of persons.

Too often we fail to do this. Too often we de-humanize our brothers and sisters or shut our ears when they cry out. Failure to recognize the human dignity of each and every person opens the door to all manner of violence and injustice. But how can we truly make human dignity the cornerstone of our relationships?

This question is especially pertinent when we reflect on our relationships with people we may never meet; people who suffer in the far corners of the world and whose names we do not know. Although we may never meet, we still share the same planet and its gifts. These gifts are not simply for our own personal use but are entrusted to us by God for the flourishing of our human family. We are increasingly aware that our actions in one part of the world can affect people who live far away from us. We are interconnected. We are in relationship with all seven billion of God’s children.

“Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.”
– Catechism of the Catholic Church, 357

Catholic social teaching can serve as the guidepost that helps us to enter into relationships that respect human dignity. Solidarity, the option for the poor, care for creation, economic justice, and the common good are examples of values that are vital to any society built upon the dignity of the human person.

At Development and Peace, Catholic social teaching guides our relationship with the world. We are not patrons to the poor. We are partners with them. This partnership is rooted in the recognition of our common human dignity. To recognize the human dignity of the poor as equal to our own requires us to respect their freedom. This freedom includes their right to choose what development means for them. The poor must always be seen as subjects and not objects of development.

Development and Peace enters into relationship with groups of men and women who have a vision for their own development and of their liberation from poverty and injustice. Through your generous support, we are able to call them partners. It is an honour to join them in their work.