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Dignity of the Human Person

Scriptural Story

The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there? He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, 'You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour? Jesus replied, 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Luke 10: 25-37

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Description and Related Concepts

Created in the image and likeness of God, all human life is sacred and all people have dignity. Human persons do not lose dignity because of gender, sexual orientation, disability, poverty, age, or race.

Anchor Concepts: Human Dignity, Interdependence, Solidarity

Related Concepts:

  • WORK
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Scripture References

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them
Genesis 1: 27

... then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
Genesis 2: 7

Jesus cleanses a leper
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
Mark 1: 40-42

Jesus calls sinners
And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples - for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
Mark 2: 15-17

Lamp under a basket
He said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
Mark 4: 21-23

Who is the greatest?
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
Mark 9: 33-37

Jesus blesses children
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Mark 10: 13-16

God's Temple
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3: 16-17

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and see in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9

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Church Teachings

Documents of Vatican II

26 There is a growing awareness of the sublime dignity of human persons, who stand above all things and whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable. They ought, therefore, to have ready access to all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life: for example, food, clothing, housing, ...the right to education, and work ...
Gaudium et Spes, (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World)

27 Whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury.
Gaudium et Spes, (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

1701 "Christ, . . . in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, makes man fully manifest to himself and brings to light his exalted vocation. It is in Christ, "the image of the invisible God, that man has been created "in the image and likeness" of the Creator. It is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior, that the divine image, disfigured in man by the first sin, has been restored to its original beauty and ennobled by the grace of God.

1702 The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons among themselves (cf. chapter two).

1703 Endowed with "a spiritual and immortal" soul, the human person is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake." From his conception, he is destined for eternal beatitude.

1704 The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator. By free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good. He finds his perfection "in seeking and loving what is true and good."

1705 By virtue of his soul and his spiritual powers of intellect and will, man is endowed with freedom, an "outstanding manifestation of the divine image."

1706 By his reason, man recognizes the voice of God which urges him "to do what is good and avoid what is evil." Everyone is obliged to follow this law, which makes itself heard in conscience and is fulfilled in the love of God and of neighbour. Living a moral life bears witness to the dignity of the person.

1929 Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him: What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defence and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.

1930 Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church's role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.

1931 Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that "everyone should look upon his neighbour (without any exception) as 'another self,' above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity." No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behaviour will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a "neighbour," a brother.

1932 The duty of making oneself a neighbour to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

1933 This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us. The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offences. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one's enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does as an enemy.

Other Church Documents

215 Whatever the progress in technology and economic life, there can be neither justice nor peace in the world, so long as men and women fail to realize how great is their dignity; for they have been created by God and are God's children.
Mater et Magistra, (Christianity and Social Progress), Encyclical Letter of Pope John XXIII, 1961

11 Human persons are willed by God; they are imprinted with God's image. Their dignity does not come from the work they do, but from the persons they are.
Centesimus Annus, (The Hundredth Year), Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, 1991

9 Life, especially human life, belongs to God; whoever attacks human life attacks God's very self.
Evangelium Vitae, (The Gospel of Life), Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, 1995

At the centre of all Catholic social teaching are the transcendence of God and the dignity of the human person. The human person is the clearest reflection of God's presence in the world; all of the Church's work in pursuit of both justice and peace is designed to protect and promote the dignity of every person. For each person not only reflects God, but is the expression of God's creative work and the meaning of Christ's redemptive ministry.
The Challenge of Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1983

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Canadian/Ontario Documents

Above all, to be a person is to be a mystery. We can never know everything there is to know about anyone, including ourselves. The more we come to know someone, the more we sense something deep and wonderful - something beyond our ability to understand.
We have come face to face with a mystery, the mystery of the human person, made in God's image. We are in the presence of the spirit of our Creator.
Fully Alive, Grade 7, Family Life Program of the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, p. 8

We all want to be treated in a way that recognizes our worth as human beings. Does this worth lie in our accomplishments? In our ability to make decisions and determine the shape of our lives? In our contributions to society? These are all significant aspects of most people's lives, but none is the foundation of human dignity. Our dignity lies in our origin and destiny: We come from God and return to God. We are created out of love and for love.
On Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, January 1996
Principles to be Observed by all Governments

What follows are several principles which apply to any government, at any time and under any circumstances. The people of Ontario must expect of any government they elect that its policies and actions respect these principles.

The dignity of every person is to be respected at all times. Every government must understand and realize that every human being possesses a transcendent dignity which no one has the right to violate. Consequently governments must work to ensure that discrimination is eliminated. They must ensure that all people, of whatever origin, religion, socio-economic status or culture are treated equally well. All should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect...

Governments must support life. All human beings must be nourished, supported and cherished from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death. A government worthy of support will favour life rather than abortion and euthanasia, will be supportive of families, will make palliative care a priority, will fight against child poverty and will look for the rehabilitation of those who have become entangled in crime or drugs.
Choosing A Government, Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998

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Dignity consists not in possessing honours, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.

Remember this-that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.
Marcus Aurelius

Where is there dignity unless there is honesty?

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
E. E. Cummings

There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they grow up in peace.
Kofi A. Annan

Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.
Pablo Casals

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.

Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.
Leon Bloy

The first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.
Cesar Chavez

A spiritual person tries less to be godly than to be deeply human.
Rev. William Sloan Coffin, Jr

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Web Resources

The Vatican

The official web site of the Vatican contains an impressive collection of materials with a useful internal search engine.

Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops

The official web site of the OCCB contains extensive resources from the Catholic Bishops of Ontario as well as useful links to other Church and Catholic organizations' web sites. The Conference's jurisdiction over Ontario Catholic schools makes this site particularly relevant.

The Vatican: Catechism of the Catholic Church

See Part Three: Life In Christ Section One: Man's Vocation Life InThe Spirit Chapter One of this section is titled: The Dignity Of The Human Person. Chapter Two focuses on The Human Community. The Church's teaching on Social Justice is detailed, including sections on the respect for the human person, equality and differences among men (people) and solidarity. Section two deals with the Ten Commandments and the Fourth Commandment, "You Shall Love your Neighbour as Yourself" and the Fifth, "Thou Shall Not Kill" concentrate on themes central to social justice. The Seventh, "You Shall Not Steal" also addresses economic activity such as labour, solidarity among nations, and love for the poor. While the Catechism has no links and is difficult to read at times, it provides a useful resource to the underpinnings of Church teachings on social justice.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

The site of Canada's Catholic Bishops under 'Commissions and Organizations' has a deep section under the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs. Included is a list of letters of both praise and concern written by the Conference to prominent politicians and members of the business and international community. The 'Public Statements' section includes major policy statements on current issues like aboriginal land claims, religious rights and the dignity of life. The CCCB is a valuable resource for those seeking to see where the Canadian Catholic stands on social justice.

Amnesty International

"Amnesty International is a worldwide campaigning movement that works to promote all the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international standards. In particular, Amnesty International campaigns to free all prisoners of conscience; ensure fair and prompt trials for political prisoners; abolish the death penalty, torture and other cruel treatment of prisoners; end political killings and "disappearances"; and oppose human rights abuses by opposition groups." The site main strength is its global, detailed allegations of human rights violations, free from any political or religious agenda or ideology, which allows for equal treatment of violations in Western and developing nations. Provides information to users on how to contact governments to voice one's objection to human rights violations. Amnesty creates concrete connections throughout between injustice and possible remedies. The site also features lengthier country profiles on nations like Liberia and the United States and deep library of resources and links. Amnesty does however offer complex examination of the issues, assuming a base political knowledge of the user that may not always be present.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

From the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, this site has committee reports from around the globe, treaties, links on human rights issues and in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights section, over 300 translations of the declaration, available in HTML, PDF and graphical formats. Wonderful human rights issues bank with documents, links and news in English, French and Spanish. Gives students a chance to read in any language the United Nations guiding human rights document. Easy web format to navigate for students. A working knowledge of the United Nations as an institution is useful for many of the documents.

Assembly of First Nations

Clearinghouse of Canada's national aboriginal lobby, the site includes sections about land rights, health, housing, treaties and residential schools issues. The information layout is at times confusing, but the resources provide valuable detailed background that would be useful in any in-depth research into aboriginal issues.

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Links to Ontario Catholic Graduate Expectations

A Discerning Believer Formed in the Catholic Faith Community who:
CGE1d Develops attitudes and values founded on Catholic social teaching and acts to promote social responsibility, human solidarity and the common good
CGE1e Speaks the language of life... "recognizing that life is an unearned gift and that a person entrusted with life does not own it but that one is called to protect and cherish it." (Witnesses to Faith)
An Effective Communicator who:
CGE2c Presents information and ideas clearly and honestly and with sensitivity to others
CGE2e Uses and integrates the Catholic faith tradition, in the critical analysis of the arts, media, technology and information systems to enhance the quality of life  
A Reflective and Creative Thinker who:
CGE3e Adopts a holistic approach to life by integrating learning from various subject areas and experience
A Self-directed, Responsible, Life Long Learner who:  
CGE4a Demonstrates a confident and positive sense of self and respect for the dignity and welfare of others
CGE4b Takes initiative and demonstrates Christian leadership.
CGE4c Takes initiative and demonstrates Christian leadership
CGE4d Responds to, manages and constructively influences change in a discerning manner.
CGE4e Sets appropriate goals and priorities in school, work and personal life
CGE4f Applies effective communication, decision-making, problem-solving, time and resource management skills
CGE4g Examines and reflects on one's personal values, abilities and aspirations influencing life's choices and opportunities  
CGE4h Participates in leisure and fitness activities for a balanced and healthy lifestyle
A Collaborative Contributor who:
CGE5e Respects the rights, responsibilities and contributions of self and others
CGE5f Exercises Christian leadership in the achievement of individual and group goals
CGE5g Achieves excellence, originality, and integrity in one's own work and supports these qualities in the work of others
A Caring Family Member who:
CGE6a Relates to family members in a loving, compassionate and respectful manner
CGE6b Recognizes human intimacy and sexuality as God given gifts, to be used as the creator intended
A Responsible Citizen who:
CGE7d Promotes the sacredness of life
CGE7e Witnesses Catholic social teaching by promoting equality, democracy, and solidarity for a just, peaceful and compassionate society
CGE7f Respects and affirms the diversity and interdependence of the world's peoples and cultures
CGE7g Respects and understands the history, cultural heritage and pluralism of today's contemporary society
CGE7j Contributes to the common good
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Reflection Questions

Personal and Group Reflections:

Personal Reflection:

1. I recall a time when the dignity and value of the human person was evident in our school.

Small Group Discussion:

1. We describe school activities and classroom practices that affirm and support the dignity and value of all persons while acknowledging our responsibility to develop our humanity as God intended it to be.

2. We consider times when the dignity and value of all persons was not lived out.


1. We suggest strategies that will promote the dignity and value of persons in our school communities.

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