Anthropological coordinates of the

Centre for interdisciplinary Studies and Research

Salus Hominis

  1. Principles and anthropological foundations

1.1. Making principles and foundations clear

The risk of making principles and foundations clear is that you can be “labelled” or, even worse, the comparison may turn into a “dispute” with those who have different references and principles. The short cut would be to exclude the other person as a subject not compatible with our principles. The interdisciplinary approach does not provide any short cuts, but the ability to listen, based on respect for the other person and on the comparison of ideas, although ruled by different principles, but demanding a comparison in the only way practicable for rationality: the use of reason to analyse data and to interpret them. […] When we draw different scientific models close to each other, we often witness an impossible dialogue, where the principles and foundations of one’s own hermeneutics consist in demonstrating the groundlessness of the other person’s principles.

Conversely, the risk of not making principles and foundations clear is to leave everything undetermined, thus confusing real dialogue with a peaceful cordiality by the absolute principle of relativism, whereby everything is possible, everything may be said, everything is reduced to possible interpretations.

1.1.1. Preface

For any approach to man, whether religious, philosophic or scientific, the fundamental principle is that behind every anthropological conception there is always a more or less explicit vision of the cosmos  (Weltanschaung), a way of understanding the reality where we live, whose consequences have an impact on the understanding of the human being. The issue of the origin – whether the world was made by God or by chance – has a great value and deeply affects the course of our life,[1] as it leads either to the truth about ourselves or to falsehood, and consequently it orients all our way of thinking and acting. In other words, we cannot answer truthfully the question: «What shall I do?», if we do not wonder in the first place: «Who am I?» and: «Where do I come from?», thus facing the issue of being.

[…] we find the Christian model which is an option for creation in the strict sense. It accepts being as something received from Love and depending on it. In this sense, the dependence of creation doesn’t have anything demeaning for man, because doesn’t mean “to diminish” oneself and doesn’t involve a competitive and conflictual vision of relationship with others.

We are aware of the fact that the current cultural, philosophical and scientific panorama seems tendentially hostile to the idea of creation,[2] therefore our basic methodological choice does not intend to preclude dialogue with those people who adopt different anthropologies in the various study and research fields of, but it intends to build a bridge towards those who raise serious questions about the origin and nature of man and are looking for the truth. […].

1.1.2. Man created in God’s own image and likeness

The basic concept of «God’s own image», as man is defined by Christian theology, makes reference essentially to the biblical expression in the Book of Genesis: « Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. » (Gen 1,26). Man is a creature that receives his being from God, who created all things by love and ordered that man was the only visible creature «able to know and love his Creator ».[3] Being God’s own image, by his nature man owns specific faculties or functions that make him capable of entering a personal relationship with both visible (material world) and invisible realities (spiritual world). In fact, man is a unitary being formed by soul and body, where the two co-principles of his being form such a deep unity as to determine one single human

nature: the material body is a human body as it is enlivened by the soul, and vice versa the spiritual soul is a human soul, as it sustains and gives life to the body.[4] The human person is able to know and to get to know it self, to tell good from evil, to devote it self freely to others, above all it has an inner longing for the truth and for endless happiness (beatitude). This dynamism is based on the inner faculties of intelligence and will that qualify in a peculiar way the relations of the individual with the visible world, with the other people, with the spiritual and divine world in the proper sense.

[…] Such communion of love with the Father can be accomplished in man when the Holy Spirit unites with the individual to «lift up» his faculties to the knowledge and love of God, through the dynamism of the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), thus laying the bases for the reconstruction of that original likeness with God in which the person was created.[5]

Also personal freedom – an expression of the very high dignity of man – is rooted in the innermost structure of the human being. It is not absolute independence of the individual, but responsibility towards his own being, received as a gift from the Creator, that demands a consistent behaviour. Paradoxically, true freedom consists in «obedience», in giving up one’s «own» will (i.e. a totally self-referential way of acting, which does not suit the condition of creature), in order to fully comply with the Truth.

1.1.3. Man  «wounded» in his wholeness

Since the origins of his history, «man, tempted by the Evil One, has abused his own freedom, by setting himself up against God and longing to achieve his aim without him».[6] The distorted use of freedom is the real alienation of man that not only makes him a slave of false idols, but disfigures his original image. […] The fragility of his corporal condition is the sign of this wound, which is perceptible first of all in his physical health that can be easily lost due to sickness, but mostly in relation to the end of his earthly life, a reality that he cannot escape: the intimate unity that constitutes and determines the person is continuously threatened by physical death (which is a separation of body from soul), […] as he can in no way prevent it from happening. Also the inner harmony between his feelings, his will and his intelligence is altered: man often withdraws into himself, focusing exclusively on his needs, thus compromising his relationship with others; […] At the spiritual level, […] the wound of sin has also made man lose his likeness with the Creator. […] This dimension can be regained only through the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads man to the knowledge of the truth about himself and God and opens the doors of the Trinitarian life for him.

Due to this historical condition, man is more subject to the temptations of Satan, who tries to divert him from his ultimate goal (from the Good). The evil spirit, father of falsehood and prince of this world, by acting in different ways on the existing nature and specifically on the human body, has as its main purpose to break the vital bond between man and the divine « tree of life » (see Gen 2,9), which is the grace of God. […]

1.1.4. Man set free in the Truth (the rational search for of Truth is the defence of Man)

In every cognitive field man investigates in order to achieve a (scientific) truth proved by the «tool» of reason. New scientific discoveries open the way to new scientific hypothesis. Also in the philosophical field the love at knowledge leads man to rational investigation in order to know the truth about things, man, and the ultimate questions of man. He investigates by clearly asking himself questions looking for answers. Theology investigates man’s life by getting an idea about the mystery of God or investigates the Revelation of God, in order to get an idea of who man is. Truth is given to us or is in front of us, so that we can know it through the use of reason. This logical method is applied to positive sciences, philosophies and theologies.

The source from wich  to start reasoning about man and the world is the self-revelation of God contained in the Holy Scriptures and authentically interpreted by the Catholic Church, which anchors its teachings and interpretation in the authority of the Tradition witnessed by the Fathers of the Church. This doesn’t mean to live in the past, but to enliven the present by turning to the immutable Truth of Revelation. How can we seek truth? How can we dialogue by reasoning?

Reason is indispensable, but we need an act of faith by means of will. This act of faith cannot come under compulsion, but in full freedom; for this reason faith cannot be imposed, but proposed. Also trying to convince through reason does not guarantee a result, because an act of faith is always necessary, since reason alone cannot understand mystery. Therefore reason is the means necessary to know and to dialogue, but reason alone is not able to get to know Him who created it. A paradigmatic biblical fact is that reality was created by means of the Logos and in view of the Logos.[7] By means of reason we can get to know the existence of God and tell good from evil, in virtue of the natural law engraved by the creator in his creation. Dialogue with other theological, philosophical and scientific models is based on this foundation. Apart from faith, man is given the ability to dialogue with another man who thinks differently, in their mutual search after Truth which is independent of what either of them thinks. Revelation itself asserts that Truth is compatible with reason. Rationality is the universal method to dialogue, to know, to discover new realities belonging to Truth that are unknown or not clear to us yet. This is a fundamental value in all cognitive fields: theological, philosophical and scientific.

1.1.5. Unity and distinction of human composite (the unity of body and soul includes the spiritual dimension which is distinct from the psychic dimension)

[…] The humility to acknowledge that we are not the first ones who investigate human nature makes us turn our eyes to the knowledge about man written in the texts of the Fathers of the Church, the Saints and the mystical Doctors of the Church. The anthropological question in its wide survey was revealed through the experience of the life of faith and secondarily became a subject for study in the process of enculturation with the pagan world and the philosophy of the Greeks. Without excessive simplifications, the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, from Saint Augustine to Saint Thomas, from Saint Evagrio Pontico to Saint John of the Cross, in different languages and contexts had meeting points that are still acknowledged today by the teachings of the Church and by what we can  call «Christian anthropology ». The existence of the soul and the soul united to the body has always been asserted, starting from the supremacy of soul over the body waiting for resurrection, passing through the reaffirmed unity of synolon (synthesis of matter and form), up to the current holistic vision of man; it is an anchor of Christian anthropology that was questioned only in the modern age with the supremacy of the biological dimension over  the psychical dimension and of emotions and instincts over the strictly spiritual dimension.

One basic issue is the semantic ambiguity of the word psyché or soul; soul has a spiritual nature and its faculties, mind, will and memory are united to the body; however, if by «psyche» we don’t mean the soul as it is philosophically understood, but its faculties in their intra-psychic or systemic relation, we have necessarily to differentiate the spiritual nature of man from his psychic nature. The psychic dimension does not correspond to the spiritual dimension of man; although in many cases the non religious models of western thought become rigid in stating that the animal nature of man differs from animals only in a more complex psychic dimension or a more developed biological structure, most human beings seek the meaning of their being men in dimensions that go beyond the biological and the psychic dimension. […] The gift of God, which is the Holy Spirit revealed in Christ by the love of the Father, is that ray of light that enables us to know the spiritual nature of created man.

In short, the psychic dimension of man has to be distinguished from the spiritual dimension, in order to better understand all the dynamics and not to slip into easy reductionism and pseudoscientific approaches.

1.1.6. Man between the possibility and the presence of evil

The story of man (both the individual and humanity as a whole), together with the seeds of good scattered in it, also carries within it the mysterious presence of evil that can be seen in various forms of injustice, hatred, wickedness, destruction, violence, etc. Being endowed with freedom, the human creature can accomplish actions that are worthy of praise and approval (such as the sincere love for neighbour and devotion to the family), but it can also give space to blameworthy behaviours deserving condemnation (like the killing of innocent and helpless life).

To represent the whole «forces of evil» that unfortunately mark our existence negatively, we often resort to the devil (Satan) as a symbol used to globally indicate the «human» part that is inclined to evil in different ways. Next to and beyond the symbolic function that the word devil may take, we have to recognize that the common way of understanding the presence of the Evil One […] attaches a personal meaning to it. In particular, the Holy Scriptures point out the creaturely identity of Satan and present him as a spiritual being who radically and irrevocably opposes God’s plan.

As a creature, Satan is subject to the natural laws governing creation; as a spirit (personal being endowed with intelligence and will, but not with its own physical body) he is able to perform actions that go beyond the human sphere but are close to it (preternatural actions). Satan can intervene in the human world always and only according to the laws of creation, but by going beyond the current  man for understanding and action, he can often obtain effects that may seem extraordinary and prodigious. Moreover, by acting on matter, can have an influence on man’s body and reach the faculties of the soul through it; by acting on the psyche, it can suggest fanciful images to man or provoke obsessive thoughts in order to perturb, blur, weaken and divert the psyche from fulfilling the good.

However, he cannot force man to evil, but only incite him to do it by means of a patient and clever work of seduction, commonly called temptation (see Mt 4,1-11; Mc 1,12-13; Lc 4,1-13; 1Pt 5,8); he can take possession of a human body, but it cannot take possession directly of human will, if this will is not delivered to him by the individual himself. He makes use of corporeity and concupiscence to try to subdue man’s will to sin and to lead him to an increasingly explicit rejection of God, however this requires the deliberate consent of man to the wicked will that Satan suggests to him. Because of his stubborn and irreparable wickedness (due to his decisive determination to evil), Satan is not a creature endowed with freedom – understood as the capacity to freely choose the good – because he is bound to evil and depends on it: he doesn’t «want to will» the good. Although his power on creation is very great, so that he is defined as «the prince of this world» (Jn 12,31; 14,30; 16,11), one must not think that it is an absolute, unlimited power. His created nature makes him subject to God in everything (see Jb 1,9-12; 2,4-7; Mt 8,27-34) and in spite of man’s sin which opened and continuously opens the door to Satan’s dominion, the Son of God came into the world to redeem man, by setting him free from the power of darkness (see Col 1,13) and destroying the works of Satan (1Jn 3,8). The radical contraposition between God and Satan is not to be understood in Manichean terms as a fight between the universal principles of good and evil, but instead as the «failure» of a creature in the face of its Creator. The victory of God over Satan is already decreed, even though not fully accomplished: it is the victory of the Cross, the triumph of merciful love […]. The exorcisms performed by Jesus demonstrate the superiority of God over the devil and his submission to God’s will. Satan’s action does not unrestrictedly oppose God’s redeeming plan, but instead it highlights the power and the mercy of the Lord, who intervenes in history to help and rescue man fallen into sin and subjet to the power of the realm of darkness. (see Eph 2,2; At 10,38; 26,18).

1.1.7. The unifying action of grace (the path to holiness and the spiritual combat)

The destructive and disruptive action of sin and of the devil is opposed by the unifying and sanctifying action of divine grace that operates invisibly in all men of good will, but acts with particular effectiveness in those who explicitly welcome in faith the gift of the Holy Spirit, communicated by Christ to the Apostles and transmitted in the Church by means of the Sacraments. A Christian receives the «firstfruits of the Spirit » (Rm 8,23) when baptized, in virtue of which man as a whole is inwardly renewed, waiting for the final «redemption of the body » (ibid.) that will accomplish the full likeness to the image of the Son, resurrected to a new life and ascended to Heaven with his human body.[8] The calling to eternal life, which goes beyond the skills of human intelligence and the strength of man’s will, totally depends on the free initiative of God, as only He can reveal and give himself,[9] but it also requires a free response by man which makes him ready for conversion, that is complete healing from the consequences of the wounds produced by original sin and personal sins in human nature. With Baptism man «is born again» to a new life, thus participating in divine life (the very life of Christ), however not in a perfect and complete way, but like a seed that has still to grow and develop. Spiritual progress tends towards the increasingly intimate unity with Christ, and we are all called to it: «All believers of any state or degree are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity »;[10] […]

The gift of grace […] can be maintained and perfected only at the cost of a continuous fight against sin and the constant practice of virtues. […] In addition to this inner combat, the action of the devil tries to prevent, within the intrinsic limits of its created nature and those imposed on it by God, the progress of the person towards communion with God. The inner conflict between “yes” to God and “no” to sin and to the devil can be damaging if lived only at the psychological level. It is important for the Christian not to live this combat exclusively as an effort of will and mind, but to open up to the properly spiritual dimension, so as to let the grace of the Holy Spirit act within. The combat based on ascetic moral and psychic commitment alone could even lead to serious pathologies such as neurosis, depression. […] To grow in charity (unity with God) it is necessary to listen to the Word of God assiduously in order to assimilate it in faith, to participate in the Sacraments so as to receive God’s grace and spiritual solace, to apply oneself constantly to prayer as a dialogue with God, to deny oneself in what conflicts with the love of Christ, to actively serve the brothers, depending on the duties of one’s condition. The Holy Spirit inwardly moves believers to love God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind and all their strength and to love their neighbour as Christ loved; for this purpose the Holy Spirit can award special gifts and graces called «charisms» whose practice is directed towards personal sanctification and the common good of the Church. The mystical gift is not an indication of holiness or privilege and not a «loyalty prize» either, that man can obtain through ascetic al practice, but depends solely on the free provision of God who through it, calls those who have received it to meet a specific vocation with greater commitment and responsibility. […]

1.1.8. Diagnosis and spiritual discernment

To distinguish moral good from moral evil does not yet mean to discern spiritually. The first meaning of spiritual discernment, derived from Saint Ignatius’s tradition, is to discern between something good and the good for myself; the decision has to be made freely by the person, but if the individual seeking the good for himself decides autonomously without confronting the will of God, he will regress in his ability to discern, until he confuses moral good with moral evil, thus making it impossible even simply to face the issue of spiritual discernment. To know the will of God in order to decide what is good for me among many possibilities of good choices is one of the first contents of the term spiritual discernment.

A second meaning, supported by Carmelite experience and tradition that goes beyond the distinction between moral good and moral evil, is to discern the action of God or action of the devil in the spiritual life of an individual. This further semantic meaning of the word opens therefore to a further analysis of the spiritual reality that the individual relates to, when he gets in touch with the transcendent spiritual dimension. To proceed on healthy spiritual path, one should distinguish the action of God in the soul from the deceptions of the devil […].

Spiritual discernment in mystical theology and demonology has gradually decreased in Christian practice to the advantage of moral discernment which today is widened by the demands of social and ecological morality. By confusing the psychological relational level with the properly spiritual one, the «spiritual» action of man would consist in doing well, in doing something for others, maybe in the name of God so as to be more certain. In addition to this distressing gap that the Catholic cultural world and more widely the Christian world is experiencing, there is a range of psychologies and models of thought that deny a priori the existence of anything else other than the psychic; consequently the approach can only be a psychological or psychiatric therapy […].

According to the Catholic tradition, the lack of real faith and of a healthy and balanced expression of it diverts man towards forms of esotericism, superstition and the pursuit of what is religious as a market product, «sold» by groups and sects with a «guarantee» of happiness and self-realization or even self-glorification. In this scenario it is necessary to take charge of the real forms of disintegration of the human psyche, by identifying therapeutic models of personal and spiritual growth respectful of human freedom. The antichristian cultural context is associated with a globalisation and acculturation process where unusual forms of religiosity or other ancient religious traditions mix together. Diagnosis and discernment become more complex and require anchorages for a hermeneutical opening attentive to the symptoms and the malaise of man in both his psychic and spiritual dimension.

  1. Methodology for studying and interpreting human nature

2.1. The search for a method

The principles and values described in the previous paragraph constitute the cognitive premise of the human being in terms of Christian anthropology; to study them in depth and most of all to encourage a comparison with other Christian and non-Christian individuals, we consider it not just useful but also necessary to develop a working methodology that attemps a multidisciplinary approach with some interdisciplinarity for the study and interpretation of nature and the human creature.

2.2. The need for interdisciplinarity […]

2.3. The reference to well-known methods […]

2.4. The phenomenologic research […]

2.5. Beyond the boundaries of traditional science […]

2.6. Relation between science and faith […]

  1. The semantic issue

The essential function of verbal language (both written and spoken) is to transmit concepts among different individuals through the use of words (or signs), that are given specific meanings. For a correct dialogue (or exchange of information) it is therefore necessary for the words used in the communication to be attributed the same meanings by all those who take part in it. In an interdisciplinary (or multidisciplinary) context, this requirement is even greater. […].

3.1. Glossary […]

[1]           Cf J. Ratzinger, In principio Dio creò il cielo e la terra, Lindau, Turin 2006, pp. 130-131.

[2]           In the Lectio Magistralis held on 14th March 1979, Faculty of catholic Theology at the University of Salzburg,  J. Ratzinger, op. cit., pp. 113-128.

[3]           Vatican Ecumenical Council II, Gaudium et spes, 12.

[4]           «The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created directly by God – it is not “produced” by its parents – and is immortal; it does not perish when it is separated from the body upon death, and it will join the body again upon final resurrection » (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 366).

[5]           In the doctrine of Saint Irenaeus the image of God in man makes reference to his ontological constitution […] the «likeness», instead, makes reference to the relation of personal communion between man and God that has to be restored after sin by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

[6]           Vatican Ecumenical Council II, Gaudium et spes, 13.

[7]           « All things were made by him and for him» (Col 1,16).

[8]           See Vatican Ecumenic Council II, Gaudium et spes, 22.

[9]           Cf Catechismo della Chiesa Cattolica, n. 1998.

[10]          Vatican Ecumenic Council II, Lumen gentium, 40.


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