". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


An Eternal Moral Code: The Vatican’s ‘Dignitas Infinita’ and the Crises of the Modern West

April 9, 2024

The Western world is today mired in fads, trends, and the fatal intellectual conclusions of democracy. “Consensus” reigns supreme, moral doctrines are predicated upon polls, and political power has become, to a great extent, an end in and of itself. Such a world places moral arbitration and even definition in the hands of mortal men. What a blessing it is, then, to have an eternal God, for only an eternal God can promulgate an eternal moral code.

The necessity of an eternal moral code is no doubt obvious, particularly as conservatives struggle to respond to the increasingly depraved agenda advanced by the Left. A moral code predicated solely on opposition to the Left’s platform necessarily shifts at least incrementally left the further that the Left moves, and as the Left holds society’s major institutions — media, academia, corporations, health care, and countless others — captive, basing morality on the “consensus” of the very society that the Left shapes is equally futile.

The Vatican’s recent document “Dignitas Infinita,” published Monday by the Catholic Church’s doctrine office, illustrates the cohesion of an eternal moral code as dictated by God. Technically, the document contains nothing novel; it is, in principle, simply a reiteration of the centuries-old moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Its novelty lies not in moral innovations but rather in immoral innovations — that is to say, new moral standards are not invented, but rather eternal moral standards are simply applied to new evils which have been invented.

“Dignitas Infinita” takes as its guiding principle the dignity which all humans share as those made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). This moral code is an eternal one: human beings are not either less or more made in God’s image now than we were two thousand years ago or a hundred years ago, or than we will be a hundred years from now. It is from this eternal moral truth that “Dignitas Infinita” discerns a condemnation of such novel evils as surrogacy, gender ideology, and transgenderism.

The Vatican’s declaration rejects the moral relativism that the modern age has so loudly championed, explaining that “human dignity cannot be based on merely individualistic standards, nor can it be identified with the psychophysical well-being of the individual. Rather, the defense of human dignity is based on the constitutive demands of human nature, which do not depend on individual arbitrariness or social recognition.” Human dignity, then, is not determined by passing fads and rising and falling ideologies. Instead, “the duties that stem from recognizing the dignity of the other … have a concrete and objective content based on our shared human nature. Without such an objective basis, the concept of dignity becomes de facto subject to the most diverse forms of arbitrariness and power interests.”

Human dignity, and any concept of freedom or liberty, are reliant entirely upon God, for He alone is objectivity itself. Denoting freedom as “a marvelous gift from God,” “Dignitas Infinita” explains that “it would be a grave error to think that by distancing ourselves from God and his assistance, we could somehow be freer and thus feel more dignified. Instead, detached from the Creator, our freedom can only weaken and become obscured.” The document continues, “The same happens if freedom imagines itself to be independent of any external reference and perceives any relationship with a prior truth as a threat; as a result, respect for the freedom and dignity of others would also diminish.” The late Pope Benedict XVI described the principle thus:

“A will which believes itself radically incapable of seeking truth and goodness has no objective reasons or motives for acting save those imposed by its fleeting and contingent interests; it does not have an ‘identity’ to safeguard and build up through truly free and conscious decisions. As a result, it cannot demand respect from other ‘wills,’ which are themselves detached from their own deepest being and thus capable of imposing other ‘reasons’ or, for that matter, no ‘reason’ at all. The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings.”

The great Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis explicated that very same truth in his seminal book “The Abolition of Man.” Naming a class of culture-controlling moral relativists “Conditioners,” Lewis wrote:

“When I said just now that all motives fail them, I should have said all motives except one. All motives that claim any validity other than their felt emotional weight at a given moment have failed them. Everything except the sic volo, sic jubeo has been explained away. But what never claimed objectivity cannot be destroyed by subjectivism. The impulse to scratch when I itch or to pull to pieces when I am inquisitive is immune from the solvent which is fatal to my justice, or honour, or care for posterity. When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains. It cannot be exploded or ‘seen through’ because it never had any pretensions.”

The root of human divisions and even human evils is to be found in this moral relativism, in this hyper-individualized notion of the self, devoid of any meaningful or objectively-defined relationship to one’s fellow man, cut off from a moral code defined and promulgated by God and entirely reliant upon a moral code defined by one’s own “I want.” Without an eternal moral code, the world inevitably and invariably devolves into chaos, division, and depravity.

While many of those depravities condemned in “Dignitas Infinita” have been condemned by the Catholic Church for centuries — evils such as unjust war, slavery, sexual abuse, and abortion — the eternal moral code recognized by Christians allows for the condemnation of evils that men and women of centuries past could have never fathomed, evils which have now come to the fore in the Western world and are viciously fighting for both ascendancy and supremacy.

Turning to the issue of surrogacy, “Dignitas Infinita” declares the practice to be “deplorable,” making “the immensely worthy child … a mere object.” “First and foremost, the practice of surrogacy violates the dignity of the child,” the document explains. “Because of this unalienable dignity, the child has the right to have a fully human (and not artificially induced) origin and to receive the gift of a life that manifests both the dignity of the giver and that of the receiver.” “Dignitas Infinita” also explains, in a passage perhaps aimed at same-sex couples who rent women’s wombs in order to obtain a child, that “the legitimate desire to have a child cannot be transformed into a ‘right to a child’ that fails to respect the dignity of that child as the recipient of the gift of life.”

“Surrogacy also violates the dignity of the woman, whether she is coerced into it or chooses to subject herself to it freely,” the Vatican declaration continues. “For, in this practice, the woman is detached from the child growing in her and becomes a mere means subservient to the arbitrary gain or desire of others.” Citing Pope Francis, “Dignitas Infinita” notes, “A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract.”

“Dignitas Infinita” classifies the evil of euthanasia as “utilize[ing] a mistaken understanding of human dignity to turn the concept of dignity against life itself.” The document continues, “With this, there is a widespread notion that euthanasia or assisted suicide is somehow consistent with respect for the dignity of the human person. However, in response to this, it must be strongly reiterated that suffering does not cause the sick to lose their dignity, which is intrinsically and inalienably their own.”

In Catholic theology in particular, suffering is seen as a means of spiritual intimacy with Christ, who subjected Himself to unimaginable suffering on the cross for the sake of our sins. “Dignitas Infinita” reaffirms that “the dignity of those who are critically or terminally ill calls for all suitable and necessary efforts to alleviate their suffering through appropriate palliative care,” but warns that such efforts are, “entirely different from — and … indeed contrary to — a decision to end one’s own life or that of another person who is burdened by suffering. Even in its sorrowful state, human life carries a dignity that must always be upheld, that can never be lost, and that calls for unconditional respect.”

The Vatican then turns to the hot-button issues of gender ideology and the cult of transgenderism. Pope Francis has previously explained that gender ideology places human whims above the order created by God. In a January speech, he said that gender ideology “is extremely dangerous since it cancels differences in its claim to make everyone equal.” “Dignitas Infinita” expounds on this principle, explaining that one’s biological sex is “a gift from God” and fundamental to one’s very human nature. “Desiring a personal self-determination, as gender theory prescribes, apart from this fundamental truth that human life is a gift, amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God, entering into competition with the true God of love revealed to us in the Gospel” the declaration states.

Furthermore, gender ideology “intends to deny the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference.” “Dignitas Infinita” continues, “This foundational difference is not only the greatest imaginable difference but is also the most beautiful and most powerful of them. In the male-female couple, this difference … becomes the source of that miracle that never ceases to surprise us: the arrival of new human beings in the world.” Destroying the crucial and even fundamental differences between men and women, the Vatican warns, eliminates “the anthropological basis of the family” and thus “all attempts to obscure reference to the ineliminable sexual difference between man and woman are to be rejected…”

The subject of gender transitions is closely related to that of gender ideology. “Dignitas Infinita” clarifies, “The dignity of the body cannot be considered inferior to that of the person as such.” It continues to explain that “humans are inseparably composed of both body and soul. In this, the body serves as the living context in which the interiority of the soul unfolds and manifests itself, as it does also through the network of human relationships.” That is to say, the biological sexual characteristics of the body are just as much a part of the essence of a human as that human’s soul, which is never incongruous to the body. Thus, the Vatican declares, “any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception.”

“Dignitas Infinita” concludes by calling upon states and governments to place “respect for the dignity of the human person beyond all circumstances … at the center of the commitment to the common good and at the center of every legal system.” The declaration notes that “human dignity forms the basis for upholding fundamental human rights, which precede and ground all civic coexistence.”

Without an eternal moral code to address the crises and evils of the day, no state or government can hope to survive. Basing morality upon “consensus” will not do, it will only result in abortion, pornography, gender ideology, and a whole host of other evils devouring the civilization which so many centuries upon centuries of generations have struggled and striven to build, to beautify, and to preserve. In the end, only an eternal moral code can save the Western world from complete and total self-annihilation.

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.