As we continue to pray for the continued and deepened awareness of the dignity of all human beings, today we are also celebrating a great Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas wrote a famous Theology manual for seminarians and beginners in Theology that’s still used today. Most people don’t really consider the Summa Theologica a beginner’s guide however – it is incredibly dense and thorough. St. Thomas did something really important by writing the Summa though: he organized centuries of great thoughts from different important theologians like St. Augustine, St. Jerome, the Venerable Bede, St. John Chrysostom, and others into a coherent and clear (if not at times challenging) summary. The Summa Theologica was like the Cliff Notes for theology of the middle ages, and has become more famous than the original works upon which it is based.
St. Thomas gives us some interesting perspectives on dignity. Dignity means worthiness, nobility, grandeur, etc. St. Thomas, as He is writing about the Trinity, tells us that dignity is a property of a person. A person naturally has dignity because a person is a unique and unrepeatable unity of spiritual qualities. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all have an equal degree of dignity, but their dignity is radically different: The Father has the dignity of being the source of the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son has the dignity of being the perfect reflection of the Father, receiving the fullness of divinity from Him, the Holy Spirit has the dignity of being the love between the Father and the Son – the gift that they give each other.
The dignity and perfection of the persons of the Trinity – their nobility and holiness – comes from their relationships with each other. When Jesus comes to teach us about His Father and their Spirit, He has to break our notions about dignity. You see, we have certain preconceived notions about what makes a human being worthy, or noble, or honorable. We base how good or great we think people are on how smart they are, how they look, how old they are, etc. We start by looking at the qualities they have on their own. Jesus tells His disciples quite the opposite: “If you want to be the greatest, you must become the servant of all.” Dignity, nobility, greatness, has to do with how we relate to others. Jesus knows this because His greatness is being the Son, and He becomes great because He comes to serve us by saving us.
As we challenge our human outlook on others, Jesus invites us to consider others as greater, higher in dignity than ourselves. “Take the lowest seat when you are invited to a meal – someone more worthy than yourself might be given the seat you thought you belonged in and you will be asked to move.” We should not be surprised at the end of the world to see unborn children, the anonymous poor dying of starvation in some far away land, convicts condemned to death, and the marginalized entering the kingdom of God ahead of us. Let us respond to the call to serve them, and allow our sense of greatness to be transformed.