Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Human Nature

Fr. Dr. Dan Patee, TOR, PhD (hereafter Fr. Dan) once said in class to be careful about the phrase "only human." He pointed out that humanity was created for union with God and would return to such a state. When saying someone is "only human," you're putting their fallen humanity at odds with the perfect humanity once held by Adam and Eve, eternally held by Jesus and Mary, and to be held by all the blessed in heaven. At the time, I thought he had a point, but not an incredibly important one.

This morning's homily was a long thirteen hours ago, and I no longer remember his point, but Msgr. repeatedly referred to human nature where he meant fallen human nature, and I began to see the importance of Fr. Dan's point.

The author of The Cloud of Unknowing differentiates between two kinds of humility: imperfect humility and perfect humility. Imperfect humility is what we're all used to - knowledge of our own wretchedness, especially through knowledge of our sins. But perfect humility is all the more important for true union with God, as it is a knowledge of God's glory as it shines through in us - not through any merit of our own, of course, but simply because we are human. He points out that were humility merely the knowledge of our own sinful weakness, how could our Blessed Mother and her divine Son be humble?

I've come to agree with Fr. Dan. Humanity was created for heaven, and that is where we will again find perfected human nature; thus to say one is "only human" in reference to an error or a failing is greatly mistaken, and an intellectual offense against our own hope of heaven.

Next time you're tempted to dismiss a transgression with the phrase, "It's ok, you're only human" - think about this idea. Think about heaven. And hope.


  1. My version of The Cloud of Unknowing uses perfect and imperfect meekness, and there is something to that. Meek, is most often used in the Gospels as a state of life and humble is more often used a verbal sense (though not always). Ambiguities aside, there is a rather subtle, yet profound difference. (Of course, this is written by someone who follows Augustine's and Tolkien's fascination with language and therefore words -- the entirety of the substance of a thought can pivot on but one word in one clause, so subtleties in the realm of theology are more than worth out time.).

    Of course, also this might not mean anything. Wycliffe used "meke" where everyone after him used "humble". He also used "mylde" for what everyone else called "meek". But then, he was a heretic who believed the Church should not own land, so what does he know?

  2. I can't help but point out that the copy of The Cloud of Unknowing is the one you loaned to me. :)


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