Dad: a person cannot be fully comprehended

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Pope Francis made a video message to the participants of the international interdisciplinary webinar “Mind, Body and Soul”, organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and dedicated to medical innovation. The seminar was held from 6 to 8 May with the participation of doctors, scientists, ethicists, religious leaders, advocates of patients’ rights, politicians, philanthropists and publicists.

Olga Sakun – Vatican City

In his video message, the Pope stressesthat the topic of the relationship between mind, body and soul for centuries has been the subject of research by those who wanted to know the secret of the human person. These three categories, which are at the center of the symposium, “do not correspond to the ‘classical’ Christian vision: its more famous reflection is the understanding of the person as an indissoluble unity of body and soul, which, in turn, is endowed with intelligence and will,” the Pope emphasizes, referring to the Catechism Catholic Church. However, this vision does not exclude others – for example, St. Paul speaks of the “fullness” of man as “spirit, soul and body” (cf. 1 Thess 5:23): this understanding has been adopted by many Church Fathers and modern thinkers. The Pope notes that the presence of these three concepts in the topic of the webinar indicates that “certain dimensions of our being, which today are very often considered separately, in fact, are deep, inextricable interweaving.”

The physicality of a person is his “most direct measurement, but this does not mean that he is the easiest to understand”:

“We are not pure spirits; for each of us, everything begins with the body, but not only: from conception to death, we do not just have a body, but we are a body – and the Christian faith claims that we will be it in the resurrection as well ”.

The Pope emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary research in the field of human corporeality, through which it is possible to better understand the processes of interaction between our physical condition and the environment in which we live, between psychophysical well-being and concern for spirituality. It is medicine that serves as a bridge between the natural sciences and the humanities: it is no coincidence that in the past it was called philosophia corporis, as evidenced by one of the manuscripts stored in the Vatican Apostolic Library.

An interdisciplinary approach to a person, the Pope further notes, has led to the discovery of more and more effective methods of treating a person – it is enough to think about the advances in genetics aimed at combating various diseases. However, these achievements pose a person before deep anthropological and ethical questions, such as the question of the permissibility of manipulating the human genome, overcoming the aging process, or the achievement of a person’s potential exceeding human strength.

No less important is the second dimension – the mind, which expresses a person’s ability to self-awareness. From time immemorial, humanity has been searching for what makes a person human, and often identify this element with the brain and neural processes. Undoubtedly, the biological and functional component is important, but this does not explain all the phenomena that are inherent in humans and which are often impossible to measure – thus, they go beyond bodily materiality. In recent decades, many efforts have been made to study the connection between the material and non-material dimensions of our essence, and what has been the lot of philosophers and theologians for centuries has now become the subject of sciences that study the connection between the mind and the brain. The word “mind” usually denotes the totality of human abilities, mainly associated with mental activity. However, the question of the origin of such human abilities as moral sensitivity, compassion, empathy, solidary love, philanthropy, selfless self-giving, aesthetic feeling, not to mention the desire for the infinite and transcendent, remains relevant. In the Judeo-Christian and Greek (classical and Hellenistic) traditions, the Pope continues, these manifestations of human essence are referred to the transcendental dimension, identified with the immaterial principle of our personality, that is, with the soul: this is the third element that makes up the theme of the webinar. Over time, the term has acquired different accents in different cultures and religions. From classical philosophy, we inherited the understanding of the soul as an organizing principle, from which intellectual qualities, feelings, will, and conscience arise. In the Bible and in philosophical and theological thought, the concept of the soul was understood as the uniqueness of man, the specificity of the human person, which distinguishes it from any other living being, including the openness of man to the supernatural, that is, to God. This openness to the transcendent, to that which goes beyond the limits of the person himself, is his integral component and testifies to the boundless value of each person.

“I entrust your work to God,” Pope Francis concludes his video message, “and I wish you all tireless enthusiasm, I would even say, amazement in front of a person whom we can never fully comprehend, as St. Augustine reminds us in words, inspired by the Bible and always relevant: “The Great Abyss is the man himself” (Confession IV, 14, 22) “.

Pope Francis’ video message

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