et alteri incommunicabilis. So sayeth Roman law.
One might translate this as: "Persons belong to themselves & cannot share themselves with another."
Why does this matter? Mostly because my Philosophy of the Human Person mid-term is on Monday & I better know this stuff!
My Franciscan U. professor, Dr. Crosby, opens the course by to appealing to common moral intuitions that most of us have, such as that it is wrong always & everywhere to frame the innocent even for some societal good, it is wrong to own another human being as property, it is wrong to breed human beings as one breeds animals.
We are called to consider, What, then, is revealed about human persons if these things are universally wrong?
He concludes the introduction to his book by formulating these statements about what human persons are:
A person belongs to himself & not to any other.
A person is an end in himself & never an instrumental means.
A person is a whole of his own & never a mere part of something.
A person is uniquely (incommunicably) his own & never a mere specimen.
I wrote about it a few posts ago, but I'd like to know what you, the man on the virtual street, think about these things. How do they ring in your ears? How do they hold true or not in your experience? Can you point to concrete examples of these things going right or wrong in our society or world today?
Friday, June 4, 2010
While in China in May, I told my hostess that I would very much like to worship at a Catholic Church in Hangzhou on Sunday. Note well that most non-Westerners do not know that there are divisions within Christianity; they understand it to all be basically the same. She said there was a famous church in town & she would arrange for one of the engineers to take me.
Intrigued, I did a little research. The Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was the result of the conversion of a Chinese nobleman in the early 1600's by priest & scholar Matteo Ricci & his Jesuit brothers. Fr. Ricci was truly one of the great minds of his day. He was also passionate about using his knowledge as a vehicle for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ & also passionate - with that glorious, early Jesuit zeal - for the conversion of the peoples of Asia. He learned to speak, read, & write Chinese. He shared his great knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, cartography, & other natural sciences with the learned men of the Chinese courts. In the mode of St. Paul speaking in the Areopagus of Athens, he explained the Christian faith to his hearers using an approach & language they could grasp. He was, however, accused of going a bit too far & had to answer to charges of syncretism. Still, he won the favor of many & gained many conversions.
One of those conversions in the courts of Peking was a nobleman who was later granted land in the lake districts of Hangzhou. It was this man who commissioned the construction of the cathedral, which was completed in 1661. The church has undergone many additions & renovations since its inception. The Communists ended Catholic worship there & turned it into a kind of living quarters for families. Later it was used as a prison. When attitudes in China began to change in the 1980's, the cathedral was restored & the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was again offered, albeit I imagine under the auspices of the State Church. Most sites state that it is the only operating Catholic church withing the city of Hangzhou proper. One website listed an English-language Mass on Saturday evening & one Chinese-language Mass on Sunday. Too bad the Mass that Fr. Ricci himself celebrated was not available here. In any case, I couldn't wait to discover this treasure in the heart of the city for myself!
When Sunday rolled around, I met my friend Mao Zhou & we grabbed a cab. He was eager to show off his Bible - apparently new - which I took & thumbed through. It was a Chinese-English New King James Bible. I didn't want to be ungracious, but my first thought was, "Nice! Where's the rest of it?" - a non-too-charitable reference to the 7 books missing from the Protestant canon. But I quickly remembered that Bibles can be hard to come by in China, &, again, most folks there probably don't know the difference. I didn't have my Bible with me, but I did show him my Magnificat prayer book/missal, explaining that this little books contained all the readings & prayers for Mass. He smiled & nodded in a way that told me he had no idea what I was talking about, but didn't want to offend me by looking puzzled.
Well, imagine my surprise when the taxi rolled up to a massive structure in the contemporary style that I was pretty sure wasn't built by Jesuits in the 1600's (though maybe today;) We had arrived at the biggest Evangelical Mega-church in Hangzhou! I was totally crest-fallen, but I tried to be open even to this unforeseen happening. So I sat or stood through an hour & a half of singing American-style praise music followed by a 45-minute Scripture lesson/sermon, all in Chinese, naturally. With a couple of thousand people there singing, swaying, clapping, reading, listening, crying, laughing, I might summarize the Evangelical experience as: pull on every heart-string available. While the worship of God certainly is an emotinal experience, to target only this raw nerve of our human nature & not to tend to the mind & soul seemed odd. But I had experienced this many times over whilst attending various Protestant churches with friends. What was odd was how familiar it was, not Asian at all, but something that could have been picked up from anywhere in the Southern U.S. & dropped down in China. Odd & odder.
Now, my friend Li Mao was meeting a friend, to whom he introduced me when she arrived. Her name was something like Xian Tian, & she was very kind. When the preacher asked us to greet those around us, she turned to me with a big smile & said, "God loves you, & I love you, too!" I hardly knew what to say; I think I said, "Thank you." During the service, she would periodically feed me a little summary of what was being said. It sounded like 1st grade catechism to me, but sometimes we need that. Mostly, I looked through her Chinese-English Bible, looking up the verses to which the congregation was directed on the big screens on either side of the "stage," curious to know how they were going to be connected. I can't remember them all, but there was a reading from Romans 5 & maybe Psalm 33. She, & most others, were furiuosly taking notes during the sermon, which she shared with me after the service. There were about 10 points in all, but I think the main ones were something like: 1) God is the first priority in all things, 2) he loves us, so we should love him & each other, & 3) find joy in God, not in things; be content with what you are given. All fair & true enough.
Interestingly, after the service, as we were taking the obligatory group photos outside the church building - which had some interesting artwork of Jesus in the tomb & of Mary & the women with Peter at the empty tomb - the young lady asked me to give her a Western name, which is common with the younger, English-speaking crowd. I immediately thought "Joy" would be the perfect name. She thanked me & hoped we could meet again next time.
The next morning, I met my work collegue in the hotel lobby & we headed toward the office. She asked how I liked going to church, & I said it was nice, but not exactly what I expected. I tried to very simply & briefly explain that I was a Catholic Christian & really needed to go to the Catholic Church on Sunday. She was a bit confused, then I showed her a printout about the cathedral. She conversed with the driver for a second & he apparently told her that this church was only a block or 2 from our location, so we asked him to drive there. Situated back from the road between some high-rise buildings, it was a glorious sight, though smaller in stature than what I was picturing. We parked & went inside the compound - being the cathedral, there were many other offices & residences surrounding the church.
The door was open, so I stepped inside into a vision of heaven: just the most beautiful little church you could imagine! Vibrant, colorful stainted-glass windows, beautiful Corinthian-capped columns, lovely painted Stations, a marble high altar with a mural rendering of the Trinity filling the sanctuary apse. The most beautiful sight was the glowing red candle by the tabernacle door in the center of the high altar - the presence of Christ himself in this distant land, as if there was a place on earth where God is not. I didn't take too many pictures inside, partially out of reverence, but also because I wasn't sure if photos were allowed. I took a quick tour of the church & said a prayer for the conversion of us all, both those who have not heard of Christ & just as much for those of us who have heard & believed, but so frequently fail to act as if we do.
On the way out, I noticed a beautiful, little spiral staircase by the main doors, leading up to the choir loft, I suppose. I also noticed a stained glass window of Fr. Matteo (on the left in the top photo) & one of his companions by the door. The globe depicting the Orient is a reference to Matteo's production of one of the first accurate & modern maps of China. Please, Lord, grant me just a tiny fraction of this man's understanding, faith, & zeal! On the bookcase by the door, I noticed a booklet of Latin prayers & hymns. I was moved to sing as well as I could remember the Sanctus from the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Mass IX?), & then we left to go to work.
When we arrived at the office, my host asked me how was church. I said it was very interesting, but that I had really hoped to go the cathedral because I was Catholic.
She replied, "Oh, that's the complicated kind!"
I've been thinking about that ever since...