THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

What is “The Gift of Self”?

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the concept of personalism from an Aristotelian-Thomist perspective is based on the sovereignty of the human person under God.  It includes five key characteristics:


·      Binary Character.  All persons are distinct from things.

·      Human Dignity.  All persons have rights by nature and are individually sovereign under the highest sovereignty of God.

·      Determinable Instead of Determinate Nature.  All persons have determinable characteristics; all things have determinate characteristics.

·      Self-Determination.  All persons have free will.

·      Political Animals.  All persons associate by nature within a consciously structured social order, being both individuals and members of society.

"Paradox? Let's see by hearing."


These were examined in the previous posting, but we were still left with some questions, especially as some of them seemed to be in conflict with others, particularly the idea that human persons are “political animals,” that is, both individuals and members of society.

Putting it another way, taking into consideration the characteristics of Thomist personalist thought, there is a paradox.  Human persons belong to themselves as independent and sovereign beings under the highest sovereignty of God in a way that things cannot.

At the same time, individual sovereignty and man’s political nature necessarily imply that each human person has the same dignity and status as all other persons.  This allows for a giving of one’s self to all other persons in society, which could not happen if each person did not possess himself as a sovereign being in the first place.

Karol Wojtyła (John Paul II)


Consequently, while all persons have rights absolutely, no one may exercise rights without limits, for that would infringe on the sovereignty of everyone else.  As Karol Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II) made clear, there must be a give-and-take in social life if people are to develop more fully as persons.  This would not be possible if human beings were isolated individuals or indistinguishable members of the collective.

Consequently, persons as political animals become most truly themselves by participating in the life of the community in a manner that benefits both themselves as persons and the common good as a thing, and thus other persons within the common good.  By producing or creating moral acts, and even marketable goods and services, we realize our true nature as rational beings and persons. (Wojtyła, “Thomistic Personalism,” Person and Community, op. cit., 171.) As Wojtyła explained,

In creating, we also fill the external material world around us with our own thought and being.  There is a certain similarity here between ourselves and God, for the whole of creation is an expression of God’s own thought and being. (Ibid., 171-172.)

"Me again. The Madernists are Mod. I mean..."


Specifically, in personalist and economic terms (as opposed to mystical and religious) this “gift of self” is conveyed in two ways, one individual, and one social.  This understanding is inherent in Wojtyła’s concept of person and gift, which he was responsible for inserting into Gaudium et Spes, one of the key documents of the Second Vatican Council.  (George Weigel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, 1920-2005.  New York: Harper Perennial, 2005, 166-169.)  It can only be understood within the framework of his Thomistic personalism.

As Wojtyła stressed in all his lectures and essays on the subject, personality is based on the Thomist idea of natural law.  This means that every human being is a person, and every person has the natural rights to life, liberty, and private property.

Thomistic personalism relies on persons exercising natural rights in a way that combines reason and action into an integrated, single “act.”  This integration of intellect and will is a key element in becoming more fully human, that is, virtuous, what Wojtyła called “the acting person.”

What the experts look like when they find it has nothing to do with theater.


Such “acting” by human beings — the exercise of rights, especially life, liberty, and private property — is irrefutable evidence of the human person as a moral being.  As Wojtyła said in his book, The Acting Person,

The title itself of this book, The Acting Person, shows it is not a discourse on action in which the person is presupposed.  We have followed a different line of experience and understanding.  For us action reveals the person, and we look at the person through his action.  For it lies in the nature of the correlation inherent in experience, in the very nature of man’s acting, that action constitutes the specific moment whereby the person is revealed.  Action gives us the best insight into the inherent essence of the person and allows us to understand the person most fully.  We experience man as a person, and we are convinced of it because he performs actions. (Karol Wojtyła, The Acting Person.  Boston, Massachusetts: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979, 11.)

Sorry to disappoint you, but "gift of self" ≠ "Christian socialism"


In other words, we know that someone (or something!) is a person when he exercises rights because persons exercise rights.  Anything that denies rights or renders rights ineffective is a denial of personality, and therefore of humanity.  Anything that proposes or promotes the further erosion or even outright abolition of natural rights of life, liberty, and private property for a single human being without just cause and due process is anti-personalist and therefore anti-human.

Every person must first belong to himself before he can grow in virtue, thereby giving himself to God, then to others, which can only be by free choice.  Each must determine, possess, and govern himself within the context of the natural law. (Wojtyła, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination,” Person and Community, op. cit., 192-183.)

Crudely put, but . . . yeah.


Wojtyła’s analysis does not leave any room for reinterpreting the gift of self as abolishing private property and establishing an “economy of gift” to replace natural rights and the free market. (Ibid., 187-195.) There is, in fact, no greater denial of someone as a person than to deprive him of the exercise of his natural rights, be it murder that deprives him of life, false accusations that deprive him of liberty, or taking what he created with his own labor or capital on the grounds that it does not really belong to him. (Laborem Exercens, §§ 5-10, 14-17, 20-21, 25-26; Centesimus Annus, §§ 4-8, 11, 13, 15, 19, 24, 29-33, 36, 41-43, 48.)

As is clear from Centesimus Annus, Wojtyła’s gift of self presupposes the traditional understanding of private property without the distortions of the new things of socialism and modernism. (Centesimus Annus, §§ 13, 19, 24, 29-31, 34, 39, 41-43, 48.) Given that, understanding the gift of self must consider man’s political nature that Wojtyła stressed, that is, our individual and social nature in union, not in conflict. (Wojtyła, “Thomistic Personalism,” Person and Community, op. cit., 173-174.)

"I never said half the things I said, either."


Individually, then, the gift of self consists of acting virtuously, doing good by and for one’s self and specific others directly, but always with a concern for the common good, and thus for others in general.  This means at least doing no harm to others or to the common good, and at most helping to create a culture of virtue by example within the common good.

Socially, the gift of self consists of organizing with others and acting directly on the institutions of the common good to reform them to create structures of virtue. (CESJ calls this “social justice tithing.”) The goal is to provide an environment suitable for the creation of a culture of virtue.

Thus, the gift of self consists, one, of acts of individual virtue that benefit the person directly.  This allows each person to become more fully himself and benefits the common good indirectly, giving to others by setting a good example.

Two, the gift of self consists of acts of social virtue that benefit the common good directly.  Acts of social virtue allow persons as members of organized groups to become more fully members of society.  This benefits individuals indirectly by providing a suitable environment for human persons to become individually virtuous.

Of course, this appears to beg the question as to where the power to act comes from, buyt that is what we will cover in the next posting on this subject.