Article 39 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series


Paragraphs 369-379

Father John G. Hillier


The Hippocratic Oath, taken by medical doctors for centuries, used to affirm the utmost value for human life. The common version of this oath was the so-called Declaration of Geneva adopted in September 1948 by the General Assembly of the World Medical Organization which included the line: “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of its conception, even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.” The amended version of the Oath currently used is significantly altered. It reads: “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life.” No longer are doctors obligated to affirm the sanctity and dignity of all human life. In word and action, doctors may deem certain human beings as meaningless or without value. This is certainly the case of those doctors who perform abortions.


The dignity afforded human life in the 1948 “common version” of the Hippocratic Oath reflects the dignity given humanity in the biblical account from the Book of Genesis made in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27). The Catechism says it this way: “man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator. Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity ‘in the image of God’. In their ‘being-man’ and ‘being-woman’, they reflect the Creator’s wisdom goodness … a reality which is good and willed by God” (ccc 369).


The Catechism reminds us that, contrary to our inclination to project our agenda or even our image on how God ought to be, the truth is that “in no way is God in our image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit” (ccc 370). Still, there are certain “perfections” of man and woman that we might discern as reflecting “the infinite perfection of God (in the lives, for example), of a mother and … of a father and husband” (ccc 370).


Then the narrative shifts to the theme of God creating “man and woman together and will(ing) each for the other” (ccc 371). God speaks through the Book of Genesis as follows: “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.”(Genesis 2:18). Then, after placing the man into a deep sleep and fashioning one of his ribs into a pleasing mate, the man observes: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). The Church interprets this passage as meaning that “they are equal as persons” (ccc 372). In the words of the Catechism, “man and woman were made for each other … complementary as masculine and feminine” (ccc 372).


In the same paragraph the Catechism introduces marriage for the first time and links the creation of the first man and woman to the truth that “in marriage God unites them in such a way that, by forming ‘one flesh’, they can transmit human life” (ccc 372). The Catechism continues with a quote from the Second Vatican Council: “By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents cooperate in a unique way in the Creator’s work” (Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 50 § 1).


Next, good stewardship is introduced as part of the vocation of our first parents as a way to “share in [God's] providence … hence their responsibility for the world God has entrusted to them.” (ccc 373). This “friendship with their Creator … harmony with themselves and with the creation around them … would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ” (ccc 374).


The Church also explains that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original state of holiness and justice. Having this grace of original holiness, meant that they were “to share in … divine life” (ccc 375). In fact, as long as our first parents and their descendants remained in the divine intimacy, they “would not have to suffer or die” (ccc 376). This state of harmony between our first parents and the rest of God’s creation “comprised the state called ‘original justice’” (ccc 376). Unfortunately, this entire harmony of original justice, foreseen for humanity in God’s plan, “will be lost by the sin of our first parents” (ccc 379).


Why did this happen? Because, although the “mastery” over the world that God offered humanity from the beginning was [to be] realized “above all within man himself: mastery of self,” (ccc 377), the first humans succumbed to the lie of the world that the fallen one (Satan) offered them and lost God’s friendship.


Later, in his first New Testament letter, Saint John cautions us against this tendency of our first parents: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:15-16).