The whole modernist deviation from the Catholic Magisterium is rooted in the misunderstanding of what the Original Sin and its consequences really are.
If human dignity is something that is proper to the definition of human nature itself, it means that one has to look at what is intrinsically specific to humanity which is not found in other creatures.
Hence, starting from a materialistic point of view or reasoning by induction starting from the observation of the other creatures in the universe, and this whatever the intellectual construct is actually used, it will be intrinsically impossible to show that human dignity is proper to human nature, simply because atoms and quarks are creatures and do not possess any intrinsic dignity as such.
Human dignity can only be founded in the origin itself of humans’ creation: the fact that they are created in the image of God. Nothing else can be used to define that intrinsic dignity: what we know are definitions of epiphenomenal dignities, social constructs, positive law’s constructs, which are extrinsic to any single human individual as such.
If human dignity is intrinisc to each human, no social construct, nor intellectual build-up will ever establish the human dignity of any particular human individual but his demonstrated human filiation: in the end, what makes a single person dignified is simply to be “derived” from humans as only her filiation from humans is what guarantees dignity to this specific human.
Incidentally, sometimes we do refer to the Turing experiment to be able to distinguish a human from an artificial intelligence wondering when it will not be possible to distinguish the latter from a human: the answer we can give is that we will not be able to distinguish an AI from a real human being only the day that this artificial intelligence will be able to answer to the question of its filiation giving the names (and the genes) of its human father and mother…. which is an oxymoron. As a lemma, we can also conclude that never an AI will have intrinsic dignity.
The major danger our society is facing now with the extended use of artificial means of reproduction, separating fatherhood and motherhood, subcontracting them to third parties, or laboratory-produced cells of any kind, is that we lose these notions of filiation and, hence, we lose the notion of intrinsic dignity for the individual beings from now on produced and not anymore given birth or filiated. These beings become obvious material for future slaveries of any kind.
Dignity is not a virtue: it is what characterizes the proper nature of humanity, being created in the image of God.
No action can increase or decrease the dignity of a human being: there is no “cursus honorum” for the first, nor path of shame for the latter. No virtue to increase dignity nor vice to decrease it.
One can put a man on a throne, but he will not be more dignified than another who is tortured or killed. A human in Paradise has no more dignity than a human in Hell.
Hence, the ethical reflection cannot be rooted in increasing or decreasing dignity, but only in the appraisal that this dignity deserves: how much she is honored or to what extent one does commit a crime of lese-majesty (or “lese-dignity”, we should, maybe, say from now on).
If we want to start an ethical reflection about human dignity, the first virtue concerned is justice: because only the exercise of justice gives everyone their due, in that case honoring the dignity of a specific human, and this because it is praising the God Who created him at His image.
One has to love God above anything else, i.e. one has to give to God what He deserves, Honor, Praise, and Glory. One has to love the others like oneself. i.e. one has to honor, praise, and glorify the dignity of the fellow humans like one has to honor, praise, and glorify his own proper dignity.
Developing virtues, with this in mind, means struggle to be at the level of one’s own dignity, not because this will increase his dignity, but because this is what one owes to God for having created him dignified with His likeness.
Treating oneself or other humans in a non-dignified fashion does not decrease their dignity, but is a crime of “lese-dignity”, which immediately becomes blasphemous in its nature. Certainly, my position here is much closer to the one of John O’Callaghan than MacIntyre’s for a simple reason: it fits to what the Authentic Magisterium teaches about the theocentric root of human dignity, something which was not so explicit at the Aquinas’s time. Nonetheless, our reasoning stays perfectly Thomistic, though with a different conclusion, as this premise has been fully clarified by the Church only lately.
The consequence of it is that the death penalty does not diminish the dignity of the condemned, nor the “second” death penalty which can be inflicted by the particular or universal judgment imparted by the Christ, Supreme Judge in our due time.
As John O’Callaghan pointed out, what is really interesting here is the notion of “failing to live up” one’s own dignity or of a third party one: when we do not live up to our dignity, we commit blasphemy and we do contravene the first and second commandments because what happens, is not that we lose any dignity but “only” that we do not match her. Here the notion of Shame takes over, a notion which does participate to the greater of all sins as it is a very vivid manifestation of sin against the Holy Spirit.
The “Shame” expresses the deep disapproval of one’s own acts, the measure of the gap between what one would like to be in one’s own eyes and in the eyes of others and what one is objective: the final result is that one tries to hide from the divinity, Whose purity is perceived as an underlining of one’s incapacity to live up his own dignity.
For this reason, to feel shame is in itself and per se a sin and an aggravated form of the sin of pride that, far from being an extenuating circumstance, becomes an aggravating one that, objectively, places infinite distance between the creature and his God.
If one does not live up to his own dignity exercising the virtue of justice, he finds himself in a shameful situation.
The only way to restore justice is to act with justice: as justice is in its deepest root a social virtue, this restoration can also be exercised by the society, the community, the family, the Church.
Hence, having this in mind, it follows that the death penalty, or any kind of penalty, a human society inflicts according to justice, but only on this condition, cancels and/or counterbalances the shameful situation of those who did not live up to their human dignity. Any social punishment imposed by a need for virtuous justice is therefore always purgative and reinstates fully the criminal as a dignified person.
The “compelle intrare“, the call for proselytism taught and ordered by Christ Himself is precisely also that: people who do not recognize Jesus, as the Christ Who came to save us, live in the shadow of the shame of the Original Sin: baptizing them obliterates this shame and renovates the original human dignity.
The case of slavery is interesting also: the slave does not lose his dignity because of being a slave, and, by the way, many slaves became Christians; it is the slaver who does not live up to the dignity of the slave, who is lacking justice and covers himself of shamefulness.
Hence I would totally disagree with Alistair’s sentence “Our dignity thus derives not from what we are actually, but what we are potentially, i.e. knowers and lovers of God.” and would, instead replace it with the following, in my humble opinion, much closer to what Authentic Magisterium teaches and to a Thomistic “forma mentis“: “Our dignity is rooted in our ontological likeness to God, but our incapacity, to live up to it, is due to our lack of virtue of justice at the personal and societal level, which leads us to live in shame“
Once these points are clarified in the abstract, the next question concerns the notion of human nature tainted by the original sin: if what demonstrates that a being has the intrinsic dignity of a human is its direct filiation from other humans, at the same time with the original sin this God’s likeness which founds that same dignity opacifies that same likeliness.
As a Catholic, I would definitely and firmly reject any notion itself of flawed nature and restrict this expression to just a poetical license.
Indeed, the human nature inasmuch it is defined by her likeliness with her Creator cannot be flawed: if this would be the case, the Incarnation, which is the hypostatical union of both the human nature and the divine one, could not be possible, per definition.
The Church has always taught that Original Sin is a personal sin committed by two individuals, our progenitors Adam and Eve: it does not affect human nature as such, it affects these two individuals only and the specific people they generated among which we must count ourselves.
Let us have a look at what Aquinas shares with us in his ST, Ia IIa pars, Q81, art 1 and in particular let us reflecting on this sentence and the following: “omnes homines qui nascuntur ex Adam, possum considerari ut unus homo, inquantum conveniunt in natura, quam a primo parente accipiunt; secundum quod in civilibus omnes qui sunt unius communitatis, reputantur quasi unum corpus, et tota communitas quasi unus homo.“
According to Aquinas, it is, hence, part of the definition of human nature that all humans are like the proper members of their race’s fathers: the act of will which is committed by Adam, and which is accidental to the human nature as such, is hence also committed by each and every human who descends from him.
Same causes generating same consequences, the accidental possibility of refusing God’s love which is part of the definition of human nature, the foundation of his freedom and grounded in his dignity of being created in God’s likeliness, is enacted in Adam and in all his descendent.
Once again, the terminology “corrupt nature” is only a poetical license to express actually the enactment of a possible accident, which possibility is totally part of the same human nature and of his dignity.
It is paramount at this point to underline that even the totality of given beings sharing a common nature, but all having the same accident, does not make that accident part of that common nature as such: what it shows is simply that the potentiality to enact this accident is part of the shared nature. This is typical of the original sin: it is part of human nature the possibility to enact this sin, and actually, it is enacted by Adam and all his descendants, but it is not part of human nature as such.
That the Original Sin is NOT connatural to human nature but is assumed “only” by specific humans from Adam’s and Eve lineage is demonstrated by the existence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, immaculately conceived, and of Her Son Jesus, the Christ, true Man and true God.
Remembering that allows us to better recall that the Sacrifice of our Savior on the Holy Cross and His further Resurrection has redeemed humanity in the singular Person herself of the Christ and not in all single human persons descending from Adam and Eve.
This allows us to correctly understand why Death and Sin have been won by our Savior though we still die and sin. It is paramount to understand that, if we want to avoid the erroneous modernist gibberish about having all humanity, intended as the sum of all particular human beings, being already saved and ready for God’s Face contemplation. The Incarnation does not change human nature: actually, it defines the Hypostasis of Christ Himself as such and refers only to His Person.
When we say that Christ has forever won the death and sin, it just means that: He, and only He, has won the death and the sin thanks to His Perfect Sacrifice.
Human nature, as such, still stays corrupted by the original sin as it was before, and there is no changes whatsoever: we do continue to die individually, as that victory over the death is not ours by any means, but only His.
The Incarnation has not granted any new “rights” or any changes in their nature’s quality to humans: it is the sole realm of God’s gratuity, i.e. He does not owe us anything either, nor do we have any newly acquired “right” to be saved by the simple fact to be humans, and everything is still, and always, at the free and gratuitous discretion of the Lord.
Thinking otherwise leads to more problems than it solves like modernist positions do.