Gleanings – What is Man?

Anthony Esolen reflects on the significance of Catholics dropping the word “man” from the Ash Wednesday service:

A little consideration shows that there is no substitute in English for man. None of the alternatives do the necessary work. Human being is singular and somewhat personal, but it is not a universal term; we do not conceive of the fall of human being. Humanity is abstract and impersonal, and names a quality rather than a being. People is plural, and not necessarily universal; I am not people, and the sin of people might mean the sin of John and Mary and Agnes and Bill, but not the sin of all people considered as one. Mankind is a universal, but not personal. The priest could never say, “Remember, mankind, that thou art dust,” because he would then seem to be speaking not to the penitent, but to a vast generality. Men and women is not universal—it excludes children!—and introduces an irrelevant distinction of sex. Person is singular but not universal, and is in any case not limited to man; angels, too, have personal being, as do the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

…why should we not have a word that corresponds to our mysterious sense that each one of us carries the burden of all, and that the good of all is oriented towards the good of each?

-Anthony Esolen

Read the whole article in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Touchstone

7 thoughts on “Gleanings – What is Man?

  1. Every day under the sun there seems to be more and more distractions from our focus on Our Lord Jesus Christ. I truly don’t mind that only the men where counted standing and listening to Ezra read The Law for hours. I’m just so thrilled it’s documented that they “wept” and were repentant.

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  2. I hear it so clearly as “man.” Hear, O man, thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return.” I know I am thus marked and in that call hear too of a beyond the leaving of the-dust-we-are.

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  3. I found your blog through Brenda of It’s a Beautiful Life, and have been scrolling through some of your posts. I’ll definitely be back. Looks like some good reading here.
    And yes, I find all the controversy over the use of “man” silly and irritating.

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