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Splendor of Truth, The (United States Catholic Conference Publication)
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2006
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In my opinion Veritatis Splendor is the finest of Pope John Paul's encyclicals. It is the best in terms of theological content as well as its ability to enrich one spiritually. This document addresses head on many of the abuses found in today's Catholic universities and seminaries; abuses ranging from a failure to recognize the Magisterium of Christ's Church to the preponderance of such philosophical schools as proportionalism, relativism, and pragmatism which tend to deny the existence of absolute norms and therefore lead to eventually to lawlessness.

It is the law that the Holy Father sets forth as the means of fulfilling the Christian faith. The natural law is the expression of the Divine Law within creation and can be known by men through right reason. The law, unable to be fulfilled by man without God's grace, is now capable of being fulfilled through the power of the Holy Spirit unleashed through the Gospel and made available to us through the sacraments. The Holy Father eloquently expresses how it is through living out the law, even in extremely difficult circumstances that the Christian manifests Christ's presence and power in the world today and proclaims His Kingdom most effectively.

Finally, the Holy Father firmly confirms the Church's constant teaching that there exist negative moral norms that can never be broken even with the intention of attaining some contingent good. For example, one may never rob in order to feed the poor. Yet Christ's mercy is ever present to forgive and strengthen anew those who fail to live the law and turn to Him for help.

Reading this encyclical made me want to live the law, to seek virtue, to know the power of Christ at work in me. Besides being an excellent work of moral theology and Magisterial teaching, it is above all in my estimation an uplifting spiritual treatise.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
Pope John Paul is a brillian writer who brings us an excellent summary of truth as it has been discerned over the last 2000 years of Christianity. This book is true to Scripture, the tradition of the early Church Fathers and Catholic Doctrine. It speaks strongly against modern tendencies to deny the concept of absolute truth found in moral relativism. This is a must reading for all who are seeking the truth revealed to us by Christianity.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
The combination of the 'Catechism' and The Spendor of Truth are, perhaps, the most necessary tools for any and all Catholic thinkers/scholars; as well as anyone interested in discovering the authentic teachings of the Church - minus the broad-stroked misinformation of the mass media.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2009
Format: Paperback
A few magnificent excerpts from Veritatis Splendor (1993):

In his magnificent encyclical on moral theology, Pope John Paul II reminded us that we are "Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ...and are made holy by `obedience to the truth' (1 Pet 1:22)." JP II certainly acknowledged that "This obedience is not always easy. As a result of that mysterious original sin,...man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thes 1:9)....Man's capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism (cf. Jn 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself. But no darkness of error or of sin can totally take away from man the light of God the Creator. In the depths of his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it."

In Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II restated the Church's moral doctrine, while critiquing certain errors which have been put forth. As per its Introduction, "It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine....the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church's moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; & the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to `exhort consciences' and to `propose values', in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices....an opinion is frequently heard which questions the intrinsic and unbreakable bond between faith and morality....The specific purpose of the present Encyclical is this: to set forth, with regard to the problems being discussed, the principles of a moral teaching based upon Sacred Scripture and the living Apostolic Tradition, and at the same time to shed light on the presuppositions and consequences of the dissent which that teaching has met."

Chapter 1 reflected on Jesus' dialogue with the rich young man of Matthew 19. The question about the requirements for eternal life "is not so much about rules to be followed, but about the full meaning of life." Each of us is called to holiness; "the Second Vatican Council called for a renewal of moral theology, so that its teaching would display the lofty vocation which the faithful have received in Christ."

Rather than do away with the Law, Christ gave us the means to fulfill it. In addition, the teaching office of His Church helps us understand the Law: "To imitate and live out the love of Christ is not possible for man by his own strength alone....the New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given through faith in Christ....the New Law is not content to say what must be done, but also gives the power to `do what is true' (cf. Jn 3:21)....The moral prescriptions which God imparted in the Old Covenant, and which attained their perfection in the New and Eternal Covenant in the very person of the Son of God made man, must be faithfully kept and continually put into practice in the various different cultures throughout the course of history. The task of interpreting these prescriptions was entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles and to their successors, with the special assistance of the Spirit of truth....since Apostolic times the Church's Pastors have unambiguously condemned the behaviour of those who fostered division by their teaching or by their actions....Precisely on the questions frequently debated in moral theology today and with regard to which new tendencies and theories have developed, the Magisterium, in fidelity to Jesus Christ and in continuity with the Church's tradition, senses more urgently the duty to offer its own discernment and teaching, in order to help man in his journey towards truth and freedom."

Veritatis Splendor applauded those theologians who faithfully responded to Vatican II's call for a renewal of moral theology, while aware that there had also "developed certain interpretations of Christian morality which are not consistent with `sound teaching' (2 Tim 4:3)". JP II reasserted the Magisterium's "duty to state that some trends of theological thinking and certain philosophical affirmations are incompatible with revealed truth....accepting and living out the admonition addressed by the Apostle Paul to Timothy: `I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time will come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry' (2 Tim 4:1-5; cf. Tit 1:10, 13-14)".

Veritatis Splendor warned that "Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values". Warning that the Church's constant teaching on marriage, family, and sexuality was under siege, JP II noted the erroneous, dualistic nature of the attack: "This moral theory does not correspond to the truth about man and his freedom....the body, which has been promised the resurrection, will also share in glory.... A doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition. Such a doctrine revives, in new forms, certain ancient errors which have always been opposed by the Church, inasmuch as they reduce the human person to a `spiritual' and purely formal freedom.... body and soul are inseparable: in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, they stand or fall together....The natural moral law expresses and lays down the purposes, rights and duties which are based upon the bodily and spiritual nature of the human person. Therefore this law cannot be thought of as simply a set of norms on the biological level; rather it must be defined as the rational order whereby man is called by the Creator to direct and regulate his life and actions and in particular to make use of his own body". JP II reassured us of "the immutability of the natural law" and "the existence of `objective norms of morality' valid for all people of the present and the future, as for those of the past."

JP II recalled Vatican II, to clarify the natural law & the role of conscience: "`In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience....For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Rom 2:14-16)'.... The judgment of conscience is a practical judgment, a judgment which makes known what man must do or not do, or which assesses an act already performed by him. It is a judgment which applies to a concrete situation the rational conviction that one must love and do good and avoid evil. This first principle of practical reason is part of the natural law; indeed it constitutes the very foundation of the natural law, inasmuch as it expresses that primordial insight about good and evil, that reflection of God's creative wisdom which, like an imperishable spark (scintilla animae), shines in the heart of every man".

Yet, conscience can be in error! "Conscience is not an infallible judge; it can make mistakes. However, error of conscience can be the result of an invincible ignorance, an ignorance of which the subject is not aware and which he is unable to overcome by himself.... It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good....There are faults which we fail to see but which nevertheless remain faults, because we have refused to walk towards the light (cf. Jn 9:39-41)".

Recalling Vatican II, JP II reminded us that we MUST properly form our consciences: "As the Council affirms: `In forming their consciences the Christian faithful must give careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. Her charge is to announce and teach authentically that truth which is Christ, and at the same time with her authority to declare and confirm the principles of the moral order which derive from human nature itself'. It follows that the authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians....The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience, helping it to avoid being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine proposed by human deceit (cf. Eph 4:14), and helping it not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it."

There is no "fundamental option", which somehow set us on a course and dismisses the import of subsequent actions. As per JP II, "the morality of human acts is not deduced only from one's intention, orientation or fundamental option, understood as an intention devoid of a clearly determined binding content or as an intention with no corresponding positive effort to fulfil the different obligations of the moral life....According to the [inaccurate] logic..., an individual could, by virtue of a fundamental option, remain faithful to God independently of whether or not certain of his choices and his acts are in conformity with specific moral norms or rules....man does not suffer perdition only by being unfaithful to that fundamental option whereby he has made `a free self-commitment to God'. With every freely committed mortal sin, he offends God as the giver of the law and as a result becomes guilty with regard to the entire law (cf. Jas 2:8-11); even if he perseveres in faith, he loses `sanctifying grace', `charity' and `eternal happiness'.... The separation of fundamental option from deliberate choices of particular kinds of behaviour, disordered in themselves or in their circumstances, which would not engage that option, thus involves a denial of Catholic doctrine on mortal sin"....The first question in the young man's conversation with Jesus: `What good must I do to have eternal life?' (Mt 19:6) immediately brings out the essential connection between the moral value of an act and man's final end...The rational ordering of the human act to the good in its truth and the voluntary pursuit of that good, known by reason, constitute morality....the moral life has an essential `teleological' character, since it consists in the deliberate ordering of human acts to God, the supreme good and ultimate end (telos) of man....this ordering to one's ultimate end is not something subjective, dependent solely upon one's intention. It presupposes that such acts are in themselves capable of being ordered to this end, insofar as they are in conformity with the authentic moral good of man, safeguarded by the commandments....such an ordering must be rational and free, conscious and deliberate, by virtue of which man is `responsible' for his actions and subject to the judgment of God".

JP II rhetorically asked whether it was our intention, circumstances, or the object of our actions which primarily determined the morality of our actions. "The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the `object' rationally chosen by the deliberate will....as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, `there are certain specific kinds of behaviour that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil'....circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act `subjectively' good or defensible as a choice....Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, we must not be content merely to warn the faithful about the errors and dangers of certain ethical theories. We must first of all show the inviting splendour of that truth which is Jesus Christ himself". In spite of rationalizations, certain actions are always and everywhere wrong.

As per JP II, "Christ reveals, first and foremost, that the frank and open acceptance of truth is the condition for authentic freedom....This is truth which sets one free in the face of worldly power and which gives the strength to endure martyrdom....Contemplation of Jesus Crucified is thus the highroad which the Church must tread every day if she wishes to understand the full meaning of freedom: the gift of self in service to God and one's brethren ....The attempt to set freedom in opposition to truth, and indeed to separate them radically, is the consequence, manifestation and consummation of another more serious and destructive dichotomy, that which separates faith from morality....It is urgent then that Christians should rediscover the newness of the faith and its power to judge a prevalent and all-intrusive culture....

"Charity, in conformity with the radical demands of the Gospel, can lead the believer to the supreme witness of martyrdom. Once again this means imitating Jesus who died on the Cross....The unacceptability of `teleological', `consequentialist' and `proportionalist' ethical theories, which deny the existence of negative moral norms regarding specific kinds of behaviour, norms which are valid without exception, is confirmed in a particularly eloquent way by Christian martyrdom, which has always accompanied and continues to accompany the life of the Church even today....By witnessing fully to the good, they [i.e., martyrs] are a living reproof to those who transgress the law (cf. Wis 2:12), and they make the words of the Prophet echo ever afresh: `Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!' (Is 5:20). Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice....

"the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment....genuine understanding and compassion must mean love for the person, for his true good, for his authentic freedom. And this does not result, certainly, from concealing or weakening moral truth, but rather from proposing it in its most profound meaning as an outpouring of God's eternal Wisdom, which we have received in Christ, and as a service to man, to the growth of his freedom and to the attainment of his happiness....in every sphere of personal, family, social and political life, morality -- founded upon truth and open in truth to authentic freedom -- renders a primordial, indispensable and immensely valuable service not only for the individual person and his growth in the good, but also for society and its genuine development....temptations can be overcome, sins can be avoided, because together with the commandments the Lord gives us the possibility of keeping them....if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ's redemptive act, but to man's will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act...."Evangelization -- and therefore the `new evangelization' -- also involves the proclamation and presentation of morality....the new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift not only of the word proclaimed but also of the word lived. In particular, the life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the People of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God's love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord's law, even in the most difficult situations".

JP II discussed the genuine renewal of moral theology: "By its very nature and procedures, authentic theology can flourish and develop only through a committed and responsible participation in and `belonging' to the Church as a `community of faith'....Moral theologians are to set forth the Church's teaching and to give, in the exercise of their ministry, the example of a loyal assent, both internal and external, to the Magisterium's teaching in the areas of both dogma and morality....the fact that some believers act without following the teachings of the Magisterium, or erroneously consider as morally correct a kind of behaviour declared by their Pastors as contrary to the law of God, cannot be a valid argument for rejecting the truth of the moral norms taught by the Church....while the behavioural sciences, like all experimental sciences, develop an empirical and statistical concept of `normality', faith teaches that this normality itself bears the traces of a fall from man's original situation -- in other words, it is affected by sin. Only Christian faith points out to man the way to return to `the beginning' (cf. Mt 19:8), a way which is often quite different from that of empirical normality....It is the Gospel which reveals the full truth about man and his moral journey, and thus enlightens and admonishes sinners; it proclaims to them God's mercy, which is constantly at work to preserve them both from despair at their inability fully to know and keep God's law and from the presumption that they can be saved without merit. God also reminds sinners of the joy of forgiveness....Teaching moral doctrine involves the conscious acceptance of these intellectual, spiritual and pastoral responsibilities. Moral theologians, who have accepted the charge of teaching the Church's doctrine, thus have a grave duty to train the faithful to make this moral discernment, to be committed to the true good and to have confident recourse to God's grace. While exchanges and conflicts of opinion may constitute normal expressions of public life in a representative democracy, moral teaching certainly cannot depend simply upon respect for a process....Dissent, in the form of carefully orchestrated protests and polemics carried on in the media, is opposed to ecclesial communion and to a correct understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the People of God. Opposition to the teaching of the Church's Pastors cannot be seen as a legitimate expression either of Christian freedom or of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts. When this happens, the Church's Pastors have the duty to act in conformity with their apostolic mission, insisting that the right of the faithful to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity must always be respected".

Toward the conclusion, JP II offered this reminder: "It is our common duty, and even before that our common grace, as Pastors and Bishops of the Church, to teach the faithful the things which lead them to God, just as the Lord Jesus did with the young man in the Gospel....this Encyclical has evaluated certain trends in moral theology today. I now pass this evaluation on to you, in obedience to the word of the Lord who entrusted to Peter the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), in order to clarify and aid our common discernment....We have the duty, as Bishops, to be vigilant that the word of God is faithfully taught....A particular responsibility is incumbent upon Bishops with regard to Catholic institutions....It falls to them, in communion with the Holy See, both to grant the title `Catholic' to Church-related schools, universities, health-care facilities and counselling services, and, in cases of a serious failure to live up to that title, to take it away."

As per Veritatis Splendor's conclusion, "let us entrust ourselves, the sufferings and the joys of our life, the moral life of believers and people of good will, and the research of moralists, to Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy....No matter how many and great the obstacles put in his way by human frailty and sin, the Spirit, who renews the face of the earth (cf.Ps 104:30), makes possible the miracle of the perfect accomplishment of the good. This renewal, which gives the ability to do what is good, noble, beautiful, pleasing to God and in conformity with his will, is in some way the flowering of the gift of mercy, which offers liberation from the slavery of evil and gives the strength to sin no more. Through the gift of new life, Jesus makes us sharers in his love and leads us to the Father in the Spirit....By the light of the Holy Spirit, the living essence of Christian morality can be understood by everyone, even the least learned.... It is the task of the Church's Magisterium to see that the dynamic process of following Christ develops in an organic manner, without the falsification or obscuring of its moral demands, with all their consequences. The one who loves Christ keeps his commandments (cf. Jn 14:15)....At the foot of the Cross, when she [i.e., the Blessed Mother] accepts John as her son, when she asks, together with Christ, forgiveness from the Father for those who do not know what they do (cf. Lk 23:34), Mary experiences, in perfect docility to the Spirit, the richness and the universality of God's love, which opens her heart and enables it to embrace the entire human race. Thus Mary becomes Mother of each and every one of us, the Mother who obtains for us divine mercy. Mary is the radiant sign and inviting model of the moral life....Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her Son would thus be emptied of its power. No absolution offered by beguiling doctrines, even in the areas of philosophy and theology, can make man truly happy: only the Cross and the glory of the Risen Christ can grant peace to his conscience and salvation to his life."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"The Splendor of Truth" (Veritatis Splendor) is the tenth encyclical of Pope John Paul II. It is, by many accounts, one of his more important and far-reaching encyclicals. It was written in order to reaffirm the essential and inalienable centrality of the morality as the part of the deposit of faith. Contrary to many current social and theological trends (even in Catholic circles), the faith and morals are not two distinct and separate domains of one's religious commitment; they are intrinsically intertwined, and at they build and reinforce each other. What is true is by its nature good, and all that is good ultimately has its root in the truth.

This reaffirmation has become especially necessary in recent years with the seemingly unchecked rise of moral relativism, which has crept into all spheres of social life. Aside from its internal contradictions, moral relativism is contrary to all of the Church's moral teachings throughout the centuries. It contradicts both the Tradition and the Scriptures, as well as the witness of many brave men and women who have oftentimes gone to a great length, sacrificing sometimes even their lives, to uphold the universal morality that is essential for an establishment of any just social order.

In this encyclical Pope John Paul II draws on many examples from the Bible and from the Church's writing throughout the past two millennia. He reminds us that the moral relativism is indeed the root of all other sins and misfortunes that we are bound with. The desire to refute the existence of the universal moral standards, the decision to "taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil," has always been maintained as the source of humanity's downfall. The Pope manages to bring those ancient insights to the attention of modern audience, and eloquently make them relevant for our own moral struggles and failings.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
"The Splendor of Truth" (Veritatis Splendor) is the tenth encyclical of Pope John Paul II. It is, by many accounts, one of his more important and far-reaching encyclicals. It was written in order to reaffirm the essential and inalienable centrality of the morality as the part of the deposit of faith. Contrary to many current social and theological trends (even in Catholic circles), the faith and morals are not two distinct and separate domains of one's religious commitment; they are intrinsically intertwined, and at they build and reinforce each other. What is true is by its nature good, and all that is good ultimately has its root in the truth.

This reaffirmation has become especially necessary in recent years with the seemingly unchecked rise of moral relativism, which has crept into all spheres of social life. Aside from its internal contradictions, moral relativism is contrary to all of the Church's moral teachings throughout the centuries. It contradicts both the Tradition and the Scriptures, as well as the witness of many brave men and women who have oftentimes gone to a great length, sacrificing sometimes even their lives, to uphold the universal morality that is essential for an establishment of any just social order.

In this encyclical Pope John Paul II draws on many examples from the Bible and from the Church's writing throughout the past two millennia. He reminds us that the moral relativism is indeed the root of all other sins and misfortunes that we are bound with. The desire to refute the existence of the universal moral standards, the decision to "taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil," has always been maintained as the source of humanity's downfall. The Pope manages to bring those ancient insights to the attention of modern audience, and eloquently make them relevant for our own moral struggles and failings.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
"The Splendor of Truth" (Veritatis Splendor) is the tenth encyclical of Pope John Paul II. It is, by many accounts, one of his more important and far-reaching encyclicals. It was written in order to reaffirm the essential and inalienable centrality of the morality as the part of the deposit of faith. Contrary to many current social and theological trends (even in Catholic circles), the faith and morals are not two distinct and separate domains of one's religious commitment; they are intrinsically intertwined, and at they build and reinforce each other. What is true is by its nature good, and all that is good ultimately has its root in the truth.

This reaffirmation has become especially necessary in recent years with the seemingly unchecked rise of moral relativism, which has crept into all spheres of social life. Aside from its internal contradictions, moral relativism is contrary to all of the Church's moral teachings throughout the centuries. It contradicts both the Tradition and the Scriptures, as well as the witness of many brave men and women who have oftentimes gone to a great length, sacrificing sometimes even their lives, to uphold the universal morality that is essential for an establishment of any just social order.

In this encyclical Pope John Paul II draws on many examples from the Bible and from the Church's writing throughout the past two millennia. He reminds us that the moral relativism is indeed the root of all other sins and misfortunes that we are bound with. The desire to refute the existence of the universal moral standards, the decision to "taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil," has always been maintained as the source of humanity's downfall. The Pope manages to bring those ancient insights to the attention of modern audience, and eloquently make them relevant for our own moral struggles and failings.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Pope Paul II writes convincingly that there is such a thing as Truth with a capital 'T'. In our Western society everything is said to be relative - what is "true" depends upon who you are and what the situation is. Not only here is an arguement for natural Truth that is absolute (no matter the person, place or time) but a gentle argument that draws the reader to at least consider such a thing. It is a thin book but what I call a "rich" book; it takes time to think about a page, a paragraph, even a sentence sometimes. But it is surely worth the time and effort to do so.
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on August 6, 2014
Format: Paperback
In this highly complex encyclical, Pope John Paul sets out his moral vision for the good life, as well as correcting what he sees as serious errors in moral theology and the church's life.

Despite the remarks of some other commentators to the contrary, I think it can be said that the focus of John Paul comes down more on the side of Duns Scotus than Aquinas - the way to human fulfilment is ultimately to obey the divine law, rather than following the virtuous life (though he more or less equates the two).

John Paul's letter starts with the Gospel narrative of the rich young man who met Jesus. The young lawyer apparently asks Jesus what is necessary to attain eternal life. The reply is to follow the commandments, and then sell all you give, and follow me (become a disciple). The Gospel records the young man left sadly after hearing this response.

John Paul's long reflection and meditation on the story might be seen as a 'Yes' to the first part of Jesus's answer - the pathway to life is to be found in obeying God's will, in the form of the law God has revealed to humanity. How is this law revealed and interpreted?

The answer, according to the Pope, is of course firstly the Torah revealed in scripture (primarily in the Decalogue), then by Jesus (who is the embodiment of the law and also its fulfilment), and of course the authentic 'interpretation' of the content of the divine law by the authentic magisterium of the church.

This is of course where John Paul's letter becomes controversial. As well as appearing to articulate and defend a divine command theory of ethics, John Paul also attacks what he sees as inauthentic dissent from church teaching in the moral sphere. He seems to particularly criticise Catholic theologians who hold onto proportionalism (some actions can be justified by a proportionate reason), revisionists (those who call for changes to church teachings like the ban on artificial contraception), and also Catholics who disagree with the teachings of the magisterium of the church (the Pope, Bishops and Vatican congregations).

Pope John Paul also seems to imply when writing on the notion of conscience the only authentic conscience (at least Catholic, though clearly he also implies the conscience of any person) will reach a decision on a moral issue that accords exactly with the judgment of the magisterium on the same issue. There is thus no room for 'dissent' or disagreement if one wants to remain in communion with the church. The Pope seems to imply a person who can't agree with the church's teaching, even in matters not directly connected centrally to a dogma, mean that person is either ignorant or acting sinfully out of pride or bad-will.

The Pope acknowledges the teaching on the freedom and autonomy of a person's conscience, claiming the teaching office of the church is in service of conscience and does not force its views on anyone. Unfortunately the Pope also seems to imply the only upright conscience in the sight of God is one that agrees with perfect harmony to all of the church's teachings (even in the case of the non-Catholic conscience).

The Pope's letter also reaffirms a number of classical positions, like the distinction between venial and mortal sins, the absolute and binding character of the commandments on all people at all times, and the intrinsic evil of certain actions, including contraception, abortion, masturbation, and homosexual activity. The Pope's letter seems particularly targeted at revisionist accounts in the sexual and bioethical sphere.

While brilliantly argued and articulated, the Pope's encyclical raises many difficult questions. They cannot be articulated in a review and are well explored elsewhere (i.e. see the series in Catholic Moral Theology, the book by Francis Sullivan on the magisterium and its role, or McBrian's 'Catholicism', or Genovese's 'Catholic Sexual Ethics' for an extensive discussion of the application of these teachings in the sexual sphere). One is the relation between conscience and church authority. While the Pope does not deny the role of conscience, as with many extremely conservative Catholics like Gricez the encyclical implies there is no room for dissent from any church teaching. Yet there are many examples in church history where the magisterium has plainly either got it wrong (i.e. the Galileo case) or has changed (i.e. freedom of religion, religious toleration, slavery, and even freedom of the press). The Pope seems to encourage 'creeping infallibility' where every declaration of the Pope, the Vatican or a bishop has to be taken as absolute, unchangeable truth. This seems to be highly problematic, especially because of the abuses of power it opens up to the holders of such power. What if a bishop declared reporting an instance of sex abuse to be a mortal sin? Such examples could be multiplied, but the terrible abuse of authority by bishops and priests in the church in the sex abuse scandals show the dangers of such an approach to morality. The more nuanced understanding of conscience that allows freedom and dissent (at least where dogma is not concerned) from some teachings for proportionate reasons, as defended by many reputable theologians, seems to me much more credible. If the church is absolutely infallible in all matters (especially concerning the teachings of the Pope), why did John Paul II apologise frequently for things like the Inquisition, the Witch-Crazes, and the Holocaust, and convene a tribunal that exonerated Galileo of any heresy? Surely the church can and does get some matters wrong, including in the moral sphere (charging interest on loans was once a mortal sin condemned even by Aquinas, yet now Catholic bankers do the same without losing any sleep).

The other major issue I see with the encyclical is the focus once again on certain acts as being intrinsically evil, especially in the sexual arena. The encyclical does mention sins of social injustice but these seem to pale in comparison to 'pelvic' issues. Regardless of one's views on sexual ethics, it seems the incredible anxiety about sexual morality is a distraction to far more pressing problems the world has to address, such as economic inequality, religious violence and repression, environmental destruction, overpopulation, and so on. Do homosexual people, those who use contraception or masturbate, or exist in 'live-in' relationships have to be subject to constant fear and bitter attacks from celibate male clerics who judge them from 'on high' without at least meeting them in person and trying to understand them? I have to admit I find Pope Francis's 'Who am I to judge a gay person who exists, and may be seeking God with a sincere heart' a refreshing counter to the cry of 'intrinsic evil', 'disordered inclination' and 'grave perversion condemned in scripture' so often used to condemn homosexual people and also used by ordinary Catholics to justify hysterical homophobia. The other issue is 'intrinsic evil' seems to be one of the main forms of ammunition in the culture wars - it is a favourite tool of many a conservative (and in my observation, wealthy and American) bishop to warn Catholics not to vote for a pro-choice or pro-gay marriage politician, but to vote for (surprise surprise) the 'right' candidate from the Republican party, no matter how dysfunctional the party may be, or how contrary their political views are to church teaching in other areas, such as care for immigrants, the poor, the unemployed, etc. This laughable hypocrisy was demonstrated when many a Catholic Bishop backed Paul Ryan's run for Vice-President because he opposed abortion and gay marriage, yet the charismatic and handsome young Republican is an ardent fan of the libertarian atheistic philosophy of Ayn Rand (who attacks all kinds of altruism and describes people who rely on charity as parasites) and aggressive cut backs to government programs supporting the poor. Why is opposing abortion and gay marriage so much more important than stopping people from starving, getting proper medical care, and a decent job? Pope John Paul could (and in my view should) have made it clear evils like supporting an unjust economic system or repressing the poor by getting into bed with the rich are just as important as any of the church's positions on sexual morality and bioethics, and such views need to be seen as a consistent whole. Too many Catholics still seem to think it is just the sex and bioethics that matters, and the social justice vision of the church (which is a huge 600 page document) is simply a matter of 'prudential judgement' and can be conveniently swept under the carpet in favour of one's own political beliefs or support for a marginal thinker like Ayn Rand and make no difference to one's faith.

The final issue I have with the encyclical is the focus on divine law. Virtue ethics seems to me a more useful and positive way forward. But that is another matter for another time.

Despite the many problems that exist in the encyclical and the application of its viewpoints, it is still a great work of moral theology that deserves careful examination by those interested in Christian ethics and moral theology.
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on April 3, 2009
Format: Paperback
Everyone interested in Catholic ethics should carefully read Pope John Paul II's The Splendor of Truth--Veritatis Splendor (Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, 1993). This is one of several significant encyclicals issued by John Paul II, proving him to be a gifted theologian. In a thoroughly biblical way, he calls God's people to live "the life of holiness" (p. 129).
Toward the end of the encyclical he sums up his message: "We must first of all show the inviting splendor of that truth which is Jesus Christ himself. In him, who is the Truth (cf. Jn 14:6), man can understand fully and live perfectly, through his good actions, his vocation to freedom in obedience to the divine law summarized in the commandment of love of God and neighbor. And this is what takes place through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, of freedom and of love: in him we are enabled to interiorize the law, to receive it and to live it as the motivating force of true personal freedom: 'the perfect law, the law of liberty' (Jas 1:25)" (p. 104). John Paul begins his presentation with this declaration: "Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, 'the true light that enlightens everyone' (Jn 1:9), people become 'light in the Lord' and 'children of light' (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by 'obedience to the truth' (1 Pet 1:22)" (p. 9). Given that reality, "No one can escape from the fundamental questions: What must I do? How do I distinguish good from evil?" (p. 10).
Those questions are answered, conclusively, by Jesus Christ, who is the answer to all of man's deepest hunger for truth. Thus the Gospel account (Mt 19:16) of the rich young man who came to Jesus illuminates the entire human condition. The young man asked: "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?" Here, says John Paul, " we can recognize every person who, consciously or not, approaches Christ the Redeemer of man and questions him about morality. For the young man, the question is not so much about rules to be followed, but about the full meaning of life" (p. 17). Responding to the young man, Jesus reminded him that "there is only one who is good," God Himself. Revering and serving God is basic to all morality. Then one is rightly oriented to obeying His commandments--both the commandments inscribed in the natural law, rooted in God's eternal law, and the divine law revealed on Mt Sinai, which (as St Thomas said) encapsulates the natural law. To that one adds the righteous attitudes and motives prescribed in the Beatitudes, which enable one to follow Christ, who is "the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality" (p. 32).
Through the grace given us as believers, the presence of the Holy Spirit enables us to live conformed to Christ's likeness. Law and grace work together. "Faith working by love" (Gal 5:6) is the final formula for the Christian life. There's a synergy to the Christlike life. Faith is more than mental assent. "Faith is a decision involving one's whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6). It entails an act of trusting abandonment to Christ, which enables us to love as he lived (cf. Gal 2:20), in profound love of God and of our brothers and sisters" (p. 111). As St Augustine declared: "'The law was given that grace might be sought; and grace was given that the law might be fulfilled'" (p. 37). Saved by grace through faith, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to live out the New Law, which incarnates--in our hearts--the statutes of Sinai. Or, as St Cyril of Alexandria said, Christ "'forms us according to his image, in such a way that the traits of his divine nature shine forth in us through sanctification and justice and the life which is good and in conformity with virtue.... The beauty of this image shines forth in us who are in Christ, when we show ourselves to be good in our works'" (p. 92).
Christ's Church, therefore, has one perennially compelling commission: to make disciples. By bringing sinners to salvation, by affording them means of grace, they are then enabled to live righteously. The high standards of Christian morality are for Christians, men and women willingly transformed by the supernatural workings of God's grace. Such is possible only for free moral agents, so freedom must be treasured in order for morality to exist. It is in fact possible to live rightly, for God does not command us to do what we cannot do! One's conscience, then, is to be respected and followed. "Saint Bonaventure teaches that 'conscience is like God's herald and messenger; it does not command things on its own authority, but commands them as coming from God's authority, like a herald when he proclaims the edict of the king. This is why conscience has binding force'" (p. 76). There is an objective pole to our conscience: God. The "natural law" is imbedded in our nature by God Himself. Living ethically means heeding its truth.

Consequently, there are various behaviors which are clearly right and others which are manifestly wrong. There is an objective reality to moral acts which makes them intrinsically right or wrong. This eliminates various consequentialist or utilitarian ethical judgments, for Christians should be focused not simply on evident outcomes of an act. Yet, as St Alphonsus Maria De Liguori said, "'It is not enough to do good works; they need to be done well. For our works to be good and perfect, they must be done for the sole purpose of pleasing God'" (p. 100). God has called us to live rightly, pleasing Him as we allow Him to conform us to Christ. "This is what is at stake," says the Pope: "the reality of Christ's redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ's redemptive act, but to man's will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act" (p. 125).
As a moving meditation on Scripture and the teaching of the Church Fathers, this encyclical rewards the careful reading of anyone concerned with Christian ethics.
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