There is no question that Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Veritatis Splendor" (August 6, 1993) was one of the most important writings of his pontificate. It was assuredly deemed necessary because of the "grave crisis" afflicting both Church and society in the West. For the first time in the history of the Church a Roman Pontiff gave to the entire Church a remarkable analysis and systematic treatment of what is meant by "morality" and the necessity of being moral in order to arrive at eternal blessedness. The document constitutes an impressive moral treatise on the meaning of human behavior as disclosed by reason and divine Revelation. It provides an indispensable Basic Catechesis on Morality for the morally confused.

Confronting the moral collapse evident almost everywhere in the West, the Chief Pastor of the Universal Church proclaimed the fundamental truth that morality refers to the observance of the Moral Law of God which can be known by human reason as "Natural Law" and as set forth in the Ten Commandments of biblical revelation. Morality is thus a reflection of the eternal mind of God and is something objective. It is NOT a mere human invention or something purely subjective, thereby reduced to mere human opinion. There are moral absolutes, and the Pope affirmed such against the agnostics, skeptics, and relativists of our day (including those legislators who would question the very existence of "Natural Law").

Giving firm voice to the whole of Catholic Tradition across 2,000 years, the Vicar of Christ reaffirmed the duty of the Church as the faithful Virginal Bride and Body of Christ in the world to insist that the salvation of one's soul is intimately linked to the observance of objective moral norms regarding good and evil - norms designed by a loving God for human happiness. Every area of human life is related to moral truth and every society has the obligation to live by the universal and unchanging norms of the Natural Law and those of Divine Revelation ( the latter given the world by Jesus Christ, Who Is "always the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow").

Some things are always wrong, and for all his "progress" modern man cannot make good evil, or evil good. The essence of human nature remains what it is despite the ebb and flow of history and the prevalence of false philosophies, and since every human person is created "in God's image" and has been redeemed by the God-man Jesus Christ, each man and woman is called to holiness. Certain acts are "intrinsically evil" and admit of no exceptions; they cannot be "redeemed" by good intentions or good consequences as the dissenter theologians of the last 40 years have alleged. "Fornication, adultery, contraception, abortion, and homosexual acts remain the mortal sins the Church has always declared them to be", and the tortuous reasoning of dissenters rushing to sanction sexual sins (with their theories of "consequentialism", "proportionalism", and "fundamental option") is declared incompatible with Gospel morality and the Catholic Faith. These were the harmful theories, of course, which won their way into books on moral theology in Catholic seminaries and even in catechetical works for children, thereby assisting in the ruin of post-conciliar catechesis.

Writing that "only God, the Supreme Good" can constitute "the unshakeable foundation and essential condition of morality, and thus of the commandments" (par. 99), the Pope utterly rejected the widespread attempt to divorce ethics from the Natural Law or to render optional (as non-binding) the moral teaching of the Church based on the commandments of Christ the Savior. We are rather to follow the witness of the Saints and Martyrs who like their Divine Master, were "obedient to death", They were not like the decadent pied-pipers of permissive media, the secularist academy, or the Church's own de-Catholicized universities and seminaries who have corrupted morality.

Pope John Paul II told the Bishops of the Catholic world that they could not be content with merely warning the faithful about the errors and dangers of certain ethical theories. Dissenter theologians who scandalously contradicted the moral truths of Jesus Christ and malformed the consciences of the faithful must be dealt with and corrected. But, first of all, the successors of the Apostles need to proclaim the splendor of the truth which is Jesus Christ Himself.

It is interesting, in retrospect, to recall the deplorable judgment on "Veritatis Splendor" by the arrogant dissenters who publish the "National Catholic Reporter":

"This [encyclical], no matter how one reads it, is a harsh, negative, rigid, authoritarian document. The Christian searches vainly for the positive, affirming, all-embracing, compassionate tone of the Christ in whose name the Pope wrote his encyclical: the Christ said to prostitutes and tax collectors and other rejects to come along and follow Him, Who was anything but absolute, putting up instead an umbrella big enough for everyone, and suggesting by His wholesome attitude that He respected the intelligence and conscience God had given to people in the first place."

This tissue of falsehoods can be contrasted with the Pope's blunt reminder that the understanding of human weakness "never means compromising and falsifying the standard of good and evil in order to adapt it to particular circumstances" (par.104). Moreover, the "prostitutes and tax collectors and rejects" in the Gospel accounts represented "a repentant conscience" (ibid.). Striking at the heart of the contestation fueled by rogue theologians and agitating journalists, the Pope declared:

"Dissent in the form of carefully orchestrated protest and polemics carried out 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 Holy Spirit's gifts."
(par. 113)

Clearly, the entire thrust of "The Splendor of Truth" was directed at refuting the exaggerated idea of freedom promoted by individualistic liberals and secularists (and their dissenter allies in the Church) - all of whom give voice to "the world, the flesh, and the devil" in moral decision-making. Saint [Pope] John Paul II's encyclical was another reminder of the long line of Peter's successors who have never failed to remind societies on the verge of moral ruin that authentic human freedom cannot be separated from the truth that shines in all its splendor in the Face of Jesus Christ.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
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