abridgment of the Encyclical Letter)
(Introduced by the Pope's Angelus Message)
On October 7, 1993, just 12 days after Veritatis Splendor
was released, the Pope spoke of his Encyclical just before reciting the
Angelus. This is what he said.
Angelus Message of
October 7, 1993 on Veritatis Spendor
"The truth will
make you free" (Jn 8:32).
These words of Jesus are the main theme of the recent Encyclical
"Veritatis Splendor", intended as a proclamation of truth and a hymn to
freedom: values felt strongly by contemporary man and deeply respected
by the Church.
But what is
Contemporary culture is experiencing this question in a dramatic way.
Indeed, one observes a widespread tendency to make freedom an absolute,
uncurtailed by any limits or sense of responsibility. Yet freedom
understood in this way would be manifestly inauthentic and dangerous.
Therefore, it is not accidental that all societies feel the need to
exert some control over its exercise.
What is the source of the legitimacy of this "control"? ... The true
guarantee of an ordered freedom is in its moral foundation, recognized
by individuals and communities as a whole.
"The truth will
make you free".
According to the Gospel, freedom must rely on the rock-solid basis of
truth. Not all that is materially possible is also morally licit. Moral
freedom is not the power to do anything whatever, but a human being's
ability to fulfil without restraint what corresponds to his or her
vocation as a child of God made in the Creator's image. Man is
therefore not truly free when he shirks the deep and unchangeable
demands of his nature. Without this truth, he would end up being the
hostage of his worst instincts, a slave of sin (Jn 8:34) and the
personal and social consequences would only be disastrous, as
unfortunately, experience has amply proved.
But is it possible for the person to know this "truth" as his own with
certainty? Perhaps this is the crucial issue in our time, so deeply
imbued with relativism and scepticism. The Church believes in the
strength of reason, which, although partly clouded and weakened by sin
(Gaudium et spes,n.15), somehow makes us share "in the light of the
divine mind"(ibid), and ceaselessly indicates moral truth through our
conscience. Therefore, far from being in opposition to faith, reason
finds in it support, verification and a deeper understanding, since
Jesus, the Word made flesh, not only reveals God to man, but also fully
reveals man to himself (ibid n.22). Christ is the Redeemer of man; it
is Christ who "sets freedom free" (Veritatis Splendor, n.86).
Splendor (My abridgment, bringing
INTRODUCTION (no.1-5): CHRIST
THE TRUE LIGHT WHO ENLIGHTENS ALL:
The splendour of truth shines forth in all the works of the
Creator and especially in man, leading him to know and love the
Lord. People are made holy by "obedience to the truth". (1 Peter 1:22).
This obedience is not always easy, because of original sin. Man's
capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to
it is weakened. Man is tempted to an illusory freedom. But no darkness
of sin or of error can totally take away from man the light of God the
Creator. In his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute
truth, and a search for the meaning of life.
Thus no one can escape from the fundamental
questions: What must I do? How do I distinguish good from evil?
The answer is only possible thanks to the splendour of truth shining
within man. Christ is the answer to all man's religious and moral
questions. On the basis of certain presuppositions, there is now among
many within the Christian community itself an overall and systematic
calling into question of the Church's traditional moral doctrine. At
the root of this, is the detachment of freedom from truth. In
particular, it is asked: Is it possible to obey and thus love God
without having to obey the Commandments in all circumstances? Also must
faith and morality be intrinsically and unbreakably linked?
CHAPTER 1, no.6-27: CHRIST AND
THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION ABOUT MORALITY.
"Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?" (Mt 19:16)
The young man's question is about the full meaning of life. He senses a
connection between the moral good and the fulfilment of his own
destiny, and the answer is from Christ. For this purpose God willed the
Church. People need to turn to Christ again to receive from Him the
answer to the question about what is good and what is evil.
"There is only one who is good" (Mt 19:17)
To ask about the good ultimately means to turn towards God, who is the
Good itself. Thus the young man's question is a religious question.
What man is and what he must do becomes clear when God reveals Himself.
The moral life is the response to God's loving initiative. The
good is belonging to God, obeying and acknowledging Him.
you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Mt19:17)
God's answer to this question is given already in the law which is
inscribed in his heart: the "natural law" (Rom 2:15). This is the light
of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must
be done and what must be avoided. But God also gave the Ten
Commandments: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments".
The Commandments are the first step towards freedom.
"If you wish to be perfect" (Mt 19:21)
The commandments must not be understood as a satisfactory minimum, but
as the path involving the quest for the perfection of love. Christ the
teacher invites the young man to seek this perfection. This perfection
to which all are called, and the promises attached to them, are
expressed in the Beatitudes. They are a kind of self-portrait of
Christ, and invite us to follow Him closely. Perfection demands the
maturity in self-giving to which freedom is called. The following of
Jesus is the foundation of Christian morality.
"With God all things are possible" (Mt 19:26)
Union with Jesus is the effect of the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is
available through the Church and her Sacraments. Jesus' high moral
demands exceed human abilities, but are possible through God's grace:
"with God all things are possible" (Mt19:26). 26: No damage must be
done to the harmony between what one believes and how one lives. The
unity of the Church is damaged not only by the distortion of the Faith,
but by a disregard of moral obligations. The task of properly
interpreting the word of God, whether in its written form or in that of
Tradition, has been entrusted only to those charged by Christ with the
Church's teaching authority.
CHAPTER II (no.28-83): THE
CHURCH AND THE DISCERNMENT OF CERTAIN TENDENCIES IN PRESENT-DAY MORAL
currents of modern thought have gone so far as to
exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes
an absolute value. As well as this, modern culture questions the
existence of freedom.
I. Freedom and Law.
teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not
belong to man but to God alone. Man is certainly free inasmuch as he
can understand and accept God's commands. Freedom is not unlimited: it
is called to accept God's moral law. Indeed, freedom is fulfilled in
the acceptance of that law. But the claim to determine, on the basis of
a sovereignty of reason, what is good or evil, will involve asserting a
conflict between freedom and law.
no.36-37: The natural
moral law has God for its author, and in Revelation there is a specific
moral content universally binding, which is for both the order of
salvation, and for the realm of this world too.
no.38-41: "God left
man in the power of his own counsel" (Sir 15:14)
The exercise of dominion over the world is a task involving man's
freedom in obedience to God. But man himself has also been entrusted to
his own care and responsibility. In performing morally good acts man
develops his likeness to God, and so his own perfection. Human reason
discovers and applies the moral law. The moral law has its origin in
God, yet it is a properly human law. Genuine moral autonomy never
means creating moral norms, rather it means the acceptance of God's
moral law. Thus man shares in God's wisdom.
no.42-45: "Blessed is
the man who takes delight in the law of the Lord"
In order freely to do good and avoid evil, man must be able to
distinguish good from evil. He does this by the light of natural
reason. This very discernment of good from evil is the function of the
natural law. This is why this law is called the natural law: not
because it refers to the nature of irrational beings but because the
reason which promulgates it is proper to human nature. The Anatural
law" engraved in the human heart is none other than human reason itself
which commands us to do good and avoid sin. But this command of reason
has force because it is the interpreter of a higher reason to which our
freedom is subject: that of God. Thus the natural law is itself the
eternal law, the reason of our God. Man is enlightened in this
discernment by Revelation and faith. The Church receives the gift of
the New Law, which is the fulfilment of God's law in Christ and in His
Spirit. This is the law of the Spirit. But God is the author of both
the natural and the new law. The acceptance of God's plan and law is
the only way to affirm freedom.
no.46-50: "What the
law requires is written on their hearts" (Rom 2:15)
The person, including the body, is completely entrusted to himself, and
it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of
his own moral acts. It is in the light of the dignity of the human
person that reason grasps the specific moral value of certain goods
towards which he is naturally inclined. From this springs the moral
requirement of respecting fundamental goods. A doctrine which
dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is
contrary to Scripture and Tradition.
no.51: Inasmuch as the
natural law is inscribed in the rational nature of the person, it is
universal in its precepts and authority over all. The negative precepts
of the natural law are universally valid. Some things are never to
change and are founded on Christ.
II. Conscience and Truth.
In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not
impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. The voice of
conscience tells him to do good and avoid evil in specific ways. This
law in his heart has been written by God. Conscience is like God's
herald, and commands things as coming from God's authority.
This is why conscience has binding force. It is a moral judgment of man
and his actions, acquiting or condemning. The judgment of conscience is
a practical judgment, applying God's moral law to a particular case.
And it is imperative: it commands. To have a "good conscience" one must
seek the truth and judge in accord with it. But conscience is not an
infallible judge. One can have a mistaken conscience, which is still a
disorder in relation to the truth about the good. But it is also
possible to be at fault for one's mistaken conscience. Christ's words
call us to form our conscience correctly. We must put on the mind of
Christ, The faithful must give careful attention to the certain
teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of
Christ the teacher Christ's truth. Freedom is not "from" the truth, but
III. Fundamental choice and specific moral decisions.
Certain fundamental choices do shape a person's entire moral life. This
is especially the decision of faith, the obedience of faith. But the
fundamental choice cannot be separated from the choice of particular
moral acts. One's basic option is at stake in the acts. So with every
freely committed mortal sin, man offends God, and even if he perseveres
in faith, loses God's grace and eternal happiness. It is quite wrong to
say that a mortal sin only occurs when an act involves a conscious
fundamental opting against God. There is a real distinction between
mortal and venial sins. Mortal sin exists when a person knowingly and
willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered.
The Fundamental orientation can be radically changed by choices of
gravely disorded acts.
IV. The moral act.
It is precisely through his acts that man attains perfection as man.
Human acts (free acts) are moral acts because they express and
determine the goodness or evil of the individual who performs them.
Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity
with man's true good and are ordered to his ultimate end: God. And only
the act in conformity with the good can lead to life. But, what is it
that ensures this ordering of human actions to God? The Pope discusses
and condemns false solutions, linked in particular to an inadequate
understanding of the object of moral action. One cannot be considered
to love God and one's neighbour if one is not observing the
commandments. What one actually does is crucial. True, for a right
moral decision one takes account of the intention of the action, and
its circumstances, including its consequences. But the morality of a
person's act depends primarily and fundamentally on the object
rationally chosen by the deliberate will. Now the object of the act of
willing is a freely chosen kind of behaviour. To the extent that it is
in conformity with the order of reason, it is the cause of the goodness
of the will. So, if a person wishes to be good, he must choose to do
good actions. An act is good if its object is in conformity with the
good of the person with respect for the goods morally relevant for him.
It is therefore wrong to hold (as in teleological and proportionalist
theories) that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to
its object the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or
specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which
choice is made, or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that
act for all persons concerned. So there are objects of the human act by
their nature incapable of being ordered to God. These are
"intrinsically evil" because of their object. These are acts that are
always seriously wrong. An example of an intrinsically evil act is an
act of contraception. Circumstances or intentions can never make a bad
act a good one. All this must be insisted on to preserve an objective
moral order. Our primary inspiration for a life that is objectively
moral is the splendour of truth which is Jesus Christ himself. In him,
man can live his vocation to perfection through his good actions.
CH. 3 (no.84-117): MORAL GOOD FOR THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH AND OF THE
"For freedom Christ has set us free" (Gal.5:1).
The basic question is the relationship between freedom and truth. Only
a freedom which submits to the Truth leads us to our good. But the
saving power of the Truth is being denied, and freedom is left to
itself to decide what is good. God's law is man's good. So moral
judgments must be in accordance with the truth (the true way to act).
This finds its support in constantly looking to Jesus. What is the
point of freedom? The Crucified Christ reveals the true meaning of
freedom. He lives it fully in a total self gift, and he calles his
disciples to share in his - Christ's - freedom. We have been given a
real freedom, but it is limited and weak. It is also in rebellion, and
so our freedom itself needs to be freed. It is in communion with Christ
that we are freed, to be truly free. As in Christ himself, perfect
freedom is in total obedience to God.
Walking in the light. (1 Jn 1:7)
There is another point: one's faith is to be lived in a moral life. One
cannot separate faith from morality. Faith is a lived knowledge of
Christ, and a truth to be lived out. It has a moral content, and
entails the acceptance and observance of God's commandments. Through
our moral life (the way we live), our faith becomes witness. Christ is
its source and model. This witness can reach martyrdom. The profound
relationship between our faith and morality is shown in the absolute
prohibition of intrinsically evil actions. Such actions may never be
done, even at the cost of martyrdom.
Martyrdom, the exaltation of the holiness of God's law.
There are many such examples of martyrdom in the Scriptures, and
Saints. Martyrdom, accepted as an affiration of the inviolability of
God's law, bears witness to the holiness of God's law, and to our
personal dignity as being created in God's image and likeness. Now
while martyrdom is the high point of the witness to moral truth, and
one to which few are called, nonetheless there is a consistent witness
which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the
cost of grave sacrifice. This may at times require heroism.
moral norms serve the good of the person and society.
It is said that this insistence on absolute norms is intransigence. No.
Genuine compassion must mean love for the person and for his true good.
This will mean never watering down a moral truth, but rather firmly
defending what we are morally obliged to do. This is to be done firmly,
but with profound respect and trusting love. The Church serves every
man's freedom and dignity in prohibiting whatever is intrinsically
evil, that is, anything which is always morally wrong. God's
commandments are the rules of social life.
Morality and the renewal of social and political life.
If society is to be renewed, its moral sense has to be renewed, and
this in turn depends on its religious sense being renewed. God is the
foundation of morality. The inseparable connection between truth and
freedom is extremely important for the life of society. A very great
danger for a democracy is the loss of the sense that some things are
absolutely wrong, in whatever sphere of life. This is the risk of an
alliance between democracy and ethical relativism.
Grace and obedience to God's law:
It is in the Cross of Jesus, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, in the
Sacraments, that we find the grace to keep God's moral law. Our
concrete possibilities are discovered in Christ's Redemption. And we
should take to heart the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
Here we encounter two different attitudes of the moral conscience: the
self-satisfied conscience, and the repentant one. In our day the
attitude of the Pharisee will be shown in adapting the moral norm to
one's own capacities and interests, and even in rejecting the idea of a
norm. The repentant conscience acknowledges weakness, asks mercy, and
looks for grace to live the moral law.
Morality and the new evangelization. Moral theologians.
Evangelizing our society anew involves confronting the
dechristianization of persons and entire communities. This
dechristianization has entailed the loss of faith and an obscuring of
the moral sense. So the new evangelization also involves the
presentation of morality. There is a new life to be lived, a "Way" to
be followed. The life of holiness constitutes the simplest and most
attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, and the value
of unconditional fidelity to the absolute moral demands of God's law.
At the heart of this new evangelization and of the new moral life it
proposes and awakens is the Holy Spirit, its source and strength. The
Spirit of Jesus brings about the flourishing of the moral life. The
moral theologian serves the believing effort of the Church to
understand the faith, in communion with the Church's Magisterium.
The responsibility of the Church's Pastors:
Christ's "answer" to the question about morality has been entrusted by
Him in a particular way to the Pastors of the Church. Today, Christian
moral teaching is a chief area for pastoral vigilance. This Encyclical
has set forth the foundations of the church's moral teaching, and has
evaluated certain trends in moral theology today. Its central theme is
the reaffirmation of this: the universality and immutability of the
moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and
without exception intrinsically evil acts. The unwavering demands of of
God's command that we be holy are based upon God's infinitely merciful
love for us, a love that leads us to the fulness of life. When people
ask the Church the questions raised by their consciences, the Church's
reply contains the voice of Christ, the voice of the truth about good
CONCLUSION: MARY, MOTHER OF MERCY.
Mary is the Mother of the One who is the revelation of God's mercy. No
human sin can erase the mercy of God. This mercy reaches its fullness
in the gift of the Spirit, and it is the Spirit who makes possible the
perfect accomplishment of the good. Mary is the Mother of Mercy because
it is to her that Jesus entrusts his Church and all humanity. She
obtains for us divine mercy. She is the radiant sign and inviting model
of the moral life. She understands sinful man and loves him with a
mother's love. She is on the side of truth, always resisting the