August 6 marks the 30th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s monumental moral theology encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (VS).
As the first and only encyclical on moral theology, VS is even today groundbreaking in its comprehensive coverage of morality in light of the person of Christ.
Here are several prominent Catholic reactions to this occasion.
Archbishop Charles Chaput
Veritatis Splendor grounds itself in a few simple convictions. Briefly put: Truth exists, whether we like it or not. We don’t create truth; we find it, and we have no power to change it to our tastes. The truth may not make us comfortable, but it does make us free. And knowing and living the truth ennobles our lives. It’s the only path to lasting happiness.
Father John Paul Walker, O.P.
Pastor, St. Gertrude Parish, Cincinnati, OH
When VS came out, I was a recent revert to my Catholic faith after having a powerful conversion experience on a college retreat. But as a poorly-catechized child of the 70’s and 80’s, what I didn’t have was an intellectual foundation for understanding what it really meant to live a holy, moral life. VS gave me that foundation. And for that, I will be forever grateful to St. John Paul II.
What struck me from the first time reading it was the incredible clarity with which it was written. In this one encyclical, St. John Paul II cut through the murkiness of decades of moral confusion to reassert, confidently and boldly, the timeless truths of our faith.
In the post-conciliar Church, the concepts of freedom and conscience had been so misused by so many moral theologians that they had all but lost their original meanings. In VS, St. John Paul II rescued those concepts from the moral confusion of his day, re-establishing their authentic meanings and restoring them to their proper place in moral reasoning.
One aspect of VS that is not always appreciated is how incredibly Biblical and Christ-centered it is. In the very way he crafted the encyclical, St. John Paul II makes clear that the moral life is fundamentally not about following a bunch of rules, but about living the truth… and that Truth is a person, whose name is Jesus Christ.
Fr. John De Celles
Pastor, St. Raymond of Peñafort Parish, Springfield, VA
St. John Paul’s promulgation of Veritatis Splendor in 1993 was a game-changing moment in moral theology. At the time, I was studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary-Emmitsburg (where I was a seminarian) and the John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family in Washington. I was incredibly blessed to study under some of the truly great moral theologians and philosophers of the time, including Germain Grisez, William May, David Schindler, Stanisław Grygiel, and Kenneth L. Schmitz (several close collaborators with the pope). To a man, all were
exuberant that, at last, the stake had been driven through the heart of moral relativism and other modern heresies, with this a beautiful, profound and definitive clarification of true Catholic fundamentals of moral theology.
But my favorite response was from the great Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete. One day shortly after VS was published, he arrived 2 hours late to our 3 hour class — but the whole class had waited because he was… Albacete. Out of breath and exasperated, he told us that he had just come from the USCCB semiannual meeting, where he had gotten into a heated argument with a bishop who denied Monsignor’s statement that VS put an end to the “seamless garment” heresy. Finally, he said, slamming the desk, “I told him, ‘D***it, I know what it says, I helped write the d*** thing.’”
Sadly, while we all hoped VS would be the end of moral relativism and other heresies in Catholic morals, today we see many trying to discredit or minimize VS, arguing that it is not the most adequate text to encourage the development of theology. How foolish and ignorant. VS is the key to true and organic development of theology, in continuity with the actual Tradition of the Church. Please God, may it stand as the magisterial bulwark the Great Pope intended it to be against the twisting and deformation of moral theology, and the confusion of so many Catholics, that so many in the hierarchy and academy wish to return to.
Academic Dean, St. Mary’s Seminary and University
Some of the theological exuberance of this time period led many to accept ideas that were at odds with the perennial teachings of the Church. Veritatis Splendor was written, in part, to combat two of them: fundamental option theory and proportionalism.
John Paul II did much in Veritatis Splendor to get Catholic moral theology back on track by correcting these two widespread errors. But more than this, and what is perhaps the real legacy of Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II also explained why it is so important to uphold the teaching that certain kinds of behavior are absolutely forbidden.
The Catholic Thing
The main concern of Veritatis Splendor is not to set limits – a legitimate function, by the way – but to show the necessity of the fullness of truth to several crucial human things. Toward that end, it lays down principles. Otherwise, like the incoherence of our currently dominant cultural materialism, the Church will just make claims about human freedom and dignity without any basis for them.
Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center
The approach of this anniversary presents an opportunity to rediscover an encyclical that provides a powerful antidote to much of the moral and doctrinal confusion in the Church today.
It’s precisely for this reason that not a few Catholics would like nothing better than to see I demolished, root and branch.
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