Veritatis Splendor 2

In Veritatis Splendor §4 Pope John II writes concerning truth and freedom:

Today, however, it seems necessary to reflect on the whole of the Church’s moral teaching, with the precise goal of recalling certain fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine which, in the present circumstances, risk being distorted or denied. In fact, a new situation has come about within the Christian community itself, which has experienced the spread of numerous doubts and objections of a human and psychological, social and cultural, religious and even properly theological nature, with regard to the Church’s moral teachings. It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain anthropological and ethical presuppositions. At the root of these presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Thus 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; and 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.

In particular, note should be taken of the lack of harmony between the traditional response of the Church and certain theological positions, encountered even in Seminaries and in Faculties of Theology, with regard to questions of the greatest importance for the Church and for the life of faith of Christians, as well as for the life of society itself. In particular, the question is asked: do the commandments of God, which are written on the human heart and are part of the Covenant, really have the capacity to clarify the daily decisions of individuals and entire societies? Is it possible to obey God and thus love God and neighbour, without respecting these commandments in all circumstances? Also, an opinion is frequently heard which questions the intrinsic and unbreakable bond between faith and morality, as if membership in the Church and her internal unity were to be decided on the basis of faith alone, while in the sphere of morality a pluralism of opinions and of kinds of behaviour could be tolerated, these being left to the judgment of the individual subjective conscience or to the diversity of social and cultural contexts. [Italics in original; bold added]

One thing to be seen here is that JPII is no relativist, his traditionalist critics notwithstanding. With respect both to faith and morals, he insists upon the the illegitimacy of any pluralism that pretends that truth is relative.

Also noteworthy is something that we saw him say in Fides et Ratio: that is, the relationship between truth and freedom cannot be broken.

Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.

Jesus says that the truth will make us free. In the end you can’t have the one without the other.

In our first quotation we see that JPII intends to criticize the moral teaching found in some colleges and seminaries that call themselves Catholic. Right after reading VS I had the opportunity to read a collection of responses to the encyclical by a number of moral theologians, some of whom probably deserve the label of “dissenters.” Darkly amusing were their claims that their views were not actually criticized in VS, which stood right alongside their hostility toward its criticisms. Dudes: if you really think you’re not subject to its criticism, why are you so defensive? Anyway, the point is that we don’t get to choose for ourselves what is right and wrong anymore than what is true or false. Pluralism of that sort destroys both morality and the truth.

Also interesting to me is that the Pope raises the question of freedom at the very beginning of this encyclical on morality. Central to Catholic teaching on morality is its insistence that genuine human action is inseparable from freedom. Doing good cannot be compelled. To the extent that we act under compulsion, our actions are not human actions. We see this, for example, in what St Thomas says here:

Of actions done by man those alone are properly called “human,” which are proper to man as man. Now man differs from irrational animals in this, that he is master of his actions. Wherefore those actions alone are properly called human, of which man is master. Now man is master of his actions through his reason and will; whence, too, the free-will is defined as “the faculty and will of reason.” Therefore those actions are properly called human which proceed from a deliberate will. And if any other actions are found in man, they can be called actions “of a man,” but not properly “human” actions, since they are not proper to man as man. Now it is clear that whatever actions proceed from a power, are caused by that power in accordance with the nature of its object. But the object of the will is the end and the good. Therefore all human actions must be for an end. [ST I-II q1 a1; emphasis added]

Note that what he says (and what JPII says also) is not that our free will extends as far as deciding what is good or evil; that is Satan’s lie. Rather, it is freedom to do good that is in view.

I use that turn of phrase deliberately: our free will is freedom to do good, not just any old thing that we might wish. This is what St Augustine says in On Free Choice of the Will:

We must not believe that God gave us free will so that we might sin, just because sin is committed through free will. It is sufficient for our question, why free will should have been given to man, to know that without it man cannot live rightly. That it was given for this reason can be understood from the following: if anyone uses free will for sinning, he incurs divine punishment. This would be unjust if free will had been given not only that man might live rightly, but also that he might sin. For how could a man justly incur punishment who used free will to do the thing for which it was given? [II.I]

Posted in Augustine, Fides et Ratio, Free Will, John Paul II, Magisterium, Veritatis Splendor
One comment on “Veritatis Splendor 2
  1. […] at 07:32 (John Paul II, Magisterium, Veritatis Splendor) In a previous episode we saw that Pope John Paul II discussed the relationship of truth and freedom. Today we see that […]

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