(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Veritatis Splendor, one of the major encyclicals written by Pope John Paul II, addresses the question of moral truth from a Christian perspective. In response to new controversies, John Paul proposes to answer certain fundamental questions regarding the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

John Paul begins his essay with an exegesis of the famous dialogue of Jesus with the rich young man in chapter 19 of the Gospel of Saint Matthew. In this dialogue, the young man asks Jesus what good he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers so as to link moral good with the fulfillment of human destiny and to relate the moral life to acknowledgment of God. Humans are bound to obey the natural law that God has implanted in the human heart. The natural law is first given expression in the Decalogue and reaches fulfillment as the new law of the New Testament. The complete moral path for Christians is to follow Jesus, especially in the new commandment that he gave his disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Humans are able to give a free response of love for God and for neighbor by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Because of this relationship between the moral good of human acts and eternal destiny, the Church has developed a special aspect of theology referred to as moral theology. In moral theology, the Church assesses what is good and evil in human actions. Humans find answers to these questions in God alone, who gives the moral law. Humans have freedom in their beliefs and actions, but it is a freedom to embrace what is good, not to determine what is good or evil.

Humans discover this moral law through their reason, whereby the eternal, divine law, and human law intersect. Because humans participate in God’s eternal law through their reason and autonomous will, their freedom is magnified, not negated, by obedience to divine law. Pure statistics and empirical study cannot determine morality....

(The entire section is 815 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Allsopp, Michael E., and John J. O’Keefe, eds. “Veritatis Splendor”: American Responses. Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1995. A collection of twenty essays, both critical and supportive, on Veritatis Splendor by American authors.

Dinoia, J. A., and Romanus Cessario, eds. “Veritatis Splendor” and the Renewal of Moral Theology. Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 1999. With contributions by ten well-known scholars, including Avery Dulles, S.J., and Alasdair MacIntyre, this collection of essays addresses perspectives on the encyclical, issues raised by the encyclical, and the reception of the encyclical.

Miller, J. Michael, ed. The Encyclicals of John Paul II. Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001. A collection of the thirteen encyclicals issued by Pope John Paul from 1979 to 1998; editor Miller includes helpful and extensive introductions and bibliographies relating John Paul’s encyclicals to his papacy and to the Catholic magisterial tradition.