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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 444

Veritatis Splendor, which is Latin for The Splendor of the Truth, includes the themes of truth, happiness, and Catholic theology.

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Pope John Paul II writes that truth is absolute in some cases. There aren't always shades of gray. In other words, there are universal laws that can govern moral behavior even if that's a truth that isn't convenient for people. This means that truth is something that a person can seek out rather than define for themselves. It's already waiting to be known rather than waiting to be created. If truth already exists, then there are certain standards of behavior that enable people to adhere to the truth and live by it.

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Happiness comes from living the truth and following the dictates of moral law. Performing morally good actions is what makes people content. Pope John Paul II writes:

God alone is worthy of being loved "with all one's heart, and with all one's soul, and with all one's mind" (Mt 22:37). He is the source of man's happiness. Jesus brings the question about morally good action back to its religious foundations, to the acknowledgment of God, who alone is goodness, fullness of life, the final end of human activity, and perfect happiness.

For the Pope's purposes, God is the fulfillment of perfect moral law and the way to find happiness. Without Him, there is no ability to find true happiness as opposed to just feeling satisfied with life on Earth. He says that a Christian opens himself to eternal happiness with God through his actions. To be a Christian is to be a new being who is working toward that perfect happiness and an eternal life with God. A person cannot turn away from moral truth and hope to find true happiness.

Catholic Theology

The author addresses his "Brother Bishops" to implore them to return to the roots of Catholic theological tradition. He tells them that there are teachings of the truth that are particularly prone to error and create doubt. If the church returns to its roots, it will be closer to the reality of what God wanted from his people, he explains. One important point he makes is that the most essential teachings of the church are the ones most prone to error—but they're also the ones that offer the most important guidelines and answers about things like life after death, moral goodness, the purpose of life, and the meaning of sin. This is why, for him, it's essential that the church go back to the basics of its theology and build from the ground up. Only in that way will they best be able to serve their people.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 397

“What is truth?” Pilate asked Jesus. John Paul answers Pilate’s question in this highly complex and profound encyclical. As John Paul notes in the preface, “The Splendor of Truth shines forth in the works of the Creator and, in a special way, in man created in the image and likeness of God.” In this one sentence are evoked traditional themes of Christian and Catholic teachings. The moral and natural law of God is revealed in the physical world and in the human, and is accessible to human reason. Morality has a universal and unchangeable nature that can be known by all persons who are suitably disposed, although the Church teaches the fullness of the moral laws with conviction and clarity.

These teachings have been historically criticized as impinging on human freedom; in modern times, they have been criticized for opposing empirical research, democracy, positivism, and individual and cultural identity. The pope leaves the task of assembling a complete and systematic presentation of Christian morality to the then recently published Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992). Nevertheless this is the first papal document addressing the philosophical and theological foundations of moral law, and John Paul uses it to reply to controversial tendencies leading to extreme individualism, pragmatism, utilitarianism, and relativism. Although focusing on these specific tendencies, he does so while reflecting on the whole of the Church’s moral teachings. Appropriately for this profound examination, John Paul draws extensively on the major Catholic theologians Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine and the teachings of the milestone Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The traditional Catholic assessment of concrete actions according to the Decalogue is ratified, although enriched by a modern emphasis on the disposition of the human person toward God.

Jesus fulfills and does not negate the commandments by “interiorizing their demands” and enhances and does not destroy freedom by connecting it to obedience to the law of God. Thus the pope is able to classify certain acts, historically condemned by Catholics—such as homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, torture, slavery, prostitution, contraception, and oppression of workers—as intrinsically wrong. John Paul expresses in modern and philosophical fashion the Christian belief in objective norms of truth and morality. Jesus Christ proclaimed himself to be “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 1:14). In freely pursuing what is true and what is good, humans find a loving relationship with God.

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