Veritatis splendor – purpose and structure

In the opening of Veritatis splendor, §4, Pope John Paul II says that he intends to reflect on whole of moral life because of distortions in moral thinking today in society and in the Church. These distortions include: relativism, suggesting that variations of culture must mean that there is no truth, no better or best; subjectivism, suggesting that the good is what feels good, or what I, the moral agent, judge to be good, no questions asked; and consequentialism, suggesting that we judge solely by weighing the outcomes, allowing the end to justify the means. In all cases of distortion, men flee from the burden of admitting to a universal moral standard, and specifically flee from exceptionless rules, i.e., absolutes. The moral hazard is that we are rendered helpless to confront intrinsic evil, while the maw of evil engulfed an entire century. John Paul has that knowledge carried to the heart, that no transcendence means abuse of power, and no truth means the abuse of freedom. This is the warning and requirement spoken about in Redemptor hominis. (In Veritatis, see §§96,97,99; 101)

Pope John Paul thus aims to defend the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts. And also to reassert the authority of the Church as a magisterium. John Paul does not take a “defensive mode,” because he exudes the confidence in the splendor of truth, and the faith that Christ reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear. At the central point he speaks about conscience as the herald or voice of God, requiring silence and receptivity on our part. He follows with a defense of the universal standards and the notion of an exceptionless moral rule.

But we must also see the setting or structure for this account and defense of natural law. There are three chapters to the work. Chapter one expounds the parable of the rich young man. Chapter two provides the account of conscience and moral law. Chapter looks to the cross and the importance of martyrdom, particularly by those who stood firm for moral principle at the expense of their own lives.

The defense of moral principle in the modern world needs much more than a decent philosophical explanation of natural law. It requires an understanding of our existential plight, as seen in the rich young man. And it requires models of moral courage, such as the martyrs.

During the workshop, Dr. Freddoso said that we should see the work in terms of life as a pilgrimage towards a goal, towards God. We have a starting point, it can be any point along the way, represented by the rich young man. “What much I do to gain eternal life?” Or what must I do to reach the goal of life? The commandments are a part of the answer; but the call to follow Christ is the deeper answer. It is the call of service, the call of love. And where might such a life and such call eventually lead us? Surely it will require sacrifice; perhaps it will require an ultimate sacrifice. In such a setting we may finally gather the meaning and truth of moral laws and come to see relativism, subjectivism and consequentialism as fatal distortions which destroy freedom and subvert the life of love..

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