The Splendor of Truth


Veritatis Splendor. An encyclical by Pope John Paul II promulgated on August 6, 1993. This encyclical has been called one of the most comprehensive teachings of moral theology in the Catholic tradition. It responds to questions pertaining to moral theology that have been raised in the latter half of the 20th century, in particular questions regarding man's ability to discern good, the existence of evil, the role of human freedom and human conscience, mortal sin, and the authority of the magisterium of the Catholic Church in offering guidance in the area of morality. Pope John Paul II answers these, insisting that moral truth is knowable, that the choice of good or evil has a profound effect on one's relationship with God, and that there is no true contradiction between freedom and following the good.

Key themes include:

Contrary to the philosophy of moral relativism, the moral law is universal across people in varying cultures, and is rooted in the human condition. Therefore, there are absolute truths accessible to all persons.

The magisterium of the Catholic Church has the authority to definitively pronounce on moral questions. John Paul II sees the Church as Christ?s response to help people answer the question of what is right and wrong.

God's divine law governing human behavior is not opposed to human freedom, but rather "it protects and promotes that freedom." Human freedom is not an absolute, and deciding for oneself whether to do something or not does not substitute for determining whether something is good or bad. Understanding divine Law is of critical importance.

The document welcomes and supports the role of human reason in discovering and applying the natural law (those aspects of the moral law that may be discovered without divine revelation).

Regarding the role of conscience, John Paul reiterates the longstanding Catholic teaching that people are obliged to follow their conscience. Conscience is a form of inner dialogue between the person and God. It is a herald from God who proclaims the divine law. It is the process by which a person may apply the divinely revealed law to the concrete situation at hand. Veritatis Splendor states that because conscience may err in its judgment, a person is obliged to do his best to inform his conscience. Hence, it remains crucial for a person to make an effort to understand what the divine law on a matter is, as expressed by the Church, and the reasons behind it.

The document addresses the idea of the ?fundamental option,? a way of thinking in which a person?s particular actions to do not affect his ultimately salvation. What is important is his fundamental stance for or against God. John Paul II opposes this view, stating that it is contrary to Scripture as well as to long-held Catholic teaching on sin and salvation.

Finally, the document states that certain acts are intrinsically evil, in the language of Catholic moral theology. Certain acts are so destructive to the human person that there are never circumstances in which they may be permitted if done knowingly and intentionally.