Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Father William Most Collection

Abstract of Veritatis Splendor

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]


1. Man is constantly tempted to exchange the truth about God for a lie (Rom 1:25). In two senses: a) sin promises a happiness it cannot deliver b) We have being to the extent that we are true to form, the form God has in mind for us. To the extent we recede, we go towards ontological lie = nonbeing.

2. Jesus Himself is the answer to all life's questions. He shows us its meaning. He gives us the model to imitate, if we do that we will be happy and have the truth and freedom, for sin enslaves. (Cf. Apoc 20, on the thousand year's reign).

3. Formerly there was limited and specific dissent. Now we have it about the very basics of morality, and even in seminaries. Freedom is detached from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth.

Chapter 1: Teacher, what good must I do?

1. The young man stands for all who, consciously or not, come to Christ and ask about morality. To make this meeting possible, God willed His Church, for it is in and by it that we meet Christ --not in foolish feelings: "I have met Christ".

2. Moral good and fulfillment of one's destiny are tied to moral good. Cf. Aristotelian fulfillment of all human potencies, harmoniously, and going beyond what is human, into the super-natural. . Cf. Confessions 1:12: "Every disordered soul is its own penalty." And 1 Cor 6:12: "All things are lawful, but not all are beneficial to me."

3. People need to appropriate - make His ways their own - the whole Incarnation and Redemption to find themselves, to find what is really human fullness. Only thus do we find the answer to the problem of evil and learn how to live happily. Christ's life gives the answer, if we imitate it.

4. He begins to give it by giving the commandments. Only God is good (analogical sense) and so only He can answer the questions about what is good. God is worthy of being loved [=obeyed: to love Him is to obey Him], with all one's heart, for only He is the source of our happiness.

5. God is Holy in that He loves all that is objectively good.

6. He gave commandments not out of love of exercising authority, but for our benefit: 1)His love of objective goodness b) to teach us how to be open to the good He wills to give us, and at the same time, to steer us away from the evils that lie in the very nature of things.

7. Fulfillment of commandments comes only by gift of God, by grace. Cf. Romans 7:7 ff.

8. The Gift of the Decalogue. It was a gift, to keep us for slavery -- it is a promise of the New Covenant, which promises us the Kingdom of Heaven.

9. Jesus first reminded the youth of the love of neighbor, showing it applies to all: Jews limited neighbor to other Jews. The command of love of neighbor shows us the dignity of each person. Man is the only creature God wills for its own sake.

10. The commandments Jesus recalled to the young man are all referring to neighbor. He showed these to protect deeper things: human life, marriage, private property, truth and good name.

11. Christ did not put love of neighbor above love of God; they are inseparable. For to love is to will good to another for the other's sake. To love God includes willing that God have the pleasure of giving good to neighbor. In that way we will good to Him, and in the same act we will good to neighbor. So without love of neighbor, love of God is not possible.

12. Jesus gives self completely and so is the living fulfillment of the law.

13. After the commandments: "What do I still lack?" The beatitudes which are not rules, but basic attitudes and dispositions toward perfection and so to freedom and happiness. The commandments are a start of freedom: with them we find ourselves part slave, part free: cf. Rom 7. But the beatitudes are the fullness. This call to perfect love is for everyone. We are free to the extent to which we serve God. Servire Deo regnare est.

14. We are called to a love to the degree to which Jesus went: to that extent we are free. A love that gives itself completely brings freedom.

15. Following Christ is not merely outward actions, it means interior conformity to Him, cf. Phil 2;5-8. This is beyond human power: only grace makes it possible - we follow not an outward law, but the interior power of the Spirit that leads us to do as Christ did, which includes no violation of the law, plus complete self-giving. By following the Spirit, e need not look at the law, and so are free from it.

16. The Law was our pedagogue, it helped us to see our own powerlessness, so we ask for and receive life in the Spirit-- which makes us free from the law, for the law need not be noticed by those who follow the Spirit.

17. The law needs interpretation in view of changing outward conditions: He gave us the Church to provide that interpretation.

Chapter 2: The Church Discerns Today

1. We have seen that our actions should be subordinated to God, to be good, for He is the One who alone is good. Hence the moral good of our actions comes from and imitates Him, as seen in Christ. This opens up the perspective of perfect love: by the example of Christ, and the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

2. The Church has seen development in doctrine, e.g., the Immaculate conception. There is also a development in teaching on morality. In this the Church also looks for a more suitable way of communicating teaching : cf. On Ecumenism §6.

3. But some developments are not consistent with sound teaching . The Church does not impose a particular system, but it must teach the truth, and must say which trends or systems of theology and philosophy are incompatible with revealed truth. For this it must ask and answer: What is man? What is the meaning of life? What is good? What is evil? What is the purpose of suffering? What is the way to happiness? What are death, judgment, and retribution after death?. It was really about these that the young man asked.

4. St. Paul said a time would come when they will not endure sound teaching: 1 Tim 4:1-5. Cf. Titus 1:10, 13-14.

5. These human issues are all related in varied ways to the core issue: human freedom. Today people want to decide for themselves what is right: cf. satan telling Eve you will know good and evil.

6. Freedom becomes an absolute and then there is no standard of what is right: this comes from and leads to atheism. They deny the dependence of freedom on truth.

7. Yes we must follow conscience but that needs distinctions. We must form conscience in accord with the Church. But now there is existentialism which denies there are any general truths.

8. Oddly, psychology today questions whether we are free at all: B. F. Skinner thinks we are pigeons.

9. In Genesis we learn that the power to decide what is right and wrong belongs to God - hence satan told Eve she would be like God. So, there is proposed an alleged conflict between freedom and law. God being the only one who is good, only one knows what is good for man. He proposes this in the commandments, which as we said, are given to make us open to receive His good; our obedience does Him no good. Yet He wants it to make us open, and to fulfill objective goodness.

10. But now they suppose a complete sovereignty of reason, instead of sovereignty of God - reason if used well can come to the right moral answers - but de facto, it often does not (even though primitives show a good knowledge of moral code).

11. Some propose a distinction between an ethical order, of values for this world alone, and the order of revelation. But it is only in morally good acts that a man makes himself like to God, the One who is good. We may not say that earthly things belong to Caesar, not to God: God has made all, all find their fulfillment only in being like Him.

12. The natural law is really the light given us by God through reason. But reason does not create values and moral norms, it only discovers them. Cf. primitives' knowledge of the moral law. Actually human reason and will participate in God's wisdom, which reaches from end to end. The law is divine wisdom: cf. the OT personification of wisdom, and Moses in Dt 4:6-8: what people has so just a law?

13. Man achieves his true dignity in freeing self from servitude to the whim of the moment, a life fit for cattle. The Stoics exalted reason so much it would rule out all feeling (and rule out rational acts too!). This law we find in ourselves is just the imprint of the divine law: the Spirit writes His law on our hearts: Jer 31:33. Cf. Justin Martyr on Socrates.

14. God cares for us not only from without, but more from within, showing us the right way to take in our free actions. Natural law is the human expression of God's eternal law. It is only because human reason finds the voice of God that there can be obligation in it: reason alone would not impose obligation. Moses: "What nation has a God so near to us as the Lord our God is to us? What great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law:" Dt 4:7-8. Yes, the testimony of the Lord makes wise the simple.

15. We distinguish between revealed law and natural law - yet He is the author of both.

16. What is natural law cannot be determined by polls, or even by a mere study of physical nature: we are beings of both body and soul, both designed by the Creator. But those in error call such principles only premoral or ontic. To speak as they do contradicts the unity of human nature. Thus, respect for dignity of person leads to prohibition of murder.

17. Existentialism leads to atheism: no general truths, no general God.

18. Inasmuch as the natural law is written on the hearts of all, it is universal.

18. To obey conscience is the very dignity of man, and according to it he will be judged: Rom 2:16.

19. Some are saying: universal norms cannot take into account the differences of individuals, and so they provide only a general perspective. But conscience formulates moral obligation in its application to individual cases in the light of the universal moral law. So much so that if a man acts in uncertainty of conscience, he is guilty: Romans 14

20. Yet, conscience can be mistaken, can become blind [explain how]. But yet there is an obligation, even if not perceived at the time. Cf. Leviticus 4 on sheggagah. Jesus warns about the danger of blind conscience: Mt 6:22-23: "If your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness." We have a great help in forming conscience, the magisterium. It is not only a help, but imposes an obligation in the authority of Christ.

21. Some have proposed a fundamental freedom: the key role in moral life is to be attributed to a fundamental option. Particular acts that flow from this option would be only partial, never definitive attempts to give it expression. So there is a distinction , they say, between the fundamental option and deliberate choices. Some even say moral good and evil are found only in the fundamental option a man makes. So some things may be only premoral evils.

22. But St. Paul speaks of the obedience of faith. And he warns in Gal 5:13: "You were called to freedom, but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh." So Paul gives two check lists to let us see if we follow the flesh or the Spirit.

23. To separate the fundamental option from concrete behavior is to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the human being. Morality depends not only on one's intention - as they would make it in the fundamental option - but on also the object as well as on the intention. Every choice implies a reference by the deliberate will to goods or evils indicated by the natural law as goods to be pursued and evils to be avoided. Every mortal sin offends God, the giver of the law. James 2:8-11 says if a man violates one precept he is guilty of violating the whole law. Trent said (DS 1544, 1569) any mortal sin causes loss of the state of grace.

24. Proponents of fundamental option say change of option is carried out at a level of freedom which is not to be identified with an act of choice, nor is capable of becoming the object of conscious awareness. But the option in a man can be radically changed by particular acts. cf." I know you hate this, but I want to do it anyway, and do mean to break with you."

25. An act is good only when it is in accord with man's true good and so expresses his option for God or against Him. We are supposed to be conformed to the image of Christ: Rom 8:29. Our actions must be ordered to the ultimate goal. So the act in question must be such as to be capable of being ordered to that goal.

26. Consequentialism draws criteria of rightness solely from a calculation of foreseeable consequences; and proportionalism focuses on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad effects of that choice so as to look for the greater good or lesser evil. These moralists say it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of action which would be in conflict in every circumstance and in every culture with those values. They speak of a "responsible" assessment of the goods involved. -- But the consequences cannot alter the basic nature of the act, whether or not the act is capable of being directed to the One who is Good, God. (cf. actualizing of all a man's potencies harmoniously, i.e., so as not to clash with actualization of other potencies of the actor or with those of neighbor). Some things are intrinsically incapable of being so ordered, e.g., homosexual acts, and so are intrinsically evil, always and per se. Scripture teaches there are such acts: 1 Cor 6:9-10.

Chapter 3: Moral Good for the Life of the Church and World

1. There is an urgent need for the Church to develop an intense pastoral effort on the relation between freedom and truth, for it has been lost sight of today. [Seems to refer to ontological truth, conformity to the divine form of Him who alone is Good, which indicates the moral rules for fulfillment of potencies of the being]. Freedom alone, without reverence for truth is pure relativism. The crucified Christ reveals the meaning of freedom, in that He perfectly matched the form, the will of the Father.

2. Faith calls for a moral commitment: faith includes obedience: Rom 1:5. And love of God is really obedience to Him: as we see in John 14:15 & 21: "The one who obeys the commandments is the one who loves me." and also in 2 John 6: "This is love that we walk according to His commands." So a moral life is also a confession, in sense of praise of God, whom we imitate, admitting that He alone is Good. This confession can go so far as the witness of martyrdom, which tells all that His commands must be obeyed as they stand, without trimming for consequences or proportions or overall goal (fundamental option).

3. Examples of this: John the Baptist, Stephen, James the Apostle and countness martyrs who preferred death to violating even one command of God, a single mortal sin. So martyrdom rejects as illusory the "exceptions" and consequences. So martyrdom exalts the perfect humanity, perfect in that it heroically conforms to the divine form.

4. Martyrdom is a sign of the holiness of the Church, which follows God's Holiness, which wants all that is objectively good. Juvenal, Satires 8. 83-84: "Summum crede nefas animam praeferre pudori, et propter vitam, vivendi perdere causas;" that is: Believe it is supreme evil to prefer life to shame, and to lose the reason for living to save one's life." Stoics too were willing to die rather than violate morality.

5. They claim the Church is lacking in compassion, but falsely, she is concerned with the real fulfillment of all that is right, and so the fulfillment of human dignity and actualization of potencies of each one.

6. It is only moral norms that guarantee just and peaceful coexistence, within a nation, and in international affairs. The mess in Bosnia comes from acting completely contrary to the principles of morality, and love of neighbor. Cf. Horace: "Quid proficiunt leges, vanae sine moribus". When it is a matter of moral principle, there are no exceptions or privileges for anyone. All are completely equal before the demands of morality. Jesus stressed the second table of commandments for the young man.

7. Only God, who is Good and Goodness is the unshakable foundation of morality.

8. The CCC stresses that in economic matters, temperance is to moderate our attachment to created things, justice preserves the rights of others, and gives to each what is due. Solidarity follows the Golden Rule. Such things as theft, fraud etc. are all contrary to human dignity. When these principles are not observed, the very basis of political coexistence is undermined. So there can be no compatibility between democracy and ethical relativism.

9. The ultimate source of trouble within man is the desire to be his own standard of right and wrong, as satan told Eve: "You will be like gods, knowing good and evil".

10. The rules can be carried out only with His grace. Otherwise, the picture of Rom 7:7 results. But we are not totally corrupt as Luther said. Grace does restore and even divinize us, making us temples of the Holy Spirit, sharers in the divine nature.

11. The world needs to be evangelized all over again, for it has lost and denied the principles that make for its well-being. Dechristianization destroys the moral sense - and leads to violence, even senseless violence, as each one does only what he likes.

A life of holiness by the laity is a testimony to what is needed, and to the fact that it works. To live thus is the spiritual sacrifice spoken of in LG §34. The whole Church is called to this work, and has the guidance of the Holy Spirit as in LG §12: "The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy Spirit, cannot err in matters of belief."

12. Moral theologians are required to help in this work, and not to contradict it by false theories. There is no right of dissent for a theologian. Cf. the four levels of teaching. Even internal assent is required even for teaching on level 4. Even where the human arguments offered by the Magisterium are not as strong as we might desire, we have revelation, and theologians must follow it as interpreted by the Magisterium, which does not depend on arguments, but on divine guidance. Dissent is opposed to this fact, that the Church depends on divine guidance, not on arguments.

13. Behavioral sciences cannot determine morality, even though they may help and shed some light on some things. Nor do polls determine what is right and wrong. The Gospel is at work to keep men from despair of their ability to live morally, and from presumption, thinking that "they can be saved without merit."

14. When there is dissent the Bishop must act to defend the right of the faithful to receive the truth. As St. Paul said in 1 Cor 1:17, the chief task of Bishops and Priests is to preach. Bishops must watch over Catholic institutions; they can grant to an institution the right to call itself Catholic, and if it denies the truth, Bishops must remove its right to the Catholic name.

15. This Encyclical is the first time the Church has given a document on basic moral principles - all else has been ad hoc decisions.

16. We entrust ourselves and all the sufferings and joys of our life to Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy. Morality consists in following her Son, and so in this way it is fully simple, capable of being understood by the simple. The light of the Holy Spirit makes this possible.

She experienced the fullness and universality of God's love, which opens her heart and enables it to embrace the entire human race. So she becomes the Mother of all of us, and the model of those who hear the word of God and keep it: hence she is the Seat of Wisdom. To us she repeats what she said at Cana: "Do whatever He tells you."



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