Photo: John Paul II forgives his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca
It has been twenty-five years since Pope Saint John Paul II released the encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”).
I’ve been thinking about this particular letter lately. Its critique of contemporary trends in moral theology seems even more prophetic now. I think, in particular, about all of the arguments being presented by dissenters in the Church today re: contraception, homosexuality, etc. Of course, these arguments were around at the time the letter was written, and they haven’t changed much since. The voices of dissent have, in many cases, simply become more shrill and, in some quarters, unquestioned… a “dictatorship of relativism,” as then-Cardinal Ratzinger aptly named it.
Veritatis Splendor is perhaps one of the most difficult letters of JPII to digest, as it makes deep forays into philosophy to make its case. It was one of the first letters of JPII I ever encountered, and, in retrospect, I think it’s one I most appreciate because I really had to grapple with it, to work at understanding his arguments and his thesis.
I also think it may be among the most maligned and neglected letters of JPII, and so I’m planning to make it the primary topic of my blog in the coming months. My idea is to publish a short passage in each post, unpack what it has to say, and then invite comments, observations, questions.
The table of contents page for this project may be found here.
Let’s start at the very beginning: the blessing.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Health and the Apostolic Blessing!
The splendour of truth shines forth in all the works of the Creator and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26). Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord. Hence the Psalmist prays: “Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord” (Ps 4:6).
First thing to note: the audience for the letter. It is primarily addressed to bishops; no one else is listed in the salutation. Certainly this doesn’t mean that no one else can benefit from reading it, but it’s worth noting that, primarily, the Pope is addressing the official teachers in the Church, those with a particular vocation of maintaining and explaining the apostolic teaching on faith and morals in its integrity.
Also noteworthy: John Paul II displays his characteristic focus on the human person’s capacity for freedom, and on truth as a source and guide for this freedom. The goal of freedom? To know and love the Lord.
Finally, he ends by invoking God’s grace, using the words of the Psalmist. Our thinking about the moral life finds its source and criterion in God, the Truth in Person.
In my next post, I’ll look at the introduction. Teaser: Truth shines upon us and has a human face: Jesus Christ.