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Encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor The Splendor of Truth

Written by Alain Pilote, Pope John Paul II on Friday, 01 April 2005. Posted in Encyclical letters, Pope John Paul II

To live in accordance with the truth of the Commandments of God

The legacy of John Paul Il's teachings is an inexhaustible goldmine of sound and solid doctrine. One of his most important documents was his 10th Encyclical Letter, entitled "Veritatis Splendor" (The Splendor of Truth), "regarding certain fundamental questions of the Church's moral teaching." Dated August 6, 1993, this document is addressed specifically to the Bishops who, together with Peter's successor, share the duty of seeing to it that the word of God is faithfully taught, to ensure that the faithful are not misled by false doctrines.

A genuine crisis

John Paul II writes that theories that are contrary to the Church's moral teaching, which endanger the faith and the salvation of the faithful, circulate "even in seminaries and in faculties of theology." The Pope speaks about the existence of "a genuine crisis, since the difficulties which it engenders have most serious implications for the moral life of the faithful" and for social life. At one point, the Sovereign Pontiff even mentions these words of Saint Paul: "For the time will come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths..." (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

With this encyclical, John Paul II wants to put an end to the confusion that reigns in the minds of too many of the faithful who had been told again and again for years by false prophets — who call themselves Catholics but who are Catholics in name only – lies like "there are no more sins; there is no hell; if you feel like it, do it; the Ten Commandments are outdated and no longer valid for today's society; one does not have to worry about what the Church teaches; one can be a good Catholic and be saved while being against the teachings of the Church - one has only to pick up what one likes and put the rest aside, etc."

After having heard such falsities for years, several Catholics unfortunately believed them in the end, to the great satisfaction of the devil who wants the ruin of souls and the failure of God's plan. This magnificent document of the Holy Father (over 178 pages long) therefore arrived just at the right moment. One must not be surprised that many socalled "theologians" were boiling mad against this encyclical since the Pope denounced in it, with clarity and logic, the errors that these same theologians have been spreading in profusion for years. Here is a summary of this encyclical. (The words of the Pope are set in bold type and in quotes.)

Keep the Commandments of God

John Paul II bases his encyclical on the dialogue of Jesus with the rich young man: "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life? - If you wish to enter into life, keep the Commandments." (Matthew 19:1621). The observance of the Ten Commandments is therefore the first condition of salvation. "The power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone."

In that sense, the expression "one must act according to one's conscience" is valid only if conscience is submitted to the truth, to Divine Law, of which the Roman Catholic Church is, by the will of Christ, the faithful guardian and interpreter. For one can be sincere and yet be mistaken. The Church therefore exists to help the faithful to form their consciences. That is why the Church teaches that whereas it is true that every man has a free will, there also exists "a prior moral obligation, and a grave one at that, to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known."

Some people, to justify their sins, could build up false arguments, but the word of God is quite clear: "Saint Paul declares that'the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers'are excluded from the Kingdom of God (cf. I Corinthians 6:9)." "The negative precepts of the natural law (Thou shalt not kill, etc.) are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance... It is prohibited - to everyone and in every case – to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all."

Mortal sin

The Pope reminds the faithful of the existence of mortal sin which, as its name implies, kills the soul, and in committing it, condemns us to the pains of hell: "With every freely committed mortal sin, man offends God as the giver of the law and, as a result, becomes guilty with regard to the entire law; even if he perseveres in faith, he looses sanctifying grace, charity, and eternal happiness... The 1983 Synod of Bishops not only reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the existence and nature of mortal and venial sins, but it also recalled that mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."

Love of God and martyrdom

"Love of God and of one's neighbour cannot be separated from the observance of the commandments of the Covenant renewed in the blood of Jesus Christ and in the gift of the Spirit. It is an honour characteristic of Christians to obey God rather than men and accept even martyrdom as a consequence, like the holy men and women of the Old and New Testaments, who are considered such because they gave their lives rather than perform this or that particular act contrary to faith or virtue." (...)

"The Church proposes the example of numerous Saints who bore witness to and defended moral truth even to the point of enduring martyrdom, or who preferred death to a single mortal sin. In raising them to the honour of the altars, the Church has canonized their witness and declared the truth of their judgment, according to which the love of God entails the obligation to respect His Commandments, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the refusal to betray those Commandments, even for the sake of saving one's own life..."

"When it is a matter of the moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the poorest of the poor on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal... Civil authorities and particular individuals never have authority to violate the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person."

Even if one knows what is good, one does not always do it because, since the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, we bear on our souls the stain of original sin, and we are tempted to do evil. That is why God offers us the help of His grace to overcome temptations, and if we fall into sin, God gives us the grace to get up again, through the sacrament of Penance.

Not a democracy

Even if a majority of Catholics were in favour of abortion or artificial birth control (the pill, etc.), this would absolutely not change the fact that abortion and artificial birth control are always evil. As it was stated before, the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone.

Similarly, even though a majority of the faithful put pressure on the Pope to have him decree that abortion and "the pill" are no longer sins, it would be completely useless since it is not the Pope who is the author of the Ten Commandments, but God; neither the Pope nor any man has the power to change them. The duty of the Pope and of the Church is to tell the truth to the faithful, even on the most difficult points, whether people like it or not. The Pope explains it that way in his encyclical:

"The fact that some believers act without following the teachings of the Magisterium, or erroneously consider as morally correct a kind of behaviour declared by their pastors as contrary to the law of God, cannot be a valid argument for rejecting the truth of the moral norms taught by the Church... Dissent, in the form of carefully orchestrated protests and polemics carried on in the media, is opposed to ecclesial communion and to a correct understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the people of God."

The duty of Bishops

The Pope ends his encyclical by recalling the duty of the Bishops: "We have the duty, as Bishops, to be vigilant that the word of God is faithfully taught. My Brothers in the Episcopate, it is part of our pastoral ministry to see to it that this moral teaching is faithfully handed down and to have recourse to appropriate measures to ensure that the faithful are guarded from every doctrine and theory contrary to it.

"In carrying out this task, we are all assisted by theologians; even so, theological opinions constitute neither the rule nor the norm of our teaching. Its authority is derived, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit and in communion with Peter and under Peter, from our fidelity to the Catholic faith which comes from the Apostles. As Bishops, we have the grave obligation to be personally vigilant that the doctrine of faith and morals is taught in our dioceses."

Let us pray so that all the Bishops may actually "have recourse to appropriate measures to ensure that the faithful are guarded from every doctrine and theory contrary" to the moral teaching of the Church!

Summary written by Alain Pilote



About the Author

Alain Pilote

Alain Pilote

Alain Pilote has been the editor of the English edition of MICHAEL for several years. Twice a year we organize a week of study of the social doctrine of the Church and its application and Mr. Pilote is the instructor during these sessions.


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