October 13, 2017 § 13 Comments
One of the multitude of interesting passages in the encyclical is Veritatis Splendor 115:
This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this teaching, and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial.
In one sentence this invalidates two of the most common approaches to rationalizing away the universal objectivity of moral standards.
The first rationalization appeals to ambiguous – or just outright incorrect – ‘respectable‘ vintage theological opinions or practices in arguing for moral subjectivism/relativism. This in particular is a dangerous temptation for orthodox Catholics. Just because an opinion or practice is old, comes from a (supposedly) respectable source, and has not (yet) been forcefully condemned, it does not follow that the opinion is sound. The measuring stick of sound doctrine is Scripture, Tradition, and actual authoritative Magisterial pronouncements taken together and understood as harmonious. Theological musings are just theological musings, whatever the source.
The second rationalization involves crafting a supposed doctrinal-pastoral dualism. Under this neopelagian rationalization the human person lives morally inside a subjective intentional bubble separate from his concrete choice of objective behaviors, hermetically shielded from culpability by ignorance. Rather than being a sinner in need of repentance and redemption the human person is intrinsically good; the objective moral law is merely an ‘ideal’; invincible ignorance is the eighth sacrament. Evil comes from outside the person via the imposition of a purely external moral ideal, not from inside the person manifested in his deliberate choice of behaviors. A human being can be mercifully ‘accompanied‘, can be pastorally shielded from his own sinfulness by keeping him in the dark, by blocking him from coming to know the fullness of truth about the good and what that means in terms of concrete behaviors.
The pope doesn’t leave it to just that one sentence though. He goes on to crush the idea that sound pastoral practice can conflict with the truth about objectively good and evil kinds of behavior:
Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuals but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts.
116. 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.
And he reinforces the fact that theological opinions of whatever vintage should not be confused with the authentic Magisterium of the Church:
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 cum Petro et sub Petro, 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 “sound doctrine” (1 Tim 1:10) of faith and morals is taught in our Dioceses.
The life of the spirit is truth. We all know who is the father of lies. And it is no accident that spiritual ‘mercy’ killing requires that its victims be cut off from the fullness of truth.