Spiritual euthanasia

October 13, 2017 § 13 Comments

One Peter Five has posted an article arguing for the infallibility of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical The Splendor of Truth.

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.

§ 13 Responses to Spiritual euthanasia

  • Spiritual Euthanasia is fantastic term for this way of thinking about morality. The combox at Crisis yesterday had many “pro-life” commenters claiming that life of the mother was an acceptable exception to the prohibition against abortion. The pro-life movement badly needs Veritatis Splendor.

  • “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’…”

    Yes. You’ve nailed one affliction of the modern world that seems to have spread like a disease. “There are no bad people, just good people who sometimes do bad things.” Than we have the, “I’m a good person” as if that alone should somehow protect us from suffering. And since we’re already innately good, nobody really needs redemption, forgiveness, or a Savior anymore. Also, “good guys finish last,” so of course success is often perceived as being dependent on not being good. Who wants to come in last?

    I like Luke 18:19, where Jesus says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” There are a lot of reason why He says it, but I like to take away a the fact that a perfect, sin free man, who is certainly good, points us to the Father.

  • Mike T says:

    You’ve nailed one affliction of the modern world that seems to have spread like a disease. “There are no bad people, just good people who sometimes do bad things.”

    I had a relative who was like that. Very set in her mind in that old Episcopalian way about such liberal pieties.

    Then an African immigrant moved next door. He parked his trailer illegally. She mentioned it to a police officer. He responded by creeping onto her property at night, and shooting her horse in the leg with a low caliber handgun so it would slowly bleed to death over several hours.

    After that, she started to believe that some people are just evil.

  • Mike T says:

    I don’t know about your experience, IB, but I can’t remember meeting someone who has genuine experience of any sort with what we’d call “evil people” or even just generally **bad** people who feels that people are essentially good. I’ve only seen that attitude among your UMC WASPs and their equivalent who live in functional isolation from the rest of humanity.

  • “I can’t remember meeting someone who has genuine experience of any sort with what we’d call “evil people” or even just generally **bad** people who feels that people are essentially good.”

    Good point,Mike. Somebody smart once said that the devil’s greatest accomplishment was in convincing everyone he doesn’t exist. I suspect that is part of the reason why we come up with crazy things like “terrorists just need more job training” or people who do bad things are just mentally ill and can’t help themselves. We can no longer accept that evil doesn’t have a rational explanation,the problem being the very nature of evil is irrational, chaotic, and defies explanation.

  • LarryDickson says:

    Sigh . . . This piece proposes the binary opposition between the rules-oriented, be-Mucius-Scaevola-or-go-to-hell approach and the sick-liberal, every-murderer-deserves-our-sympathy approach as if there were no third. Reply 2 by insanitybytes22 is on the right track to the right answer: contradict “good guys finish last”. That means serious preaching – preaching that calls to heroism when needed and love always. Why is it that the Mormons, with their flawed theology, do better than we do in that respect – even having a strong community of “elders” (young men) active in their communities?

    The left wing, blubbering sympathy until some really bad person does something really bad to them, control the media but everyone else is sick of them. The right wing, shouting moral absolutism that somehow only applies to the powerless and not to the powerful, are simply not listened to by anyone. Champion to the young the real marital heroism that everyone loves (but fears they are incapable of); start with Malachi 2:13-16. And, by the way, start preaching a way back from usury too . . . the young would love to be able to roll up their sleeves and work for a decent living.

  • MT says:

    insanitybytes,are you a protestant? Because it’s not a Catholic thing to deny that all things inherently good of all things that exist, even in a fallen state.

  • Zippy says:

    Often enough good guys do finish last. Being willing to finish last rather than do evil is what all Christians – all human beings – are called to do. Pretending that this isn’t the case doesn’t help anyone. It is just a lie.

    And ultimately the choice between Heaven and Hell is, in fact, a binary choice.

    …by the way, start preaching a way back from usury…

    Like this, for example?

    Or do you mean on the personal level? On the personal level the “way back” from choosing intrinsically immoral behaviors (whether adultery, usury, theft, rape, torture, murder, or any other intrinsically immoral behavior) has been succinctly summarized by the Prophet Bob Newhart: “stop it!”

  • Zippy says:

    Yes, insanitybytes22 is (any number of my commenters are) protestant.

  • William Luse says:

    This piece proposes the binary opposition between the rules-oriented etc. blahblah…

    From the OP: …”this invalidates two of the most common approaches….”

  • c matt says:

    Wouldn’t it be rather ironic for a document entitled “Splendor of Truth” to be fallible?

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