Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Veritatis Splendor at 25 and Alasdair MacIntyre on What It Teaches Us

Pope John Paul II's mighty encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor was released on this date in 1993, and while it is probably best known in moral theology for its rejection of proportionalism (at ¶¶ 79-83: "circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act 'subjectively' good or defensible as a choice") there are a host of other vital aspects to the document. Here is a rich paragraph from an article by Alasdair MacIntyre, "How Can We Learn What Veritatis Splendor Has to Teach?," 58 The Thomist 171 (1994):

Yet as Catholics we have to listen first to what a very different set of voices have to say to us, those inspired and authoritative voices which declare the Word of God concerning those same moral matters about which our own culture speaks to us so vociferously and about which we have arrived at our own philosophical conclusions. Part of what we have to learn, or rather to re­learn, from Veritatis Splendor is that, at least so far as the fundamental and central precepts of the moral law are concerned, the truths about those precepts declared to us by God through Moses and the prophets, in the revelation by Jesus Christ of the New Law and in the teaching of the Catholic Church, culminating in this very encyclical, are no other than the truths to which we have already assented as rational persons, or rather to which we would have assented, if we had not been frustrated in so doing by our own cultural, intellectual, and moral errors and deformations. Yet the encyclical also teaches us that what we encounter in Jesus Christ is immeasurably more than this. We also have to learn of our forgiveness and our redemption and of the transformation made possible in our acknowledgment of law when we come to understand it in the light afforded by Jesus Christ. Nonetheless the law declared to us by God in revelation is the same law as that which we recognize in the moral requirements imposed by our own human practical understanding and reasoning, when they are in good order. So that when we become able to hear and to respond to what Jesus Christ has to say to us, we do not have to leave behind or discard anything that we had genuinely learned concerning the moral law through reasoning. Grace often corrects, as well as completes, what we have so far taken to be conclusions of reason, but, when grace does so correct us, it is always because we have in some way failed as reasoners. And therefore Veritatis Splendor, just because it is true to this biblical teaching, will be grotesquely misunderstood if it is understood as an act of coercive imposition by an external authority, rather than an invitation to become more thoughtful and more perceptive. It does indeed speak in the name of an authority external to us, God, but that to which it invites us--that to which He invites us--is in part an act of moral and rational self-recognition. And Veritatis Splendor as a work of philosophy does itself exhibit just that moral and rational awareness to which as an encyclical it invites its readers.


Moreland, Michael | Permalink