"VERITATIS SPLENDOR" DEFEATS "NEW MORALITY"
by Frank Morriss
Like the morning sun burning off the night fog,
dissipates the theological smog that has confused so many and led to
dissent from traditional Catholic moral doctrine.
Specifically, the separation of human actions from the interior and
subjective motive or intention is rejected:
"If the object of the concrete action is not in harmony with the true good
of the person, the choice of that action makes our will and ourselves
morally evil, thus putting us in conflict with our ultimate end, the
supreme good, God Himself" (p. 89, the official English text, Libreria
Editrice Vaticana, 1993).
This alone sweeps away the pretenses at an intellectual defense of the
cherished immoralities of those who attempt to find virtue in
misunderstood freedom of conscience, or who make the very fact of choice a
determinant of morality. More succinctly, Pope John Paul II puts it thus:
", renewed in the Blood of
Jesus Christ and in the gift of the Spirit" (p. 95, , emphasis in
The Pope quotes from the new , no. 1761:
"Consequently, as teaches, 'There
are certain specific kinds of behavior that are always wrong to choose,
because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral
evil'" (p. 96, Ibid.).
Unfortunately for the dissenters, the Pope does not leave this matter
Turning to St. Paul, he cites immorality, idolatry, adultery, sexual
perversion, theft and robbery, greed, drunkenness; and to St. Augustine,
where we find fornication and blasphemy as acts not made good by good
motives; and to the Second Vatican Council where acts hostile to life
itself-homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, and voluntary suicide-are
identified as a disgrace and a "negation of the honor due to the Creator."
The Pope singles out "contraceptive practices," and quotes from Pope Paul
". . . It is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that
good may come of it (cf. Rom. 3:8)-in other words, to intend directly
something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which
must therefore be judged unworthy of men, even though the intention is to
protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family, or of
society in general" (p. 100, Ibid.).
The opposite has been promoted by some "new theologians" (that is,
proponents of a "new morality"), with a number of novel and not-so-new
errors under various names. identifies them and
leaves them in shreds, like defeated banners of some rebel marauders:
"Particular acts which flow from this option would constitute only partial
and never definitive attempts to give it expression; they would be only
its 'signs' or symptoms.... This is pushed to the point where a concrete
kind of behavior, even one freely chosen, comes to be considered as merely
physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human
act.... These tendencies [separating an act of faith as in the fundamental
option from the choice of particular acts] are ... contrary to the
teachings of Scripture itself." The Pope points out that any true
fundamental option for God and good "" (pp. 8183, Ibid., emphasis in text).
"The former [consequentialism] claims to draw the criteria of the
rightness of a given way of acting solely from a calculation of
foreseeable consequences deriving from a given choice. The latter
[proportionalism], by weighing the various values and goods being sought,
focuses rather on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad
effects of that choice, with a view to the 'greater good' or 'lesser evil'
actually possible in a particular situation" (p. 92, Ibid.).
"Such theories are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they
believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of
behavior contrary to the divine and natural law" (p. 94, Ibid.). (It was
in his rejection of these theories that the Pope presented the statement
from given above.)
"Here various approaches are at one in overlooking the created dimension
of nature and in misunderstanding its integrity.... Human nature,
understood in this way, could be reduced to and treated as readily
available-biological or social material. This ultimately means making
freedom self-defining and a phenomenon creative of itself and its values.
Indeed, when all is said and done man would not even have a nature; he
would be his own personal life-project. Man would be nothing more than his
own freedom" (p. 59, Ibid.).
". . . Since the human person cannot be reduced to a freedom which is
self-designing, but entails a particular spiritual and bodily structure,
the primordial moral requirement of loving and respecting the person as an
end and never a mere means also implies, by its very nature, respect for
certain fundamental goods, without which one would fall into relativism
and arbitrariness" (p. 62, Ibid.).
"Some people . . . disregarding the dependence of human reason on divine
Wisdom and the need, given the present state of fallen nature, for divine
Revelation as an effective means for knowing moral truths, even those of
the natural order, have actually posited a of
reason in the domain of moral norms regarding the right ordering of life
in this world. Such norms would constitute the boundaries for a merely
'human' morality; they would be the expression of a law which man in an
autonomous manner lays down for himself and which has its source
exclusively in human reason.
"In no way would God be considered the Author of this law, except in the
sense that human reason exercises its autonomy in setting down laws by
virtue of a primordial and total mandate given man by God. These trends of
thought have led to a denial, in opposition to Sacred Scripture (cf. Matt.
15:3-6) and the Church's constant teaching, of the fact that the natural
moral law has God as its Author, and that man, by the use of reason,
participates in the eternal law, which it is not for him to establish" (p.
The encyclical makes a most important and telling point regarding dissent
from the Church's moral teaching:
"No damage must be done to the is damaged not only by Christians who reject or distort the
truths of the faith but also by those who disregard the moral obligations
to which they are called by the Gospel (cf. I Cor. 5:9-13)" (p. 34, Ibid.,
emphasis in text).
This clearly rebukes those claiming true and equal Catholicity even as
they reject the Church's moral teachings. It identifies them as dissenters
on a level with doctrinal heretics. Without using the term, describes dissent on morality as a species of heresy. It points
out that "ever since apostolic times the Church's pastors have
unambiguously condemned the behavior of those who fostered division by
their teaching or by their actions."
This raises to consideration the recent "pastoral approach" to immorality
that has confused the faithful and emboldened immoralists to claim the
right to practices contrary to Christian Tradition and to Revelation
itself. The encyclical early refers to this situation:
". . . The traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the
universality and permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain
of the Church's moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the
itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of
in the light of which each individual will independently make his
decisions and life choices" (p. 7, Ibid., emphasis added).
Do not the words emphasized above summarize the "pastoral approach" that
has so de- emphasized the compelling nature of Catholic teaching?
Toward the end of the encyclical, Pope John Paul II sets out the correct
posture and response called for by good pastors, concerned with protecting
the flock from rogue theologians. I must give this in elided condition
because of space limitations:
", in the form of carefully orchestrated protests and polemics
carried on in the media, Opposition to the teaching of the Church's pastors cannot be seen as
a legitimate expression either of Christian freedom or the diversity of
the Spirit's gifts. When this happens, the Church's pastors have the duty
to act in conformity with their apostolic mission, insisting that the
right of the faithful to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and
integrity must always be respected....
"It is our common duty, and even before that our common grace, as pastors
and bishops of the Church, to teach the faithful the things which lead
them to God.... The truth of this teaching [of Christ to the young man
that he follow the Commandments] was sealed on the cross in the Blood of
Christ: in the Holy Spirit, it has become the new law of the Church and of
"This 'answer' to the question about morality has been entrusted by Jesus
Christ in a particular way to us, the pastors of the Church; we have been
called to make it the object of our preaching, in the fulfillment of our
[prophetic office]. At the same time, our
responsibility as pastors with regard to Christian moral teaching must
also be exercised as part of the [priestly office]....
Especially today, Christian moral teaching must be one of the chief areas
in which we exercise our pastoral vigilance, in carrying out our [ruling, governing office]....
"As bishops, we have the grave obligation to be vigilant that
the 'sound doctrine' (I Tim. 1:10) of faith and morals is taught in our
dioceses" (pp. 135-138, passim, Ibid., emphasis in text).
Finally, our Catholic politicians and jurists should heed the truth taught
by regarding their duties as civic and community
"The Commandments of the second table of the Decalogue in particular-
those which Jesus quoted to the young man of the Gospel (cf. Matt. 19:19)-
constitute the indispensable rules of all social life.
"These Commandments are formulated in general terms. But the very fact
that 'the origin, the subject, and the purpose of social institutions is
and should be the human person' (, no. 25) allows for
them to be specified and made more explicit in a detailed code of
behavior. The fundamental moral rules of social life thus entail to which both public authorities and citizens are required to pay
heed.... In the end, only a morality which acknowledges certain norms as
valid always and for everyone, with no exception, can guarantee the
ethical foundation of social coexistence, both on the national and
Only the Catholic faith - in such pronouncements as this-has the remedy to
the plague of disorder, violent behavior, and lawlessness threatening
This article was taken from the November 4, 1993 issue of "The Wanderer,"
201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price:
$35.00 per year; six months $20.00.