Veritatis Splendor: a dangerous half-truth

March 1, 1994

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

Another long letter, I am afraid, but when it comes to defending our Catholic Faith, there are no short cuts. Our Lord warned us that at the end of the world there would arise false Christs and false prophets insomuch as to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect. The last thirty years have seen hundreds of millions of Catholics being led astray by the Roman Protestantism designed to integrate them into Satan's New World Order. The operation of error continues, more seductive than ever, to judge by the latest Encyclical letter coming from Rome, last year, entitled Veritatis Splendor, the splendor of truth! To dismantle the seduction may take us a little time, but Our Lord told us to "Watch and pray." Let us watch Veritatis Splendor to help arm us against even greater seductions no doubt being aimed at us, by Satan at any rate...

Let us firstly take an overview of the Encyclical's entire content to give it a chance to speak for itself, and to help avoid parts being attacked piecemeal or out of context. Summaries are bound to distort more or less the original, but this one attempts to be fair.

The Encyclical, containing 120 substantial sections, a little book of 147 pages in the Daughters of St. Paul edition most easily available in the U.S.A., aims to teach us the true foundations of Catholic moral theology, or ethics, because these are being questioned and undermined by errors circulating today (paragraphs #4 & 5).

In the first of the Encyclical's three main parts that follow (#6-27), John-Paul II conducts a meditation on the passage of Scripture, (Mt. XIX 16-21), in which the rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. The Pope presents Jesus' answer as leading the young man to a progressive awareness of the need to submit to God, to obey the natural law or Ten Commandments, and to answer the further call to perfection, which is finally to be found within Christ. This answer Christ entrusted to His Church, the Catholic Church, to carry down the ages, which is what this Encyclical will be doing.

The Encyclical's second and longest part (#28-83) proceeds to tackle current errors, not on minor points of Catholic morals, but on their very basis: it is an excellent thing, says the Pope, for modern man to be so aware of his own dignity and freedom, but freedom must depend on truth (#28-34). Thus firstly, freedom cannot be made into an absolute, because within himself man finds inscribed in his nature the natural law which is the law of his person and which does not change (#35-53) . Secondly, conscience cannot be made into an autonomous absolute, i.e., an absolute which gives itself its own laws, because conscience is merely man's in-built applier of God's law to particular here-and-now situations (#59-64) . A third error, the so-called "fundamental option." also disconnects God's law from here-and-now decisions by pretending that mortal sin consists only in a full-scale rejection of God (#65-70). The last error refuted in this part of the Encyclical is that of making a moral act's goodness depend primarily not upon the act's object, but instead either on the intentions behind it (teleologism or proportionalism) or on the results flowing from it (consequentialism) (#71-82) . In condemning all these errors the Church "respects and promotes man in his dignity and vocation" (#83).

The third main part of the Encyclical (#84-117) presents the Church as defending the true morality, in the past, the present and the future. By connecting freedom to truth, and morality to the Faith, Mother Church guarantees genuine freedom (#84-89), as her martyrs in the past have shown with their witness to human dignity and perfect humanity (#90-94). At present only Mother Church's unyielding stand for true morality can ensure men's dignity and freedom in politics, and men's peaceful co-existence, national or international (#95-101). This morality is possible with God's grace and urgently necessary amidst today's corruption (#102-108), so for the future the moral theologians must work with the Church's Magisterium to deepen her moral teaching, and the bishops must watch over sound doctrine in their dioceses and institutions (#109-117).

And the Encyclical concludes with a call on the help of the Mother of God (#118-120) .

Well, some of you may be asking, where is the problem? Obedience to God, the unchanging natural law, objective morality and its link with the Faith are merely a few of the Encyclical's wholly Catholic teachings. That is why the Encyclical has met with a deafening silence on the part of leading liberals, and with enthusiastic applause from Catholic conservatives.

Then what is the problem? Let us go back to the summary. If you saw no major problem from the point of view of Catholic doctrine as you read through the summary for the first time, that is how many honourable Catholics have read the Encyclical. Hence the seduction. It may take a second reading to see that Veritatis Splendor is not as Catholic as at first it appears to be.

The problem is that this Pope has studied and been deeply influenced by modern philosophers, especially Immanuel Kant and his followers, for whom the dignity of man consists in man's freedom, and man's freedom consists in his absolute independence and autonomy, i.e., he is under the law of nobody but himself. On the contrary, the Catholic Church teaches that man is absolutely dependent on God and under God's law in every moment and act of his existence. Now these two positions are in themselves completely irreconcilable. That is why a great Saint like Pope Pius X said, "Kantism is the modern heresy."

But the modern world is saturated in the principles of Kant, and people cannot believe that what they themselves are saturated in can be so wrong. Hence if they are Catholics in the modern world, the temptation is strong to reconcile the autonomy of man with the law of God. Hence Veritatis Splendor. Look at the summary again: Part one, the rich young man becomes aware of the truth within him; Part Two, the truth of the natural law is inside me, conscience is within me, errors oppose my dignity; Part Three, true morality ensures my freedom, my dignity, my perfection, my rights as a man...

Now to reach out to modern man is one thing; but to pander to his errors is quite another. Let us take another look at the Encyclical itself.

The rich young man of Mt. XIX with whom it begins is presented by John-Paul II not as being commanded by Jesus from without, but as being guided or led by Jesus from his yearnings within (#7), to an inner awareness of himself (#8) and of the will of God. Of course this Gospel passage lends itself to such a presentation, less of God commanding than of man being invited, which is no doubt why the Pope chose it as a launching-pad for this Encyclical. But is it wise to introduce an authoritative presentation of Catholic morals — or of any law for that matter — in a mode of invitation rather than command? Is hell for real? It gets no mention in Veritatis Splendor. From this first part one might suspect that the Pope is going to highlight the appeal of Catholic morals and disguise any element of command or threat.

At the beginning of Part Two this suspicion is confirmed. As soon as the Pope launches into the analysis proper of the errors he wishes to refute (#28-83), he lays down as his point of departure in (#31) the "particularly strong sense of freedom" of people today: "Hence the insistent demand that people be permitted to `enjoy the use of their own responsible judgment and freedom, and decide on their actions on grounds of duty and conscience, without external pressure or coercion' (quotation from Vatican II Decree on Religious Liberty)." The Pope obviously approves of this distaste for coercion, but it sets him a grave problem — part of the splendor of divine truth is that God coerces with the threat of eternal punishment anyone who disobeys His law. How is the Pope going to make coercion look, or feel, as though it does not coerce?

Go back to the summary of Part Two: first error, the absolutising of freedom. Now the Pope wants to bring man's freedom — meaning the use of his free-will — under God's law. Well and good. But at the same time he cannot bear making modern man feel that he is being coerced by God's law. Therefore John Paul II even when he states a truth is liable to use language that suggests a falsehood. Classic example, #41: Man has "autonomy" (truth, man has free will; false suggestion, man is his own law); obedience to God is "no heteronomy" (truth, God's law does not take away man's free will; false suggestion, man comes under no law but his own); obedience to God is a "participated theonomy" (truth, man in a way partakes of God's law when he obeys it; false suggestion, man takes part in laying down God's law). Alas, modern man will heed not the truth, but the sympathy for his error expressed in the Pope's choice of language.

In fact, from the moment the Pope set up his admiration of modern liberty (#31), he is trying to square the circle when it comes to Catholic morals, because how can God tell man what to do (Catholic morals), without man being told what to do (modern liberty)? Modern liberty is the false liberty of the Boeing 747 being "free" from the laws of aerodynamics, with the result that it is unable to fly. Catholic liberty is the true liberty of souls submitting to the law of God so as to be free to fly to heaven. In fact a Boeing must obey an incredible number of laws, all minutely checked pre-flight in the cockpit, before it is free to fly over the ocean. Modern freedom is from, Catholic freedom is to. The Pope deep down (#31) respects the modern notion of freedom, which has the effect of undermining everything he will say about God's law, however splendidly true what he says may otherwise be.

For example when he goes on to refute the absolutisation of conscience (#54-64), he says many good things about conscience being the voice of God and of God's law, but he still cannot help concluding (#64) that "the authority of the Church in no way undermines the Christian's freedom of conscience," and "the Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience," expressions suggesting that the Church calls the moral shots without calling them, and conscience while not in command is nevertheless in command. Thus Veyitatis Splendor gives the store away without giving it away! That is what comes of trying to fit God's truth to modern minds instead of modern minds to God's truth.

The next modern error to be refuted by the Pope in this second part of the Encyclical is the error of the so-called "fundamental option," namely, so long as a man basically loves God, then a few particular mortal sins here or there do not matter. Except for a few traces of existentialism in his analysis, the Pope's refutation is good: a basic attitude towards God is not expressed other than in particular acts, so just one mortally wrong act is enough to put enmity between the soul and God (#65-70) .

Similarly when he refutes the modern errors that undermine objective morality (#71-83), either teleologism or proportionalism making an act's goodness depend essentially upon the agent's intention, or consequentialism making it depend upon the act's consequences instead of primarily upon its object, then the Pope clearly affirms Catholic doctrine: an act's moral goodness or badness depends primarily upon the act's object, in such a way that some acts (such as artificial contraception) are intrinsically, always and everywhere, wrong. Yet the last paragraph (#83) of Part Two opens a door to undermining everything he has well said: in this question of intrinsically evil acts he says "we find ourselves faced with the question of man himself, of his truth..."; by teaching the intrinsic evil of certain acts, "the Church remains faithful to the integral truth about man; she thus respects and promotes man in his dignity and vocation." Modern man replies, "Grand. Now the integral truth about my dignity and the vocation of my wife is that we should stop breeding like rabbits, so since the Church in no way undermines our freedom of conscience, we are going to use the pill." "But children," replies the Pope, "that is not `the inviting splendor of that truth which is Jesus Christ himself (#83) ." "But, Holy Father, `In the Truth man can understand fully and live perfectly... his vocation to freedom,' right? — #83. That's what we're doing with the pill!" As a Scotsman once said some years ago of some wimpish kerk (Church) that he had spurned on his way into the real Catholic Church, "A kerk without a hell isn't werth a damn!"

The third and last Part of Veritatis Splendor presents the Church as the promoter and defender of morality - and true freedom (#84) . But the Pope is still framing the question in terms of freedom as though freedom were threatened by the laws of aerodynamics: "How can obedience to universal and unchanging moral norms respect the uniqueness and individuality of the person, and not represent a threat to his freedom and dignity?" (#85). The Pope's framing of the problem being thus man-centered, so are his solutions. Thus martyrs have given their lives for Catholic morality, bearing "splendid witness to the holiness of God's law and to the inviolability of the personal dignity of man" (#92), from which it follows that such martyrdom is not confined to Catholics (#94). What a blurring of nature and grace, or of the natural and supernatural orders! Between a pagan dying for natural motives, however moral, and a Catholic dying for supernatural motives, notably his Faith, there is literally no comparison. However, when th perspective, as in this Encyclical, essentially centres not on God, author of grace and nature, but on man, carrier in himself only of nature, then this blurring down of the supernatural into the natural is inevitable, and it is to be found throughout Veritatis Splendor.

Objection! In the very next section (#102-108), before teaching the urgent need today for Christian morality (#106-108), the Pope teaches Christian morality is possible, with the grace of God (#102-105). Reply: read carefully: "...Temptations can be overcome, sins can be avoided, because together with the commandments the Lord gives us the possibility of keeping them..." (#102); "...Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free" (#103). Now phrases like these can be given a Catholic interpretation, but they can also be read as though Christ's grace lifts nature to its supreme dignity still within, and not above, the order of nature. After all, would it not belittle what is for modern man the supreme dignity of the human person for it to be lifted way above its own order?

I think that the Pope with his deeply ambiguous mind, suspended between Catholicism and modern philosophy, would answer "Yes and no," and he would be convinced of his answer! For a Catholic, the problem is wrongly set to start with, because for the Catholic the human person has no dignity outside of God in the first place. Questions like, "How can liberty and law not clash?" are for Catholics non-questions.

As for the future (#109-117), the Pope urges the Church's moral theologians to work with the Magisterium. This he does after having again and again expressed his admiration for the principles of freedom, human dignity, human rights and democracy, which are the very principles behind the rebellion of so many of these theologians against the Magisterium! As has often been pointed out, a moderate revolutionary (like the Pope) is incapable of stopping radical revolutionaries (like today's dissident theologians) because he deep down respects, even shares, their principles. A tank cannot be stopped with a pea-shooter. It takes the undiluted truth to stop a radical. Veritatis Splendor fluffs its own best lines, and that is why when the Pope finally calls the Catholic bishops to order (#114117), the most terrible sanction he proposes for them to apply is that they should take away the title of "Catholic" from any institution "seriously failing to live up to that title"! But in the name of human dignity, thousands of these institutions still calling themselves Catholic will soon be jettisoning the title on their own anyway!

This poor Pope! He believes in the modern world, and he believes that he believes in the Catholic Faith. But to believe at one and the same time in such contradictories essential godliness and essential godlessness — shows at the very least that he does not understand the Catholic Faith which he sincerely thinks he believes in. If he really understood the true Faith, there is no way in which he could take so seriously all the modern philosophers' nonsense about the dignity of the human person.

It is not freedom, but reason, that gives to the rational animal (without grace) such intrinsic dignity as he has. The freedom is merely an inalienable feature — not an inalienable right — of beings with reason. It makes as much sense to talk of an inalienable right of men to be free as to talk of an inalienable right of their digestion to digest! The whole question is, what does man use his faculty of freedom for? If he uses it well, then he has dignity, but if he uses it badly, then he has no dignity except the potential dignity that if he started over again he could use it well.

In other words man is not for himself, he is for God. But again and again in Veritatis Splendor the accent is displaced towards man being a value in himself. Of course the Encyclical keeps attempting the reconciliation of this self-worship of man with Catholicism by arguing that for man truly to be a value in himself, he must obey God's laws, i.e., the unchanging Catholic morality. Now it is perfectly true that only such obedience will make man the best that man can be, but it is perfectly false that self-value or human dignity is what Catholic morality is for, because from the moment it was for that, a man's every act would be mortal sin. Catholic morality is for the GLORY OF GOD, to which the dignity of man as conceived by the modern philosophers is directly opposed. "Glory to God on high... Thou alone art holy, thou alone art Lord, thou alone art most high, Jesus Christ, with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, Amen!" And all my poor person, all my poor dignity, all my poor morality are for you, and for you alone, my God and my all!

The seduction of Veritatis Splendor (as of the documents of Vatican II) lies in the fact that the author, while inwardly adoring the human person, still knows his Catholic doctrine well enough to keep the outward expression of his adoration just within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy. That is why even if their letter is still mainly correct, their spirit is certainly not. That is why conservatives defend the letter of Vatican II and Veritatis Splendor while liberals claim — truthfully — to follow the spirit. That is why Veritatis Splendor will change nothing in today's Church. The appearances go one way, the inner thrust goes another. The Pope has given us not the splendor of truth, but the splendor of the human person, which is a dangerous half-truth. Watch out in years to come for dangerous three-quarter and even seven-eighth truths!

And pray for this Pope, dazzled by the bright lights of the modern world, which is intrinsically godless. Let us pray especially that he perform as soon as possible, with as many bishops as he can get to obey him, the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Nothing else can save the modern world, because that is what God has decreed will save it. But only our prayers can bring the author of Veyitatis Splendor to see that.

Also profit by the Society's retreat houses and the Seminary's program this summer. Flyer enclosed. The music course last summer was a great success. The doctrinal courses were also much appreciated. Doctrine matters. Today's collapse of the Church is primarily a doctrinal problem. Think of the Ignatian retreats as rock-blasting. Think of the doctrinal courses as picking up the rocks! But be careful. The signs are that Satan has in mind to close down the quarries before too long!

Most sincerely yours, meanwhile, in the Sacred Heart of Jesus,