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Veritatis Splendor and the Nature of Freedom*

“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32

Bioethics in Law & Culture                                                                                                                          Summer  2020     vol. 3  issue  3

Steven Meyer, S.T.D.

Assistant Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary, Houston, TX

A couple of years ago, I published a Sebastian’s Point article sketching the connection between freedom and the culture of death in Evangelium vitae.[i] This piece overlaps with that one and focuses on the nature of freedom and truth. Freedom is a gift for the sake of giving. It is part of human nature, but it is badly damaged or weakened due to the inherited human condition in the sin of Adam. Freedom cannot be understood apart from the truth. The truth can be found in the person of Jesus Christ who is the truth. For those who do not recognize Christ explicitly, they can find the truth in their human nature, hidden in their hearts. True freedom can be understood in the words of Jesus, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) In Redemptor hominis St. John Paul II writes, “These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to the truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom…”[ii] Freedom is more than physical liberty or in being free from coercion. While freedom involves these aspects, at a higher level being free involves a responsible gift of self in commitment.

 

In commemoration of St. John Paul II’s The Splendor of Truth or Veritatis splendor (henceforth VS) let us examine the theme of freedom focusing on this text. As such we will not be treating societal, political, or economic notions of freedom. These would be better suited to an analysis of Christian social teachings. VS is primarily about human moral action. After giving an overview to VS, we will examine the Biblical case for freedom and as freedom connects to self-gift, law, and conscience. While some might think it passé to cover a work from two pontificates in the past, it is my opinion that the idea of freedom contained herein has not been adequately realized. Writing as a theologian I am aware that readers of an inter-disciplinary journal might not understand certain terms. I will attempt to define terms as clearly as possible.

 

Veritatis splendor

 

VS is the first-ever papal document to ground moral principles in God’s revelation of Himself.[iii] Published on August 6, 1993, its themes are as relevant today as ever. VS is a prequel to the 1998 encyclical on faith and reason, Fides et ratio (1998), and follows the publication of Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992). The situational context of VS is just like ours today. Externally, Christianity finds its established Churches, for example, dioceses in Europe and the Americas, in cultures undergoing a rapid de-Christianization. This means that the faith is not to be handing on to the next generation. It also means that more people drift away from their baptismal faith. It also means that Christian faith, the objective, and symbolic content, has less influence over cultural norms. This de-Christianization of cultures is further amplified because of internal Catholic dissent from official Magisterial teachings. Dissent here means open resistance to the teachings of the pope from those in positions of theological expertise.[iv]  

 

What are some of the moral principles clarified in VS? The meaning of freedom for John Paul II  is central. To be free is to receive a gift from God as part of the objective blueprint of human nature. It is, of course, one frustrated by sin. True freedom is more than physical movement. It is more than making choices. It is more than being free from psychological pressures. Being free is all of these and the determination to give of oneself to others. Using others as means for some utilitarian end is not acting freely. Another major theme defends the natural law as the God implanted law in the human heart, universal to all, and immutable. As the moral law in the human heart can know by reason, it allows for all to participate in the Eternal law. This Eternal law is revealed by God in both Old and New Testaments. St. John Paul II relies on St. Thomas Aquinas for his understanding of natural law against modern attacks against it. Another theme clarifies conscience as the judgment of reason in light of what God has placed in our hearts according to St. Paul in Romans. Still another theme defines the nature of a moral act as having an object (the action and most important), an end (purpose), and circumstances. This serves as a frame to critique the relativistic moral theories of consequentialism (the act is good if there are good outcomes) and proportionalism which is like utilitarianism (the act is good if good for the many). VS addresses the “fundamental option” (a person’s moral orientation) and defends the classic teaching on the real possibility of committing a mortal sin. He proclaims that we may not do evil acts that good may come from them. Uniting all the various themes treated by John Paul II is a confidence that we can know the truth, hence the title. The theme of reason and faith as allies in discovering the truth becomes central in the sequel encyclical Fides et ratio. Ultimately, the crisis of morality and freedom today is a crisis of truth that confuses good for evil. (see VS 93).

 

An interesting feature of VS is how the Pope cites Scripture often and throughout. Scripture is entrusted to the authority of the Magisterium to discern, clarify, and proclaim. Cardinal Dulles observes, “Encyclicals such as Veritatis splendor and Evangelium vitae are remarkable because the chapter and section headings are, for the most part, biblical quotations. Previous popes and councils have not been inclined to have so much recourse to the Bible for their moral and social doctrine.”[v] The first chapter of VS is an extended meditation on the encounter between Jesus and the rich young man as a guide for moral theology which I will condense. The young man approaches Jesus and asks, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Mt 19:16) For John Paul, the rich young man is nameless, and he represents all of humanity. He approaches Jesus, like all humans do whether they are aware of it or not, seeking the truth about the purpose of existence. He follows the law but is looking for guidance past legalism. He is seeking true freedom. This freedom can only be found in following Christ and it requires the grace from God to be able to make. He goes away unable to follow but presumably can still be saved since he follows the law. The law in context are the laws of God in relationship to Israel. These laws are really universal and written in our hearts and recognized by conscience. The possibility of salvation is open to all, even those who do not know or recognize the Christ of the gospel.

 

Another notable feature of VS is that “Except for one reference to Saint Alphonsus Liguori and a single direct citation of John Henry Newman, the Pope mentions no moral philosopher or theologian after the Middle Ages.”[vi]  VS is not concerned with the topic of the relationship between free will and voluntarism or the voluntarism of William of Ockham. VS does not get involved with Protestant reformed theologies that diminish the capacity of free will, or the various forms of post-Enlightenment determinism (think Leibniz and Hobbes). It does affirm the Biblical and patristic tradition that assumes the free will of humans as part of being created in the image of God. Like God who creates all reality freely without coercion, humans too have the capacity within the construct of creation to choose. Free will is real but limited. He quotes from the book of Sirach in this regard, “God willed to leave man in the power of his own counsel, so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God.” (Sir 15:14; VS 38) He also quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa: “The soul shows its royal and exalted character... in that it is free and self-governed, swayed autonomously by its own will. Of whom else can this be said, save a king?...Thus human nature, created to rule other creatures, was by its likeness to the King of the universe made as it were a living image, partaking with the Archetype both in dignity and in name.”.” (VS 38)

 

As in all John Paul II productions, themes are presented through Christocentric and Ecclesiocentric lenses. This simply means, say for our essay on the topic of freedom for example, that answers for John Paul are found in Christ and in the Church as his body and his mediator to the world. VS quotes from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes frequently in regard to these foci. According to Catholic tradition, the Church is the guardian of authentic human freedom because she is instituted by Christ. The Church is given special assistance by the Holy Spirit to guard and teach the truth given to her by Christ. This is not truth as in Platonic forms, axiomatic principles, or committed action plans. The Church has no truth other than the very person of the Word Incarnate, the Logos made man. The Church’s core mission is to bring salvation in Christ to every individual person through both teaching and sacramental ministry. All the Church’s teachings should reflect Christ. All the Church’s sacraments bring the sanctifying grace of Christ. This mission should strive to help all humanity live with Christ who would form a person’s conscience to the depths of their soul. Only in Christ is true freedom found. While at times the Church obscures the truth of Christ, often due to scandals, these would be directly contrary to her true nature and more revealing of the sinful human nature in the members of the Church.

 

Biblical Concept of Freedom

 

I would like to point out the obvious but occasionally overlooked principle: the Christian tradition uses terms like freedom, conscience, truth, and the human person (to name a few) in a different way than popular parlance. The Christian tradition is rooted in the words and works of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not preach the kind of freedom that we would normally associate with political liberty rooted in the Greek eleutheria for freedom. He essentially preaches about the Kingdom of God. For Christ, the Kingdom is both a reality taking place currently in the human heart and one that is blossoming forth in the kingdom to come. Freedom essentially concerns returning to the Father.[vii] Freedom comes from accepting the message to: “Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 4:17) The essential Christian understanding of freedom is this: “If you live according to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They ask him, “What do you mean by saying, “You will be free?” Jesus answered them: “I give you my assurance, everyone who lives in sin is the slave of sin…if the son frees you, you will be truly free.” (John 8: 31-36) For John Paul II “These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to the truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom…”[viii] For John Paul II, free actions are not necessarily acts of freedom. When human action is uncoupled from accountability to the truth it amounts to being less free.

 

St. Paul never claims that freedom is for the sake of doing whatever you want. “My brothers, remember that you have been called to live in freedom—but not a freedom that gives free rein to the flesh. Out of love, place yourselves at one another’s service.” (Galatians 5: 13) True freedom, found “where the Spirit of the Lord is” (2 Corinthians 3:17), is freedom from sin in Jesus Christ to liberate us for service to others as images of him. (cf. Matthew 25) This is freedom for which Christ set us free—to be a gift for others. This is a “law of the gift” when we give of ourselves freely, we imitate God’s image in us, and we become more truly ourselves as God intends us to be. “Those who love God serve him freely, and in giving that service they enhance their freedom.”[ix] Christ frees us from sin so that we may be for others. Because human nature is weak, for example, we choose things that are lesser in truth, goodness, and beauty, our freedom needs to be set free. John Paul writes, “What is more, within his errors and negative decisions, man glimpses the source of a deep rebellion, which leads him to reject the Truth and the Good in order to set himself up as an absolute principle unto himself: “You will be like God” (Gen 3:5). Consequently, freedom itself needs to be set free. It is Christ who sets it free: he “has set us free for freedom” (cf. Gal 5:1).” (VS 86)

 

Sin is unfreedom or slavery. Freedom integrates our body and soul in unity with God and with others. By sin, we disintegrate ourselves and mar our relationship to God, others, and our perspective on reality. This is a major lesson of the garden. We should constantly be striving toward our own perfection. It must be remembered that moral evil is always a misuse of true freedom. As St. Augustine says even with baptism we remain in weakness, “Therefore, since some weakness has remained in us, I dare to say that to the extent to which we serve God we are free, while to the extent that we follow the law of sin, we are still slaves.” (VS 17).  In a general audience address of August 27, 1986, John Paul II remarked:

 

“According to revelation, sin is the principal and fundamental evil. It contains the rejection of God’s will, of the truth and holiness of God and of his fatherly goodness, as they are already revealed in the work of creation, and above all in the creation of rational and free beings who are made “in the image and likeness” of the Creator. It is precisely this “image and likeness” that is used against God when the rational being of his own free will rejects the finality which God has established for the existence and life of the creature. Sin, therefore, contains a particularly deep deformation of the created good, especially in a being that, like man, is the image and likeness of God.”[x]

 

To illustrate further the Biblical concept of freedom, the question has been asked: Was Jesus Christ “free” to commit a sin? Scripture affirms that in his human nature he is like us “yet without sinning.” (Heb 4:15) Christ acting throughout his entire earthly human existence made constant choices obeying the revealed laws and religion of Judaism and the natural law, but without sinning. In his freedom, he exercised this obedience to the will of the Father even unto his passion and death. He did exercise real human freedom, so the question is wrong. Christ shows us the reality of human nature. Sin and freedom are not compatible. St. Thomas Aquinas comments on this point. “The reality of human nature is not proved by sin, since sin does not belong to human nature, whereof God is the cause; rather sin has been introduced against nature, by a seed of the devil as Damascene says.”[xi]  Jesus Christ in his sinlessness shows us the reality of human freedom. He freely gives of himself, and he does so in obedience to the law. “Jesus, then, is the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God. His crucified flesh fully reveals the unbreakable bond between freedom and truth, just as his Resurrection from the dead is the supreme exaltation of the fruitfulness and saving power of a freedom lived out in truth.” (VS 87)

 

Surprisingly to me, VS dedicates an entire section to the martyrs as the great examples of persons who demonstrate true freedom. Martyrdom is the freedom to reject the compromise with evil as per St. John the Baptist (VS 91) or the Maccabees. Martyrdom is the intersection between adhering in faith to the love of God and God’s revealed law and right action. He concludes the section to say that bearing witness to the stamp of God in the human heart can be found in cultures both east and west. As Saint Justin put it, “the Stoics, at least in their teachings on ethics, demonstrated wisdom, thanks to the seed of the Word present in all peoples, and we know that those who followed their doctrines met with hatred and were killed.” (VS 94)       

 

Human Weakness and Freedom

 

Human freedom in light of God’s Revelation involves being in the Imago Dei or in the very image of God. God Himself creates freely both the universe and humanity within the universe outside of Himself. God cannot be forced to act. Whatever God does, He does with full freedom. Humans, in the image of God, have the capacity for free action through their intellect which knows, and their will which moves them. The Church came to understand that human salvation while entirely dependent on benevolent graces from God, is simultaneously dependent on the human being to choose God with free will. The problem with this freedom to choose is that it is badly damaged or weakened due to the inherited human condition in the sin of Adam. The story of the Garden of Eden gives us some insight into how this came about and the effect it caused.

 

A modern understanding of myth is it is a story that is untrue. This understanding is, simply put, untrue. For John Paul II the Genesis story of Eden is a myth in the classic sense. The classic understanding of myth is that it is “more than true” conveying too much to fit into facts.[xii] The category of an essay, lecture, or encyclopedia cannot contain the truth conveyed by myth. It is for this reason that John Paul II can deliver 129 lectures on a theology of the body based on a couple of chapters in Genesis. The truth of Eden cannot be contained by lectures and essays. It has been and will be discussed generations from now. VS depicts the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the one God forbids Adam to eat from, as the limit of human freedom. “With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom since he can eat "of every tree of the garden". But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law.” (VS 35) The law of limit is placed for the protection of man, not as a hindrance to his flourishing. Disobedience crosses the threshold of his being created.

 

The result of the partaking of the fruit, human nature was weakened in mind and will. It became a consequence for all humanity. As St. Paul puts it, “By one man’s disobedience many [all] were made sinners.” (Rom 5:12 see CCC 401, 4) It plays a part in the great mystery of evil and suffering. Pelagius and his followers in ancient Christianity denied the necessity of God’s graceful assistance for salvation. St. Augustine defended the necessity of grace merited by Christ against this claim. Without God’s assistance merited for us in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the strengthening of the will for salvation is impossible. Cornelius Jansen and his followers in reading Augustine after the Protestant Reformation stressed grace to such an extent, that they effectively denied human free will. The Thomistic teaching of Domingo Banez affirms that God is the primary cause of all creatures, including humans and their capacity for free will. God is the primary cause of human salvation under the leading of grace. At the same time the human being, having free will, uses it freely to cooperate with God in salvation. God’s graces do not override the human capacity for freedom. They assist in both strengthening the will to recognize the truth of God and submitting to it when found. Grace assists in resisting error. A pernicious error lies in the lie of the serpent in depicting a merciful and providential God as the enemy. The tree of knowledge represents man ascending the tower of Babble to place himself on equal footing with his creator in an adversarial relationship.

 

Law and Freedom

 

John Paul first speaks of the Eternal law which has objective basis in the reality of God and cannot be invented by humanity. “Saint Augustine defines this as “the reason or the will of God, who commands us to respect the natural order and forbids us to disturb it.” (VS 43) It is recognized externally by humanity in the natural order of things and also internally in the human heart. The participation of the person as acting agent in Eternal law is natural law. Eternal law can be recognized externally by God’s Revelation. The Decalogue of the Covenant of Mt. Sinai and the Beatitudes of the New Covenant are explicit examples.

 

The discovery of the Eternal law within the human heart is natural law. John Paul II quotes Leo XIII to the effect: “It follows that the natural law is itself the eternal law, implanted in beings endowed with reason, and inclining them towards their right action and end; it is none other than the eternal reason of the Creator and Ruler of the universe.” (VS 45) The discovery of the natural law within man’s heart gives him autonomy over himself. He can choose to participate with eternal law or set up an autonomy of his own reason. When he does the later, he is like Adam and Eve in the garden who were free to eat from all but the tree of knowledge which represents the limit of the created human nature’s inherent freedom. 

 

The idea of a God originated notion of freedom found either externally or internally is rejected in today’s world. This rejection goes back to the Enlightenment era philosophers. They wished to stress the purity of human reason for the sake of personal autonomy. Religious values, commands, or norms were depicted as heteronomous. This means they controlled the mind and limited human freedom. A theocratic government, or even a religiously influenced government—the facts are that all governments were religious up until modernity—would be no place for the flourishing of human reason. The argument is sound on its face since it can be shown that many theocratic forms of government, or societies where one religion ruled all the people, limited personal freedoms, and personal rights. The inquisition in Spain and the trial of Galileo are the textbook examples to illustrate this point. Ludwig Feuerbach (d. 1872), a sort of spiritual father to Karl Marx, takes this a step further. Religion for Feuerbach is not the discovery and articulation of an Eternal law but the articulation of the nature of man himself which is the ultimate absolute. For G.W.F. Hegel (d. 1831) God is depicted as a slave master and enemy who imposes a law resulting in humanity’s self-alienation.

 

Obedience to the truth of eternal law either in exterior or interior discovery is not heteronomy or self-alienation. John Paul II rejects the idea of a slovenly humanity groveling before a God who is just a self-projection of inner consciousness. Fundamentally because this misunderstands the nature of God and man as beings in a loving relationship. God is depicted to both Jews and Gentiles as a loving Father who in his providential goodness seeks out a covenant relationship. This relationship is entered through the obedience of faith. While faith makes demands, it is not enslavement but an elevation of human nature towards fulfillment of its potential. Faith as an obedience is exemplified by Abraham’s action of trusting in God’s promises, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary’s yes to God’s request.

 

Unfortunately, the rise of a secular mentality, the separation of daily action from the calling of God to live in accordance with the Eternal law, is a normative way of life for even members of the Church who inhabit secularized cultures. As Thomas Howard puts it, secularism infects the modern Christian mind into believing “…that everything is explainable…there are no “divine mysteries” [hence] …Christians often find it difficult to keep alive any notion at all of mystery, or of the hallowed….”[xiii]

 

In VS John Paul II writes about how with a secular mind, freedom becomes separated from truth when faith is separated from moral action.

 

“This separation represents one of the most acute pastoral concerns of the Church amid today's growing secularism, wherein many, indeed too many, people think and live “as if God did not exist”. We are speaking of a mentality that affects, often in a profound, extensive and all-embracing way, even the attitudes and behaviour of Christians, whose faith is weakened and loses its character as a new and original criterion for thinking and acting in personal, family and social life. In a widely dechristianized culture, the criteria employed by believers themselves in making judgments and decisions often appear extraneous or even contrary to those of the Gospel.” (VS 88)

 

Conscience and Freedom[xiv]

 

Freedom cannot be understood apart from conscience since conscience is the seat of decision making. The personal understanding of conscience is dependent on one’s understanding of the relationship between the law and conscience. Subjectively a person is free to follow or ignore their conscience. They can choose to reject truth or act against it. This is the subjective aspect of conscience, and alone it is a deficient understanding of it. It can lead to a person justifying killing another. It needs to be coupled with the objective aspect.

 

The objective side is the reasoned recognition of God’s law in the depths of the human heart. “In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: 'do this, shun that'. For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Rom 2:14-16)”. (VS 54; GS 16) The subjective judgment of conscience confirms what the heart already knows when it discovers the Divine law. John Paul II puts it like this, “…the Magisterium does not bring to the Christian conscience truths which are extraneous to it; rather it brings to light the truths which it ought already to possess.” (VS 64)[xv]

 

Because conscience can make errors in decisions, it needs a proper formation in truth.

 

Cardinal Dulles compares the depiction of conscience according to John Paul II and Cardinal John Henry Newman to be of like mind.

 

“John Paul II’s treatment of conscience is very similar to that of John Henry Newman in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk. Like Newman, he denies that conscience is a power that exempts us from all higher authority and authorizes us to do what we please. On the contrary, it is a stern monitor that requires us to seek out what is truly good. Far from dispensing us from authority, it impels us to seek out the best authoritative guidance we can get. The pope quotes Newman to the effect that “conscience has rights because it has duties.” (VS 34) The freedom of conscience is, as the pope expresses it, freedom in the truth, but never freedom from the truth (VS 64).”[xvi]

 

Conclusion

 

My sketch serves to present some highlights on the understanding of personal freedom as it touches upon the theological understanding of human nature. Veritatis splendor is a work charged with confidence that the truth can be found through the human mind internal seeking the hidden longings of the human heart and in God’s Revelation of himself. We are all symbolically the rich young man. To us, God says:

 

‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments. ‘He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me’.” (VS 6; see Matthew 19:16-21)

 

Christ sets us free to exercise our freedom to follow him. It is understood in relation to the law, but the law is only the minimum. The law represents what must be followed. To follow Christ is more than obeying the law, it is working toward becoming perfect. Proclaiming the mystery of our faith in the context of the Eucharist we pray for this: “Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free.”

Steven Meyer, S.T.D., holds a Sacred Theological Doctorate in Dogmatic Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy. He has a Sacred Theological Licentiate (S.T.L.) from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. He also has a Master and Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Dr. Meyer currently serves as an assistant professor in theology for the University of St. Thomas School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary, Houston, TX.

 

________________________

               * The title and article inspiration comes from Avery Cardinal Dulles, “Truth as the Ground of Freedom: A Theme from John Paul II,” published as an “Occasional Paper” by the Acton Institute, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995. My page numbers will reference it as republished in The Splendor of Truth: Veritatis Splendor and the Renewal of Moral Theology, Studies by Ten Outstanding Scholars edited by J.A. DiNoia, O.P. and Romanus Cessario, O.P. (Princeton, N.J.: Scepter Publishers, Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., and Chicago, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 1999), pp. 129-142; One can also find it online and in print published as “John Paul II and the Truth about Freedom,” First Things, no. 55 (August-September 1995): 36-41. The First Things edition can be found here: https://www.firstthings.com/article/1995/08/004-john-paul-ii-and-the-truth-about-freedom (Last accessed July 8, 2020).

 

[i] Steven J. Meyer, “Evangelium vitae and the Truth About Freedom” 20 September 2018 Society of St. Sebastian Sebastian’s Point. https://www.societyofstsebastian.org/copy-of-sebastian-s-point-10 (last accessed March 1, 2019)

[ii] John Paul II, Redemptor hominis 12; https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_04031979_redemptor-hominis.html

[iii] In Veritatis splendor article 115 John Paul II writes, “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.”

For the full text in official Latin form, see the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 85 (1993), 1133-1228.  For the English translation see pp. 584-661 in The Encyclicals of John Paul II edited with introductions by J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001).

For an online version of the text in English see http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html (last accessed July 9, 2020). Here on webpage of the Holy See, VS can be read in multiple other languages such as Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Polish.

[iv] Dissent in regards to church teaching is the intellectual and willful withholding of acceptance of the assent of faith. Dissent happens on occasions since parts of magisterial teachings contain conjectures and philosophies and world outlooks. In my opinion dissent is only possible from a person with a fully informed faith. It may be done privately and silently to avoid scandal and to avoid creating divisions within the Body of Christ. Dissent is not the same thing as misunderstanding the pope, seeking further clarification on a teaching, or wishing that the pope had taught something otherwise. Dissent is destructive when it becomes public, orchestrated, openly published and an organized counter-campaign in opposition to the magisterium.[iv] The result of this combination, de-Christianization and dissent, is quite treacherous for the faith lives of many: Christianity in losing influence (externally) becomes further hampered when many of its members (internally) are formed in dissenting ideas as normative. People abandon a Church that they never understood or are repulsed by a Church filled with conflict. This is tragic since Christianity is quite easy to understand even if practically impossible to live perfectly. Unfortunately, I cannot say the situation has improved since the time of VS.

[v] Avery Cardinal Dulles, The Splendor of Faith: The Theological Vision of Pope John Paul II (New York: Herder & Herder 2003) p. 246. 

[vi] J. Michael Miller, The Encyclicals of John Paul II (Our Sunday Visitor Press 2001) p. 565.

[vii] See Paul O’Callaghan, Children of God in the World: An Introduction to Theological Anthropology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2016), p. 448.

[viii] John Paul II, Redemptor hominis 12; https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_04031979_redemptor-hominis.html; see also Avery Dulles, “The Truth About Freedom,” p. 129-30.

[ix] Dulles, Splendor of Faith, p. 190 from Karol Wojtlya, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination” in Person and Community pp. 187-95.

[x] John Paul II, A Catechesis on the Creed: Jesus Son and Savior (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1996) p. 19.

[xi] St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae III Q. 15, a. 1 as quoted in F. Ocariz, L.F. Mateo Seco & J.A. Riestra, The Mystery of Jesus Christ (Four Courts Press, 2011) p. 190-1.

[xii] John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 138, no. 4, cf. p. 157 in J. Brian Bransfield, The Human Person According to John Paul II (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2012) p. 12.

[xiii] Thomas Howard,  Hallowed Be This House: Finding Signs of Heaven in Your Home (San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2012) p. 15.

[xiv] See Steven J. Meyer, “The Darkening of Conscience” 27 March 2019 Society of St. Sebastian Sebastian’s Point https://www.societyofstsebastian.org/copy-of-sebastian-s-point-32  (last accessed July 10, 2020).

[xv] Steven J. Meyer, “The Darkening of Conscience” https://www.societyofstsebastian.org/copy-of-sebastian-s-point-32 .  

[xvi] Dulles, The Splendor of Faith p. 192.