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St. John Paul II and the Moral Law

Church Exterior

Bioethics in Law & Culture                                                                                                                            Summer  2021       vol. 4  issue  3

Steven Meyer, S.T.D.

“For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them…” Romans 2: 14-15

“…the natural law “is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation.” St. John Paul II, Veritatis splendor 40.1[i]


Shortly after returning to Rome from World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado, St. John Paul II published his tenth encyclical titled Veritatis splendor. Dated October 5, 1993, the teaching letter treats issues of morality. Against modern moral relativism, the Pope taught that Divine Revelation contains, “a specific and determined moral content, universally valid and permanent.”[ii] He understands that societies today are in a crisis of truth which has the, “most serious implications for the moral life of the faithful and for communion in the Church, as well as for a just and fraternal social life.”[iii] Many cultures have undergone a dechristianization. This includes the loss of the sense of God and a decline in a proper sense of morality. The situation results in, “the confusion between good and evil, which makes it impossible to build up and preserve the moral order”.[iv] Members of the Church herself live and have, “…numerous doubts and objections of a human and psychological, social and cultural, religious and even properly theological nature, with regard to the Church’s moral teachings.”[v] There is further confusion within the discipline of theology where teachers present a “systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine.”[vi] Veritatis splendor is John Paul II’s clarification of traditional principles of Christian ethical/moral teachings. These principles are, “the splendor of truth.” 


I believe the crisis of moral confusion and dechristianization has only worsened since 1993, specifically in my home nation of the United States. We mistakenly believe our personal rights come from a social arrangement rather than from God. I do think the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has clarified Catholic teachings, and particularly those in the area of moral theology. Yet the faith lived out in practice continues to be in widespread crisis. Part of the problem is Christian living today is practically smothered by powerful anti-Christian influences from authoritative educational, political, and media sources. I wish to revisit natural moral law in John Paul II and particularly in Veritatis splendor. I would like to point out that a reflection on natural moral law has in mind an audience of those who have faith in God as the source of all reality. Denials of a natural moral law go hand in hand with modern agnosticism and atheism. Veritatis splendor is first directed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church. It seeks to correct misunderstandings of natural law for Christians. As it appears in Evangelium vitae it is directed toward the larger civil society.[vii] We will consider this as well.


Some definitions should be noted. “A law is understood to be a norm or directive of free activity, enacted by legitimate authority and duly promulgated (published), and designed to safeguard and advance the common good.”[viii] The common good in current Catholic teachings is defined as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”[ix] The common good is defined this way in order to correct an overemphasis on individualism and collectivism. “…[I]ndividualism overemphasizes the autonomy of the individual at the expense of the obligations of individuals to the wider human community, collectivism might well sacrifice the good of the individual for society.”[x]


Christian tradition, following St. Thomas Aquinas, distinguishes between Eternal, Divine, Natural, Canon, and Civil law. Eternal Law is God Himself the source of any law. Natural moral law is God’s revelation of Himself built into human nature. It is called natural because of human nature, and specifically that human nature is rational. By rationality, this is both the mind and the heart or the intuition, we come to discover a moral law. The moral law is general, and it needs clarification. This is what St. Paul writes about when he says those outside of God’s specific covenant with its Divine Law, “…show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them…”  (Rom 2:15) Divine law is revealed law. It gives specificity to natural law. The prime examples of it are the Ten Commandments or Decalogue in the Old Testament and the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus in the New Testament. They are not two sets of law, but one law given with further clarity. The Old is promulgated on stone, and the new promulgated by the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Canon law organizes church activities and contains doctrinal teachings. Civil law contains the body of law to govern a society.


While we make distinctions, they are all interrelated with Eternal Law as their source. In following the thought of John Paul II there will be some seeming repetition. The repetition helps the modern rational mind to consider concepts and distinctions as one unified truth. He writes, “…eternal law is known by both man’s natural reason (hence it is called “natural law”), and —in an integral and perfect way—by God’s supernatural Revelation (hence it is called “divine law”).”[xi] John Paul did publish a revision of canon law. He references it often. We will not consider it formally here.


Before diving into John Paul II’s theology of moral law, I would like to mention a story by a famous modern prophet on the crisis of culture, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The story is found in the novel Crime and Punishment. Here we follow a financially poor student named Raskolnikoff. He gets money from an old lender woman named Alena Ivanova. Mentally justifying to himself that some men are higher and above the law, that they can transgress the law without consequences, it leads to a shocking opening scene. Taking an ax, he murders the old woman. He then murders her sister because she was simply there. The rest of the novel follows Raskolnikoff as he avoids detection and investigation seemingly getting away with murder. Really, though, we witness his agonizing ongoing suffering. Both his mind and his body undergo deterioration. One lesson Dostoyevsky brings home is that an act of murder, even if it could not be proved or shown, does not free your conscience from an objective moral law. Even if your mind justifies your action to your own satisfaction, there is a law that runs deeper to each of us than any posted law. Raskolnikoff does not believe he murdered a human person. He believes he eliminated a principle. This principle, an old woman, blocked his personal freedom. Despite his smug personal justification of murder and his sophisticated arguments to support his action, his human mind and body cannot handle the weight of something deeper. That something is the natural moral law.


I. Eternal Law in John Paul II

God as Creator is the source of all law. In Veritatis splendor John Paul quotes St. Augustine in that eternal law is, “the reason or the will of God, who command us to respect the natural order and forbids us to disturb it.” He then quotes St. Thomas on eternal law as, “the type of the divine wisdom as moving all things to their due end.” [xii] In an earlier writing on Holy Spirit, he writes, Jesus Christ is God, the Word made flesh. Through Him all things are created. As such He is the eternal law or, “…the source of every law which regulates the world and especially human acts.”[xiii]



In the beginning, John Paul notes in his reflections on Genesis, there are no positive or posted Divine and civil laws. Man comes to understand what is to be done and avoided through the Eternal law manifested by his very nature. “Man cannot decide by himself what is good and what is evil- cannot “know good and evil, like God.” In the created world God indeed remains the first and sovereign source for deciding about good and evil, through the intimate truth of being, which is the reflection of the Word, the eternal Son, consubstantial with the Father. To man, created to the image of God, the Holy Spirit gives the gift of conscience, so that in this conscience the image may faithfully reflect its model, which is both Wisdom and eternal Law, the source of the moral order in man and in the world.”[xiv] We have written about the role of conscience in John Paul II for the Society of St. Sebastian. For our focus today, conscience is the rational judgment about what should be done and what should be avoided when it reflects on the natural moral law in a given concrete circumstance. When we discover God’s law, we discover what our conscience already knows, but maybe cannot articulate. Conscience is the judgment aspect to natural moral law. John Paul calls “sin” the disobedience. It is a rejection of Eternal Law. It rejects it when discovered in nature. It rejects it when considered by conscience.

Eternal law is inseparable from God’s providence or God’s loving care for us. According to St. Thomas because God creates human nature with reason and endows it with knowledge of Himself, God, “…is consequently able to show man the right direction to take in his free actions. In this way God calls man to participate in his own providence, since he desires to guide the world—not only the world of nature but also the world of human persons—through man himself, through man’s reasonable and responsible care. The natural law enters here as the human expression of God’s eternal law.”[xv] Eternal law is the formative source of natural moral law. John Paul writes, “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.”[xvi]

When applying eternal law to civil law, in Evangelium vitae John Paul writes, “The doctrine on the necessary conformity of civil law with the moral law is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church…This is the clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who writes, “human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence". And again: "Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law.”[xvii]

II. Divine Law in John Paul II

Divine law is found in revealed world religions. It is positive or posted law. Because of the limits of human reason, Divine law assists reason. In Fides et ratio John Paul echoes a teaching from Vatican I that human reason can know moral law and the Eternal Law as God Himself, but on its own it often fails. It is an effect of grace or assistance in God making his will more manifestly known. Divine law gives specificity. Divine Law is a gift of love. Divine law is given in the context of a freely consented to covenant between God and humanity. Citing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, John Paul writes, the “supreme rule of life is the divine law itself, the eternal, objective and universal law by which God out of his wisdom and love arranges, directs and governs the whole world and the paths of the human community. God has enabled man to share in this divine law, and hence man is able under the gentle guidance of God's providence increasingly to recognize the unchanging truth.”[xviii] Divine law assists in knowing the natural moral law.



Divine law forms a key Scriptural meditation informing Veritatis splendor, specifically the encounter between the Rich Young Man who asks Jesus, “Teacher what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Mt 19:16) From Christ we receive the answer to the meaning of life and the key to the search for happiness. He tells us, “…the answer to their question about what is good and what is evil.[xix] That God is God over moral order and the law. That eternal life is found in obedience to God’s commandments. These commandments find a fuller meaning in Jesus who, “…brings God’s commandments to fulfillment, particularly the commandment of love of neighbor, by interiorizing their demands and by bringing out their fullest meaning.[xx] While it is enough to ‘not kill’ another, one must interiorize this into controlling the desires of the heart against another. While the commandments must be fulfilled for salvation, Jesus exhorts an even higher perfection. The moral life is also being conformed to Christ because He is the actualization of the moral life. What Christ said, he does and is. We can enter into communion with Christ though, “…the effect of grace, of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us.”[xxi] While the Divine law is a gift of grace, as humans we need even further grace for God to assist us in living Divine law. “Presumably the rich young man could have saved his soul by continuing to observe the precepts of the Decalogue, as he had been doing for years, but he was anxious to do more. When he learned what was needed for him to be perfect, however, he did not have the inner freedom from attachments that was needed to follow the higher call.”[xxii]


Evangelium vitae meditates at length on the specific application of the Divine Law, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17) John Paul particularly focuses on “You Shall Not Kill” and adds to it building up of a culture of life through joy and the positive message of salvation. It continues the meditation on the dialogue between Jesus and the rich young man, and adds that the commandments, even when stated in negative apodictic ways: example, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet…, are in actuality, “…never detached from his love: it is always a gift meant for man’s growth and joy.”[xxiii] Too often law is viewed from its negative or restrictive aspect. John Paul calls our attention to the liberation or freedom the law gives. It is designed to live out the covenant with God; It is designed for flourishing, safety, and joy. Laws are for ensuring the common good.


A short side note should be made on Divine Law as apodictic or direct command law. An apodictic law is a positive law, for example, “thou shall not kill.” It is brief and direct. Yet there are no circumstances applied, and they carry no penalties. Kill what needs some context or circumstances. Questions since antiquity were asked as to what these circumstances would be. Can I kill an animal? Can I kill another human person in self-defense? Can I kill a person who kills other people? Can I kill a stupid person who is in the way? In order for apodictic laws to be understood in various circumstances, there needs to be some kind of authoritative judgment made. In the Old Testament, and in the book of Exodus for example, there are case laws or casuistry. These follow a pattern of: if X happens and/or Y happens, then Z as a penalty is applied. So, in case laws if you kill another person’s animal then you pay restitutions. If you kill another person by murder, then you pay with your life. I make this point because the Divine Law, the ‘Thou Shall Not Kill’ is general. People need clarity as to how it should be applied. This clarity is given through an authoritative judgment. In societies this judgment is given by persons who have authority to rule the society. In Catholicism the instrument of this judgment is the Magisterium.


The Magisterium, or the bishops united with the Pope in succession to the apostles and Peter, have the gift of teaching and defining further applications of the Divine law in concert with the moral natural law. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalling the teaching of the Second Vatican Council says, “The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation. In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men what they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God.”[xxiv]


John Paul invokes this authority when he writes, “I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (Evangelium vitae 57.4) He uses similar language with the condemnation of abortion. (EV 62.3) This extends to the destruction of human embryos (EV 63.1), the destructive use of embryos for research (EV 63.2), and euthanasia (EV 65.4). Again, he invokes Divine Law as it is understood in traditional Christian context as clarifying a truth known in natural moral law. “I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (EV 65.4)


III.  Natural Moral Law in John Paul II

Thus far we have mentioned some key principles of natural moral law for John Paul II. These principles have been elucidated through examining Eternal and Divine forms of law because all things from God cannot be separated. Natural moral law extends to all human nature. It can be discovered through the use of reason. It is by reason that it is enforced as a law. While not something specifically Christian, it is compatible with Christian teachings as found in Divine Revelation. Veritatis splendor follows St. Thomas in that, “…the natural law is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation.”[xxv] It is, “the participation of the practical reason in the wisdom of the divine Creator and Lawgiver.”[xxvi] We find some repetition in John Paul at a deeper level. To quote him at length in a different place in Veritatis splendor:


“Even if moral-theological reflection usually distinguishes between the positive or revealed law of God and the natural law, and, within the economy of salvation, between the "old" and the "new" law, it must not be forgotten that these and other useful distinctions always refer to that law whose author is the one and the same God and which is always meant for man. The different ways in which God, acting in history, cares for the world and for mankind are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, they support each other and intersect. They have their origin and goal in the eternal, wise and loving counsel whereby God predestines men and women “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). God's plan poses no threat to man's genuine freedom; on the contrary, the acceptance of God's plan is the only way to affirm that freedom.”[xxvii]


A central theme in Veritatis splendor is a proper understanding of freedom. As we have written in a prior Society of St. Sebastian publication, true freedom is not freedom from obligation. It is not the free will to be or do anything one wants. Freedom is for and in the truth. Outside the truth there is no exercise of freedom, it is simply an exercise of free will. “No contradiction exists between exercising human freedom and accepting the truth expressed by the moral law. Each has the same purpose: the fostering to Christian faith and the Church’s teaching, ‘only the freedom which submits to the Truth leads the human person to his true good. The good of the person is to be in the Truth and to do the Truth.’ Human beings are free precisely when they submit to the truth.”[xxviii] The freedom to choose is essential for a moral life. Yet choosing rightly matters more. Moral law helps one discover truth because its origin is in God. Freedom is not the right to determine right and wrong but to live in obedience to the objective truth about right and wrong which is discoverable.[xxix]


In Veritatis splendor John Paul notes some objections to the Church’s teaching on natural law as they arise from certain Catholic moral theologians. One group of objectors would place their faith in moral norms that can be established through, “the results of a statistical study of concrete human behavior patterns and the opinions about morality encountered in the majority of people.”[xxx] This would create a dichotomy between human freedom and following the natural moral law because freedom would be shaped by cultural forces. While our freedom is shaped by cultural factors to some extent, this is not the proper understanding of freedom as mentioned above.


Another rejection of natural moral law would be to reduce it to biological function of physical human nature.[xxxi] While we do operate according to biological laws of a bodily nature, natural moral law is not the same thing. It is about the spiritual principle of the mind discovering perennially valid moral truths. Physicalism holds the mind to not be distinct from the body. When the body dies so too does the mind. There is no ‘thing’ besides physical things. Thoughts, “spirit,” concepts, experience, all these are really based in the physical brain. Naturalism holds nothing exists except nature. The mind is the soul. It can send thoughts to influence physical nature.[xxxii] While not specifying the particular form or type of physicalism and naturalism, both general forms of thinking are in alliance with atheism. Both hold that the natural moral law is biological law. Against this John Paul holds that a person is a spiritual being with a unified body and soul. The soul is immortal and created by God. “The natural law expresses and lays down the purposes, rights and duties which are based upon the bodily and spiritual nature of the human person. Therefore, this law cannot be thought of as simply a set of norms on the biological level; rather it must be defined as the rational order whereby man is called by the Creator to direct and regulate his life and actions and in particular to make use of his body.”[xxxiii]


John Paul places human rights in the natural law. Human rights, for him, are not from positive law (posted or published law) in either human or divine form. Rights are inscribed into the very nature of reality itself. They derive from the inherent dignity of the human person being in the image of God. In order to establish human rights, he believes, you must establish that they are derived from a transcendent source and not merely from a human societal contract. In Evangelium vitae John Paul II teaches, “The basis of these values [true rights] cannot be a provisional and changeable “majority” opinions, but only the acknowledgment of an objective moral law, which, as the “natural law” written in the human heart, is the obligatory force of reference for civil law itself. If, as a result of a tragic obscuring of the collective conscience, an attitude of skepticism were to succeed in bringing into question even the fundamental principles of the moral law, the Democratic system itself would be shaken to its foundations, and would be reduced to a mere mechanism for regulating different and opposing interests on a purely empirical basis.”[xxxiv]


In his comparison of a secular and divinely derived notion of human rights, Cardinal Avery Dulles champions the position of John Paul II. “The first and most fundamental right of the human being, according to John Paul II, is to be respected as a person. By the natural law we are bound to will the good of others, and in that sense to love them. No matter how evil other may be, I cannot have the right to hate them, or to will them to suffer harm. In Love and Responsibility Wojtyla sets forth what he calls the personalist principle, namely that the only suitable attitude toward a person is love. If we love a person, he holds, we will be just to that person.”[xxxv] According to Dulles, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke undermine the idea of human rights. Dulles affirmingly quotes John Courtney Murray to the effect:


“The individualism of Locke’s law of nature results in a complete evacuation of the notion of the “rights” of man. It is quite evident that Locke’s state of nature reveals no ordo juris, and no rights in any recognizably moral sense. There is simply a pattern of power relationships—the absolute lordship of one individual balanced against the equally absolute lordship of others. Significantly, Locke uses the word “power” more frequently than the word “right” in describing the state of nature.”[xxxvi]


Those who reject inherent human rights are, I suggest, one in the same with those who reject the moral natural law. There are the relativists who hold human rights to be about the power of those in governmental control. There are the disciples of Marx who hold that rights are really a mask for collective self-interest groups. There are positivist legalistic thinkers who hold that a law is valid, or justified, because it can be enforced. Rights are derived from a mutual non-aggression treatise from this law. Rights are not inalienable to an objective human nature deriving from an objective creator. Rights in this last form would be subject to change according to those in the agreement. “Positivism is widespread in contemporary ethical thinking. Values are commonly treated as expressions of merely personal preferences. The danger is that individuals and nations might be induced to sign and abide by conventions that would be indefinitely open to revision.”[xxxvii] Revisions would include things contrary to the natural law such as abortion and assisted suicide.

In Evangelium vitae John Paul clearly teaches from Christian tradition when he writes that civil laws should be in conformity with the natural moral law and not merely from a societal contract.


Certainly the purpose of civil law is different and more limited in scope than that of the moral law. But “in no sphere of life can the civil law take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerning things which are outside its competence”, which is that of ensuring the common good of people through the recognition and defence of their fundamental rights, and the promotion of peace and of public morality. The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may “lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being.”[xxxviii]


This concept of a natural moral law is not strictly identified with the authority of John Paul II or Catholicism. The roots of the concept go back to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. Natural inviolable rights are something invoked by Abraham Lincoln and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The founders of the United States, many of whom were not Christians, and hardly any of whom were Catholics, held to inviolable rights. They believed in things “self-evident” to reason such as life, liberty (freedom) and the pursuit of happiness. How did they derive such a notion? Because these things come from a higher power, God. John Paul II insists that law should be accountable to a higher power. Laws derived from a) a utilitarian ethic of the greatest good for the greatest number, or b) that the majority support it, or c) that it can be enforced by those in power, are inadequate if not outright dangerous. Anthony Napoleon in his elucidating study about the erosion of culture, values, education, and family life in the United States brings home a major point of his razor-sharp study titled The Progressive Virus with passionate bluntness, “…if the general population of a country believes that their fundamental rights as citizens derive from God, e.g., the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then any attempt on the part of government to either grant or impose limitations on such inalienable rights, is met with resistance or outright rejection.”


When citizens believe that their inalienable rights derive from a higher power and not bureaucrats empowered by government, those same citizens are not supplicant nor are they receptive to that which is fundamental to a socialist revolution: The submission to or reliance upon government…Getting rid of God is a necessary and fundamental prerequisite to the progressive’s grand scheme. This is why we see reference to God being removed from public schools and in public displays all across the United States. Christmas, Easter and Passover are cultural and religious events that buttress citizen’s relationship with the source of their inalienable rights. Therefore, progressives must eradicate these cultural and religious celebrations so as to create a more supplicant population.”[xxxix]

In closing, I would like to mention that The International Theological Commission published a hierarchy of rights along three categories: the highest category is the right to life, equality of all persons, and right to freedom of conscience and religion. A second category contains civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. A the third category concerns rights for human progress. We need to recognize not all rights are equal. Not everything is a right. [xl]  We also need to recognize that rights can be forfeited in certain circumstances. For example, a fireman might risk his right to life in a certain circumstance. A convicted criminal might lose their right to liberty. What is never lost or forfeited is human dignity. That comes from God and is stamped as an image into our nature.

In Evangelium vitae John Paul reminds us that when human laws transgress fundamental rights, specifically the right to life, it ceases to be a legitimate moral law in conformity with the Eternal Law and right reason. When laws kill innocent human beings, when they deny the equality of everyone, when they take away human dignity, they destroy the common good, and we cannot either participate in or favor such laws. “Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law.”[xli]

In every discussion of culture and law, John Paul II invoked God as the source of transcendence. He did this not simply because he was Pope, but he learned through his attempted dialog with an atheistic communistic government, this principle is their Achilles heel. Without God, the Marxist inspired thinkers pulverized any metaphysics of what a human person is. This includes denying every person as created in the image of God and being worthy of dignity, worthy of being loved. Being in imago Dei, every person has a dignity that can never be taken from them. Staying true to this principle, Evangelium vitae revolutionized the Catholic understanding about capital punishment.

Against Feuerbach, big influence on Marx, and with Henri de Lubac, John Paul II argues that we should not eliminate God from society in order to achieve a better perspective. We need to remind the world that God’s law is exactly the perspective we need in order to have proper perspective. “…while men and women can organize the world without God, without God it will always in the last analysis be organized against humanity.”[xlii]


[i] St. John Paul II is quoting from St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas’s teaching on the natural moral law heavily informs the theological and official teaching framework of Catholicism.

[ii] St. John Paul II, Veritatis splendor or “VS,” article 37.1.

[iii] VS 5.2.

[iv] VS 93.1.

[v]  VS 4.2.

[vi] VS 4.2.

[vii] See Russell Hittinger, “Veritatis Splendor and the Theology of Natural Law” pp. 97-127, specifically pp.119-20. 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. (Midwest Theological Forum, 1999).

[viii] Thomas J. O’Donnell, SJ, Medicine and Christian Morality (New York: Alba House, 1991), p. 1.

[ix] Catechism of the Catholic Church article 1906; It is really a quote from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes article 26.

[x] Kevin J. O’Neil, C.Ss.R. & Peter Black, C.Ss.R., The Essential Moral Handbook: A Guide to Catholic Living (Liguori, MO: Liguori Press, 2006), p. 255.

[xi] VS 72.1

[xii] VS 43.2.

[xiii] St. John Paul II, Dominum et vivificantem, 33.2.

[xiv] St. John Paul II, Dominum et vivificantem, 36.2.

[xv] VS 43.2; see St. Thomas Summa Theologiae I-II Q. 90, a. 4, a. 1.

[xvi] VS 44.1. Here John Paul II quotes from Pope Leo XIII.

[xvii] St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae or “EV” for the rest of this article, article 72.1.

[xviii] VS 43.1.

[xix] VS 8.2.

[xx] VS 15.2.

[xxi] VS 21.1.

[xxii] Avery Cardinal Dulles, The Splendor of Faith: The Theological Vision of Pope John Paul II (New York: Herder & Herder, The Crossroard Publishing Company, 2003), pp. 192-3; This quote by Dulles summarizes VS 16-18 and John Paul’s Wednesday Audience on the topic.  

[xxiii] EV 52.2.

[xxiv] Catechism of the Catholic Church article 2036 citing Dignitatis Humanae.

[xxv] VS 40.1.

[xxvi] VS 40.1.

[xxvii] VS 45.2.

[xxviii] J. Michael Miller, Introduction to Veritatis Splendor p. 568 quoting VS 84.2.

[xxix] see Miller, p. 568-9.

[xxx] VS 46.1

[xxxi] See VS 47.1

[xxxii] See the Cambridge Companion to Atheism, here: (last accessed July 13, 2021.

[xxxiii] Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origins and the Dignity of Procreation. The full CDF issued document can be found here:

[xxxiv] EV 70. See Dulles, The Splendor of Faith p. 197-8.

[xxxv] Avery Cardinal Dulles, Church and Society: The Laurence J. McGinley Lectures, 1988-2007 (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008) p. 280.

[xxxvi] Dulles, Church and Society, pp. 283-4.

[xxxvii] Dulles, Church and Society p. 287.

[xxxviii] EV 71.3.

[xxxix] Anthony Napoleon, The Progressive Virus: Why You Can’t Permit It To Go Forward (College Station, TX: Virtual Bookworm, 2012) pp. 113-114.

[xl] In Dulles, Church and Society p. 285.

[xli] EV 74.2.

[xlii] Dulles, Church and Society p.146. Dulles here summarizes John Paul II’s speech “On Catholic Universities” with the introduction from Henri de Lubac’s, The Drama of Atheistic Humanism.

Veritatis splendor John Paul II natural law


Steven Myer, 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.


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