Today, we often hear that there are no correct answers, that there is no absolute truth or definitive good and evil. Objective truth, we are told, does not exist and traditional notions of what is right or wrong are turned on their head, leading many people astray or leaving them in a vacuum of moral ambiguity, uncertainty and confusion. Conversely, in Veritatis Splendor, Pope Saint John Paul II upholds the conviction that not only is there fixed, absolute objective truth, but that we are all capable of knowing it.
The encyclical is divided into three parts: It begins with a meditation on Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man who asked, “Teacher, what good must I do to have life?” (Matthew 19:16-22) Next, the document looks at certain trends in moral theology. Finally, the Holy Father shows the relevance of Catholic teaching on moral good for the life of the Church and the world.
The teaching affirms that by divine revelation and through human reason, we are capable both of knowing objective truth and of clinging to that truth in a way that will free us of the errors of the world and darkness of sin, and lead us to God, who is goodness itself – Truth, Love and Life in person. Moral precepts, being ultimately grounded in Christ, thus possess a universal and permanent character. Conforming our choices and actions to this moral truth, which is a participation in God’s divine wisdom and eternal law, is the answer to how we should live and is the path that leads to the authentic realization of freedom.
In opposition to relativism and situational ethics promoted by some, Pope Saint John Paul II makes clear that certain kinds of behavior are always wrong. They are “intrinsically evil,” that is, always opposed to the truth of God and our being and to the good of the person. The personal subjective justification of the choice of such an evil action does not change the objective nature of the action. It may impact on the person’s culpability before God. But that is another matter.
The profound renewal of social and political life, which is increasingly needed today, can only occur if freedom is once more linked to truth, moral and otherwise. Only in the truth, affirms Veritatis Splendor, does our freedom become truly human and responsible in its personal and social dimensions.