Pope's Message: Truth Based in Faith

By Cardinal Roger Mahony Los Angeles Daily News | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 13, 1993 | Go to article overview
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Pope's Message: Truth Based in Faith


Cardinal Roger Mahony Los Angeles Daily News, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The very title of Pope John Paul II's most recent encyclical letter, "Splendor of Truth," focuses our attention on the heart of its message: the truth of God's revelation. The purpose of the encyclical is to provide a reaffirmation of key moral positions as well as to offer a critique of some intellectual and cultural currents of thought that tend to undermine the objective assessment of principles to guide human behavior.

The holy father takes as the central metaphor for his argument the biblical story of the rich young man who asks Jesus about what he must do to gain eternal life. In this powerful narrative, the pope discerns the necessity of a faithful adherence to the truth of the Gospel about the meaning of life, a truth that is accessible to all human beings because they possess the gift of reason.

The opening chapter of the encyclical reaffirms the traditional context of moral theology, especially with its biblical roots, and the call to develop virtues or habits of action that strengthen moral integrity and are the surest signs of a deep commitment to following the life of Jesus. This profound spirituality sets the stage for the subsequent exposition.

The pope articulates a magnificent vision of the Christian life that is a call to maximum realization of the good in all spheres of human life. By being faithful to the truth of the human good that has been placed in every heart, all persons are capable of recognizing values that are essential to human flourishing.

John Paul II astutely analyzes philosophical and theological tendencies in some presentations of moral theology that can distort the search for truth. Among these tendencies are a separation of freedom from its essential connection to a truthful grasp of reality, and a misunderstanding of conscience as sheer autonomy rather than as a skill that enables the individual to recognize how the true, genuine moral good is to be recognized in particular, concrete situations. Moreover, the encyclical reaffirms the integral unity of the human person, an affirmation that is particularly helpful in light of the tendency of contemporary culture to view the human person as well as basic human goods in a purely instrumental manner, that is, only as "means" toward the accomplishment of a particular end or goal.

The pope devotes considerable attention to a detailed philosophical rejoinder to ethical theories that contend that certain knowledge about the human, moral good cannot be obtained in abstraction from the intentions of a concrete moral agent.

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