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. …