Moral Life: Redemptor
Hominis As a Key to
Ronald A. Mercier, S.J.
SHORTLY AFTER THE RELEASE of Veritatis Splendor, a colleague posed a very important question. How could one hold together the Christological insights of Pope John Paul's first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, with the structure of the moral life proposed in VS? The first encyclical, with all its attention to the historical and distinctively humanistic Christ “who follows the way of man,” seemed profoundly different from the more static and ahistorical presentation of VS. Had the pope's perspective undergone a profound change from 1980 to 1993? The question proved fruitful, inviting attention to the Christological basis for the pope's theology, and most especially to his presentation of Christian morality.
The text of RH itself lays the groundwork for a distinctively Christological approach to morality. It notes, for example, that “Jesus Christ is the stable principle and fixed center of the mission that God himself has entrusted to man. We must all share in this mission and concentrate all our forces on it, since it is more necessary than ever for modern mankind” (par. 32).1 The encyclical, with its dual emphasis on morality and Christology, makes explicit that the link is both necessary and consistent. Much as the dogmatic elements of the Christological presentation are of great con
1 Paragraph numbers for the text are those provided in Claudia Carlen, I.H.M., The Papal Encyclicals, 1958–1981 (McGrath Publishing Co.), 245–74.