John M. McDermott, S.J.
PAPAL ENCYCLICALS are not issued into a void. They respond to various needs of the Church. Veritatis Splendor certainly has its own context. Through his various teachings and the Catechism, Pope John Paul II has been redefining the traditional faith of the Church in personalist terms for the new millennium. Closely tied to questions of dogmatic belief and formulation are questions about morality. When Vatican Council I defined that in speaking ex cathedra the pope enjoys infallible divine assistance in defining doctrine about faith and morals (DS 3073f), the Fathers of the council were only recognizing the deep connection between faith and morals that characterizes Christian revelation. Scripture presents moral norms as well as the object of faith. This connection is to be expected. If God is ultimately love (1 John 4:8,16), faith must presume in the believer an experience of love. Otherwise the object of faith cannot be recognized and affirmed. Lest faith be deprived of meaning, love, however imperfect, must respond to love. Not surprisingly, in a time when many of the tenets of Christian faith have been placed in question, there have also been attacks upon the Church's traditional moral teachings. These attacks have come from within the Church as well as from without. Consequently the pope saw as his duty the reaffirmation of traditional Catholic morality.
Dissent from traditional morality within the Church stems from the same Vatican Council II to which Pope John Paul II appeals for inspiration and confirmation. Without doubt, that council marked a change in theological emphasis from the era that preceded it. The meaning and depth of that change depend upon the