Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 35--Evangelical Morality

“GO INTO ALL THE WORLD, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15). These words of Jesus issue "the most powerful and stirring challenge which the Church has been called to face from her very beginning." VS, 106. This is one of the fundamental reasons for the Church's existence. Christ founded his Church to evangelize--that is to bring the good news about God and man to the world, sometimes to a world that is not eager to hear the message. Christ came in the fullness of time, but the Gospel may have to be preached in and out of season, when it may not be the fullness of time, but when time may be quite empty.

Every time and place involves different challenges to the fulfillment of this weighty charge that the Lord has placed upon us, and the modern challenge calls for an evangelization which is "new it is ardor, methods, and expression." It is called the "new evangelization," but that word may not be a perfect moniker, because the Gospel being preached is not new. It's not a new good news. Nor yet is is old good news. It is good news that is ever ancient, ever new. So what we have here is the Gospel being preached in ways that accommodate themselves to the historical situation that confronts the Church without a compromise in the message. The Church confronts a situation--not where life has to Christianized when it never was--but where life has to be re-Christianized. Preaching the Gospel to a dechristianized world is different from preaching the Gospel to a world that had never been Christian at all. The Church confronts a world that is weary, even weary of Christianity, a world that lives off memories of it and wanders and trudges listlessly, purposelessly, with money in one pocket and a gun in the other, and with lust in its heart, finding things to squander its money on, things to kill, and things to copulate with for no other reason than it has money and a gun and an itching crotch. Christianity is a waning memory in the dechristianized West. In his life, modern man has as much meaning as the life of the character Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's novel Ulysses :
The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.
T. S. Eliot,"Rhapsody on a Windy Night."

Our Lady of Good Counsel (15th Century)
Fresco from the Church of Genazzano, Italy

In the Pope's words, the malaise of the modern world weighs heavy upon it:

Dechristianization, which weighs heavily upon entire peoples and communities once rich in faith and Christian life, involves not only the loss of faith or in any event its becoming irrelevant for everyday life, but also, and of necessity, a decline or obscuring of the moral sense. This comes about both as a result of a loss of awareness of the originality of Gospel morality and as a result of an eclipse of fundamental principles and ethical values themselves. Today's widespread tendencies towards subjectivism, utilitarianism and relativism appear not merely as pragmatic attitudes or patterns of behavior, but rather as approaches having a basis in theory and claiming full cultural and social legitimacy.

VS, 106. It is not that we have never had faith or morals, it is that we had them once, and, having had them once, became apostates to the faith and dissipated in morals. It is hard to evangelize a rich, drunk atheist, a man on technical crack and steroids, a cynical man full of ennui and anomie, which is what society has become.

The loss of the moral sense presents a particular difficulty in the proclamation of the Gospel, inasmuch as it requires us to combat notions of moral subjectivism, utilitarianism, and relativism that are now deeply entrenched conventions. "Evangelization — and therefore the "new evangelization" — also involves the proclamation and presentation of morality." "[I]n presenting the foundations and content of Christian morality," the Pope says, "the new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift not only of the word proclaimed but also of the word lived." VS, 107. We have to preach not only about what to believe, but about what to do.

Our Lady of Good Counsel (19th century)
by Pasquale Sarullo

What this calls for, then, is a re-commitment on the part of Christians to the moral demands of the Gospel. We must strive to live our lives differently--to exhibit "the word lived"--so as to effectively transmit the Gospel to others. Essentially, to "the word lived" means "the life of holiness," a "life in accordance with God's commandments and the Beatitudes of the Gospel."
In particular, the life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the People of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God's love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord's law, even in the most difficult situations.
VS, 107. From the martyrs, examples of fidelity to moral truth unto death, to the saints, examples of fidelity to moral truth in life. It is the example of the saints, in particular the Virgin Mother of God, whom the Church considers "full of grace" and "all-holy," wherein we find "the model" of "the word lived," "the strength" to live "the word lived," and "the joy" in having "the word lived." VS, 107. The life of holiness "brings to full expression and effectiveness the threefold and unitary munus propheticum, sacerdotale et regale [prophetic office, priestly office, and kingly office] which every Christian receives as a gift by being born again 'of water and the Spirit' (Jn 3:5) in Baptism." VS, 107. Conformity to the morality of the Gospel may thus be seen as an act of spiritual worship: a Christian's "moral life has the value of a 'spiritual worship'," one which flows from and is nourished and fed by a deep sacramental life. It will therefore be Eucharistic. The moral life of the Christian will also be Trinitarian. It will be intimately tied to the Spirit of Christ, of which it will be an expression, and it will be open to the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Here, the Pope quotes from Novation's orthodox work on the Trinity, an implicit recognition that the moral life must be Trinitarian which necessarily means open to the activity of the Holy Spirit:

[It is the Holy Spirit] who confirmed the hearts and minds of the disciples, who revealed the mysteries of the Gospel, who shed upon them the light of things divine. Strengthened by his gift, they did not fear either prisons or chains for the name of the Lord; indeed they even trampled upon the powers and torments of the world, armed and strengthened by him, having in themselves the gifts which this same Spirit bestows and directs like jewels to the Church, the Bride of Christ. It is in fact he who raises up prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, guides tongues, works wonders and healings, accomplishes miracles, grants the discernment of spirits, assigns governance, inspires counsels, distributes and harmonizes every other charismatic gift. In this way he completes and perfects the Lord's Church everywhere and in all things.

[Est enim Spiritus Sanctus] qui ipsorum animos mentesque firmavit, qui evangelica sacramenta distinxit, qui in ipsis illuminator rerum divinarum fuit, quo confirmati pro nomine Domini, nec carceres nec vincula timuerunt, quin immo ipsas saeculi potestates et tormenta calcaverunt, armati iam scilicet per ipsum atque firmati, habentes in se dona quae hic idem Spiritus Ecclesiae Christi sponsae quasi quaedam ornamenta distribuit et dirigit. Hic est enim qui prophetas in Ecclesia constituit, magistros erudit, linguas dirigit, virtutes et sanitates facit, opera mirabilia gerit, discretiones spirituum porrigit, gubernationes contribuit, consilia suggerit, quaeque alia sunt charismatum dona componit et digerit, et ideo Ecclesiam Domini undique et in omnibus perfectam et consummatam facit.

VS, 108.*

The burden upon all members of the Church, then, is to assure that their lives reflect "the word lived," that the word which they proclaim are not empty words, but that the Word that they proclaim bears fruit within their very lives, so that their very lives become witness to the Gospel. Their life is a living word of the Living Word.

We might here invoke the prayer to Our Lady of Good Counsel written by Pope Pius XII and published on January 23, 1953, as it brings together the theme of sanctity--and the Marian role in it--and the notion of moral truth:
Holy Virgin, moved by the painful uncertainty we experience in seeking and acquiring the true and the good, we cast ourselves at thy feet and invoke thee under the sweet title of Mother of Good Counsel. We beseech thee: come to our aid at this moment in our worldly sojourn when the twin darknesses or error and of evil that plots our ruin by leading minds and hearts astray.

Seat of Wisdom and Star of the Sea, enlighten the victims of doubt and of error so that they may not be seduced by evil masquerading as good; strengthen them against the hostile and corrupting forces of passion and of sin.

Mother of Good Counsel, obtain for us from thy Divine Son the love of virtue and the strength to choose, in doubtful and difficult situations, the course agreeable to our salvation. Supported by thy hand we shall thus journey without harm along the paths taught us by the word and example of Jesus our Savior, following the Sun of Truth and Justice in freedom and safety across the battlefield of life under the guidance of thy maternal Star, until we come at length to the harbor of salvation to enjoy with thee unalloyed and everlasting peace.

In making this "journey without harm along the paths taught us by the word and example of Jesus our Savior" a reality, the Bishops, in their teaching and pastoral offices, have an important, preeminent role. The moral theologians also play a role, a role which is at service of the teaching and pastoral office of the bishops. And it is to those two, the bishops and moral theologians, their interaction and their respective roles, to which the Pope next turns.
*Quoting from Novation, De Trinitate, XXIX, 9-10;CCL 4, 70.

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