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, August 4, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 8--Moral Theology, Moral Truth

FOLLOWING THE MEDITATION on the rich young man's experience with the Lord as related in the Gospels, John Paul II delves into doctrinal portion of the encyclical. The meditation of the dialogue between Christ and the rich young ruler segues into a synopsis of the fruit of that mediation. By reflecting on this encounter between the young man and Jesus, John Paul II draws out four revealed elements:
  1. Man and his activity is subordinated to God, who alone is good;
  2. There is a direct relationship between the divine commandments, the moral good of human acts, and eternal life;
  3. Christian discipleship, that is, the following of Jesus, "opens up before man the perspective of perfect love"and is at the core of Christian moral life; and
  4. The gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the "source and means of the moral life" in the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus is central to the life of the individual Christian and the Body of Christ, the Church.
VS, 28. The gift of the Holy Spirit serves the Church particularly in her preservation of, and in the doctrinal development of, Christ's moral teaching, that is to say, in determining what "action [is] pleasing to God." Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there has been doctrinal development in the area of morals just as there has been doctrinal development in the area of faith. So long as the Church is in via, in time, on pilgrimage, "the Church," "[a]ssisted by the Holy Spirit who leads her into all truth," "has not ceased, nor can she ever cease, to contemplate the 'mystery of the Word Incarnate,' in whom 'light is shed on the mystery of man.'" VS, 28 (quoting GS, 22). This includes the subject of morals.

The Church's moral reflection, always conducted in the light of Christ, the "Good Teacher", has also developed in the specific form of the theological science called "moral theology", a science which accepts and examines Divine Revelation while at the same time responding to the demands of human reason. Moral theology is a reflection concerned with "morality", with the good and the evil of human acts and of the person who performs them; in this sense it is accessible to all people. But it is also "theology", inasmuch as it acknowledges that the origin and end of moral action are found in the One who "alone is good" and who, by giving himself to man in Christ, offers him the happiness of divine life.

VS, 29. Obviously, moral theology relies upon Divine Revelation, but it does not on that account reject reason. The discipline, or better, science, of moral theology has the particular task of communicating the unchanging truths and the Church's deepening knowledge of them to the faithful and to men of good will in all historical and cultural circumstances and settings. The moral theologian, who sets for himself this task, must remain faithful to the deposit of faith as the Church understands it. Unfortunately, some modern moral theologians, misunderstanding or unfaithful to the Second Vatican Council's call to a renewal in moral theology, have taken to false or unsound teaching. This failure on their part has necessitated the encyclical:
[T]here have developed certain interpretations of Christian morality which are not consistent with "sound teaching" (2 Tim 4:3). Certainly the Church's Magisterium does not intend to impose upon the faithful any particular theological system, still less a philosophical one. Nevertheless, in order to "reverently preserve and faithfully expound" the word of God, the Magisterium has the duty to state that some trends of theological thinking and certain philosophical affirmations are incompatible with revealed truth.
VS, 29.

The modern errors frequently stem from erroneous first principles, from mistaken philosophical or theological presuppositions or assumptions. For this reason, the encyclical addresses and clarifies "the principles necessary for discerning what is contrary to "sound doctrine", drawing attention to those elements of the Church's moral teaching which today appear particularly exposed to error, ambiguity or neglect." VS, 30.

Look how basic the questions that the encyclical aims to handle!
  • What is man?
  • What is the meaning and purpose of our life?
  • What is good?
  • How, with respect to man, is good determined?
  • What is sin?
  • What is freedom?
  • What is the relationship of freedom to truth?
  • What is the relationship between truth and God's law?
  • What is conscience, and what is its relationship to God's law?
  • What is the role of conscience in man's moral life?
  • What origin and purpose is there in suffering?
  • What is the way to true happiness?
  • What is death?
  • What comes after death?
  • What is involved in final judgment and retribution?
  • What is "that final, unutterable mystery which embraces our lives and from which we take our origin and towards which we tend?"
These questions are universal, and the way that they are answered is what gives rise to the variety of humanly-derived religions, and even the basis of those who spurn religion. The Catholic Church takes its answers from the teachings of God as contained in the Scriptures and Tradition. She follows the words of the man-God Jesus, and is protected, guided by the Holy Spirit. But regardless of whether the Church is answering or another, these are questions every single man must confront, for to refuse to confront them is to refuse to be man. These questions, are, however but extensions of one: "What good must I do to have eternal life?" These are the questions of the rich young man. They are questions difficult for man to answer, but not for God. And the Church's role is to place before mankind the answer to these questions that have been give by God who spoke through his Son:

Because the Church has been sent by Jesus to preach the Gospel and to "make disciples of all nations..., teaching them to observe all" that he has commanded (cf. Mt 28:19-20), she today once more puts forward the Master's reply, a reply that possesses a light and a power capable of answering even the most controversial and complex questions.

VS, 30. This is what gives the Church special competence to talk to Christ's faithful, but it is also what gives the Church the special competence to talk to all of mankind.

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