Samuel Gregg, Director of Research at Acton, discusses Blessed John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) in a new article in Crisis Magazine. Entitled, ‘Veritatis Splendor: The Encyclical That Mattered’, Gregg makes the claim that this encyclical may become one of the greatest in history. Why?
For one thing, Veritatis Splendor was the first encyclical to spell out the Catholic Church’s fundamental moral teaching. Catholicism had of course always articulated the moral dimension of Christ’s message. Never before, however, had a pope provided a formal systematic outline of Catholic moral doctrine. That alone makes the encyclical a perennial reference-point for Catholic reflection.
Second, Veritatis Splendor provided what’s now widely recognized as a powerful response to the crisis into which Catholic moral theology fell after Vatican II. In many respects this crisis was precipitated by the debates surrounding Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. But more deeply, Veritatis Splendor was a rejoinder to many Catholic theologians’ attempt to do three things.
Gregg goes on to state that this encyclical reminds the world of the truth that will set us free:
Herein lies Veritatis Splendor’s importance for anyone who wants to preserve and promote civilization. Not only does it insist that particular acts are eternally unworthy of man. It also affirms that human reason can identify what the encyclical calls certain “fundamental goods” that transcend the particularities of the here-and-now.
In that sense the encyclical reminds us that avoiding evil isn’t enough. As Veritatis Splendor’s unfolding of Christ’s encounter with the rich young man illustrates, the prohibitions contained in God’s moral law are supposed to be a spring-board toward human flourishing.