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Fr. Scalia: Veritatis Splendor Became ‘Magna Carta’ for Teaching Moral Theology

The Institute of Catholic Culture recently presented Father Paul Scalia for a talk on “Veritatis Splendor: The Modern Moral Crisis and the Way of Truth,” in northern Virginia.  The full video recording of his presentation is available on the Institute’s website.

Fr. Scalia, who serves as chaplain and board member for The Cardinal Newman Society, is the Delegate for Priests in the Diocese of Arlington.

Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, is “unprecedented in the life of the Church” and has “really become the ‘Magna Carta’ for teaching moral theology in the seminary,” Fr. Scalia stated.

Other popes have written documents about various issues of morality, but “this is the first papal document that is not about one moral issue or another, but about the fundamental principles of moral theology,” he said.

Veritatis Splendor considers “how to think about moral action, setting down the foundations for Catholic moral teaching,” Fr. Scalia explained. 

The document was released in 1993, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  This was significant, Fr. Scalia said, because people were asking, “How will we use our freedom?”

“The Soviet Block had denied truth, truth about the human person, and had denied freedom to its people,” he continued. “Now that it was gone, the question still remains—what does it mean to be free?  What is truth?  And how are freedom and truth connected?”

In the first chapter of the encyclical, explained Fr. Scalia, the Holy Father “connects Scripture and moral theology” by reflecting on Matthew 19:16-21 about the rich young man asking Our Lord what he must do to obtain eternal life.

“Most people reduce morality to rules—do’s and don’ts,” Fr. Scalia said. “The Holy Father is saying here… [it’s about] how to live an authentically Christian life.”

John Paul II examines the “subordination of man and his activity to God, the One who alone is good” and how “what we do here echoes in eternity.”

Additionally, Fr. Scalia explains, John Paul II considers that it “is God’s grace working in us” that “enables us to act in a morally upright way,” and “it is the Holy Spirit’s life in us that makes us able to live the Christian life.”

John Paul II’s corrections of errors in moral theology are an “expression of the Father’s love,” Fr. Scalia stated.  “What father would allow his children to remain in error?”  It is also a “charity to those who may be misled.”

The “danger is to see freedom… as [the ability] to do whatever I want to do,” Fr. Scalia noted.  “Freedom is not infinite” and it is a “gift from God.”

We should follow our conscience, Fr. Scalia said—but that conscience must be well formed.

He compared having an unformed conscience to driving with a bad GPS system.  Just like you have to update the GPS to be able to use it properly, going to regular confession will help to form the conscience.

Pope John Paul II lays out how “certain actions are always and at all times wrong” such as abortion and euthanasia, Fr. Scalia said.

“If we want to know what human freedom looks like, we look to Jesus Christ,” Fr. Scalia said.  “When we live a morally upright life, our life itself becomes a witness to others of the Truth.”

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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