Expressions of unchanging Truth unfold through the ages

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

The great concern of our contemporaries for historicity and for culture has led some to call into question the immutability of the natural law itself, and thus the existence of “objective norms of morality”96 valid for all people of the present and the future, as for those of the past. Is it ever possible, they ask, to consider as universally valid and always binding certain rational determinations established in the past, when no one knew the progress humanity would make in the future?

It must certainly be admitted that man always exists in a particular culture, but it must also be admitted that man is not exhaustively defined by that same culture. Moreover, the very progress of cultures demonstrates that there is something in man which transcends those cultures. This “something” is precisely human nature: this nature is itself the measure of culture and the condition ensuring that man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being. To call into question the permanent structural elements of man which are connected with his own bodily dimension would not only conflict with common experience, but would render meaningless Jesus’ reference to the “beginning”, precisely where the social and cultural context of the time had distorted the primordial meaning and the role of certain moral norms (cf. Mt 19:1-9). This is the reason why “the Church affirms that underlying so many changes there are some things which do not change and are ultimately founded upon Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and for ever”.97 Christ is the “Beginning” who, having taken on human nature, definitively illumines it in its constitutive elements and in its dynamism of charity towards God and neighbour.98

Certainly there is a need to seek out and to discover the most adequate formulation for universal and permanent moral norms in the light of different cultural contexts, a formulation most capable of ceaselessly expressing their historical relevance, of making them understood and of authentically interpreting their truth. This truth of the moral law — like that of the “deposit of faith” — unfolds down the centuries: the norms expressing that truth remain valid in their substance, but must be specified and determined “eodem sensu eademque sententia99 in the light of historical circumstances by the Church’s Magisterium, whose decision is preceded and accompanied by the work of interpretation and formulation characteristic of the reason of individual believers and of theological reflection.100

96 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 16.
97 Ibid., 10.
98 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ I-II, q.108, a. 1. St. Thomas bases the fact that moral norms, even in the context of the New Law, are not merely formal in character but have a determined content, upon the assumption of human nature by the Word.
99 Saint Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium Primum, c. 23: Patrologiæ Cursus completus, Series Græca 50, 668.
100 The development of the Church’s moral doctrine is similar to that of the doctrine of the faith (cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, Chap. 4: H. Denzinger-A Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum [DS], 3020, and Canon 4: DS, 3024). The words spoken by John XXIII at the opening of the Second Vatican Council can also be applied to moral doctrine: “This certain and unchanging teaching (i.e., Christian doctrine in its completeness), to which the faithful owe obedience, needs to be more deeply understood and set forth in a way adapted to the needs of our time. Indeed, this deposit of the faith, the truths contained in our time-honored teaching, is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else”: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 54 (1962), 792; cf. L’Osservatore Romano, October 12, 1962, p. 2.

Veritatis Splendor 53

The prohibitions of the natural law oblige everyone at all times

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

It is right and just, always and for everyone, to serve God, to render him the worship which is his due and to honour one’s parents as they deserve. Positive precepts such as these, which order us to perform certain actions and to cultivate certain dispositions, are universally binding; they are “unchanging”.94 They unite in the same common good all people of every period of history, created for “the same divine calling and destiny”.95 These universal and permanent laws correspond to things known by the practical reason and are applied to particular acts through the judgment of conscience. The acting subject personally assimilates the truth contained in the law. He appropriates this truth of his being and makes it his own by his acts and the corresponding virtues. The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited — to everyone and in every case — to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all.

On the other hand, the fact that only the negative commandments oblige always and under all circumstances does not mean that in the moral life prohibitions are more important than the obligation to do good indicated by the positive commandments. The reason is this: the commandment of love of God and neighbour does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, but it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken. Furthermore, what must be done in any given situation depends on the circumstances, not all of which can be foreseen; on the other hand there are kinds of behaviour which can never, in any situation, be a proper response — a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person. Finally, it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.

The Church has always taught that one may never choose kinds of behaviour prohibited by the moral commandments expressed in negative form in the Old and New Testaments. As we have seen, Jesus himself reaffirms that these prohibitions allow no exceptions: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments . . . You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness” (Mt 19:17-18).

94 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 10; Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics Persona Humana (December 29,1975), 4: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 68 (1976), 80: “But in fact, divine Revelation and, in its own proper order, philosophical wisdom, emphasize the authentic exigencies of human nature. They thereby necessarily manifest the existence of immutable laws inscribed in the constitutive elements of human nature and which are revealed to be identical in all beings endowed with reason.”
95 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 29.

Veritatis Splendor 50

FSSP pilgrimage to conclude Saturday with Missa Solemnis at National Shrine

A three-day walking pilgrimage from upper Montgomery County, Maryland, to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), will conclude at 5:30 pm on Saturday, June 4, with a Solemn High Mass in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Sponsored by the Paulus Institute in cooperation with the FSSP, the Mass will be offered as an act of reparation for abortion and the sins of our nation. Musical accompaniment will be provided by a local men’s schola directed by David Sullivan and by a polyphonic choir. This Mass is being added to our seven-day schedule.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located at 400 Michigan Avenue NE in Brookland, a five-minute walk from the Brookland-CUA Metrorail station. Ample parking is available adjacent to the Shrine and on the surface lot across Harewood Road.

The natural law is a universal law over all our actions

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

The alleged conflict between freedom and nature also has repercussions on the interpretation of certain specific aspects of the natural law, especially its universality and immutability. “Where then are these rules written”, Saint Augustine wondered, “except in the book of that light which is called truth? From thence every just law is transcribed and transferred to the heart of the man who works justice, not by wandering but by being, as it were, impressed upon it, just as the image from the ring passes over to the wax, and yet does not leave the ring”.92

Precisely because of this “truth” the natural law involves universality. Inasmuch as it is inscribed in the rational nature of the person, it makes itself felt to all beings endowed with reason and living in history. In order to perfect himself in his specific order, the person must do good and avoid evil, be concerned for the transmission and preservation of life, refine and develop the riches of the material world, cultivate social life, seek truth, practise good and contemplate beauty.93

The separation which some have posited between the freedom of individuals and the nature which all have in common, as it emerges from certain philosophical theories which are highly influential in present-day culture, obscures the perception of the universality of the moral law on the part of reason. But inasmuch as the natural law expresses the dignity of the human person and lays the foundation for his fundamental rights and duties, it is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all mankind. This universality does not ignore the individuality of human beings, nor is it opposed to the absolute uniqueness of each person. On the contrary, it embraces at its root each of the person’s free acts, which are meant to bear witness to the universality of the true good. By submitting to the common law, our acts build up the true communion of persons and, by God’s grace, practise charity, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14). When on the contrary they disregard the law, or even are merely ignorant of it, whether culpably or not, our acts damage the communion of persons, to the detriment of each.

92 De Trinitate, XIV, 15, 21: Corpus Christianorum, Latin series 50/A, 451.
93 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, a.2.

Veritatis Splendor 51

Fr. Czarnota to offer Missa Cantata at Silver Spring

A Missa Cantata with schola will be offered Sunday morning, May 29, at the Traditional Latin Mass Congregation of Silver Spring, Maryland.  The celebrant of the Mass of the Second Sunday after Pentecost will be Reverend Father Paul Czarnota of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Holy Mass will begin at 8:00 am.  Confessions will be heard from 7:30 to 7:55 am. All are invited to share coffee and doughnuts after Mass in the downstairs community room of the rectory.

Silver Spring TLM Congregation meets at the Historic Church of St. John the Evangelist, 9700 Rosensteel Avenue, Forest Glen.

Freedom and nature are indivisibly bound

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

At this point the true meaning of the natural law can be understood: it refers to man’s proper and primordial nature, the “nature of the human person”,89 which is the person himself in the unity of soul and body, in the unity of his spiritual and biological inclinations and of all the other specific characteristics necessary for the pursuit of his end. “The natural moral law expresses and lays down the purposes, rights and duties which are based upon the bodily and spiritual nature of the human person. Therefore this law cannot be thought of as simply a set of norms on the biological level; rather it must be defined as the rational order whereby man is called by the Creator to direct and regulate his life and actions and in particular to make use of his own body”.90 To give an example, the origin and the foundation of the duty of absolute respect for human life are to be found in the dignity proper to the person and not simply in the natural inclination to preserve one’s own physical life. Human life, even though it is a fundamental good of man, thus acquires a moral significance in reference to the good of the person, who must always be affirmed for his own sake. While it is always morally illicit to kill an innocent human being, it can be licit, praiseworthy or even imperative to give up one’s own life (cf. Jn 15:13) out of love of neighbour or as a witness to the truth. Only in reference to the human person in his “unified totality”, that is, as “a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit”,91 can the specifically human meaning of the body be grasped. Indeed, natural inclinations take on moral relevance only insofar as they refer to the human person and his authentic fulfilment, a fulfilment which for that matter can take place always and only in human nature. By rejecting all manipulations of corporeity which alter its human meaning, the Church serves man and shows him the path of true love, the only path on which he can find the true God.

The natural law thus understood does not allow for any division between freedom and nature. Indeed, these two realities are harmoniously bound together, and each is intimately linked to the other.

89 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 51.
90 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Donum Vitæ (February 22, 1987), Introduction, 3: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 80 (1988), 74; cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanæ Vitæ (July 25, 1968), 10: AAS 60 (1968), 487-488.
91 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (November 22, 1981), 11: AAS 74 (1982), 92.

Veritatis Splendor 50

The moral act cannot be separated from its bodily dimensions

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

A doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition. Such a doctrine revives, in new forms, certain ancient errors which have always been opposed by the Church, inasmuch as they reduce the human person to a “spiritual” and purely formal freedom. This reduction misunderstands the moral meaning of the body and of kinds of behaviour involving it (cf. 1 Cor 6:19). Saint Paul declares that “the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers” are excluded from the Kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 6:9). This condemnation — repeated by the Council of Trent88 — lists as “mortal sins” or “immoral practices” certain specific kinds of behaviour the wilful acceptance of which prevents believers from sharing in the inheritance promised to them. In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, they stand or fall together.

88 Cf. Sess. VI, Decree on Justification Cum Hoc Tempore, Chap. 15: H. Denzinger-A Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, 1544. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church Today cites other texts of the Old and New Testaments which condemn as mortal sins certain modes of conduct involving the body: cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (December 2, 1984), 17: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 77 (1985), 218-223.

Veritatis Splendor 49

Correct understanding of freedom and nature recognizes essential human unity

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

Faced with this theory [of correct behavior being orientation rather than actions], one has to consider carefully the correct relationship existing between freedom and human nature, and in particular the place of the human body in questions of natural law.

A freedom which claims to be absolute ends up treating the human body as a raw datum, devoid of any meaning and moral values until freedom has shaped it in accordance with its design. Consequently, human nature and the body appear as presuppositions or preambles, materially necessary for freedom to make its choice, yet extrinsic to the person, the subject and the human act. Their functions would not be able to constitute reference points for moral decisions, because the finalities of these inclinations would be merely “physical” goods, called by some “pre-moral”. To refer to them, in order to find in them rational indications with regard to the order of morality, would be to expose oneself to the accusation of physicalism or biologism. In this way of thinking, the tension between freedom and a nature conceived of in a reductive way is resolved by a division within man himself.

This moral theory does not correspond to the truth about man and his freedom. It contradicts the Church’s teachings on the unity of the human person, whose rational soul is per se et essentialiter the form of his body.86 The spiritual and immortal soul is the principle of unity of the human being, whereby it exists as a whole — corpore et anima unus87 — as a person. These definitions not only point out that the body, which has been promised the resurrection, will also share in glory. They also remind us that reason and free will are linked with all the bodily and sense faculties. The person, including the body, is completely entrusted to himself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his own moral acts. The person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator. It is in the light of the dignity of the human person — a dignity which must be affirmed for its own sake — that reason grasps the specific moral value of certain goods towards which the person is naturally inclined. And since the human person cannot be reduced to a freedom which is self-designing, but entails a particular spiritual and bodily structure, the primordial moral requirement of loving and respecting the person as an end and never as a mere means also implies, by its very nature, respect for certain fundamental goods, without which one would fall into relativism and arbitrariness.

86 Cf. Ecumenical Council of Vienne, Constitution Fidei Catholicæ: H. Denzinger-A Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum [DS], 902; Fifth Lateran Ecumenical Council, Bull Apostolici Regiminis: DS, 1440.
87 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 14.

Veritatis Splendor 48

Some would leave it to man to determine the meaning of his actions

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

In this context [of the supposed opposition of nature and freedom], objections of physicalism and naturalism have been levelled against the traditional conception of the natural law, which is accused of presenting as moral laws what are in themselves mere biological laws. Consequently, in too superficial a way, a permanent and unchanging character would be attributed to certain kinds of human behaviour, and, on the basis of this, an attempt would be made to formulate universally valid moral norms. According to certain theologians, this kind of “biologistic or naturalistic argumentation” would even be present in certain documents of the Church’s Magisterium, particularly those dealing with the area of sexual and conjugal ethics. It was, they maintain, on the basis of a naturalistic understanding of the sexual act that contraception, direct sterilization, autoeroticism, pre-marital sexual relations, homosexual relations and artificial insemination were condemned as morally unacceptable. In the opinion of these same theologians, a morally negative evaluation of such acts fails to take into adequate consideration both man’s character as a rational and free being and the cultural conditioning of all moral norms. In their view, man, as a rational being, not only can but actually must freely determine the meaning of his behaviour. This process of “determining the meaning” would obviously have to take into account the many limitations of the human being, as existing in a body and in history. Furthermore, it would have to take into consideration the behavioural models and the meanings which the latter acquire in any given culture. Above all, it would have to respect the fundamental commandment of love of God and neighbour. Still, they continue, God made man as a rationally free being; he left him “in the power of his own counsel” and he expects him to shape his life in a personal and rational way. Love of neighbour would mean above all and even exclusively respect for his freedom to make his own decisions. The workings of typically human behaviour, as well as the so-called “natural inclinations”, would establish at the most — so they say — a general orientation towards correct behaviour, but they cannot determine the moral assessment of individual human acts, so complex from the viewpoint of situations.

Veritatis Splendor 47

Fr. Carr to offer TLM this Wednesday, Saturday

The Traditional Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form) will be offered at 7:00 am on Wednesday and Saturday mornings of this week by Reverend Father Richard Carr at St. Michael Church, 7401 St. Michael’s Lane, Annandale.

On Wednesday, May 25, Low Mass of the Feast of Pope St. Gregory VII will be offered. Low Mass of the Feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury will be offered on Saturday, May 28.

Please note that these Masses are scheduled at the discretion of the celebrant, and are not part of the parish’s published Mass calendar. These Masses have been added to our seven-day schedule.