Not every interpretation of Christian morality is sound

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

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.

The Second Vatican Council invited scholars to take “special care for the renewal of moral theology”, in such a way that “its scientific presentation, increasingly based on the teaching of Scripture, will cast light on the exalted vocation of the faithful in Christ and on their obligation to bear fruit in charity for the life of the world”.45 The Council also encouraged theologians, “while respecting the methods and requirements of theological science, to look for a more appropriate way of communicating doctrine to the people of their time; since there is a difference between the deposit or the truths of faith and the manner in which they are expressed, keeping the same meaning and the same judgment”.46 This led to a further invitation, one extended to all the faithful, but addressed to theologians in particular: “The faithful should live in the closest contact with others of their time, and should work for a perfect understanding of their modes of thought and feelings as expressed in their culture”.47

The work of many theologians who found support in the Council’s encouragement has already borne fruit in interesting and helpful reflections about the truths of faith to be believed and applied in life, reflections offered in a form better suited to the sensitivities and questions of our contemporaries. The Church, and particularly the Bishops, to whom Jesus Christ primarily entrusted the ministry of teaching, are deeply appreciative of this work, and encourage theologians to continue their efforts, inspired by that profound and authentic “fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom” (cf. Prov 1:7).

At the same time, however, within the context of the theological debates which followed the Council, there 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,48 the Magisterium has the duty to state that some trends of theological thinking and certain philosophical affirmations are incompatible with revealed truth.49

45 Decree on Priestly Formation Optatam Totius, 16.
46 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 62.
47 Ibid.
48 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 10.
49 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, 3018.

Veritatis Splendor 29

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