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  • Veritatis Splendor and the Universal Call to Holiness
  • Mariusz Biliniewicz

The aim of this essay is to examine how the Second Vatican Council's teaching about the universal call to holiness is contained in Saint John Paul II's encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor [VS].1 The paper will be divided in three parts. First, the idea of the universal call to holiness—that is, its basic tenets, its recent history, and its exposition in the documents of the Vatican II, especially in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium [LG]—will be examined. Second, the presence of the idea of the universal call to holiness in VS will be discussed. Third, a question about the state of the universal call to holiness today, fifty years after Vatican II and twenty-five years after VS will be asked. It will be argued that the conciliar teaching that every Catholic is called to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity is needed today as much as it was at the time of the Council.

What Is the "Universal Call to Holiness"?

Lumen Gentium was officially promulgated on November 21, 1964, and devotes the entirety of chapter V to the universal call to holiness.2 The [End Page 237] placement of this chapter, before the chapter on the religious and after the chapter on the laity, is significant, and could be compared to the decision of placing the chapter on the Church's hierarchy (ch. III) after the chapter on the "People of God" (ch. II). With regard to the hierarchical order of the Church, the fathers of the Council sought to overcome a certain theological and pastoral dualism that divided the pastors and the faithful into two separate groups in too sharp a manner. In the context of the theological emphasis on the importance of the distinction between the teaching Church (ecclesia docens) and the listening Church (ecclesia discens), or the active element of the Church (hierarchy) and the passive element (the laity), the fathers of Vatican II wanted to clarify that, ultimately, the pastors are also members of the "People of God" and that the sacrament of baptism is more primordial and fundamental for the Christian identity than the sacrament of holy orders. Similarly, with regard to the chapters on the call to holiness and on religious life, it is sometimes argued that by placing it as a bridge between the chapters on the laity and on the religious, the fathers of the Council wanted to stress that, while religious life is a special and unique way in which the call to holiness is lived, the call to holiness itself is not limited to those who have the vocation to religious life, but extends to all Christians by the virtue of their baptism.

Lumen Gentium uses this universalist language frequently in this chapter on holiness, which runs for four paragraphs (LG §§39–42): "Everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness" (LG §39); "Lord Jesus … preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples of every condition" (LG §40); "He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God" (LG §40); and "all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (LG §40). The Council teaches that "the classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth" (LG §41); therefore, "every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith" (LG §41). Further, "all Christ's faithful, whatever [End Page 238] be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives—and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will" (LG §41). "Each one of...


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