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  • The Splendor of Transfiguration at the Heart of the Christian Life:The Influence of Pope Saint Paul VI on Veritatis Splendor
  • Renée Köhler-Ryan

On the sixth of August, 1993, Pope Saint John Paul II signed Veritatis Splendor.1 That date, the liturgical feast day of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, is significant for several reasons, each of which reveals a dimension of the "splendor" of truth about which he writes. The point most focused on here is that John Paul II's identification of Paul VI as the "Pope of the Transfiguration" may be an influence on the document. His admiration of his predecessor's encyclicals, particularly those that highlight the moral life and the importance of the Church in the world, offer various dimensions to consider about the splendor of truth about which he speaks.2 This comes to the fore with a close reading of the homilies and addresses that John Paul gave on the feast of the Transfiguration throughout his pontificate. Thereby, the thesis emerges that Veritatis Splendor may be an extension, a response, and even an homage to Paul's Ecclesiam Suam (1964).3 Paul's encyclical, also issued on the feast of the Transfiguration, argues that the Church acts as Christ's source of illumination at the heart of the world. John Paul seems to consider this further evidence of Paul's [End Page 255] deeply personal love of the Church. Such illumination is due to the way that Christians lead their daily lives, in the light of Christ's law of love. Paul VI says in Ecclesiam Suam that he does not have the space to articulate exactly how the moral life and action work. Yet, he emphasizes how important daily life is for this essential work of the Church. The argument here is that Veritatis Splendor seems to pick up the task of articulating just how such a moral life develops.

In John Paul's chosen title, "splendor" illuminates how the transcendental of goodness is inseparable from both truth (veritas) and beauty. To lead a good life, in charity, is to live in truth and to become beautiful—by imitating Christ and reflecting the light of divine life. Thus God, the true beauty, is known as Creator and exemplar: he reveals the inner form of the Christian life, which constantly in turn announces itself in morally good actions in the world. To see Christ in unveiled glory is to glimpse the contours of divine activity, which human life can reflect when it strives toward the truth. Fittingly then, from the initial statement of the text onward, a major theme in Veritatis Splendor is that humans are made in God's image; and that this image is most clearly known by contemplating the Son of God, incarnate and glorious on Mount Tabor.4 The encyclical adverts to the revelation that humans may be made to reflect God's glory, but that their capacity to fully be his image has become corrupted through sin.5 Only when humans freely choose to live the moral law in charity can they become once more untarnished, and radiate the life of Christ: this is the possibility of human transfiguration that is particularly evident in the lives and deaths of the martyrs and saints.6

This link between the Transfiguration and splendor has already been articulated by J. A. DiNoia, O.P., who argues that "the date upon which this great encyclical was signed provides a key to unlocking its meaning, that transfiguration and communion are at its heart."7 DiNoia is far [End Page 256] from alone in arguing that these themes signify the way that the encyclical fundamentally reorients moral theology toward the heart of why Christians live according to the divinely revealed moral law. This article discusses him more overtly than others because he makes the direct link between the encyclical and the mystery of the Transfiguration.8 John Paul II states his intentions in writing the encyclical, which are mainly to address certain defects at play in his time in the realm of moral theology. He really goes further than this, though, to emphasize the importance of orthodox moral teaching...


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