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  • Veritatis Splendor and the Rupture between Faith and Morals
  • Helenka Mannering

According to Livio Melina, in Veritatis Splendor John Paul II sought to address two ruptures in contemporary moral theology: that between freedom and truth, and between faith and morals.1 In this article, following a brief exposition of the first rupture, the second rupture will be analyzed in detail. It will be contended that the second rupture occurs in two modes: the first can be summarized as a focus on faith which fails to translate into a lived pursuit of holiness (faith without morals), and the second as an approach to morality which claims religious neutrality and denies the importance of faith (morals without faith). Although both these modes of the second rupture are regarded as inadequate in Veritatis Splendor, they continue to affect Catholic moral theology today. John Paul II, however, critiques both modes of the rupture, and, seeking to overcome the rift, presents an alternate vision of a unitive approach to faith and morals, which has a deeply biblical foundation.

The first rupture addressed by John Paul II—that between freedom and truth—is immediately evident even from a cursory reading of Veritatis Splendor. In fact, it is possible to claim that the main theme of the encyclical is a very clear and deliberate attempt to heal the rift between freedom and truth prevalent in society today. This theme is evident not only in Veritatis Splendor, but as a leitmotif throughout John Paul II's papacy. In his very first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, which set the [End Page 279] tone for his entire pontificate, John Paul II wrote:

Jesus Christ meets the man of every age, including our own, with the same words: "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world. Today also, even after two thousand years, we see Christ as the one who brings man freedom based on truth, frees man from what curtails, diminishes and as it were breaks off this freedom at its root, in man's soul, his heart and his conscience. What a stupendous confirmation of this has been given and is still being given by those who, thanks to Christ and in Christ, have reached true freedom and have manifested it even in situations of external constraint!2

Hence, Cardinal Avery Dulles observation that "the rootedness of freedom in truth has been a constant and central theme in the writings of John Paul II"3 seems well founded.

However, in Veritatis Splendor John Paul II himself contextualizes this rupture between freedom and truth as a symptom of a more fundamental rupture: that between faith and morality. In §88, he writes:

The attempt to set freedom in opposition to truth, and indeed to separate them radically, is the consequence, manifestation and consummation of another more serious and destructive dichotomy, that which separates faith from morality.

The dichotomy between faith and morals has a multitude of manifestations apart from the rupture between freedom and truth. John Paul II gesticulates to two of these in the paragraphs following the statement just quoted: "In a widely dechristianized culture, the criteria employed by believers themselves in making judgments and decisions often appear extraneous or even contrary to those of the Gospel."4 This problem can be [End Page 280] referred to as a morality which does not recognize the essential foundation that a living faith furnishes for a Christian morality, or, in other words, a morality without faith. John Paul II continues, also emphasizing the necessity also to address the opposite problem, which consists of an attitude to the faith which does not translate into the moral life. Against such a paradigm, he writes:

Faith is a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out. A word, in any event, is not truly received...


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pp. 279-294
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