Wednesday, July 05, 2017

“Pope Francis” vs “Pope John Paul II”: Opposing “Veritatis Splendor”

John Paul II Veritatis Splendor
The Roman Catholic journalist Sandro Magister has fretted now that the dismissal of Cardinal Gerhard Müller was really “an attack on ‘Veritatis Splendor’”, which he called “the most important doctrinal encyclical” of “Pope John Paul II”, and further, that this “attack” was accompanied by an affirmation of this encyclical, “by fate or divine providence” in “all the Catholic churches of the Roman rite” in the regularly scheduled prayers in last Sunday’s Mass:
“O God, who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth. Through our Lord...
The first line of that encyclical re-states the Roman Catholic distinction vs Protestantism:
Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, "the true light that enlightens everyone" (Jn 1:9), people become "light in the Lord" and "children of light" (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by "obedience to the truth" (1 Pet 1:22).
“Obedience” makes people “holy”. This precisely mirrors the error that Augustine made, which led to the medieval misunderstanding of justification, which in turn was contested by Luther and the Reformers. The Council of Trent later codified the error as “infallible dogma”.

But there is a second error espoused by “Pope Francis” and “Amoris Laetitia”, and it was articulated by Joseph Ratzinger. Pope Ratzinger, who had been Prefect of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (CDF) prior to Müller, and who “contributed in a substantial way to the writing of that encyclical”, had this to say about it in a recent chapter in “a book in honor of John Paul II”:
The encyclical on moral problems “Veritatis Splendor” took many years to ripen and remains of unchanged relevance.

The constitution of Vatican II on the Church in the contemporary world, contrary to the tendency of moral theology at the time to focus on the natural law, wanted Catholic moral doctrine on the figure of Jesus and his message to have a biblical foundation.

This was attempted by fits and starts for only a brief period. Then the opinion took hold that the Bible does not have any morality of its own to proclaim, but refers to moral models valid for their time and place. Morality is a question of reason, it was said, not of faith.

So on the one hand morality understood in terms of natural law disappeared, but its Christian conception was not affirmed in its place. And since neither a metaphysical nor a Christological foundation could be recognized for morality, recourse was had to pragmatic solutions: to a morality based on the principle of seeking the greater good, in which there is no longer anything truly evil or truly good, but only that which, from the point of view of efficacy, is better or worse.

The great task that John Paul II took on in this encyclical was that of rediscovering a metaphysical foundation in anthropology, as also a Christian concretization in the new image of man in Sacred Scripture.
There are really three forms of morality that Protestants need to understand:
1. The morality required for sanctification, required to be exercised by the justified believer (for whom “Christ is our righteousness”), who is living a life of sanctification.

2. The Roman Catholic understanding of righteousness, by which people are “made holy” (and which “holiness” is a gift, but which nevertheless is claimed to be one’s own “holiness” by which they stand before God).

3. “The tendency of moral theology at the time [of Vatican II, and today] to focus on the natural law” – the malleable form of morality that has existed for two hundred years, in which standards of righteousness are located by each individual person, and not in an external source (one of the two listed above).
J. Gresham Machen recognized and described the rise of this third “tendency” far earlier than Ratzinger did:
But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism— that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.

The word “naturalism” is here used in a sense somewhat different from its philosophical meaning. In this non-philosophical sense it describes with fair accuracy the real root of what is called, by what may turn out to be a degradation of an originally noble word, “liberal” religion. The rise of this modern naturalistic liberalism has not come by chance, but has been occasioned by important changes which have recently taken place in the conditions of life. The past one hundred years have witnessed the beginning of a new era in human history, which may conceivably be regretted, but certainly cannot be ignored, by the most obstinate conservatism.

The change is not something that lies beneath the surface and might be visible only to the discerning eye; on the contrary it forces itself upon the attention of the plain man at a hundred points. Modern inventions and the industrialism that has been built upon them have given us in many respects a new world to live in; we can no more remove ourselves from that world than we can escape from the atmosphere that we breathe.

(Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity & Liberalism (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 53-62). CrossReach Publications. Kindle Edition.)
Biblical Christians are definitely in a multi-front struggle.


  1. Mr. Bugay, Do Catholics affirm McGrath's definition of justification, ie to be made righteous? After reading some of his book on justification, I was wondering if Catholics do affirm this definition. If they do, do you think it help lead to the sacramental system of Rome today, and also, contribute to the development of a sacerdotal priesthood? Thanks

    1. The sacerdotal priesthood pre-dated Trent's characterization of "justification", as did the development of the sacramental system -- however, Rome is always looking after-the-fact for ways to jury-rig things ("justification" at the time of the Reformation) into its own system.

      How much of McGrath did you read? I don't know how many Roman Catholics affirm McGrath. Some of them at least know how to proof-text him. You may want to take a look at the "Sacramental Treadmill" chart, which is a summary of the Roman Catholic system of salvation, compiled (quite accurately) by James McCarthy, The Gospel According to Rome, and see how they all fit together.

      It is interesting to note that "final justification" (a term given by Trent) is more a function of "the sacramental system" than it is actual good works. The CCC 2012-2016 talks about "Christian Holiness" and how "the children of our holy mother the Church rightly hope for the grace of final perseverance and the recompense of God their Father for the good works accomplished with his grace in communion with Jesus."

      These "good works" required for "final perseverance", however, involve actual participation in the sacramental system, as illustrated in the chart. If you do that, you can keep running to communion/confession/communion and as a Roman Catholic, you can be pretty much certain of that "final perseverance". On the other hand, "corporal works of mercy", feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, etc., are merely optional.