The war on John Paul II’s Magisterium: Veritatis splendor

From Sandro Magister.

Müller Out. But the Real Attack Is Against “Veritatis Splendor”

On Sunday, July 2, the very day on which Pope Francis removed Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller as prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, from all the Catholic churches of the Roman rite [not “all”] at the beginning of Mass the following prayer went up to God, called the “collect” in the [Novus Ordo] missal:

“Deus, qui, per adoptionem gratiæ, lucis nos esse filios voluisti, præsta, quæsumus, ut errorum non involvamur tenebris, sed in splendore veritatis semper maneamus conspicui. Per Dominum nostrum….”

In the official English translation:

“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 [splendor] of truth. Through our Lord…”

Fate – or divine providence? – would therefore have it that the expulsion of Cardinal Müller should be accompanied by the choral liturgical invocation that the “splendor of truth” may continue to illuminate the Church.

“The splendor of truth” is precisely the title of the most important doctrinal encyclical of John Paul II, published in 1993 [HERE]:

It is an encyclical “on some fundamental questions of the Church’s moral teaching”: precisely the questions that have now returned to being an object of conflict, with extensive and influential sectors of the Church maintaining that it is time to leave behind – especially after the publication of “Amoris Laetitia” – some of the main principles of “Veritatis Splendor.”

It should be enough to observe that no fewer than four of the five “dubia” submitted in September of last year to Pope Francis by cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, Carlo Caffarra, and Joachim Meisner [who just died as of the date of this writing – RIP] hinge precisely on the consistency, or lack thereof, between “Amoris Laetitia” and “Veritatis Splendor.” And these “dubia” still remain completely open, in part because of Pope Francis’s refusal to take them into consideration and to meet with the four cardinals.

But what were the genesis and objective of “Veritatis Splendor”? To answer this question there is one exceptional witness: Joseph Ratzinger.

As Müller’s predecessor at the helm of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, he contributed in a substantial way to the writing of that encyclical.

But even after his resignation as pope, he continues to judge “Veritatis Splendor” as being of “unchanged relevance,” to be “studied and assimilated” even today.

In 2014, in a thoughtful chapter for a book in honor of John Paul II, Ratzinger pointed to none other than “Veritatis Splendor” as the most important and relevant of that pope’s fourteen encyclicals.

A chapter that deserves a second reading, with an eye to what is happening in the Church today, under the reign of his successor Francis.

Here is the passage dedicated by the “pope emeritus” to that encyclical.



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.

[NB] Studying and assimilating this encyclical remains a great and important duty.


Seeing what is happening today in the Catholic Church, even at its highest levels, all the reasons that motivated the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” are present once again, with equal if not greater dramatic force.

And they are also making more relevant than ever the prayer to remain “in the splendor of truth” that went up last Sunday from all the churches.

The other day I posted HERE

Erasing the Magisterium of a Pope. Wherein Fr. Z rants and suggests.

In that post I wrote something that could be applied also to Veritatis splendor:

I have from time to time suggested that you form “base communities” to combat the onslaught from within and without the Church on our Three C’s of Cult, Code and Creed.

Here’s a suggestion.  How about starting a reading group, in your parish or down at the local breakfast and coffee shop (where you might be more welcome in some cases).  Choose as your first item Pope John Paul II’s Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris corsortio, (The Role of Christian Family in Modern World) which he penned after the 1980 Synod (“walking together”).

You can get it online (for now). Or, for less than the price of the cup of coffee at the shop you choose, you can get a booklet.


Read it with others.  Read it with a pen in hand.

When you hear something that contradicts Familiaris consortio ask questions.

How else do we learn?

Veritatis splendor!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mike says:

    The validity of Veritatis splendor is not, Deo gratias, a matter of majority opinion at a point in time. It is a matter of disciplined reason, enlightened by faith—not something beloved of Jesuit gangsters. That they invoke reason when it suits their book is vice’s homage to virtue.

  2. HighMass says:

    When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope, and through the years of his Pontificate, he constantly, quoted St. John Paul II and reiterated the teaches of St. John Paul II often. This not to say Pope Benedict was not his own Man.

    Pope Benedict XVI is a very humble Man. Imagine following St. J.P.II.

    Presently it seems what was done since 1978, J.P.’s election is being tossed, “the baby with the bath”. Was this what Pope Benedict was meant when he said to “pray for him, so the wolves in sheeps clothing do not get him”, or something to this tone.

    Many of feel the Church is in crisis, but we all know Jesus will not abandon us.

    Father Z. is it wrong or a sin to pray for a new conclave?

    We continue to Praise God for the past two pontiff’s J.P. II and Benedict and pray for the present pope.

  3. JustaSinner says:

    Was Cardinal Weisner bumped off? In my former trade we referred to that as a ‘coincidence’. What a coincidence that one of the four Cardinals died…I stopped believing in coincidences about the same time I realized Santa was not real.

  4. Geoffrey says:

    Given all that is going on in the Church, my wife and I received great solace when praying the collect prayer for this past Sunday.

    In regards to the writings of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI said: “All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church. My personal mission is… to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure, the authentic interpretation of Vatican II” (

    I wish the present pontiff felt the same way!

  5. jaykay says:

    Thank you for that quote, Geoffrey. Invaluable, especially given that both of them were actually there in an active capacity. Just think, both of them subsequently Pontiffs, and who were actually there. That Can’t be stressed enough, I think.

  6. HighMass says:

    Geoffrey and jaykay, very well said. I too like you Geoffrey wish the present Pontiff felt the same, but look how hard the liberals have worked put themselves in midst off all this, and to try to get there way.

  7. Kerry says:

    The Institute of Catholic Culture has a talk of Fr. Paul Scalia on Veritatis Splendor:
    Listen to the whole thing.

  8. VexillaRegis says:

    JustaSinner, Cardinal Müller was “bumped off”, Cardinal Meisner died with his breviary in his hand yesterday (link here:, and there is no Cardinal Weisner.

  9. samwise says:

    @Mike: well said about vice and virtue. Those classical measures of goodness/wickedness are fundamental. The Cardinal virtues are indeed hinges on which a healthy approach to reality rests. Above and beyond those are the theological virtues (a major focus of BXVI’s encyclicals) which help the Christian to respond to the infusion God’s grace. Although Francis “helped” to pen “Lumen Fidei”, his writing now is a far cry from where he began his pontificate…much more verbose, and much less meaningful/understandable. BXVI is simple yet profound (esp his Jesus of Nazareth series!). Francis seems complex and shallow.

  10. JustaSinner says:

    VexillaRegis, cursed auto-correct; my bad, should human checked that! Are they conducting an autopsy or are they pulling a Scalia?


  12. Jeri says:

    A friend and I started to meet for lunch and discuss Cardinal Burke’s book “Hope For The World”. In the last month we had two more people join us, with more expressing interest. As an adult convert from Protestantism in 2005, I have been very disturbed by recent developments in the Catholic Church. I sometimes despair and wonder why I went through the difficult conversion process if the Catholic church is going the way of Protestantism. This group of faithful people keep me grounded in the truth of the Church that Jesus gave us.

  13. samwise says:

    What I can’t understand is why as Cardinal Bergoglio, he was in terms of doctrine as Fr. Z says, “hard as nails” and supportive of Veritatis Splendor but as Pope he has become a kind of El Cid figure for Kaspar’s ideology. As an example of his support for Veritatis Splendor, take his homily as Cardinal from 2004 entitled: where he says, “Por eso, ‘la evangelización -y por tanto la «nueva evangelización»- comporta también el anuncio y la propuesta moral.’ (VS 108). Jesús no sólo llamó a la fe sino también a la conversión (cfr. Mc 1, 15).” ( He is cleary in favor of JPII’s moral theology!

    and again he quotes Veritatis Splendor on the dangers of ‘obscuring the moral life’ and offers his own supportive comments against subjectivism, etc.:
    “sino también y necesariamente una decadencia u oscurecimiento del sentido moral: y esto ya sea por la disolución de la conciencia de la originalidad de la moral evangélica, ya sea por el eclipse de los mismos principios y valores éticos fundamentales.” (VS 106). Vivimos en nuestros pueblos la irrupción de una forma cultural no cristiana o descristianizada. Las tendencias subjetivistas, utilitaristas y relativistas, no sólo como posiciones pragmáticas, sino como concepciones consolidadas teóricamente dan forma a nuestro mundo y nos cuestionan seriamente. (Ibid)

  14. samwise says:

    It is as though Cardinal Bergoglio was saying “repent (propuesta moral) and believe in the Gospel (evangelio)” vs Pope Francis “the Church’s moral structure could fall like a house of cards…”

  15. Imrahil says:

    Dear samwise,

    the reason may have been the same reason that a prelate, I think it was Cdl Frings but it may have been Cdl Döpfner, said about the surprisingly un-decided (“this is what we used to say, but that doesn’t mean per se that we will be saying them in the future; let’s inquire first”) stand many of them took at Vatican II. These prelates had previously been known as staunch defenders of traditional Catholicism; but then they said: “That’s what we did at home. But this is a Council, now. We may quite possibly change some things. Now let’s take a look at whether to change the things or leave them in place.” The effect being that they did change some things, and that the rumour that everything’s going to Change now (far above what they actually did) went out and unsettled yet more things.

    Hence quite possibly, Pope Francis thinks: “I was a Cardinal and a diocesan bishop, then. I defended what was then the Catholic teaching; as I should. But I’m the Pope, now. I may possibly change some things. Etc.”

    We can’t even say the reasoning is entirely flawed, by the way, though that problems come with it is obvious.

  16. samwise says:

    @ Imrahil: Thanks for those insights. Apparently for some, “when in Rome…” And, I’m familiar with the illogical fallacy of appealing to tradition, as in “we will do what we’ve always done because that’s what we do”, but I think another adage should be taken to heart: “IF IT AIN”T BROKE, DON”T FIX IT”

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