05 Nov Chapter 21: The Moral Teachings of the Catholic Church
Chapter 21: The Moral Teachings of the Catholic Church
Faith alone is not enough for salvation
What must I do to inherit eternal life: When the young man came to Jesus he asked Him “Lord what must I do in order to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer not only invited him to follow the 10 Commandments, but also went beyond them to a life of love and compassion (the parable of the merciful Samaritan). The invitation of Christ to fulfill the moral code of the Old Testament and perfect it in the New Testament is an essential dimension for the salvation of the human person. St. John has a strong bold statement about the consequences of human actions for our salvation: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:3)
St. Paul tells the Thessalonians that he “unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith…” (1 Thessalonians 1:3) God cares about what we do: “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones.” (Hebrews 6:10)
In the Book of Revelation the glorified Jesus Christ rebukes the Church of Thyatira for allowing Jezebel to lure his servants into sexual immorality. Because she refuses to repent, Jesus strongly states: “I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Rev 2:23)
Faith, moral action, and salvation: That will lead us to compare the relationship between faith, moral actions, and salvation. Jesus tells the young man asking him who to do in order to inherit life: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17). The Letter of St. James taught that faith without action is dead. You can’t just believe in Jesus Christ and assume you are saved without acting on your faith. This has been the teaching of Scriptures since the beginning of the Church. St. Peter invites his readers to not only have faith but put it in action: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12) Also St. Paul invites the Galatians to understand the rule of life which is “faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6) He exhorts the Philippians to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) St. John boldly states: “Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.” (1 John 2:4)
The most evident truth about the importance of our actions for salvation is the Gospel of Matthew. When Jesus was talking about those who hears his words and put them into actions, he says: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
The entire Bible is based on a moral code where God invites us to do good and avoid evil. The relationship between faith and actions can never be jeopardized as if faith alone makes one part of the Church regardless of their individual moral convictions. Jesus tied up the human actions to eternal salvation: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life). Saint Pope John Paul II refuses the opinion “which questions the intrinsic and unbreakable bond between faith and morality, as if membership in the Church and her internal unity were to be decided on the basis of faith alone, while in the sphere of morality a pluralism of opinions and of kinds of behavior could be tolerated, these being left to the judgment of the individual subjective conscience or to the diversity of social and cultural contexts.” (Veritatis Splendor, 4)
Demons believe in Jesus and confess him to be the Son of God but they are not saved: Believing in Jesus is the first step, acting on Jesus’ commands will lead us to a union with God. Remember that even the demons believe in Jesus Christ too, but they are not saved. They confessed him to be the son of God every time he drove them out of the possessed. Demons refused to act according to God’s plan and therefore were eternally condemned. So believing in Jesus and confessing him to be the Son of God and Savior, just like the evil spirits did, does not imply an automatic salvation. When analyzing the Young man’s question to Jesus, “Lord what must I do to inherit eternal life”, Saint Pope John Paul II comments: “Consequently, after making the important clarification: ‘There is only one who is good, Jesus tells the young man: ‘If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments’ (Mt 19:17). In this way, a close connection is made between eternal life and obedience to God’s commandments… Jesus himself definitively confirms them and proposes them to us as the way and condition of salvation.” (Veritatis Splendor, 12)
Salvation is an ongoing dynamic reality: Sentences I hear sometimes like “I was saved last Sunday when I accepted and confessed Jesus” are non-sense. Salvation is an ongoing dynamism in our lives that fluctuate between believing in Jesus Christ and applying this faith in our daily decision. Accepting faith alone as a condition for salvation, destroys the moral action because, implicitly, it creates in many minds the wrong message: “I believe in Jesus, so it does not matter what I do because I am saved.” These convictions completely contradict the teachings of the Bible. In fact, Jesus was explicit that in the final judgment, the conduct of every person will be judged by God (see Mark 12:38-40; Luke 12:1-3; John 3:20-21; Romans 2:16; 1 Colossians 4:5). Whatever we do to the brethren of Jesus, we are doing it to him (Matthew, 25). In this sense, Saint Pope John Paul Ii says: “This is a still uncertain and fragile journey as long as we are on earth, but it is one made possible by grace, which enables us to possess the full freedom of the children of God (cf. Rom 8:21) and thus to live our moral life in a way worthy of our sublime vocation as “sons in the Son.” (Veritatis Splendor, 18)
Those called ‘redeemed’ in the Bible do not imply predestination: Based on the dynamic character of redemption, the concept of ‘redeemed’ in the entire Bible acquire a unique meaning. If Jesus redeemed the entire human race by his Incarnation, death, and resurrection, why are ‘redeemed’ singled out? The concept of ‘those who are redeemed’ (Book of Revelation; Isaiah 35:8, etc…) does not imply a ‘special’ group of people that God wanted to redeem leaving behind the rest of humanity. It rather indicates God’s eternal knowledge of ‘who’ will follow the path of salvation choosing the narrow road. Predestination does not mean that God has already decided what will happen to all people; it rather indicates God’s eternal foreknowledge of their fate. God gave everyone an authentic freedom to decide their destiny and accept Christ’s salvation. The fact that he foreknew what they were going to choose, does not imply that he deprived them of a true freedom.
The human freedom is authentic: Created in the image and likeness of God, the human person undoubtedly possesses an authentic human freedom. The fact that God predestined us to inherit eternal life, does not diminish our decisions to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) There would be no morality if our freedom was fake. Quoting the book of Sirach, Saint Pope John Paul II teaches: “For God willed to leave man ‘in the power of his own counsel’ (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God.” (Veritatis Splendor, 34)
Freedom and grace: In every action we decide to perform, there is a constant relationship between our freedom and God’s grace. God’s grace incarnate in Christ spurs us on to always choose the good; yet, we must freely accept this grace and act on it. If in every decision we keep acting according to such a grace, we will be bringing our being higher and higher to the level God intended us to be at the moment of creation. Jesus called this ‘perfection’ when he was conversing with the rich young man. After realizing that he has been keeping the commandments, Jesus invited him to step up to the last phase of perfection. Jesus would have never invited him (and therefore us) to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect if this was not possible. Saint Pope John Paul Ii comments: “Jesus’ conversation with the young man helps us to grasp the conditions for the moral growth of man, who has been called to perfection: the young man, having observed all the commandments, shows that he is incapable of taking the next step by himself alone. To do so requires mature human freedom (‘If you wish to be perfect) and God’s gift of grace (‘Come, follow me)…Human freedom and God’s law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other.” (Veritatis Splendor, 17) Note that God is infinitely patient waiting for us to use our freedom to follow him in every decision of our lives. In this regard, Saint Peter writes: “And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation.” (2 Peter 3:15)
Faith alone in the Letters to the Romans and Ephesians: When the Letters to the Romans and to the Ephesians state that we are saved through faith, they are simply emphasizing the essential first step, to adhere to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in obedience of faith. In opposition to the necessary circumcision according to the Jewish law, these two letters confirmed faith in Jesus Christ alone without circumcision is enough for salvation. By no means these two letters were ignoring the necessary action that should be the result of our faith in Jesus Christ. The first necessary step in our relationship to the Gospel is to freely accept it. Trying to understand it and to act on it, is a lifelong journey. Those Letters, therefore, by no means imply that believing in Jesus and not doing anything about it, is sufficient for salvation. Faith in Jesus Christ will save us as long as we live it. Vatican II teaches: “all the children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be more severely judged.” (Lumen Gentium, 14) Pope Francis emphasizes that our actions, no matter how good they are, will not ‘guarantee’ our salvation. Our salvation is still an exclusive ‘gift’ of God who is faithful. So we are invited to do our end of the deal and God will do his: “Salvation by faith means recognizing the primacy of God’s gift. As Saint Paul puts it: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8).” (Lumen Fidei, 19)
The great St. Augustine confirms how faith and grace is the first step into accepting and serving the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, he continues, such a faith that causes us to enjoy the freedon of God’s children is not salvation yet as long as we live in this body. He says: “Why, someone will ask, is it not yet perfect? Because ‘I see in my members another law at war with the law of my reason’… In part freedom, in part slavery: not yet complete freedom, not yet pure, not yet whole, because we are not yet in eternity. In part we retain our weakness and in part we have attained freedom. All our sins were destroyed in Baptism, but does it follow that no weakness remained after iniquity was destroyed? Had none remained, we would live without sin in this life. But who would dare to say this except someone who is proud, someone unworthy of the mercy of our deliverer?… Therefore, since some weakness has remained in us, I dare to say that to the extent to which we serve God we are free, while to the extent that we follow the law of sin, we are still slaves.” (In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 41, 10)
‘Believing’ is also an action: We have an authentic freedom and a moral code to follow: “don’t kill; don’t commit adultery…” These are things Jesus Christ said to the young man when he asked Him, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” We can’t just believe and assume we are saved without doing anything. Actually, believing is also an action. When you accept Jesus Christ as your savior, you are taking an action. Pope Francis States: “Faith’s new way of seeing things is centered on Christ. Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives become radically open to a love that precedes us, a love that transforms us from within, acting in us and through us.” (Lumen Fidei, 19)
The Moral Code of the Old and New Testaments
The moral code of the Old Testament: Before the Old Testament, there was no moral code. The world was like a jungle. The only moral code that existed was the conscience of people. God creates every person with a conscience: it is God’s voice innate in us to do good and avoid evil. Even before the Old Testament, when someone wanted to kill someone, for example, I am sure that the voice of God in their conscience was alarming them to stop, even though they did not have a moral code.
With the Old Testament the revelation of God to Israel was accompanied also by a revelation of a moral code. We see in the history and the traditions of the Old Testament not only the 10 Commandments but many other moral codes that God gave the people of Israel to follow. Thus Moses says to the people: “What great nation is that that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?” (Dt 4:7-8)
The moral code in the New Testament: With the New Testament, Jesus Christ established a moral code that is much more perfect than that of the Old Testament. It invites us to a radical commitment and to perfection (be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect). Jesus Christ wants every person to act according to the will of God and to be vigilant to follow every little detail of God’s commandments: “Not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” The final judgment is based on our actions that either helped or rejected our brethren (see Matthew, 25). With the coming of Christ and the foundation of the Church, St. Pope John Paul II comments that “the Church receives the gift of the New Law, which is the fulfillment’ of God’s law in Jesus Christ and in his Spirit. This is an ‘interior’ law (cf. Jer 31:31-33), ‘written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts’ (2 Cor 3:3); a law of perfection and of freedom (cf. 2 Cor 3:17); ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:2).” (Veritatis Splendor, 45)
The different elements that make up the moral act
The object of moral acts: We face moral decisions everyday. The specific good toward which our will tends is called the ‘object of our moral decisions.’ Here, our reason must judge the true goodness of the object we are about to choose, depending whether it is or not in conformity with the Gospel and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The object chosen morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good.” (CCC, 1751)
Some objects of our moral acts are intrinsically evil: Some actions, just because they are oriented to a good goal, still are not good. The end does not justify the mean. For example, killing is against God’s law no matter what the circumstances are. So, if a girl gets pregnant through incest or rape, would it be a good action to have an abortion? No. Even though the circumstances are bad and the goal is to help the girl move on, the action in itself is intrinsically evil because it is still a killing. The Catechism teaches: “The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.” (CCC, 1755) As the glorified Jesus Christ praises the work of the Church in Thyatira, he rebukes them saying “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality…And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:20-22)
The argument of culture conditioning our moral acts is not valid: The human person is transcendental from the beginning. Nothing in the universe outside of him could or can jeopardize his unity as body and should created in the image and likeness of God. As such, all moral norms that were revealed by God are universal and must be applied in the same way to all human beings of all time. The fact that cultures change and are advancing quickly from all points of view, cannot be an argument against the objective truthfulness of the moral norms established by the creator from the beginning. St. Pope John Paul II summarizes this theology by saying: “It must certainly be admitted that man always exists in a particular culture, but it must also be admitted that man is not exhaustively defined by that same culture. Moreover, the very progress of cultures demonstrates that there is something in man which transcends those cultures. This “something” is precisely human nature: this nature is itself the measure of culture and the condition ensuring that man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being. To call into question the permanent structural elements of man which are connected with his own bodily dimension would not only conflict with common experience, but would render meaningless Jesus’ reference to the “beginning”, precisely where the social and cultural context of the time had distorted the primordial meaning and the role of certain moral norms (cf. Mt 19:1-9).” (Veritatis Splendor, 53)
Vatican II has already confirms such a truth by strongly stating that “”the Church affirms that underlying so many changes there are some things which do not change and are ultimately founded upon Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and for ever.” (Gaudium et Spes, 10) This does not mean of course that the Church should not take in consideration the different cultures and their way of ready, understanding, and following the truth of the Gospel. The unchanging moral truths revealed by God, interact with different cultures without changing their essential truths.
Between two objects that are intrinsically evil, choose the lesser one: Sometimes it is challenging to make a moral decision because no matter what I choose in that specific situation is ‘evil.’ For example, my father’s doctor asks me not to tell my father about the truth of his heart condition because such a worry might end up causing him a heart attack. When my father asks me if he has a bad heart condition, I have two choices. Either lie to him (which is evil) or tell him the truth which might kill him (such a choice is evil too). Which evil is greater, me telling a lie or him dying? Of course, him dying is a greater evil. In that situation telling a lie is not evil.
Our evil moral objects have different degrees of sinfulness: Some objects of our moral decisions are grave sins and they break our communion with God; others are venial and don’t break that communion. For example, white lies, gossip, imperfect charity, and lustful thoughts are evil moral objects but do not hinder us from receiving communion. It is always good to confess them and receive absolution so our communion with God would be more perfect. Sins such as murder, apostasy (denying the Catholic faith publicly), adultery, fornication, perjury, and deep hatred towards others break our communion with God and need immediate confession.
The Intention behind moral acts: Besides the moral object we tend to, there is a subjective intention that plays a major role. The end of our moral actions is the first goal of the intention. What we are trying to achieve determines the intention behind our decisions. Such an intention guides the will toward a good to be achieved in our action. The Catechism teaches: “The intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned with the goal of the activity. It aims at the good anticipated from the action undertaken.” (CCC, 1752)
One Intention could guide several actions and one action could inspire several intentions: Intention could stand behind many of our actions. If we perform all our daily decisions with the intention to share God’s eternal life, all our actions are directed by that one intention. At the same time, one action could have several intentions behind it. Helping my brother financially could be inspired by both the intention of alleviate his suffering as well as the intention to be a witness to God’s goodness. The Catechism teaches: “Intention is not limited to directing individual actions, but can guide several actions toward one and the same purpose; it can orient one’s whole life toward its ultimate end. For example, a service done with the end of helping one’s neighbor can at the same time be inspired by the love of God as the ultimate end of all our actions. One and the same action can also be inspired by several intentions, such as performing a service in order to obtain a favor or to boast about it…On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as alms giving).” (CCC, 1752 and 1753)
Good Intention does not necessarily make a moral act good by nature: This is the principle according to which, ‘then end does not justify the mean.’ My good intention to protect my sister from her abusive husband does not justify me killing him. A good intention to reach a good goal must have a good mean to achieve it.
The Circumstances behind moral acts: The Circumstances behind our moral acts are secondary elements. They cannot change the nature of the act being intrinsically good or evil. The Catechism teaches the 2 dimensions of the circumstances: “They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death).” (CCC, 1754) The Circumstances can deter us from doing good in some instances (not being able to console a person mourning death because of being away overseas at that time). However, we can always control the circumstances as far as committing evil. Saying no to evil could cost us our life. St. Pope John Paul II explains that “it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.” (Veritatis Splendor, 53)
Intentions and circumstances cannot define the goodness of an act: You may not do evil so good might come out of it! Another example is when someone thinks that “I am getting married tomorrow, who do I hurt if I have pre-marital relations with my fiancee the night before?” Since premarital relations are against the values and the commandments of the Gospel, this relationship is still a sin in itself and it does hurt God. God in his infinite wisdom established that the relationship of love is by nature an act between married couple. In that sense we read in Psalm 50: “Against you alone have I sinned.” Every action we perform is either intrinsically good or intrinsically evil, no matter what the intention is behind it. The Catechism teaches: “Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil…It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” (CCC, 1749)
What makes a moral act good: For the moral act to be good, it requires the goodness of the object, the intention, and the circumstances. “An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself.” (CCC, 1755) Fasting is good as long as it has a good end, such as sharing in the suffering of Christ. It becomes an evil action, even though it is a good object, if it aims ‘to be seen by men’ not for the glory of God.
Relationship between Truth, Freedom, natural Law, and Divine Law
Freedom and law: The human freedom is real and authentic. Commenting on the Book Sirach 15:14, Vatican II gives an outstanding summary of the human freedom and the moral code it is supposed to follow: “God willed to leave man in the power of his own counsel, so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God.” (Gaudium et Spes, 17) When man sins God always gives the opportunity to repent sometimes by punishing them. Unfortunately, despite God’s punishment and call to repentence, many continue to choose sin over salvation: our freedom is authentic.
Many people in our cultures today tend to oppose law and freedom. They believe that laws limit the human deliberations and stop them from doing what they wish to do. Somehow these people think that their freedom is capable of creating values to be follow and not be subject to values already established by the Creator. If one deeply looks at these thoughts, one discovers that there is a hidden atheism behind them because they eliminate the revelation of the moral code by God. St. Pope John Paul II accurately describes these tendencies by teaching that “…some present-day cultural tendencies have given rise to several currents of thought in ethics which center upon an alleged conflict between freedom and law. These doctrines would grant to individuals or social groups the right to determine what is good or evil. Human freedom would thus be able to ‘create values’ and would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom. Freedom would thus lay claim to a moral autonomy which would actually amount to an absolute sovereignty.” (Veritatis Splendor, 35)
The human person’s natural reason shares in God’s eternal wisdom: The only way we can reconcile the fact that man and woman have an authentic freedom and yet this freedom is to follow God’s law, consists in knowing that we share in God’s eternal wisdom. At the moment of our creation God gave us the natural light of reason to instinctively follow his commands and avoid what is contrary to them. because of sin, the natural light of our reason was dimmed and therefore was in need of the Divine Revelation to fulfill what it was lacking. Such a revelation supplies to our understanding what we need to do and is a true sharing in God’s divine wisdom displayed in the moral code. St. Pope John Paul Ii says: “Others speak, and rightly so, of theonomy, or participated theonomy, since man’s free obedience to God’s law effectively implies that human reason and human will participate in God’s wisdom and providence. By forbidding man to “eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, God makes it clear that man does not originally possess such “knowledge” as something properly his own, but only participates in it by the light of natural reason and of Divine Revelation, which manifest to him the requirements and the promptings of eternal wisdom. Law must therefore be considered an expression of divine wisdom: by submitting to the law, freedom submits to the truth of creation. Consequently one must acknowledge in the freedom of the human person the image and the nearness of God, who is present in all (cf. Eph 4:6).” (Veritatis Splendor, 41) In that sense Vatican II has already pointed out that “”supreme rule of life is the divine law itself, the eternal, objective and universal law by which God out of his wisdom and love arranges, directs and governs the whole world and the paths of the human community. God has enabled man to share in this divine law, and hence man is able under the gentle guidance of God’s providence increasingly to recognize the unchanging truth.” (Dignitatis Humanae, 3) The prophetic Pope Leo XIII, elected 100 years before St. Pope John Paul II, already described how human freedom and the natural light of reason are intrinsically ordained to the Divine Wisdom by saying: “The natural law is written and engraved in the heart of each and every man, since it is none other than human reason itself which commands us to do good and counsels us not to sin…But this prescription of human reason could not have the force of law unless it were the voice and the interpreter of some higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be subject…It follows that the natural law is itself the eternal law, implanted in beings endowed with reason, and inclining them towards their right action and end; it is none other than the eternal reason of the Creator and Ruler of the universe.” (Libertas Praestantissimum (June 20,1888): Leonis XIII P.M. Acta, VIII, Romae 1889, 219)
The true meaning of freedom: Many contemporary approaches define freedom as the capacity of ‘doing whatever we want.’ This false assumption is detrimental to the human person because God is still the creator of such a freedom. God created us free but our freedom should naturally be oriented to obey the Creator as he establishes the truth of creation. The true nature of freedom is intrinsically oriented to be in harmony with the truth of God as revealed exclusively in and through Jesus Christ and as such taught by the Catholic Church. That’s what Jesus attested: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) Just because God asks us to do this and avoid that does not diminish the authentic character of our freedom. On the contrary, it reveals its true character and nature because we are in the image and likeness of God. The fourth century great theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa gives a summary of this truth by saying: “The soul shows its royal and exalted character… in that it is free and self-governed, swayed autonomously by its own will. Of whom else can this be said, save a king?… Thus human nature, created to rule other creatures, was by its likeness to the King of the universe made as it were a living image, partaking with the Archetype both in dignity and in name” (De Hominis Opificio, Chap. 4)
Our moral actions perfect our being and lead us to salvation
The human person as a unity of body and soul is the subject of all moral actions: Because of rationalism, our culture has often radically separated the human soul from the body. It considered the body as a raw material of the human person’s experiences thus viewing it as if it was the body of animals of inanimate matters. The Catholic Church, led by Tradition and the Magisterium, has always looked at the human person as a unity of body and soul. this unity took place at the moment of creation and will be there until the end of time. Even though the body is separated from the soul at the end of time, they will be reunited at the resurrection of the bodies on the last day.
The human person as a unity of body and soul performs all actions while in this world. One cannot divide the actions of the body from the actions of the soul. For example, once can’t say (as an action of the soul) ‘I love the Lord and follow him’ if this same person finds it totally justified to commit adultery (as an action of the body). Saint Paul declares to the Corinthians that “the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers” are excluded from the Kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 6:9). To the Thessalonians, St. Paul confirms the unity of body and soul as the human person performs all moral actions: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” (1 Thess 4:3-4; 7-8). T
St. Pope John Paul II believes that denying the unity of body and soul in performing moral actions “contradicts the Church’s teachings on the unity of the human person, whose rational soul is per se et essentialiter the form of his body. The spiritual and immortal soul is the principle of unity of the human being, whereby it exists as a whole — corpore et anima unus — as a person. These definitions not only point out that the body, which has been promised the resurrection, will also share in glory. They also remind us that reason and free will are linked with all the bodily and sense faculties. The person, including the body, is completely entrusted to himself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his own moral acts…And since the human person cannot be reduced to a freedom which is self-designing, but entails a particular spiritual and bodily structure, the primordial moral requirement of loving and respecting the person as an end and never as a mere means also implies, by its very nature, respect for certain fundamental goods, without which one would fall into relativism and arbitrariness…In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, they stand or fall together.” (Veritatis Splendor, 48 and 49)
Moral actions are a journey of faith: We are faced by decisions every day of our life. Every decision that we take that is conformed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, brings our being to be what God intends it at the moment of our creation. In other words, our moral actions perfect our being and keep bringing it to a higher degree of holiness.
St. Pope John Paul II on communion of sin: This great Pope taught the Church that there is both communion of saints and communion of sin. When we choose the good moral action, we bring the entire world closer to God. When we sin, we bring down with us the entire world. What makes us special consists in the fact that we are conscious of our actions. As human subjects we not only act, but also we are aware of our actions and the consequences they bear on the Church on earth and in purgatory. St. Pope John Paul Ii teaches: “By submitting to the common law, our acts build up the true communion of persons and, by God’s grace, practice charity, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14). When on the contrary they disregard the law, or even are merely ignorant of it, whether culpably or not, our acts damage the communion of persons, to the detriment of each.” (Veritatis Splendor, 51)
Communion of saints and our moral action: The communion of saints is our faith in action benefiting the whole Body of the Church. Prayer by nature is an action: it is a free decision of the will to elevate the soul to enter in communion with God. So when we pray we benefit the entire Church (on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven)
Our brethren in heaven who share the glory of God will always pray for us. God is the God of the living not the God of the dead. Therefore, our brethren who passed to be with God are not dead: they can still act according to God’s will to pray for us and protect us. They are our heavenly family who, in a way that we can never fathom and understand, constantly beg God for mercy, protection, and salvation. They will always be that part of the Church that is powerful, interceding for all of us until we join them in heaven. Their actions benefit the Church on earth and in purgatory.
The Tradition and Magisterium guarantee the true moral code in human history
Not all moral questions and answers are in the Bible: When we have moral questions today that are not answered by the Bible directly (cloning or the contraceptive pills…), the Catholic Church has the responsibility of answering these questions. The Spirit of Christ from above and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church from below will keep answering the moral dilemmas of our time. To illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in the Magisterium consider the Council of Jerusalem in 49 A.D. At that time, the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem to discuss whether the new pagan converts to Christianity should be circumcised or not. They claimed that “it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and ours” that new converts should not be circumcised. Amazing sentence, people don’t pay attention to it: the Apostles and, following in their footsteps, the Magisterium confirm that ‘their decision and that of the Holy Spirit’ is one and the same. In this regard, St. Pope John Paul II states: “At all times, but particularly in the last two centuries, the Popes, whether individually or together with the College of Bishops, have developed and proposed a moral teaching regarding the many different spheres of human life…With the guarantee of assistance from the Spirit of truth they have contributed to a better understanding of moral demands in the areas of human sexuality, the family, and social, economic and political life. In the tradition of the Church and in the history of humanity, their teaching represents a constant deepening of knowledge with regard to morality.” (Veritatis Splendor, 4)
Don’t disagree with the Church so quickly. The Church’s teachings are God’s teaching: I invite all of you who rush into disagreeing with God and the teachings of the Catholic Church, to be more patient and inquisitive. The teachings of the Catholic Church since the beginning are inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit from above and the Church from below will continue explaining Christ’s divine revelation and the moral code until the end of time. That was the promise of Jesus Christ himself that he and the Holy Spirit will abide in the Church forever. In this regard, Saint Pope John Paul Ii says: “The same Spirit who is at the origin of the Revelation of Jesus’ commandments and teachings guarantees that they will be reverently preserved, faithfully expounded and correctly applied in different times and places. This constant “putting into practice” of the commandments is the sign and fruit of a deeper insight into Revelation and of an understanding in the light of faith of new historical and cultural situations.” (Veritatis Splendor, 27)
Theologians have no right to have moral teachings against the Magisterium of the Church: The job of moral theologians is not to contradict the moral teachings of the Church’s Tradition and Magisterium. on the contrary, they need to foster her teachings and explain it in simple terms so the faithful are encouraged to abide by it. Saint Pope John Paul II states in this regard: “In particular, note should be taken of the lack of harmony between the traditional response of the Church and certain theological positions, encountered even in Seminaries and in Faculties of Theology, with regard to questions of the greatest importance for the Church and for the life of faith of Christians, as well as for the life of society itself.” (Veritatis Splendor, 4)
Theological reflections on the moral act of the human person have always been welcomed by the Church. The task of theologians is to deepen the understanding of the Divine Revelation’s message of what we can do and what should we avoid. Once theologians’ thoughts start to misrepresent what the Church taught since the beginning, such approaches will be condemned by the Church as not in harmony with Divine revelation. Saint Pope John Paul II describes the theological trends that took place right after Vatican II by saying: “At the same time, however, within the context of the theological debates which followed the Council, there have developed certain interpretations of Christian morality which are not consistent with “sound teaching” (2 Tim 4:3). Certainly the Church’s Magisterium does not intend to impose upon the faithful any particular theological system, still less a philosophical one. Nevertheless, in order to “reverently preserve and faithfully expound” the word of God, the Magisterium has the duty to state that some trends of theological thinking and certain philosophical affirmations are incompatible with revealed truth.” (Veritatis Splendor, 29)
The moral teachings of Christ and the Catholic Church are eternal, truthful, and necessary for our salvation: People are invited to realize that God, in and through Jesus Christ, once and for all revealed a moral code to be followed. As such, these teachings will be perpetuated in the Catholic Church through the actions of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Truth will continue forever to assist the Magisterium in teaching the moral code revealed by Christ and apply it to today’s culture. Acting according to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church is the safest way to attain eternal life. St Peter said in his letter: “Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)
Some dangerous moral convictions in our culture
Cognitive approach in moral theology: In moral theology there are two approaches: cognitive and pragmatic. The approach of the Church is cognitive: it takes the Divine Revelation (Word of God and Tradition of the Church transmitted by the Magisterium) as the point of departure of her moral decisions. An example: God says, “Don’t kill.” Therefore, any killing is against the Gospel and God’s commandments. In the cognitive approach, God’s Divine Revelation is behind our reasoning for our moral decisions.
Over and over again, the Church confirms the moral teachings of Christ in regards to all new moral dilemmas of our time. Regardless of the differences in cultures and nations, the consistency of the Church in following the cognitive approach is inspiring. For example, in a country like the United States, it is enough to read answer of the US Bishops to all moral questions to realize that the Redeemer did establish a visible Church. Read some examples on the website of the National conference of Catholic Bishops.
Pragmatic approach in moral theology: In the pragmatic approach, not accepted by the Church, people place themselves as the source of the moral decisions. The invent the good themselves. Their reasoning, “I think this is right or wrong and, therefore, it must be that way.” This approach is false and misleading. Here, people create their own moral truths. The truth in the pragmatic approach, that is often applied in our culture, is based on individual opinions that are often false. Saint Pope John Paul II warns the Church against such a pure subjective approach to the truth because it destroys the metaphysical reality of objective truth about God and the world. The Pope says: “Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil.” (Veritatis Splendor, 32) Also Pope Benedict VI rejects this modern “subjectivism which, by regarding reason as the only source of knowledge, becomes incapable of raising its ‘gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being’ (Pope Benedict VI, Dominus Iesus, 4 and Saint Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 5)
Only God establishes the truth about good and evil: Who are we to establish ourselves as the criteria of what is good and what is evil? How can we decide what moral actions are good and which ones are evil? St. Pope John Paul II taught that when God asked Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God established himself as the source of what is truly good and what is truly evil. Only God our Creator has the prerogative of knowing the true good and the true evil. Even though God gave man and woman a wide range of freedom, allowing them to ‘of every tree of the garden’ (Genesis 2:16), this freedom is still limited. St. Pope John Paul II summarizes this truth: “With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God’s commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat “of every tree of the garden”. But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments…Were this autonomy to imply a denial of the participation of the practical reason in the wisdom of the divine Creator and Lawgiver, or were it to suggest a freedom which creates moral norms, on the basis of historical contingencies or the diversity of societies and cultures, this sort of alleged autonomy would contradict the Church’s teaching on the truth about man. It would be the death of true freedom: ‘But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’.” (Veritatis Splendor, 35 and 40)
Human freedom and divine freedom should be compatible with God’s divine plan: Having said that, there is no way the authentic freedom of the human person would be jeopardized by the command of God to follow the code of Divine revelation. Modern culture pretends that God’s commandments diminish and obscure the supreme and authentic freedom of man over the created order. The Catholic Church rejects such a belief because, since God is the creator of man, God’s moral code is intrinsically compatible with what man should do and avoid. St. Pope John Paul II describes this compatibility by saying: “Human freedom and God’s law meet and are called to intersect, in the sense of man’s free obedience to God and of God’s completely gratuitous benevolence towards man. Hence obedience to God is not, as some would believe, a heteronomy, as if the moral life were subject to the will of something all-powerful, absolute, ex- traneous to man and intolerant of his freedom. If in fact a heteronomy of morality were to mean a denial of man’s self-determination or the imposition of norms unrelated to his good, this would be in contradiction to the Revelation of the Covenant and of the redemptive Incarnation. Such a heteronomy would be nothing but a form of alienation, contrary to divine wisdom and to the dignity of the human person.” (Veritatis Splendor, 41)
Hidden atheism behind the pragmatic approach: Our culture, however, has recently shifted the moral action from what God intended us to do from the beginning to what the human person ‘feels like doing’. Under the excuse of following the heart and the conscience often contemporary people issue the criteria of good and evil and appoints themselves as judges over the nature of the moral action. Saint Pope John Paul II teaches that in those circumstances “the individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.” (Veritatis Splendor, 32)
The Church anagogical approach rightfully destroys the pragmatic approach: Pope Benedict XVI develops this subjective moral decision even further in the sense that it has an implicit, hidden atheism. According to him, many contemporaries erroneously but truly believe that they want to improve our world by creating laws they think are better then the Gospel’s. They, unfortunately, focus on the here and now eliminating any metaphysical dimension of the moral act. Basically, the anagogical dimension of morality, that is that our moral actions influence our eternal destination, is for them an illusion. Pope Benedict XVI eloquently teaches: “Moral posturing is part and parcel of temptation. It does not invite us directly to do evil-no, that would be far too blatant. It pretends to show us a better way, where we finally abandon our our illusions and throw ourselves into the work of actually making the world a better place. It claims, moreover, to speak for true realism: what’s real is what is right there in front of us-power and bread. By comparison, the things of God fade into unreality, into a secondary world that no one really needs.” (Jesus of Nazareth, 28-29)
Moral actions cannot be reduced to a psychological approach: Once again the Catholic Church in our times refuses to reduce the moral decisions of the human person to an empirical psychological experience. The objective moral demands of Divine Revelation cannot become what the society’s experiences dictate them to be. in other words, observing the common psychological experiences of us as subjects can never become the norm of our moral actions. St. Pope John Paul II wisely teaches: “In this context even moral facts, despite their specificity, are frequently treated as if they were statistically verifiable data, patterns of behavior which can be subject to observation or explained exclusively in categories of psychological processes. As a result, some ethicists, professionally engaged in the study of human realities and behavior, can be tempted to take as the standard for their discipline and even for its operative norms the results of a statistical study of concrete human behavior patterns and the opinions about morality encountered in the majority of people.” (Veritatis Splendor, 46)
Human nature cannot be opposed to human freedom: It is very unfortunate that hidden atheism somehow infiltrates in our modern culture reducing the human nature to just an object of study supplying material to what the human person can do. Freedom in such a situation acquires an absolute power over human nature and places itself as a ‘god’ over what this nature can and cannot do, what it can offers, and how it could be beneficial for arbitrary human freedom. In this context, these dangerous approaches deny the existence of a natural law instilled in us at the moment of our creation God. Rather, they tend to reduce it to a mere biological law. St. Pope John Paul II summarizes this theology by saying: “For some,”nature” becomes reduced to raw material for human activity and for its power: thus nature needs to be profoundly transformed, and indeed overcome by freedom, inasmuch as it represents a limitation and denial of freedom. For others, it is in the untrammelled advancement of man’s power, or of his freedom, that economic, cultural, social and even moral values are established: nature would thus come to mean everything found in man and the world apart from freedom. In such an understanding, nature would include in the first place the human body, its make-up and its processes: against this physical datum would be opposed whatever is “constructed”, in other words “culture”, seen as the product and result of freedom. Human nature, understood in this way, could be reduced to and treated as a readily available biological or social material. This ultimately means making freedom selfdefining and a phenomenon creative of itself and its values. Indeed, when all is said and done man would not even have a nature; he would be his own personal life-project. Man would be nothing more than his own freedom!” (Veritatis Splendor, 46)
Human nature is not a prisoner of human empirical data ~ against physicalism and naturalism: Other dangerous tendencies focus on the biological and naturalistic functioning of the human person. Instead of acknowledging the superiority of God in establishing a moral code to be followed by the human person as a subject, these tendencies exclusively observe the collective human behaviors and deduct from them what morality is all about. In other words, atheistic as they are, these theories considers the human behavior of a result of a mere biological settings according to which the human person acts. The consequences of such teachings are horrendous because they implicitly disregard the Divine objective laws and reduce the human nature to a place where all experiences are allowed including sexual exploitation of the human nature. St. Pope John Paul II strongly opposes these theories by teaching: “Consequently, in too superficial a way, a permanent and unchanging character would be attributed to certain kinds of human behaviour, and, on the basis of this, an attempt would be made to formulate universally valid moral norms…In their view, man, as a rational being, not only can but actually must freely determine the meaning of his behaviour…The workings of typically human behaviour, as well as the so-called ‘natural inclinations’, would establish at the most — so they say — a general orientation towards correct behaviour…” (Veritatis Splendor, 47)
Voice of the Conscience
Voice of the conscience: At the moment of our creation there was given us an innate sense that naturally tends to accepts God’s commandments. We call it the Natural Moral Law: it is given to everyone and therefore it is “universally understandable and communicable.” (Veritatis Splendor, 36) Our reason was given an intelligence that, in light of God’s creational grace, it discerns what needed to be avoided. It is a subjective conscience that makes us aware of God’s voice in our mind. Because of our fallen nature, the natural light of our reason is incapable of understanding and deciding what is good and what is evil. We need God’s Divine Revelation to establish the ultimate criteria of good and evil. Such a revelation was fulfilled exclusively in and through Jesus Christ.
Based on the long tradition of the Catholic Church understanding of the voice of conscience, Vatican II gives a great summary: “In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: ‘do this, shun that’. For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Rom 2:14-16).” (Gaudium et Spes, 16) St. Pope John Paul II calls it “like an imperishable spark (scintilla animae), shines in the heart of every man.” (Veritatis Splendor, 49).
Following your conscience and heart is false when not compatible with God’s divine Revelation: The revelation of the moral code by Jesus Christ invites every human person to adopt what God wanted them to do. There should be an absolute harmony between our subjective conscience and the demands of our Creator’s moral code. Such a harmony is really between our freedom and God’s law that should never be set in opposition to each other. The tendencies in today’s culture in exalting human freedom to the point of idolatry leads “to a ‘creative’ understanding of moral conscience, which diverges from the teaching of the Church’s tradition and her Magisterium.” (Veritatis Splendor, 54) The role of subjective conscience is to look at the universal good establish by the creator and apply it to the specific situations in which we need to make a decision about choosing good and avoiding evil. There should never be an opposition between the Gospel’s moral law and our conscience. St. Paul tells the Romans his conscience confirms the truth only “through the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 9:1)
Pope St. John Paul II summarizes this theology by saying: “The moral law has its origin in God and always finds its source in him: at the same time, by virtue of natural reason, which derives from divine wisdom, it is a properly human law…The rightful autonomy of the practical reason means that man possesses in himself his own law, received from the Creator. Nevertheless, the autonomy of reason cannot mean that reason itself creates values and moral norms.” (Veritatis Splendor, 40)
Uneducated conscience: It is unfortunate that some people are accustomed to sin because of the lack of educating their conscience. This happens because either they don’t know any better (born in a non-religious culture) or because they don’t take the time to educate their conscience. Throughout the centuries the Church called it ‘erroneous conscience.’ Vatican II rightfully teaches that “not infrequently conscience can be mistaken as a result of invincible ignorance, although it does not on that account forfeit its dignity; but this cannot be said when a man shows little concern for seeking what is true and good, and conscience gradually becomes almost blind from being accustomed to sin” (Gaudium et Spes, 16) Inadvertendly, the human person can consider true and good what is objectively is not in God’s law. As St. Pope John Paul II puts it, “in the case of the erroneous conscience, it is a question of what man, mistakenly, subjectively considers to be true.” (Veritatis Splendor, 63) In this case, just because one claims to follow their conscience, does not make it a good act per se because “it is never acceptable…to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience…It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.” (Veritatis Splendor, 63)
Personal situations cannot change the universality of God’s law: The present culture focuses on the creativity of the human person as they make decisions based on their situation. These tendencies abolish the universal character of the objective Divine law to be followed by the human conscience. Their reasoning is based on the fact that specific human situations are so complicated that they should be able to skip the absolute necessity of following the Divine Moral code. In this case, a false exalted human freedom takes precedence over Divine Revelation enabling its subject to ‘take care of themselves’ and choose what ‘they think it is good for them’ (many call it ‘follow your heart’). Such a dangerous approach is really a hidden atheism in which one declares that they believe in God, yet they place their ‘conscience’ above God’s revelation. What is even more dangerous, they profess that God himself gave them such freedom and wanted them to use to their own benefit in their own situation. They call it ‘creative’ conscience. Pope St. John Paul II summarizes these tendencies and teaches the Church’s position by saying: “In order to justify these positions, some authors have proposed a kind of double status of moral truth. Beyond the doctrinal and abstract level, one would have to acknowledge the priority of a certain more concrete existential consideration. The latter, by taking account of circumstances and the situation, could legitimately be the basis of certain exceptions to the general rule and thus permit one to do in practice and in good conscience what is qualified as intrinsically evil by the moral law. A separation, or even an opposition, is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid in general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision about what is good and what is evil. On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called “pastoral” solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a “creative” hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept.” (Veritatis Splendor, 56)
That is how I feel in my conscience? Under the pretext of “that is how I feel and that’s what my heart and conscience are telling to do,” many think that their feelings should be validated and therefore what they feel is really what is good for them. Even though Peoples’ feeling should be respected and validated, they can’t however at the expense of the truth about God the act of the human person. In this case, their ‘conscience’ is misinformed and is not really the voice of the truthful God. Because of the human limitations, the safest way is to follow the truth of the Gospel as transmitted by the Tradition and Magisterium of the Catholic Church. An informed and educated conscience becomes for the human person a “witness of his own faithfulness or unfaithfulness with regard to the law, of his essential moral rectitude or iniquity. Conscience is the only witness, since what takes place in the heart of the person is hidden from the eyes of everyone outside…together with this and indeed even beforehand, conscience is the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul” (Veritatis Splendor, 57 and 58) Jesus himself warns us against the danger of uneducated conscience by saying: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt 6:22-23). Focusing on the informed conscience St. Paul also strongly emphasizes God’s judgment on the human conscience when it fails to adapt to Divine Revelation. Such a judgment will take place “on that day when, according to my Gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:16)
Decision or judgment in following our conscience? Many use the term ‘decision’ of the moral conscience in order to tone down the necessity of ‘judgment’ of the moral conscience. We are obliged to judge the action weather it is objectively good or evil and not only subjectively decide what is good for us basing on our random freedom. God’s law is valid and ever truthful from the beginning of creation until the end. No personal situation, no cultural circumstances, no pastoral needs, no exalted human freedom, nothing whatsoever can or could in any way jeopardize the supremacy of God’s law as revealed in Scriptures, taught and transmitted by the Tradition of the Catholic Church and the Magisterium.
Conscience applies the universal moral code to particular situations: The role of the conscience is to discern how to apply the universally good moral law to particular situations. Such a role demands first to inform our conscience about the true good revealed by God, then to make the effort to really listen to God’s inner voice in us, and finally to have the wisdom to apply the universality of the moral code to specific situations. St. Pope John Paul Ii describes this truth by teaching: “But whereas the natural law discloses the objective and universal demands of the moral good, conscience is the application of the law to a particular case; this application of the law thus becomes an inner dictate for the individual, a summons to do what is good in this particular situation. Conscience thus formulates moral obligation in the light of the natural law: it is the obligation to do what the individual, through the workings of his conscience, knows to be a good he is called to do here and now.” (Veritatis Splendor, 59)
It is precisely at the very moment of judging the goodness or evil nature of a certain act that the freedom of the person faces the truthfulness of God. The conscience in its turn witnesses to the freedom the necessity of following the good moral norms revealed by God. The absolute dependency of human freedom on the truth of God shines forth in that particular moment: “Consequently in the practical judgment of conscience, which imposes on the person the obligation to perform a given act, the link between freedom and truth is made manifest. Precisely for this reason conscience expresses itself in acts of ‘judgment’ which reflect the truth about the good, and not in arbitrary ‘decisions’.” (Veritatis Splendor, 61)
Voice of the conscience is enough for good moral decisions for those who never heard of Christ and the Catholic Church? Those who never heard of Christ and the moral code he established for the redemption of humanity are not totally deprived of the knowledge of God’s will. In fact, their conscience which is God’s voice in every human being will always gear them to choose good over evil. St. Thomas Aquinas calls it ‘natural law’. He teaches that the natural law “is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Opuscula Theologica, II, 1129) Already St Paul has taught the Church that those who don’t know the law of the Gospel, their own conscience become their law: “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law unto themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them.” (Rom 2:14-15)
Capítulo 21: Las Enseñanzas Morales de la Iglesia Catolica
El Código Moral del Antiguo Testamento: Antes del Antiguo Testamento, no había un código moral. El único código moral que existía era la conciencia de la gente. Dios creó a cada persona con una conciencia que es la voz de Dios innata en nosotros para hacer el bien y evitar el mal. Aun antes del Antiguo Testamento, cuando alguien quería matar a alguien, estoy seguro de que la voz de Dios en su conciencia les alarmaba a detenerse.
Con el Antiguo Testamento, la revelación de Dios a Israel fue acompañada también por la revelación de un código moral. Vemos en la historia y la tradición del Antiguo Testamento no solo los 10 mandamientos sino también muchos otros códigos morales que Dios le dio al pueblo de Israel para seguir. Dios fue muy claro acerca de las obligaciones de su Pacto con Israel en términos similares a estos: “mi gente hagan su parte del trato y ustedes tendrán mis bendiciones … Israel haz esto y evita que yo, su Dios, los cuide”.
El Código Moral en el Nuevo Testamento: Con el NT, el código moral de que Jesucristo es mucho más perfecto que el Antiguo Testamento. Nos invita a un compromiso radical y a la perfección (ser perfecto igual como tu Padre celestial es perfecto). Jesucristo invitó a cada persona a actuar de acuerdo con la voluntad de Dios. Su acto perfecciona su ser mientras viajan para compartir el ser eterno de Dios (no aquellos que dicen que el Señor, Señor, entrará en el reino de los cielos, sino aquellos que hacen la voluntad de mi Padre).
Cuando el joven vino a Jesús, le preguntó: “Señor, ¿qué debo hacer para heredar la vida eterna?” La respuesta de Jesús lo invitó a seguir los 10 mandamientos, pero también a ir más allá de ellos a una vida de amor y compasión (la parábola de el misericordioso Samaritano). La invitación de Cristo a cumplir el código moral del Antiguo Testamento y perfeccionarlo en el Nuevo Testamento es una dimensión esencial para la salvación de la persona humana.
La Fe y la Acción Moral: Eso nos llevará a comparar la relación entre la fe y las acciones morales. De la misma manera, el ojo es la facultad de la visión, la fe es la facultad de las acciones. St. James enseñó que la fe sin acción está muerta. La acción cumple con la fe y lleva la fe a buen término. No puedes simplemente creer en Jesucristo y asumir que eres salvo sin actuar en tu fe. La Biblia entera se basa en un código moral en donde Dios nos invita a hacer el bien y evitar el mal. Creer en Jesús es el primer paso, actuar según la voluntad de Jesús nos llevará a una unión con Dios. Jesús confirmó fuertemente que no aquellos que dicen Señor Señor entrarán en el reino de la desesperación; pero los que hagan la voluntad de mi Padre entrarán en el reino de los cielos. Creer en Jesús no significa nada porque los demonios también creen en Jesucristo y no son salvos. Se negaron a actuar de acuerdo con el plan de Dios y, por lo tanto, fueron eternamente condenados.
Cuando las Cartas a los Romanos y a los Efesios declaran que eres salvo por medio de la fe, simplemente están enfatizando el primer paso esencial: adherirse a Jesucristo en obediencia a la fe. De ninguna manera implican que creer en Jesús y no hacer nada acerca de eso sea suficiente para la salvación. La fe en Jesucristo nos salvará mientras lo vivamos.
Tenemos una Libertad Auténtica y un Código Moral a Seguir: “no matar; no cometer adulterio … “Estas son las cosas que Jesucristo le dijo al joven cuando preguntó:” ¿Qué debería hacer para heredar la vida eterna? ” No podemos simplemente creer y asumir que somos salvos sin hacer nada.
Aceptar a Dios es el primer paso porque la obediencia de la fe te abre para entenderlo. Una vez que aceptas a Dios (Padre, Hijo y Espíritu Santo) y la iglesia, entras en la dimensión de vivir el misterio de Cristo. Con el tiempo lo entenderás mejor y mejor.
El segundo paso es poner la fe católica en acción. Eso fue tan enfatizado en la disertación doctoral de San Juan Pablo II. En ese trabajo “The Acting Person”, el Papa enfatizó que nosotros los seres humanos tenemos una dimensión que los animales no tienen: conciencia subjetiva. Cuando actúo, no solo estoy actuando porque soy capaz de actuar, también estoy al tanto de mis acciones (tengo una conciencia subjetiva de que estoy actuando). Además, tengo conciencia de que mi acción tiene un valor.
Nuestras acciones tienen un valor. Nuestras acciones elevan nuestro ser al nivel que Dios creó para nosotros, o nos baja a lo que está en contra del plan de Dios en nuestra vida. Por lo tanto, cada decisión libre debe basarse en la fe. La fe y la acción están casados para siempre. Una vez que basas todas tus acciones en la fe (según las enseñanzas de la Iglesia Católica), tus acciones te mantendrán en el nivel de santidad en tu ser de acuerdo con el plan de Dios. Al final de tu vida, si has realizado cada acción de acuerdo con lo que Dios quiere que hagas, entonces tu ser recibirá la gloria que Dios preparó para ti antes de ser concebido en el vientre. Tu ser será glorificado con Dios y en ese momento ya no tienes que hacer nada. Justo aquí y ahora es la única oportunidad que tenemos para actuar en nuestra fe.
Enfoques Cognitivos y Pragmáticos en la Teología Moral: Invito a todos los que se apresuran a estar en desacuerdo con Dios y las enseñanzas de la Iglesia Católica a ser más pacientes e inquisitivos. Las enseñanzas de la Iglesia Católica en los últimos 2000 años son inspiradas por el Espíritu Santo. El Espíritu Santo desde arriba y la iglesia desde abajo continuarán explicando la revelación divina y el código moral hasta el fin del tiempo. Esa fue la promesa de Jesucristo.
Cuando tenemos preguntas morales hoy en dia que la Biblia no responde directamente (clonación o píldoras anticonceptivas …), la Iglesia Católica tiene la responsabilidad de responder estas preguntas. El Espíritu Santo desde arriba y el Magisterio de la Iglesia Católica desde abajo seguirán respondiendo a los dilemas morales de nuestro tiempo.
En la teología moral hay dos enfoques: Cognitivo y pragmático. El enfoque de la iglesia es cognitivo. Este enfoque toma la Tradición de la Iglesia (Palabra de Dios y Magisterio) como el punto de partida de su decisión. Un ejemplo: Dios dice “no matar”, por lo tanto, cualquier asesinato va en contra del Evangelio de Jesús y el plan de Dios. En el enfoque cognitivo, comienzas con la Revelación Divina como tu razonamiento y tus decisiones morales.
En el enfoque pragmático, no aceptado por la iglesia, te pones a ti mismo como la fuente de las decisiones morales. Dices “Creo que esto está bien o mal y, por lo tanto, debe ser así”. Las personas crean sus propias verdades morales. La verdad en el enfoque cognitivo se basa en la revelación divina de Dios. La verdad en el enfoque pragmático, que se aplica en nuestra cultura, se basa en opiniones individuales que a veces son falsas. ¿Quién eres tú para establecerte a ti mismo como el criterio de lo que es bueno y lo que es malo? ¿Cómo puedes decidir qué acciones morales son buenas y cuáles son malas?
De una vez por todas, invito a todos los Católicos a darse cuenta de que Dios, de una vez y por medio de Jesucristo, reveló un código moral que debe seguirse. Las enseñanzas morales de Cristo son eternas y verdaderas. El código moral Católico se perpetúa en la iglesia a través de las acciones del Espíritu Santo que ayudan al Magisterio a continuar enseñando las decisiones morales correctas.