In this earthly life, everything is subject to time and passes away. All created things of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdom, inevitably come to an end. However, when man – whose material dimension also passes, to later be restored – crosses the threshold of the end of time, he will not cease to exist; he will either live eternal bliss or eternal perdition. In the Gospel we see Jesus affirm that, to receive the reward of everlasting happiness, it is not enough to call him ‘Lord’; one must also do the will of the Father: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven’ (Mt 7:21). And to do the will of God it is necessary to put Jesus’ perennial teachings into practice: ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away’ (Mt 24:35). Now, every one of Jesus’ teachings is based on doing good, never evil; that is, in fulfillment of the commandments, as He himself replied to the rich young man: ‘If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments’ (Mt. 19:17).
Therefore, his teaching may be taken as a code of Christian ethics, founded on eternal morality. This morality is engraved in men’s hearts, as the Apostle said to the Romans: ‘They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts’ (Rom 2:15), and it may not change with time or with changing circumstances. Seeking adaptation is the exact hypocrisy Jesus recriminated in the Pharisees’ behavior: they did not fulfill the law of Moses, but rather adapted its letter to their own interests and situations, creating a false personal morality. Christ made it very clear that the law of God has not changed at all: ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill’ (Mt 5:17). Therefore, whoever does not fulfill the true law is the pharisee, not the one who fulfills it. This is Church teaching across centuries: whatever breaks the law of God is a sin, independent of the times! Consequently, human societies are just or unjust depending on the just or unjust conduct of their human members. We cannot speak of a ‘social injustice’ in disregard to personal sins, for the latter are a consequence of the former, and not a mere casuistry. Morality is permanent and there is no such thing as “situation ethics”, as we will examine in this study.
Teachings of the Magisterium
I – Preliminary explanation: on the Sabbath and a certain type of pharisaism
A – Our Lord objected to the doctrine of the Pharisees because they did not fulfill the Law, but rather erected human precepts in the place of God’s commandments
‘None of you keeps the law’
“Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law”. (Jn 7: 19)
‘You received the law but you did not observe it’
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.” When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. (Acts 7: 51–54)
‘You sit in judgment upon Me according to the law and yet in violation of the law’
Paul looked intently at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have conducted myself with a perfectly clear conscience before God to this day.” The high priest Ananias ordered his attendants to strike his mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall. Do you indeed sit in judgment upon me according to the law and yet in violation of the law order me to be struck?” (Act 23:1–3)
‘You break the commandment of God for the sake of tradition’
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash (their) hands when they eat a meal.” He said to them in reply, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, ‘Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,’ need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition. Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’” (Mt 15:1–9)
‘You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition’ – ‘your doctrine is human precepts’
He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother: “Any support you might have had from me is qorban’” (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.” (Mk 7:6–13)
On the outside the Pharisees appear righteous, but inside are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” (Mt 23:27–28)
What is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him. And he said to them, ‘You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets lasted until John; but from then on the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone who enters does so with violence. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter of the law to become invalid.’ (Lk 16:14–17)
B – The rest on the Sabbath: instituted to abstain from servile works and to praise God better, but distorted by the Pharisees according to their human criteria
Observance of the Sabbath is keeping it holy
Take care to keep holy the Sabbath day as the Lord, your God, commanded you. (Dt 5:12)
The Sabbath was consecrated to God; one could not labor in order to keep it holy
Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20:8–11)
Jesus corrects the falsification of the Pharisees: it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath for it gives glory to God
And behold, there was a man there who had a withered hand. They questioned him, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath will not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable a person is than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:10–12)
‘Have you not read in the law?’
At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:1–8)
The Lord reproves those who wrongly interpreted the Sabbath rest: the law commands to abstain from servile works, i.e. from evil, on the Sabbath.
But the Lord anticipating the false charge which they were preparing against Him, reproves those who by wrongly interpreting the law thought that they must rest on the Sabbath-day even from good works; whereas the law commands us to abstain from servile works, i.e. from evil, on the Sabbath. Hence it follows, ‘Then said Jesus to them, I ask you, Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?’ (Saint Bede quoted by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea in Lk 6:6–11)
The Pharisees wished to ignore the Sacred Scripture to conspire against Jesus and his followers
But the Pharisees and Scribes not knowing the Holy Scriptures agreed together to find fault with Christ’s disciples, as it follows, And certain of the Pharisees said to them, Why do you, &c. Tell me now, when a table is set before you on the Sabbath day; do you not break bread? Why then do you blame others? (Saint Cyril of Alexandria quoted by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea in Lk 6:1–5)
Jesus proves that the Pharisees, who apparently defended the law, were ignorant of the law
But the Lord proves the defenders of the law to be ignorant of what belongs to the law, bringing the example of David; as it follows, And Jesus answering said to them, Have you not read so much as this? (Saint Ambrose of Milan quoted by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea in Lk 6:1–5)
C – Jesus did not abolish the Sabbatical precept, rather He substituted the Sabbath for true rest: Sunday, the Day of the Lord. No one is dispensed from the obligation of honoring God and avoiding sin
The reason why the Sabbath is mentioned in the precepts of the Decalogue
And of all future blessings, the chief and final was the repose of the mind in God, either, in the present life, by grace, or, in the future life, by glory; which repose was also foreshadowed in the Sabbath-day observance: wherefore it is written (Is 58:13): “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy own will in My holy day, and call the Sabbath delightful, and the holy of the Lord glorious.” Because these favors first and chiefly are borne in mind by men, especially by the faithful. But other solemnities were celebrated on account of certain particular favors temporal and transitory, such as the celebration of the Passover in memory of the past favor of the delivery from Egypt, and as a sign of the future Passion of Christ, which though temporal and transitory, brought us to the repose of the spiritual Sabbath. Consequently, the Sabbath alone, and none of the other solemnities and sacrifices, is mentioned in the precepts of the Decalogue. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica I–II, q. 100, a. 5, ad. 2)
- The precept of the Sabbath observance is moral in so far as it commands man to give some time to the things of God; as to the fixing of the time, it is a ceremonial precept
The precept of the Sabbath observance is moral in one respect, in so far as it commands man to give some time to the things of God, according to Ps. 45:11: ‘Be still and see that I am God.” In this respect it is placed among the precepts of the Decalogue: but not as to the fixing of the time, in which respect it is a ceremonial precept. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica I–II, q. 100, a. 3, ad. 2)
As to the Sabbath, its place is taken by the “Lord’s Day,” since the shadow gives way to the what was prefigured
I answer that, all the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law were ordained to the worship of God as stated above (q.101, a. 1 and 2). Now external worship should be in proportion to the internal worship, which consists in faith, hope and charity. Consequently exterior worship had to be subject to variations according to the variations in the internal worship, in which a threefold state may be distinguished. One state was in respect of faith and hope, both in heavenly goods, and in the means of obtaining them – min both of these considered as things to come. Such was the state of faith and hope in the Old Law. Another state of interior worship is that in which we have faith and hope in heavenly goods as things to come; but in the means of obtaining heavenly goods, as in things present or past. Such is the state of the New Law. The third state is that in which both are possessed as present; wherein nothing is believed in as lacking, nothing hoped for as being yet to come. Such is the state of the Blessed. […] As to the Sabbath, which was a sign recalling the first creation, its place is taken by the “Lord’s Day,” which recalls the beginning of the new creature in the Resurrection of Christ. In like manner other solemnities of the Old Law are supplanted by new solemnities: because the blessings vouchsafed to that people, foreshadowed the favors granted us by Christ. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I–II, q. 103, a.3, sol/ ad 4)
How should a Christian keep the Sabbath?
“Remember that you keep holy (sanctify) the Sabbath day.” We have already said that, as the Jews celebrated the Sabbath, so do we Christians observe the Sunday and all principal feasts. Let us now see in what way we should keep these days. We ought to know that God did not say to “keep” the Sabbath, but to remember to keep it holy. The word “holy” may be taken in two ways. Sometimes “holy” (sanctified) is the same as pure: “But you are washed, but you are sanctified” (1Cor 6:11). (that is, made holy). Then again at times “holy” is said of a thing consecrated to the worship of God, as, for instance, a place, a season, vestments, and the holy vessels. Therefore, in these two ways we ought to celebrate the feasts, that is, both purely and by giving ourselves over to divine service. We shall consider two things regarding this Commandment. First, what should be avoided on a feast day, and secondly, what we should do. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Ten Commandments, Article 5)
What should we avoid on the Sabbath?
We ought to avoid three things. The first is servile work. Avoidance of Servile Work. – “Neither do any work; sanctify the Sabbath day” (Jer 17:22). And so also it is said in the Law: “You shall do no servile work therein” (Lev 23:25). Now, servile work is bodily work; whereas “free work” (i.e., non-servile work) is done by the mind, for instance, the exercise of the intellect and such like. And one cannot be servilely bound to do this kind of work.
When Servile Work Is Lawful. – We ought to know, however, that servile work can be done on the Sabbath for four reasons. The first reason is necessity. Wherefore, the Lord excused the disciples plucking the ears of corn on the Sabbath, as we read in St. Matthew (12:3–5). The second reason is when the work is done for the service of the Church; as we see in the same Gospel how the priests did all things necessary in the Temple on the Sabbath day. The third reason is for the good of our neighbor; for on the Sabbath the Saviour cured one having a withered hand, and He refuted the Jews who reprimanded Him, by citing the example of the sheep in a pit (“ibid.”). And the fourth reason is the authority of our superiors. Thus, God commanded the Jews to circumcise on the Sabbath (Jn 7:22–23).
Avoidance of Sin and Negligence on the Sabbath. – Another thing to be avoided on the Sabbath is sin: ‘Take heed to your souls, and carry no burdens on the Sabbath day’ (Jer 18:21). This weight and burden on the soul is sin: ‘My iniquities as a heavy burden are become heavy upon me’ (Ps 37:5). Now, sin is a servile work because ‘whoever commits sin is the servant of sin’ (Jn 8:34). Therefore, when it is said, ‘You shall do no servile work therein,’ (Lev 3:25). it can be understood of sin. Thus, one violates this commandment as often as one commits sin on the Sabbath; and so both by working and by sin God is offended. ‘The Sabbaths and other festivals I will not abide.’ And why? ‘Because your assemblies are wicked. My soul hates your new moon and your solemnities; they are become troublesome to me’ (Is 1:13)
Another thing to avoid on the Sabbath is idleness: ‘For idleness has taught much evil’ (Sir 33:29). St. Jerome says: “Always do some good work, and the devil will always find you occupied” (Ep. ad Rusticum). (Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Ten Commandments, Article 5)
What should one do on the Sabbath?
Now it must be shown with what we should occupy ourselves, and they are three in number. The Offering of Sacrifice. – The first is the offering of sacrifices. In the Book of Numbers (28:3–10) it is written how God ordered that on each day there be offered one lamb in the morning and another in the evening, but on the Sabbath day the number should be doubled. And this showed that on the Sabbath we should offer sacrifice to God from all that we possess: ‘All things are Yours; and we have given You what we received from your hand’ (1 Chron 29:14). We should offer, first of all, our soul to God, being sorry for our sins: ‘A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit’ (Ps 50:19); and also pray for His blessings: ‘Let my prayer be directed as incense in your sight’ (Ps 140:2). Feast days were instituted for that spiritual joy which is the effect of prayer. Therefore, on such days our prayers should be multiplied.
Secondly, we should offer our body, by mortifying it with fasting: ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice’(Rm 12:1), and also by praising God: ‘The sacrifice of praise shall honor Me’ (Ps 49:23). And thus on these days our hymns should be more numerous. Thirdly, we should sacrifice our possessions by giving alms: ‘And do not forget to do good, and to impart; for by such sacrifice God’s favor is obtained’ (Hb 13:16). And this alms ought to be more than on other days because the Sabbath is a day of common joys: ‘Send portions to those who have not prepared for themselves, because it is the holy day of the Lord’ (Neh 8:10).
Hearing of God’s Word. – Our second duty on the Sabbath is to be eager to hear the word of God. This the Jews did daily: ‘The voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath’ (Acts 13:27). Therefore Christians, whose justice should be more perfect, ought to come together on the Sabbath to hear sermons and participate in the services of the Church! ‘He who is of God, hears the words of God’ (Jn 8:47). We likewise ought to speak with profit to others: ‘Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but what is good for sanctification’ (Eph 4:29). These two practices are good for the soul of the sinner, because they change his heart for the better: ‘Are not My words as a fire, says the Lord, and as a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’ (Jer 23:29). The opposite effect is had on those, even the perfect, who neither speak nor hear profitable things: ‘Evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake, you just, and do no sin’ (1Cor 15:33). ‘Your words have I hidden in my heart’ (Ps 118:11). God’s word enlightens the ignorant: ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet’ (Ps 118:105). It inflames the lukewarm: ‘The word of the Lord inflamed him’ (Ps 114:19).
The contemplation of divine things may be exercised on the Sabbath. However, this is for the more perfect. ‘O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet’ (Ps 33:9), and this is because of the quiet of the soul. For just as the tired body desires rest, so also does the soul. But the soul’s proper rest is in God: ‘Be for me a God, a protector, and a house of refuge’ (Ps 30:3). ‘There remains therefore a day of rest for the people of God. For he who has entered into his rest has also rested from his works, as God did from His’ (Hb 4:9–10). When I go into my house, I shall repose myself with her’ (i.e., Wisdom) (Wis 8:16).
However, before the soul arrives at this rest, three other rests must precede. The first is the rest from the turmoil of sin: ‘But the wicked are like the raging sea which cannot rest’ (Is 57:20). The second rest is from the passions of the flesh, because ‘the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh’ (Gal 5:17). The third is rest from the occupations of the world: ‘Martha, Martha, you art careful and art troubled about many things’ (Lk 10:41). (Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Ten Commandments, Article 5)
D – What pharisaism really is: establishing other laws – even socio-economic, political or ideological ones – in the place of God’s salvific law
The precepts of the Decalogue admit of no dispensation whatever
As stated above (q. 96, a. 6; q. 97, a. 4), precepts admit of dispensation, when there occurs a particular case in which, if the letter of the law be observed, the intention of the lawgiver is frustrated. Now the intention of every lawgiver is directed first and chiefly to the common good; secondly, to the order of justice and virtue, whereby the common good is preserved and attained. If therefore there be any precepts which contain the very preservation of the common good, or the very order of justice and virtue, such precepts contain the intention of the lawgiver, and therefore are indispensable. For instance, if in some community a law were enacted, such as this – that no man should work for the destruction of the commonwealth, or betray the state to its enemies, or that no man should do anything unjust or evil, such precepts would not admit of dispensation. But if other precepts were enacted, subordinate to the above, and determining certain special modes of procedure, these latter precepts would admit of dispensation, in so far as the omission of these precepts in certain cases would not be prejudicial to the former precepts which contain the intention of the lawgiver. For instance if, for the safeguarding of the commonwealth, it were enacted in some city that from each ward some men should keep watch as sentries in case of siege, some might be dispensed from this on account of some greater utility. […] Now the precepts of the Decalogue contain the very intention of the lawgiver, who is God. For the precepts of the first table, which direct us to God, contain the very order to the common and final good, which is God; while the precepts of the second table contain the order of justice to be observed among men, that nothing undue be done to anyone, and that each one be given his due; for it is in this sense that we are to take the precepts of the Decalogue. Consequently the precepts of the Decalogue admit of no dispensation whatever. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I–II, q. 100, a. 8)
Does Scripture offer an instance of dispensation from a precept ordained by the Decalogue?
Further, the observance of the Sabbath is ordained by a precept of the Decalogue. But a dispensation was granted in this precept; for it is written (1 Macc. 2:4): “And they determined in that day, saying: Whosoever shall come up to fight against us on the Sabbath-day, we will fight against him.” Therefore the precepts of the Decalogue are dispensable. […] This determination was an interpretation rather than a dispensation. For a man is not taken to break the Sabbath, if he does something necessary for human welfare; as Our Lord proves (Mt 12:3, seqq.). (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I–II, q. 100, a. 8)
The bases of an existing social order should be in accordance with the immutable order of God
On the other hand, it is fitting to the Church, where the social order approaches and even touches on the moral field, to judge if the bases of an existing social order are in accordance with the immutable order that God, Creator and Redeemer, has promulgated through the natural law and Revelation – a double manifestation which Leo XIII refers to in his encyclical. […] Because the Church, guardian of the supernatural Christian order, in which nature and grace converge, must form consciences, even of those who are called to find solutions for the problems and duties imposed by social life. For, it is on the form given to society, whether conformed or not to the divine laws, that the good and evil in souls depends and is upheld; that is, whether men, who are all called to be vivified by the grace of Jesus Christ, breathe the healthy and vital air of truth and moral virtue or the morbid, and often fatal, germ of error and depravation in the course of their earthly life. (Pius XII. Radio message for the 50th anniversary of Rerum novarum, no. 5, June 1, 1941)
Where the same law of justice is not adhered to by all, men cannot hope to come to open and full agreement on vital issues
The root cause of so much mistrust is the presence of ideological differences between nations, and more especially between their rulers. There are some indeed who go so far as to deny the existence of a moral order which is transcendent, absolute, universal and equally binding upon all. And where the same law of justice is not adhered to by all, men cannot hope to come to open and full agreement on vital issues. Yes, both sides speak of justice and the demands of justice, but these words frequently take on different or opposite meanings according to which side uses them. […] But the moral order has no existence except in God; cut off from God it must necessarily disintegrate. Moreover, man is not just a material organism. He consists also of spirit; he is endowed with reason and freedom. He demands, therefore, a moral and religious order; and it is this order – and not considerations of a purely extraneous, material order – which has the greatest validity in the solution of problems relating to his life as an individual and as a member of society, and problems concerning individual states and their inter-relations. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et magistra, no. 205–206, May 15, 1961)
When does the Church makes a moral judgment about economic and social matters?
The Church makes a moral judgment about economic and social matters, ‘when the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls requires it.’ In the moral order she bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities: the Church is concerned with the temporal aspects of the common good because they are ordered to the sovereign Good, our ultimate end. She strives to inspire right attitudes with respect to earthly goods and in socio-economic relationships. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2420)
The Church’s social doctrine is of a theological and not an ideological nature – it is aimed at guiding people’s behaviour
The Church’s social doctrine “belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of theology and particularly of moral theology”. It cannot be defined according to socio-economic parameters. It is not an ideological or pragmatic system intended to define and generate economic, political and social relationships, but is a category unto itself. It is “the accurate formulation of the results of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and of the Church’s tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities, determining their conformity with or divergence from the lines of the Gospel teaching on man and his vocation, a vocation which is at once earthly and transcendent; its aim is thus to guide Christian behavior”. The Church’s social doctrine is therefore of a theological nature, specifically theological-moral, “since it is a doctrine aimed at guiding people’s behavior”. “This teaching … is to be found at the crossroads where Christian life and conscience come into contact with the real world. [It] is seen in the efforts of individuals, families, people involved in cultural and social life, as well as politicians and statesmen to give it a concrete form and application in history.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 72–73)
II – Perennial Catholic morality: some doctrinal clarifications
A – Catholic morality is the same as always, independent of the circumstances; and those who defend a situation ethics, err greatly
Human acts, in their external and internal dimension, have a moral significance since they are voluntary
Certain actions are called human, inasmuch as they are voluntary, as stated above (q. 1, a. 1). Now, in a voluntary action, there is a twofold action, viz. the interior action of the will, and the external action: and each of these actions has its object. The end is properly the object of the interior act of the will: while the object of the external action, is that on which the action is brought to bear. Therefore just as the external action takes its species from the object on which it bears; so the interior act of the will takes its species from the end, as from its own proper object. Now that which is on the part of the will is formal in regard to that which is on the part of the external action: because the will uses the limbs to act as instruments; nor have external actions any measure of morality, save in so far as they are voluntary. Consequently the species of a human act is considered formally with regard to the end, but materially with regard to the object of the external action. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. v. 2) that “he who steals that he may commit adultery, is strictly speaking, more adulterer than thief.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I–II, q. 18, a. 6)
Every human action that proceeds from deliberate reason, if it be considered in the individual, must be either good or bad
It sometimes happens that an action is indifferent in its species, but considered in the individual it is good or evil. And the reason of this is because a moral action, as stated above (a. 3), derives its goodness not only from its object, whence it takes its species; but also from the circumstances, which are its accidents, as it were; just as something belongs to a man by reason of his individual accidents, which does not belong to him by reason of his species. And every individual action must needs have some circumstance that makes it good or bad, at least in respect of the intention of the end. For since it belongs to the reason to direct; if an action that proceeds from deliberate reason be not directed to the due end, it is, by that fact alone, repugnant to reason, and has the character of evil. But if it be directed to a due end, it is in accord with reason; wherefore it has the character of good. Now it must needs be either directed or not directed to a due end. Consequently every human action that proceeds from deliberate reason, if it be considered in the individual, must be good or bad. […] Whenever an end is intended by deliberate reason, it belongs either to the good of some virtue, or to the evil of some vice. Thus, if a man’s action is directed to the support or repose of his body, it is also directed to the good of virtue, provided he direct his body itself to the good of virtue. The same clearly applies to other actions. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I–II, q. 18, a.9; ad 3)
Human acts can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil
Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. 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. The morality of human acts depends on:
– the object chosen;
– the end in view or the intention;
– the circumstances of the action.
The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1749–1750)
The circumstances contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts, but they make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil
The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. 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). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1754)
Christ punishes and rewards according to the intention of the one who acts
Wherefore it is not simply the thing, but the intent, which He [Christ] both punishes and rewards. […] For this cause, setting thee free from this restraint, He defines both the penalty and the reward not by the result of the action, but by the intention of the doer. (Saint John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Homily XIX)
Reward is the result of following the injunctions of Christ
Let us not therefore suppose His injunctions impossible. Nay, for besides their expediency, they are very easy, if we are sober-minded; and the profit of them is so great as to be an exceeding help, not to ourselves only, but to those also who are using us despitefully. And in this chiefly stands their excellence, that while they induce us to suffer wrong, they by the same means teach them also that do the wrong to control themselves. For while he on his part thinks it a great thing to take what belongs to others, but thou signifiest to him, that to thee it is easy to give even what he doth not ask: while thou bringest in liberality for a counterpoise to his meanness, and a wise moderation to his covetousness: consider what a lesson he will get, being taught not by sayings, but by actual deeds, to scorn vice and to seek after virtue. (Saint John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Homily XVIII)
The Church applies perennial Christian morality to the present economic and social circumstances
The divine Redeemer has entrusted his Revelation – of which moral obligations form an essential part – no longer merely to each man, but rather to his Church, to which he has given the mission to lead them to embrace that sacred deposit with fidelity. And, in the same way, to the Church itself and not to each one of the individuals, was promised the assistance intended to preserve Revelation of errors and deformations. Providence also knew this, because the Church, a living organism, may in this way, securely and easily, both illuminate and even penetrate the moral truths, as well as apply them – while maintaining their substance intact – to the variable conditions of place and time. It is enough to think, for example, of the social doctrine of the Church, which, born to respond to new necessities, in the end is nothing but the application of the perennial Christian morality to the present economic and social circumstances. (Pius XII. Radio message, The family, regarding the conscience and moral, no. 9, March 23, 1952)
A new morality: situation ethics that is not based on universal moral laws like the Ten Commandments, but rather on concrete circumstances according to which the individual conscience chooses
We have already spoken of the new morality in our radio message last March 23, to Christian educators. And what we shall treat of today is nothing but a continuation of what we said then: We wish to discover the profound origins of this concept. It could be qualified as ethical existentialism, ethical actualism, ethical individualism, understood in the restrictive meaning that we are going to explain, just as that which you find in what is called, with another name, Situationsethik (situation ethics). The distinctive sign of this morality is that it is in no way based on the universal moral laws, as, for example, the Ten Commandments, but rather on the real and concrete conditions and circumstances in which it has to act and according to which the individual conscience has to judge and choose. Such a state of things is only one of its kind and holds once for each human action: thus, the decision of the conscience – affirm the defenders of this ethic – is not governed by ideas, principles or universal laws. (Pius XII. Address on the errors of situation ethics, April 18, 1952)
Situation ethics removes God as the ultimate end of human acts – it does not outright deny the concepts and general moral principles, but moves them from the center to the last position
The Christian faith bases its moral requirements upon the knowledge of the essential truths and of their relations; Saint Paul does so in the letter to the Romans (Rom 1, 19–21) for religion as such, be it the Christian religion or that which was anterior to Christianity: from the moment of creation, the Apostle says, man glimpses and grasps the Creator in some way, his eternal power and his divinity, and this occurs with such evidence that he knows and feels obliged to recognize God and pay some form of worship to him, in such a way that to distain this cultivation or pervert it in idolatry is gravely culpable, for all and at all times. This is not, in any manner, what the ethic We refer to affirms. It does not outright deny the concepts and general moral principles (though at times it nears such a negation), but rather moves them from the center to the last position. (Pius XII. Address on the errors of situation ethics, April 18, 1952)
The fundamental obligations of the moral law are based, in essence, upon the nature of man and upon his essential relations, and consequently hold true in every place where man is
One might ask in what manner the moral law, which is universal, may be sufficient and even obligatory in a particular case, which, in its concrete situation, is always unique and occurs ‘only once’. It may, and is so, since precisely because of its universality, moral law necessarily and ‘intentionally’ comprehends all particular cases, in which its concepts are found. And in these cases, which are very numerous, it does so with a logic that is so conclusive, that even the conscience of the simple faithful immediately perceives, with entire certainty, the decision that should be made. This is especially true with respect to the negative obligations of the moral law, those that require that one not do, and that one avoid. But not only for these. The fundamental obligations of the moral law are based, in essence, upon the nature of man and upon his essential relations, and consequently hold true in every place where man is; the fundamental obligations of Christian law, from the very fact that they supersede those of the natural law, are based on the essence of the supernatural order constituted by the divine Redeemer. From the essential relations between man and God, between man and man, between spouses, between parents and children; from the essential relationships in community, in family, in the Church and in the State, it results – among other things – that hatred for God, blasphemy, idolatry, the defection from the true faith, the denial of the faith, perjury, homicide, false testimony, calumny, adultery and fornication, the abuse of matrimony, the solitary sin, robbery and rapine, the withdrawal of life’s necessities, the defrauding of just salary, the hoarding of basic life provisions and the unjustified increase of prices, fraudulent bankruptcy, unjust maneuverers and profiteering is all gravely prohibited by the divine Legislator. There is no room for doubt. Regardless of the particular situation of the individual, there is no other way but to obey. (Pius XII. Address on the errors of situation ethics, April 18, 1952)
The Christian should assume the grave and great commitment to assert the truth, the spirit, and the law of Christ in his personal, professional, social and public life. This is Catholic morality
Where absolutely obligatory norms do not exist, independent of any circumstance or eventuality, the situation ‘occurring once’, in its uniqueness, requires, it is true, an attentive examination to decide what are the norms that must be applied and in what manner. Catholic morality has always dealt amply with this problem of the formation of the individual conscience with prior examination of the circumstances of the case to be resolved. All that it teaches offers a precious aid for the theoretic as well as practical determinations of the conscience. It would suffice to cite the unsurpassed exposition, of Saint Thomas regarding the cardinal virtue of prudence and the virtues related to it (S. Th. II–II q. 47–57). His treatise reveals a sense of personal activity and regarding achievement, that contains all that is just and positive in ethics ‘according to situation’, but avoiding all of its confusions and deviations. It is enough, therefore, for the modern moralist to continue along the same line if he wants to delve into new problems. […] The Christian, for his part, should assume the grave and great commitment to assert the truth, the spirit and the law of Christ, to the extent that depends on him, in his personal life, in his professional life and in social and public life. This is Catholic morality; and it leaves a vast field free for the initiative and personal responsibility of the Christian. (Pius XII. Address on the errors of situation ethics, April 18, 1952)
It is erroneous to establish norms for real life that deviate from natural and Christian morality
Consequently, it would be erroneous to establish for real life norms which would deviate from natural and Christian morality, and which, for want of a better word, could be called “personalist” ethics. The latter would without doubt receive a certain “orientation” from the former, but this would not admit of any strict obligation. The law of the structure of man in the concrete is not to be invented but applied. (Pius XII. Address to the Fifth International Congress on Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology, no. 17, April 13, 1953)
Official condemnation of “situation ethics” by the Magisterium
Many of the things established in ‘situation ethics’ are contrary to the dictates of reason, of truth and of that which is reasonable, they display traces of relativism and modernism, and stray enormously from Catholic doctrine transmitted over the centuries. In many if their affirmations they are akin to several non-Catholic ethical systems. This said, to alert to the dangers of the “New Morality” of which the Supreme Pontiff Pius XII spoke in the Allocutions of the 23rd of March and the 18th of April of 1952, and to safeguard the purity and intactness of Catholic doctrine, this Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, reproves and prohibits the transmission of this doctrine, designated by the name of ‘situation ethics’, whether in Universities, Athenaeums, Seminaries and houses of religious formation, or in books, dissertations, meetings, conferences, or any other means of being propagated or maintained. (Congregation of the Holy Office. Instr. De “ethica situationis”, February 2, 1956)
B – The gravity of sin is measured more by its personal implication than its social implication
Sin arises from doing what one ought not, or by not doing what one ought to do
More things are required for good than for evil, since “good results from a whole and entire cause, whereas evil results from each single defect,” as Dionysius states (Div. Nom. IV): so that sin may arise from a man doing what he ought not, or by his not doing what he ought; while there can be no merit, unless a man do willingly what he ought to do: wherefore there can be no merit without act, whereas there can be sin without act.
The term “voluntary” is applied not only to that on which the act of the will is brought to bear, but also to that which we have the power to do or not to do, as stated in Ethic. iii, 5. Hence even not to will may be called voluntary, in so far as man has it in his power to will, and not to will. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I–II, q. 71, a.5, ad. 1–2)
Sin is nothing else than a bad human act – it means voluntarily going against the rule of the human will, namely human reason, which is created in accord with God’s eternal reason
As was shown above (a. 1), sin is nothing else than a bad human act. Now that an act is a human act is due to its being voluntary, as stated above (q. 1, a. 1), whether it be voluntary, as being elicited by the will, e.g. to will or to choose, or as being commanded by the will, e.g. the exterior actions of speech or operation. Again, a human act is evil through lacking conformity with its due measure: and conformity of measure in a thing depends on a rule, from which if that thing depart, it is incommensurate. Now there are two rules of the human will: one is proximate and homogeneous, viz. the human reason; the other is the first rule, viz. the eternal law, which is God’s reason, so to speak. Accordingly Augustine (Contra Faust. XXII, 27) includes two things in the definition of sin; one, pertaining to the substance of a human act, and which is the matter, so to speak, of sin, when he says “word,” “deed,” or “desire”; the other, pertaining to the nature of evil, and which is the form, as it were, of sin, when he says, “contrary to the eternal law.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I–II, q. 71, a. 6)
The sinner, when he breaks the command, says to God: I do not acknowledge thee for my Lord
He who contemns the divine law despises God; because he knows that, by despising the law, he loses the divine grace. ‘By transgression of the law, thou dishonourest God.’ (Rom 2:23). God is the Lord of all things, because he has created them ‘All things are in thy power…Thou hast made Heaven and Earth’ (Est 13: 9). Hence all irrational creatures the winds, the sea, the fire, and rain obey God, ‘The winds and the sea obey him’ (Matt. 8:27). ‘Fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds, which fulfil his word.’ (Ps. 148:8.) But man, when he sins, says to God: Lord, thou dost command me, but I will not obey; thou dost command me to pardon such an injury, but I will resent it; thou dost command me to give up the property of others, but I will retain it; thou dost wish that I should abstain from such a forbidden pleasure, but I will indulge in it. ‘Thou hast broken my yoke, thou hast burst my bands, and thou saidst: I will not serve.’ (Jer 2:20.) In fine, the sinner when he breaks the command, says to God: I do not acknowledge thee for my Lord. Like Pharaoh, when Moses, on the part of God, commanded him in the name of the Lord to allow the people to go into the desert, the sinner answers: ‘Who is the Lord, that I should hear his voice, and let Israel go?’ (Ex 5:2) (Saint Alphonsus de Liguori. Sermons for all Sundays in the Year, Sermon VI, no. 3, pg. 28–29)
Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience, and is contrary to the eternal law
Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” (St. Augustine, Contra Faustum 22; St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I–II, 71, 6) Sin is an offense against God: ‘Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.’ (Ps 51:4) Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ (Gen 3:5) knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” (St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 14, 28) In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation (cf. Phil 2:6–9). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1849–1850)
The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will
There are a great many kinds of sins. Scripture provides several lists of them. the Letter to the Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: ‘Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God’ (Gal 5:19–21; Rom 1:28–32; 1Cor 9–10; Eph 5:3–5; Col 3:5–8; 1Tim 9–10; 2Tim 2–5). Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate. They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man’ (Mt 15:19–20). But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1852–1853)
“Structures of sin” are the expression and the effects of personal sins
Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
– by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
– by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
– by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
– by protecting evil-doers.
Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin” (John Paul II, RP 16). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1868–1869)
In each individual there is nothing so personal and untransferable as merit for virtue or responsibility for sin
Sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person and not properly of a group or community. This individual may be conditioned, incited and influenced by numerous and powerful external factors. He may also be subjected to tendencies, defects and habits linked with his personal condition. In not a few cases such external and internal factors may attenuate, to a greater or lesser degree, the person’s freedom and therefore his responsibility and guilt. But it is a truth of faith, also confirmed by our experience and reason, that the human person is free. This truth cannot be disregarded in order to place the blame for individuals’ sins on external factors such as structures, systems or other people. Above all, this would be to deny the person’s dignity and freedom, which are manifested – even though in a negative and disastrous way – also in this responsibility for sin committed. Hence there is nothing so personal and untransferable in each individual as merit for virtue or responsibility for sin. As a personal act, sin has its first and most important consequences in the sinner himself: that is, in his relationship with God, who is the very foundation of human life; and also in his spirit, weakening his will and clouding his intellect. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, no. 16, December 2, 1984)
To speak of social sin means in the first place to recognize that each individual’s sin in some way affects others – every personal sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family
At this point we must ask what was being referred to by those who during the preparation of the synod and in the course of its actual work frequently spoke of social sin. The expression and the underlying concept in fact have various meanings. To speak of social sin means in the first place to recognize that, by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others. This is the other aspect of that solidarity which on the religious level is developed in the profound and magnificent mystery of the communion of saints, thanks to which it has been possible to say that “every soul that rises above itself, raises up the world.” To this law of ascent there unfortunately corresponds the law of descent. Consequently one can speak of a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the church and, in some way, the whole world. In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family. According to this first meaning of the term, every sin can undoubtedly be considered as social sin. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, no. 16, December 2, 1984)
To speak even analogically of social sins must not cause us to underestimate the responsibility of the individuals involved – one cannot contrast social sin and personal sin in a way that leads to the watering down and almost the abolition of personal sin
However, to speak even analogically of social sins must not cause us to underestimate the responsibility of the individuals involved. It is meant to be an appeal to the consciences of all, so that each may shoulder his or her responsibility seriously and courageously in order to change those disastrous conditions and intolerable situations. Having said this in the clearest and most unequivocal way, one must add at once that there is one meaning sometimes given to social sin that is not legitimate or acceptable even though it is very common in certain quarters today. This usage contrasts social sin and personal sin, not without ambiguity, in a way that leads more or less unconsciously to the watering down and almost the abolition of personal sin, with the recognition only of social gilt and responsibilities. According to this usage, which can readily be seen to derive from non-Christian ideologies and systems – which have possibly been discarded today by the very people who formerly officially upheld them – practically every sin is a social sin, in the sense that blame for it is to be placed not so much on the moral conscience of an individual, but rather on some vague entity or anonymous collectivity such as the situation, the system, society, structures or institutions. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, no. 16, December 2, 1984)
Whenever the church condemns social sins, she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins
Whenever the church speaks of situations of sin or when the church condemns as social sins certain situations or the collective behavior of certain social groups, big or small, or even of whole nations and blocs of nations, she knows and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of higher order. The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, no. 16, December 2, 1984)
C – To resolve social questions, which are in reality moral questions, it is necessary to make people observe the moral demands at a personal level
Those who seek sanctity receive all other things as a consequence
But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. (Mt 6:33)
If we faithfully observe God’s law, then it will follow that the particular purposes, both individual and social, shall attain the final end of all things
Even though economics and moral science employs each its own principles in its own sphere, it is, nevertheless, an error to say that the economic and moral orders are so distinct from and alien to each other that the former depends in no way on the latter. Certainly the laws of economics, as they are termed, being based on the very nature of material things and on the capacities of the human body and mind, determine the limits of what productive human effort cannot, and of what it can attain in the economic field and by what means. Yet it is reason itself that clearly shows, on the basis of the individual and social nature of things and of men, the purpose which God ordained for all economic life. But it is only the moral law which, just as it commands us to seek our supreme and last end in the whole scheme of our activity, so likewise commands us to seek directly in each kind of activity those purposes which we know that nature, or rather God the Author of nature, established for that kind of action, and in orderly relationship to subordinate such immediate purposes to our supreme and last end. If we faithfully observe this law, then it will follow that the particular purposes, both individual and social, that are sought in the economic field will fall in their proper place in the universal order of purposes, and We, in ascending through them, as it were by steps, shall attain the final end of all things, that is God, to Himself and to us, the supreme and inexhaustible Good. (Pius XI. Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, no. 42–43, May 15, 1931)
The use of material goods in society should be based on the fulfillment of moral duties
The original right regarding the use of material goods, since it bears intimate union with the dignity and other rights of the human person, offers him, with the forms indicated earlier, a secure material base, of supreme importance in raising him to the fulfillment of his moral duties. Fostering this right will assure the personal dignity of man and will lighten his tending to and satisfying for, with just liberty, that ensemble of obligations and stable decisions for which he is directly responsible to the Creator. Certainly it is the absolutely personal duty of man to conserve his material and spiritual life and orient it toward perfection in order to attain the religious and moral end that God has intended for all men. (Pius XII. Radio message for Pentecost, on the 50th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, no. 14, June 1, 1941)
Social relationships must adhere to principles within the framework of the moral order, as the indispensable prerequisite for the fulfillment of the rights and obligations of social life
So long as social relationships do in fact adhere to these principles within the framework of the moral order, their extension does not necessarily mean that individual citizens will be gravely discriminated against or excessively burdened. On the contrary, we can hope that they will help him to develop and perfect his own personal talents, and lead to that organic reconstruction of society which Our Predecessor Pius XI advocated in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno as the indispensable prerequisite for the fulfilment of the rights and obligations of social life. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et Magistra, no. 67, May 15, 1961)
The root cause of problems today: many deny the existence of a moral order which is transcendent, absolute, universal and equally binding upon all
The root cause of so much mistrust is the presence of ideological differences between nations, and more especially between their rulers. There are some indeed who go so far as to deny the existence of a moral order which is transcendent, absolute, universal and equally binding upon all. And where the same law of justice is not adhered to by all, men cannot hope to come to open and full agreement on vital issues. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et Magistra, no. 205, May 15, 1961)
The human being demands a moral and religious order as the greatest validity in the solution of individual and social problems
But the moral order has no existence except in God; cut off from God it must necessarily disintegrate. Moreover, man is not just a material organism. He consists also of spirit; he is endowed with reason and freedom. He demands, therefore, a moral and religious order; and it is this order – and not considerations of a purely extraneous, material order – which has the greatest validity in the solution of problems relating to his life as an individual and as a member of society, and problems concerning individual states and their inter-relations. (John XXIII. Encyclica Mater et Magistra, no. 208, May 15, 1961)
There can be no genuine solution of the “social question” apart from the Gospel
Now, as then, we need to repeat that there can be no genuine solution of the “social question” apart from the Gospel, and that the “new things” can find in the Gospel the context for their correct understanding and the proper moral perspective for judgment on them. (John Paul II. Centesimus annus, no. 5, May 1, 1991)
The Church has proposed a moral teaching regarding the many different spheres of human life, including social, economic and political life
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. In Christ’s name and with his authority they have exhorted, passed judgment and explained. In their efforts on behalf of humanity, in fidelity to their mission, they have confirmed, supported and consoled. 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. (John Paul II. Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, no. 4, August 6, 1993)
A new situation has come about within the Christian community that calls into question the Church’s moral teaching
Today, however, it seems necessary to reflect on the whole of the Church’s moral teaching, with the precise goal of recalling certain fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine which, in the present circumstances, risk being distorted or denied. In fact, a new situation has come about within the Christian community itself, which has experienced the spread of numerous doubts and objections of a human and psychological, social and cultural, religious and even properly theological nature, with regard to the Church’s moral teachings. It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain anthropological and ethical presuppositions. At the root of these presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Thus the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church’s moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to “exhort consciences” and to “propose values”, in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices. (John Paul II. Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, no. 4, August 6, 1993)
The commandments represent the basic condition for love of neighbor: without observing them one can neither love God nor neighbor
The commandments of which Jesus reminds the young man are meant to safeguard the good of the person, the image of God, by protecting his goods. ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness’ are moral rules formulated in terms of prohibitions. These negative precepts express with particular force the ever urgent need to protect human life, the communion of persons in marriage, private property, truthfulness and people’s good name.
The commandments thus represent the basic condition for love of neighbor; at the same time they are the proof of that love. They are the first necessary step on the journey towards freedom, its starting-point. “The beginning of freedom”, Saint Augustine writes, “is to be free from crimes… such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. When once one is without these crimes (and every Christian should be without them), one begins to lift up one’s head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom…”. (In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 41, 10)
This certainly does not mean that Christ wishes to put the love of neighbor higher than, or even to set it apart from, the love of God. This is evident from his conversation with the teacher of the Law, who asked him a question very much like the one asked by the young man. Jesus refers him to the two commandments of love of God and love of neighbor (cf. Lk 10:25–27), and reminds him that only by observing them will he have eternal life: ‘Do this, and you will live’ (Lk 10:28). Nonetheless it is significant that it is precisely the second of these commandments which arouses the curiosity of the teacher of the Law, who asks him: ‘And who is my neighbor?’ (Lk 10:29). The Teacher replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is critical for fully understanding the commandment of love of neighbor (cf. Lk 10:30–37).
These two commandments, on which ‘depend all the Law and the Prophets’ (Mt 22:40), are profoundly connected and mutually related. Their inseparable unity is attested to by Christ in his words and by his very life: his mission culminates in the Cross of our Redemption (cf. Jn 3:14–15), the sign of his indivisible love for the Father and for humanity (cf. Jn 13:1).
Both the Old and the New Testaments explicitly affirm that without love of neighbor, made concrete in keeping the commandments, genuine love for God is not possible. Saint John makes the point with extraordinary forcefulness: ‘If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen’ (Jn 4:20). The Evangelist echoes the moral preaching of Christ, expressed in a wonderful and unambiguous way in the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:30–37) and in his words about the final judgment (cf. Mt 25:31–46). (John Paul II. Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, no. 13–14, August 6, 1993)