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Archbishop Chaput: The Splendor of Truth Today

Editor’s Note: Archbishop Chaput originally published this essay in 2017. We are sharing it this week to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Veritatis Splendor. 

There are times when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.” Those are strong words, written by the Czech activist Václav Havel in his essay “The Power of the Powerless,” one of the twentieth century’s great calls to “living in the truth” against a culture based on violence, manipulation, and lies. Havel finished his text in October 1978, shortly before his arrest by Communist authorities. In the same month, Karol Wojtyła, a seemingly obscure bishop from Communist Poland, was elected Pope John Paul II.

The two men were very different. Havel, a poet and playwright, became a leading political dissident. Wojtyła, an actor and playwright, took the path of priest and philosopher. But they shared a set of concerns. Both had a passion for truth, which they saw as the foundation of human dignity. Both had emerged from regimes grounded in lies. Both admired the freedoms of the West. And yet—tellingly—both doubted that the democratic West was in any sense immune to the sort of casuistry, poisonous political thought, and systematic intellectual deceit that had destroyed Europe.

Nearly four decades have passed. The great ideological wars are over. The good guys won. Or at least that’s the story we in the “developed” world like to tell ourselves. We in the wealthy nations enjoy astonishing technical progress and material comforts. But the wound to man’s self-understanding and moral reasoning caused by the events of the last century has never really healed. Instead it has deepened, spreading a peculiar kind of confusion into our public discourse, political institutions, popular culture, the lives of religious believers, and entire communities of faith—including, at times, the Church herself.

Addressing that wound was a major focus of Karol Wojtyła’s pontificate.

Next year, 2018, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of Veritatis Splendor, John Paul’s great encyclical on the “splendor of truth.” Written to encourage a renewal in Catholic moral theology and a return to its classical Catholic roots, Veritatis Splendor grounds itself in a few simple convictions. Briefly put: Truth exists, whether we like it or not. We don’t create truth; we find it, and we have no power to change it to our tastes. The truth may not make us comfortable, but it does make us free. And knowing and living the truth ennoble our lives. It is the only path to lasting happiness.

In the years that have passed, the crisis of truth has only seemed to grow. Our age is one of cleverness and irony, not real intellect and character. Today the wisdom of Veritatis Splendor is more urgently needed than ever.

Read more at First Things 

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