Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Veritatsis Splendor

"The Splendor of Truth" I put up a few casual quotes from John Paul yesterday, to try and get behind the media onslaught telling us "who he was and what he meant." I thought it better to hear him in his own words. I'm doing the same thing again tonight, but the difference is that tonight I'm quoting one of his scholarly works. I selected just a small part from a much longer document, and I chose it because it gets at the idea that freedom is not free, that freedom has to be sought out and retained through adherence to the truth. Conservatives generally recognize that freedom isn't free in the sense that we cannot allow ourselves to be enslaved from outside. Resisting Communism was the right thing to do, just as resisting Facism in Islamic garb is the right thing to do today. We generally recognize that Communism was based on false assumptions about human nature and as a result it was doomed to fail. Where we tend to vigorous backbiting is over the idea that there is also an internal fight to be fought for freedom to be realized. Real freedom (what we advocate when we clamor for small government) requires individuals to exercise a good deal of self control so that crime and poverty do not bring down the roof. Crime and poverty result from a lack of respect for one's neighbor and also from a lack of self respect (impulse and addiction). Those in turn result from a failure to understand what it is to be fully human, which in turn is a failure to correctly identify the good. When we fail in self knowledge and self control, the control is imposed from the outside - either through heavy policing, or, as is more readily recognized, through the might of other civilizations. The selection is from Chapter One. John Paul is discussing a short passage from the Bible, Mathew 19:16, the parable of the Rich Young Man, which begins: "And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
13. Jesus' answer is not enough for the young man, who continues by asking the Teacher about the commandments which must be kept: "He said to him, 'Which ones?'" (Mt 19:18). He asks what he must do in life in order to show that he acknowledges God's holiness. After directing the young man's gaze towards God, Jesus reminds him of the commandments of the Decalogue regarding one's neighbour: "Jesus said: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself " (Mt 19:18-19). From the context of the conversation, and especially from a comparison of Matthew's text with the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, it is clear that Jesus does not intend to list each and every one of the commandments required in order to "enter into life", but rather wishes to draw the young man's attention to the "centrality" of the Decalogue with regard to every other precept, inasmuch as it is the interpretation of what the words "I am the Lord your God" mean for man. Nevertheless we cannot fail to notice which commandments of the Law the Lord recalls to the young man. They are some of the commandments belonging to the so-called "second tablet" of the Decalogue, the summary (cf. Rom 13:8-10) and foundation of which is the commandment of love of neighbour: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mt 19:19; cf. Mk 12:31). In this commandment we find a precise expression of the singular dignity of the human person, "the only creature that God has wanted for its own sake". The different commandments of the Decalogue are really only so many reflections of the one commandment about the good of the person, at the level of the many different goods which characterize his identity as a spiritual and bodily being in relationship with God, with his neighbour and with the material world. As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the Ten Commandments are part of God's Revelation. At the same time, they teach us man's true humanity. They shed light on the essential duties, and so indirectly on the fundamental rights, inherent in the nature of the human person". 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 neighbour; 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...".
(Emphasis mine)

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