Lesson 5a: Gospel of Life
Up to this point, we have focused on the components of "fundamental Moral Theology" in the Moral Magisterium of John Paul II. Our text has been the encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (6/8/93) with its connections and parallels in the Catechism, Part III, section 1, ##1699-2051. That part of the Catechism covering fundamental Moral Theology.
The focus here is not general (or fundamental) morality, but specifically the life-death ethic which, in part, is addressed in the Catechism (e.g. abortion in ##2270-2274; euthanasia in ##2276-2279); but our text is now the encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (3/25/95).
This encyclical is a full one of some 4 major parts, 105 numbered paragraphs, 142 footnotes and about 189 pages in English translation (the official Latin text is in AAS 87, 1995, 401-522). It is essential to read the full text of EV and best to do that with a copy of the Bible alongside. Most of these final four lessons will simply provide text and documentation for what was mentioned quickly in the tapes -- the argument and reasoning of the encyclical itself does not require extra explanation. Unlike VS, nn.71-83 which is highly technical Moral Theology, EV itself is more explanatory and consistent as it reads.
The Introduction (EV, 1-6) presents the rationale and need for this encyclical. It is now 30 years after Vatican Council II which condemned: " . . . any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; . . . " (GS, n.27). Unfortunately, this sad state is not decreasing but expanding with new scientific and technical prospects, and with it "a new cultural climate is developing and taking hold" (EV, 4) -- a "Culture of Death" -- with a "more sinister character" because broad sectors of public opinion try to justify "certain crimes against life" in the name of "rights" claiming not only exemption from punishment but even "authorization by the State" (EV, 4). Thus, choices once unanimously considered criminal are becoming socially acceptable.
Thus, another category of persons "is being oppressed in the fundamental right to life" (EV, 5). The purpose of this encyclical is to be "a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability" and also an appeal to every person, in the name of God, to "respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life!" This is the only direction for justice, development, true freedom and peace. It is part then of the fundamental social teaching of the Church (EV, 5).
Chapter I of EV (nn.7-28) examines present-day threats to human life. The method of procedure here is the preferred one of John Paul II to begin with a reflection on Holy Scripture -- here the Cain and Abel narrative in Gen.4:2-16 (which should be read by each student). The reliance on Sacred sources is particularly evident in EV since every sub-section is introduced with a citation of Holy Scripture.
Consider EV, n.8, wherein "Cain, instead of showing remorse and apologizing, arrogantly eludes the question: 'I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?' (Gn.4:9). Cain tries to cover up his crime with a lie." (EV, 8). The Pope teaches this is still the case where all sorts of ideologies try to justify and disguise the most atrocious crimes against human beings.
Later, the Pope will refer to "innocuous medical terms" (EV, 11) and to "ambiguous terminology" (EV, 58) which try to distract attention and hide the true nature of the moral crime against life. Every gross violation of the 5th commandment normally involves a distortion of the 8th commandment. My own maxim is: All social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering! This is not an accident, it is an effective and lethal tactic.
Even pre-Roe v Wade (1/22/73), efforts were afoot to promote a 'new ethic' and the means to accomplish it. A famous editorial "A New Ethic for Medicine and Society" in California Medicine v.113, #3 (Sept.1970) pp.67-8 outlines precisely the problem and how to overcome it:
"The traditional Western ethic has always placed great emphasis on the intrinsic worth and equal value of every human life regardless of its stage or development. This ethic has had the blessing of the Judeo-Christian heritage and has been the basis for most of our laws and much of our social policy. . . It will become necessary and acceptable to place relative rather than absolute values on such things as human lives . . . This is quite distinctly at variance with the Judeo-Christian ethic . . . Since the old ethic (Judeo-Christian) has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death." (CM 113:3, 1970, 67-8)
The key tactic is clearly stated, i.e. whatever you call abortion or euthanasia or any other anti-life campaign -- do not call it 'killing'! To succeed, you must call it something else; thus, terminate a pregnancy; remove product of conceptus; and all the choice anti-choice rhetoric. These are not carelessly chosen terms, but deliberately chosen (cf. the examples in EV, 58). Recall the warning of the Prophet Isaiah: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light and light into darkness . . . " (Ish.5:20)
It is with words that begins "the eclipse of the value of life" (EV, 10). It is a culture of skepticism in ethics, isolation in difficulties -- a culture that denies solidarity, a war against the weak generates a "Culture of Death" (EV, 11, 12). The threats against life take on vast proportions -- far beyond the single Cains who kill the single Abels -- because they are scientifically and systematically programmed threats: "an objective conspiracy against life" (EV, 17).
The same perverse notion of absolute autonomy, absolute individual freedom (so thoroughly repudiated in VS, nn.35-53) is the lethal root of the Culture of Death (EV, 18-28). The sovereign self sees others as "enemies" (EV, 20) and "rivals" (EV, 98) against whom one must defend and protect himself. There is no human solidarity in the Culture of Death, but rather an amazing contradiction: precisely at the time we make the most solemn proclamation of human rights in print, the same rights are selectively repudiated in practice (EV, 18).
The roots of this contradiction are obvious and operative: "extreme subjectivity" (EV, 19); "absolute autonomy" (EV, 20) with its sinister relativism; but above all, the "Eclipse of the sense of God and man" (EV, 21) so characteristic of modern secularism.
Vatican II taught clearly and emphatically: "Without the Creator the creature would disappear . . . when God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible" (GS, n.36). One no longer considers life a gift from God (no longer 'sacred') but a mere thing (EV, 22).
This practical materialism prepares for the most profound shift in values and meaning and worth. It changes "The criterion of personal dignity -- which demands respect, generosity and service -- replaced by a criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they 'are', but for what they 'have, do and produce'" (EV, 23). If man is made in the Image and Likeness of God, it is inevitable, when the God profile is lowered and lessened, man's worth and value is lowered and lessened with that loss.
This wrong turn, this radical shift in values, this moving away from the primacy of being over having, the primacy of persons over things was a warning of the Council (GS, 35) and a consistent warning of John Paul II throughout his pontificate beginning with his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (3/4/79), insisting that the advancement of persons is not just the multiplication of things rather genuine human development must insist on the priority of Ethics over Technology, the primacy of Persons over Things and the superiority of Spirit over Matter (RH, n.16). Building a Culture of Life is not possible if we build on the wrong criterion.