Morality Should Be Inspired by Encounter With Jesus, Says Cardinal Ratzinger

In a Congress on the Encyclical “Veritatis Splendor”

ROME, NOV. 26, 2003 ( Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger says that sets of rules shouldn’t be the motivation for moral behavior.

“Morality should be inspired by an encounter with Jesus Christ, and not by a series of indications: It is an encounter of love,” said the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a congress on John Paul II’s encyclical “Veritatis Splendor.”

“Walk in the Light: Perspectives of Moral Theology Ten Years after ‘Veritatis Splendor’" was the theme of this international meeting of moral theologians, held Nov. 20-22 and organized by the Lateran University and the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

In his address, Cardinal Ratzinger said the encyclical “opens new horizons to moral theology.” It tried to “recover the message of Christian morality,” he said.

The cardinal insisted on the centrality of Jesus Christ for morality. “If there is an encounter with the living person of Jesus Christ, from this love all the rest flows,” he explained.

The congress highlighted the connection between grace and morality, emphasizing that far from being a subjective topic, or something that is lived independently of the community, “morality has an ecclesial dimension,” Cardinal Ratzinger stressed.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian episcopal conference, lamented “the dichotomy that separates faith and morality.” This aspect was also emphasized by Monsignor Livio Melina, director of research in moral theology at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family.

According to Monsignor Melina, “The morality of autonomy, addressed by the encyclical, poses a serious ecclesiological problem: It favors an emancipation of the moral conscience from ecclesial ‘communio,’ bringing into question the nexus between faith and morality.”

Archbishop Antonio Cañizares of Toledo, primate of Spain, also referred to the separation of “faith and life,” and presented Christianity as a “light on the way.”

“We are not our conscience,” he said. “We are not our own light; rather, a light exists that comes to us from on high.”

In this same line, Father Luis Ladaria, a professor at the Gregorian University and consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said: “Christian morality stems from Revelation and is not founded solely on rational deductions.”

Spanish Bishop Juan Antoni Reig Pla of Segorbe-Castellon pointed out among the most important elements of “Veritatis Splendor” the “dynamic aspect of behavior” and mentioned the need to learn to be “disciples and witnesses” and to grasp “the truth of our actions.”

In regard to the connection between moral life and witness, Cardinal Ratzinger highlighted the martyrs, who “teach us the way to understand Christ and what it means to be man. They are the real apologia of man and show that the creature is not an error of the Creator.”

Cardinal Ratzinger also focused on the vocation of the moral theologian, emphasizing that the latter’s task is “to know profoundly the difference between good and evil in human action, seeking to be a faithful follower of the magisterium of the Church.”

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