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Magisterial Documents: Veritatis Splendor

Magisterial Documents: Veritatis Splendor

Encyclical on the Splendor of Truth Pope John Paul II
6 August 1993

The full document is available on the internet.

Brief History

It was characteristic for Pope John Paul II to include in his trips to the nations an act of entrustment of the people to Mary. His Marian devotion and references are also found in specifically intended pro forma conclusions to other documents which thereby included the Marian dimension. Examples are found in the document, Christfideles Laici, On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World (1989), which was formulated as a prayer built on the Magnificat and the scene of the Cenacle, and Redemptoris Missio (1991), which includes a note on inculturation and Marian devotions particular to a people or an area. Both of the documents base their Marian reflections on Acts 1:14, Mary in the midst of the apostolic Church.

Veritatis Splendor reflects a somewhat different approach. The Marian section of the encyclical picks up and develops a theme previously published by Pope John Paul II in Dives in Misericordia, that is, Mary's share in Christ's mercy. Mary's mercy is discussed within the context of morality and new evangelization.

The document begins with the theme of light. Jesus Christ is the true light that enlightens everyone. (Jn 1:9) There are three main chapters. Chapter one establishes relationship to Christ as the basis for morality. Chapter two focuses on questions fundamental to morality: Law, Freedom and Law, Conscience and Truth, Fundamental Choice, and The Moral Act. Chapter three returns to the theme of Christ-centeredness and evangelization as the point of decision-making. We do what we do for the sake of Christ and relationship to him.

Then, almost as a surprise, the final chapter, articles 118 - 120, turns to Mary, Mother of Mercy. The conclusion of Veritatis Splendor is an act of entrustment of the moral life of the People of God to Mary, Mother of Mercy. The final paragraph consists of a prayer to Mary under this title. Although Mary does not know sin, she nevertheless knows and shares our human condition. In spite of all darkness, she remains completely open to God.

Veritatis Splendor links Mary's spiritual motherhood to the moral life: She understands sinful human beings and loves then with a mother's love. Precisely for this reason she is on the side of truth and shares the Church's burden in recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality. Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her son would thus be emptied of its power. (VS 120)


Introduction: Jesus Christ, the True Light That Enlightens Everyone 1-5

Chapter 1: "Teacher, What Good Must I Do?" (Mt 19:16) 6-27

Chapter 2: "Do Not Be Conformed To This World" (Rom 12:2) 28-34
Freedom and Law 35-53
Conscience and Truth 54-64
Fundamental Choice 65-70
The Moral Act 71-83

Chapter 3: "Lest the Cross of Christ Be Emptied of Its Power"(1 Cor 1:17) 84-117
Morality and New Evangelization 106-108

Conclusion Mary, Mother of Mercy 118-120

Core Marian Passages

Mary, Mother of Mercy 118

At the end of these considerations, let us entrust ourselves, the sufferings and the joys of our life, the moral life of believers and people of good will, and the research of moralists, to Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy.

Mary is Mother of Mercy because her Son, Jesus Christ, was sent by the Father as the revelation of God's mercy (cf. Jn 3:16-18). Christ came not to condemn but to forgive, to show mercy (cf. Mt 9:13). And the greatest mercy of all is found in his being in our midst and calling us to meet him and to confess, with Peter, that he is "the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). No human sin can erase the mercy of God, or prevent him from unleashing all his triumphant power, if we only call upon him. Indeed, sin itself makes even more radiant the love of the Father who, in order to ransom a slave, sacrificed his Son:181 his mercy towards us is Redemption. This mercy reaches its fullness in the gift of the Spirit who bestows new life and demands that it be lived. No matter how many and great the obstacles put in his way by human frailty and sin, the Spirit, who renews the face of the earth (cf.Ps104:30), makes possible the miracle of the perfect accomplishment of the good. This renewal, which gives the ability to do what is good, noble, beautiful, pleasing to God and in conformity with his will, is in some way the flowering of the gift of mercy, which offers liberation from the slavery of evil and gives the strength to sin no more. Through the gift of new life, Jesus makes us sharers in his love and leads us to the Father in the Spirit.

Such is the consoling certainty of Christian faith, the source of its profound humanity and extraordinary simplicity. At times, in the discussions about new and complex moral problems, it can seem that Christian morality is in itself too demanding, difficult to understand and almost impossible to practise. This is untrue, since Christian morality consists, in the simplicity of the Gospel, in following Jesus Christ, in abandoning oneself to him, in letting oneself be transformed by his grace and renewed by his mercy, gifts which come to us in the living communion of his Church. Saint Augustine reminds us that "he who would live has a place to live, and has everything needed to live. Let him draw near, let him believe, let him become part of the body, that he may have life. Let him not shrink from the unity of the members".182 By the light of the Holy Spirit, the living essence of Christian morality can be understood by everyone, even the least learned, but particularly those who are able to preserve an "undivided heart" (Ps 86:11). On the other hand, this evangelical simplicity does not exempt one from facing reality in its complexity; rather it can lead to a more genuine understanding of reality, inasmuch as following Christ will gradually bring out the distinctive character of authentic Christian morality, while providing the vital energy needed to carry it out. It is the task of the Church's Magisterium to see that the dynamic process of following Christ develops in an organic manner, without the falsification or obscuring of its moral demands, with all their consequences. The one who loves Christ keeps his commandments (cf. Jn 14:15). 119

Mary is also Mother of Mercy because it is to her that Jesus entrusts his Church and all humanity. At the foot of the Cross, when she accepts John as her son, when she asks, together with Christ, forgiveness from the Father for those who do not know what they do (cf. Lk 23:34), Mary experiences, in perfect docility to the Spirit, the richness and the universality of God's love, which opens her heart and enables it to embrace the entire human race. Thus Mary becomes Mother of each and every one of us, the Mother who obtains for us divine mercy. 

Mary is the radiant sign and inviting model of the moral life. As Saint Ambrose put it, "The life of this one person can serve as a model for everyone",183 and while speaking specifically to virgins but within a context open to all, he affirmed: "The first stimulus to learning is the nobility of the teacher. Who can be more noble than the Mother of God? Who can be more glorious than the one chosen by Glory Itself?".184 Mary lived and exercised her freedom precisely by giving herself to God and accepting God's gift within herself. Until the time of his birth, she sheltered in her womb the Son of God who became man; she raised him and enabled him to grow, and she accompanied him in that supreme act of freedom which is the complete sacrifice of his own life. By the gift of herself, Mary entered fully into the plan of God who gives himself to the world. By accepting and pondering in her heart events which she did not always understand (cf. Lk 2:19), she became the model of all those who hear the word of God and keep it (cf. Lk 11:28), and merited the title of "Seat of Wisdom". This Wisdom is Jesus Christ himself, the Eternal Word of God, who perfectly reveals and accomplishes the will of the Father (cf.Heb 10:5-10). Mary invites everyone to accept this Wisdom. To us too she addresses the command she gave to the servants at Cana in Galilee during the marriage feast: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

Mary shares our human condition, but in complete openness to the grace of God. Not having known sin, she is able to have compassion on every kind of weakness. She understands sinful man and loves him with a Mother's love. Precisely for this reason she is on the side of truth and shares the Church's burden in recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality. Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her Son would thus be emptied of its power. No absolution offered by beguiling doctrines, even in the areas of philosophy and theology, can make man truly happy: only the Cross and the glory of the Risen Christ can grant peace to his conscience and salvation to his life.

O Mary
Mother of Mercy, 
watch over all people, 
that the Cross of Christ 
may not be emptied of its power, 
that man may not stray 
from the path of the good 
or become blind to sin, 
but may put his hope ever more fully in God 
who is "rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4). 
May he carry out the good works prepared 
by God beforehand (cf. Eph 2:10) 
and so live completely 
"for the praise of his glory" (Eph 1:12). 


AAS 85 (1993): 1134-1228;
Origins (October 14, 1993): 297-336.

© This material has been compiled by M. Jean Frisk and Danielle M. Peters, S.T.D.
Copyright is reserved for The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute.
Most recently updated in 2018.

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