Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 18: The Loss of the Sense of Sin, Part 4: Relativism

The third reason for The Loss of the Sense of Sin is the oft-criticized relativism:

The sense of sin also easily declines as a result of a system of ethics deriving from a certain historical relativism. This may take the form of an ethical system which relativizes the moral norm, denying its absolute and unconditional value, and as a consequence denying that there can be intrinsically illicit acts independent of the circumstances in which they are performed by the subject. Herein lies a real “overthrowing and downfall of moral values,” and “the problem is not so much one of ignorance of Christian ethics,” but ignorance “rather of the meaning, foundations and criteria of the moral attitude.”(Pope John Paul II, Address to the Bishops of the Eastern Region of France (April 1,1982),2)

Strict pacifist Christians might criticize the notion of jut war along these lines. It’s not that relativism as the Holy Father describes it here is not a problem. It certainly is, and it is likely more widespread into the blind spots of otherwise ethical persons than they suspect.

Another effect of this ethical turning upside down is always such an attenuation of the notion of sin as almost to reach the point of saying that sin does exist, but no one knows who commits it.

On the other hand, there’s warfare again: is it the person who made the weapon, the leader who gives the order, the intelligence operative who fed misinformation to the leader, either purposely or through incompetence, or the person who pulls the trigger? Is every soldier in the situation of the death of non-combatants a sinner, or are none of them culpable?

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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