This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of Veritatis Splendor , surely one of the most significant encyclicals of Pope John Paul II. It offers a searching examination of the nature of the Christian life and Christian moral reflection. Although John Paul’s focus in the encyclical is, unsurprisingly, on issues in Roman Catholic moral theology, the encyclical takes up questions that came to the fore at the time of the Reformation, that have not gone away, and that continue to puzzle. Among these is what the encyclical calls “fundamental choice” (or “option”), which in the Reformation perspective we might call “the problem of the relation of person and work.” Reflecting upon it can take us to the heart of Christian ethics.

In order to sharpen our sense of the concerns of Veritatis Splendor , it will be useful to set alongside it another”to some extent, contrasting”theological perspective. For that purpose, I will use one of the most substantial works of Lutheran ethics from the twentieth century: Helmut Thielicke’s Theological Ethics . Attending to how these two angles of vision both diverge and converge can, I think, help us see what is at stake in thinking about the relation of agent and act, person and work”who we are and what we do.

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