Wednesday, February 11, 2015

CDF and Lefebvre pars II (Religious Liberty and Human Dignity)

Pars I


1. Religious liberty and human dignity according to the Declaration Dignitatis humanæ (hereafter, DH):

           The right to religious liberty has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. (DH, 2/a).

Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. (DH, 2/b).

Would, therefore, the conciliar doctrine, according to which the foundation of the right to religious liberty is located in the objective dignity of the person, based, in turn, on human nature, be incompatible with the traditional Catholic doctrine, such as what is expressed for example in the affirmation given by Leo XIII?

If the mind assents to false opinions, and the will chooses and follows after what is wrong, neither can attain its native fullness, but both must fall from their native dignity into an abyss of corruption. Whatever, therefore, is opposed to virtue and truth may not rightly be brought temptingly before the eye of man, much less sanctioned by the favor and protection of the law.1

In first place, it is fitting to note that though the right to religious liberty is founded on the dignity of the person, independently of the truth or error of the religion in question, it does not signify a denial of the fact that the recognition of truth and adherence to the good ought to be an integral part of the true dignity of man.

Indeed, the text of DH para. 2 does not say that the dignity of the human person consists uniquely in only his nature, independently of his adhering to the true and the good. What it affirms is that the ontological fact of being a person includes already a dignity which, on the civil level, requires among other things, the right to religious liberty which is seen in DH: “immunity from coercion in civil society” (DH, 1).

Which was the teaching of John XXIII:

It is always perfectly equitable to distinguish errors from those who stray through opinion, although it be done in the case of men who are captivated by error regarding the truth or by an inferior knowledge of things, whether with respect to sacred things or to the best activity of life. For a man who has fallen into error does not cease to be a man nor does he lose his personal dignity, the account of which must, of course, always be held.2

On one hand, it must be noted that the teaching of Vatican II (in the text considered, DH, 2) is perfectly reconcilable with the teaching of the Church on the consequence of original sin. Original sin destroys the supernatural and preternatural dignity of man (based on grace and on other supernatural and preternatural gifts), but does not destroy his natural dignity, which was simply diminished, “in being changed for the worse”3 as human nature itself. For this reason, the liberty of man, which is without a doubt one of the chief manifestation of his ontological dignity, was not annihilate but only weakened.4

On the other, the teaching of Vatican II (DH, 2), is perfectly reconcilable with the teaching of Leo XIII already cited. As it was said, the dignity of the person presents certain fundamental aspects which cannot disappear, neither through sin nor error, and it is this dignity which is referred to in DH, 2. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, every man, even a sinner, is the image of God and at least a potential member of the Body of Christ.5

Philosophy, as well as the simple use of language, shows that there is also another sense of natural dignity, which includes the right use of the natural faculties, the adherence of the mind to truth and of the will to good. The affirmation of Leo XIII, according to which, by adhering to error and evil, man loses the natural dignity of his mind and will, is to be understood in this sense.

The teaching of DH on religious liberty also does not contradict the second part of the text of Leo XIII previously cited. Indeed, the right to religious liberty is understood as a civil and social immunity from coercion in religious matters, nor does it imply any right or permission to spread error. Quite the contrary, DH explicitly teaches that ever man has a grave duty to seek out and adhere to the true and the good:

Religious liberty does not prejudice the traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of man and societies in respect to the true religion and the one Church of Christ. (DH, 1/c; cf. Also n. 2/b)

The corresponding Conciliar Commission, in its response to the second of the general drafts, explains it this way:

Furthermore, it should be observed that the approved text affirms a right the object of which is immunity from coercion and not the content of any religion. Immunity of this sort is based on the very dignity of the person. Nowhere is it affirmed, nor is it permitted to affirm (which is evident) that a right is given to diffuse error. But if persons diffuse error, this is not an exercise of the right, but an abuse of it. This abuse can and ought to be impeded if public order is gravely harmed, as is affirmed many times in the text and explained under n. 7.6

The right to religious liberty – recognizing again “that this does not satisfy the obligation to search out and adhere to the truth.” (DH, 2) – does not contradict the traditional Catholic doctrine as expressed by Pius XII in these terms:

That which does not correspond to truth or objectively to the moral law has no right to exist, to be spread or to its activity.7

Indeed, the doctrine of DH does not contradict the teaching on the “objective right” formulated in this text of Pius XII, because DH, 2 refers to a civil right to the immunity from coercion, and not to a right to spread error.

This interpretation is clearly required by the light of the Acts of the Council. Thus, for example, the Relatio de textu recomendato comments on this in a detailed manner:

The question, whether a man has a right of acting from a true conscience, that he does not have from an erroneous conscience, is not treated. For the question is of the right of man in this sense, that the right asserts an immunity from coercion. Speaking more exactly, the question is, whether and under what conditions shall a right be granted on the part of others, and namely on the part of the public power, to impede man from acting publicly according to his conscience. But from this, that the conscience of the agent is erroneous it does not follow that a right is given to others of impeding his action. … . In today's question the principle that rights are not equally founded on truth and error is adduced in vain. Which certainly is true, if it is understood, that the right is not founded on error but in truth only. Again, nevertheless, it must be considered that the question today treats of right as an immunity from coercion. But a man of true conscience already enjoys immunity of this sort; still, the man of erroneous conscience also enjoys it, as long the right of impeding this or that external act of religion is granted to belong to another, namely to the public power.8

From all of this, we must conclude that the doctrine of DH cannot be understood as an affirmation of a right to spread error: the notion of religious liberty within DH does not refer to the relations of man or the State with truth or the good, but of man and the State with other men, indicating what man ought not do (to compel in religious matters).

Consequentially, religious liberty is a negative right.9 As every negation supposes an affirmation, this negative right supposes another positive right. But this positive right is not to spread error, but (which is at the same time a grave obligation) to search for the truth and render worship to God. This grave obligation is the foundation of the claim of the person to a social space for autonomous activity.

It was already said in this sense with the Conciliar gathering:
It helps to note that the schema of the Declaration does not affirm that a right is given to spread religious errors in society. For truly, both in itself and much more so in the current state of the question, an affirmation of this sort lacks all sense. For the question more precisely posited is whether and how the public power may by right coercively hinder a man who publicly witnesses his religious beliefs.10

And, further, the Conciliar Commission insists on these terms:

It is
remembered that the text of the schema does not recognize a right to teaching falsehoods publicly, but affirms a right to immunity from constraint.11

On the other hand, DH does not affirm that the propagation of errors is a good. That which is good is that there exist within civil society a domain of juridical autonomy in religious matters, compatible with the public order and morality: DH, 7 speaks precisely of these limits of the right to liberty from coercion.

So it is understood that immunity from coercion in religious matters is not an evil: it is a good, as is the creation by God of human liberty, although it may result in sin. The right to religious liberty is ordered to the good, one of social conviviality based on friendship and liberty, that all may accomplish their duty to seek and adhere to the truth, and that of the liberty of the Church to be able to develop freely her divine mission of universal evangelization.

Within the regime of religious liberty, human liberty does not remain without a norm, because it is fully subject to the moral necessity imposed by ethical laws and it is exteriorly limited in religious matters within the sense indicated by DH, 7:

Furthermore, civil society has the right to protect itself against abuses which can be had under the pretext of religious liberty. It especially pertains to the civil power to provide protection of this sort, which, nevertheless, ought not to be done in an arbitrary manner or by unjustly favoring one party, but according to juridical norms, in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms are postulated from the effective protection of the rights for all citizens and for their peaceful settlement, both from a sufficient care of honest public peace, which is coexisting ordered in true justice, and from a due guardianship of public morality. All these constitute a fundamental part of the common good and fall under the account of public order. (DH 7, C)
Although the Declaration “does not intend to expound on particular applications of principles, especially if they involve complex questions,”12 it is certain, for example, that religious liberty does not exclude that the State ban divorce, polygamy, etc., and other things which their religion permits, without assuming the banning of other external manifestations of that religion which are not contrary to good public order.

Indeed, we must take into account that the reference to the objective moral order , introduced in the recognized text of DH, 7, was justified by the corresponding Relation as follows:

It is read: founded on the objective moral order. The addition is of great importance. It was introduced according to the mind of the Fathers who asked that in evaluating the public order a reason be held not only in respect to historical situations, but also, and primarily, in respect to those matters which are postulated by the objective moral order.13
However, the fact that all civil laws must be in agreement with the natural law does not signify that all demands of the natural law must be expressly taken up by the civil laws: it is evident that human law does not have to restrain all vice nor order all acts of virtue.14

Finally, it should be noted that, within the context of Pius XII's words, cited in note 10, there is explained the doctrine on tolerance, according to which:
The claim: Religious and moral error ought to be always impeded, as much as possible, because its tolerance is, in itself, immoral- cannot be evaluated unconditionally and absolutely.15
Although this doctrine of tolerance is not equivalent to the doctrine of religious liberty, there is no reason to affirm that they are irreconcilable. There is not an equivalence between them, because the principle of tolerance implies that the State has the right and the duty to repress the evil that consists in the diffusion of religious error, but it can and sometimes must give up the exercise of this right to obtain a superior and broader good. And this right is not recognized by the conciliar Declaration. However, there is no incompatibility between these affirmation, because, according to Pius XII, tolerance is justified in the interest of a superior good. But the idea of the Council is that the dignity of the every human person and social peace are always goods which require that the State not repress religious error when this is not oppose to good social order (which includes the public morality). There is then a novelty in the conception of the competence of the State in regard to the religious life of its citizens and a doctrinal development concerning the foundation of the absence of legal constrain in religious matters.

We must insist on the continuity of the teachings of DH and those of Leo XIII and Pius XII. From the first schemas of DH, there was explicitly sought this continuity with the previous magisterium in analyzing the texts of the Pontiffs previously cited. Thus the Relatio on the first schema presented to the Fathers of the Council explained:
Leo XIII already started the doctrinal evolution by clearly making the distinction between the Church, which is the people of God, and civil society, which is the temporal and terrestrial people (cf. Immortale Dei, A.S.S., 18, 1885, pp. 166-167; six other times the same doctrine evolved). Thus the way was opened to newly affirm an owed and licit autonomy, which belongs to the civil order and its judicial regulation. From which it happens that a further step is already possible (a progressive rule), namely for a new judgment on that which are called “modern liberties.” These liberties can be tolerated (cf. Immortale Dei, A.S.S., 18, 1885, p. 174; Libertas praestantissimum, A.S.S., 20, 1887, pp. 609-610). But they are still said to be only “tolerated.” The reason was evident. For in that time, in Europe, the regime which proclaimed modern liberties, including religious liberty, consciously drew its inspiration still from a secularist ideology. Therefore the danger existed, which Leo XIII sensed, that civil and political institutions of republics of this sort, because they were informed by a secularist intention, would be led to such abuses, which could not but harm the dignity of the human person and his genuine liberty. For what was to the heart of pope Leo XIII, according to the rule of continuity, is always to the heart of the Church, without a doubt the protection of the human person.16
Moreover: “The doctrine of Pius XII on the limitation of the State must be greatly remembered, in regard to repressing errors in society: 'May it be that in certain circumstances He (God) does not give to men any mandate, impose any duty, nor even give any right to impede and to repress that which is erroneous and false? A look to reality gives an affirmative answer. Then, respecting the example of divine providence, he continues: Then the claim: Religious and moral error ought to be always impeded, as much as possible, because its tolerance is, in itself, immoral- cannot be evaluated unconditionally and absolutely. On the other hand, God has not even given human authority such an absolute and universal precept, neither in the realm of faith nor in that of morality. I do not know such a precept, nor the common belief of men, nor the Christian conscience, no the fount of revelation, nor the practice of the Church (Ce riesce, A.A.S., 35, 1953, pp. 798-799).' This declaration (progressive rule) is of the highest importance for our business, especially if they are held before eyes which once were formerly borne to the mission of the state.”17
Another example, in the same vein, is the words of Pius XII continuing what was said in the prior text:

Cf. Pius XII, Alloc. to auditing prelates and other official administrators of the Sacred Tribunal of the Roman Rota, Oct. 6th, 1946: A.A.S., 38 (1946), p. 393: “The ever more frequent contact and promiscuity of different religious confessions within the confines of the same people has led civil courts to follow the principle of tolerance and of liberty of conscience.' Indeed, in such a circumstance, there is a political, civil and social tolerance toward the followers of another confession, that is even a duty for Catholics.”
Moreover, cf. Pius XII, Alloc. Ci riesce, Dec. 6th, 1953: A.A.S., 35 (1953), p. 797: “Religious and moral interests will require for the whole expanse of the Community (of people) a well defined rule, which will apply to the whole territory of each sovereign member State of such a community of nations. According to probability and the circumstances it is foreseeable that this such a rule of positive law will be enunciated as follows: Within its own territory and for its own citizens every state will regulate religious and moral matters with its own law; nevertheless in the whole territory of the Community of member States, it will be permitted to citizens of each state the practice of their own belief, and ethical and religious practices, in as much as these do not go against the penal law of the State in which they are residing.” According to the Roman Pontiff, Catholic citizens and rulers of Catholic States can consent [to the international community] from conscience of the same law.18
The Relatio on this text (of the prior text) explained another reason why they do not speak of a religious tolerance- a criterion which was kept even to the end – and preferred to speak of religious liberty. The reason is, precisely, that it claims to give an answer to a question that has risen recently, which was not raised in previous periods:
There are those that doubt this formula of “religious liberty” and reckon we cannot proceed in this matter except about “religious tolerance.”

Still, is it not to be observed that religious liberty is the term which obtains modern and well determined signification in today's vocabulary? In this pastoral Council the Church intends to say what she judges about this matter which ecclesial groups, governments, institutions, journalists, experts of law in our time designate by this word. If we direct our speech to modern society, we ought to use their manner of speaking.

Therefore we treat of religious liberty as a formal juridical notion, which enunciates a right which is founded on the nature of the human person, which must be observed by all, and in some way acknowledged in the fundamental law (Constitution of States, with juridical guarantees)
so that there may be a common civil right. Its recognition, protection and promotion ought to be ensured by society in general and specifically by governments.19
Finally, the doctrine of DH does not require the disapproval of the conduct in the past by some Christian princes, granted that the historical evaluation is in itself complex and, in the most part, debatable, although the possibility that few concrete actions have conformed to the pirit of the Gospel cannot be denied a priori.20

1 Leo XIII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, 1-XI-1885: ASS 18 (1885) p. 172

2 John XXIII, Encyclical Pacem in terris, 11-IV-1963: AAS 55 (1963) p. 299; cf. Also, John Paul II, Message à l'ONU, 2-XII-1978: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II 1 (1978) p. 259.

3 Council of Trent, Decretum de peccato originali, can. 1: DS 1511.

4 cf. Council of Trent, Decretum de iustificatione, can. 5: DS 1555.

5 cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ I q. 3 a. 4 and III q. 8 a. 3

6 Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, vol. IV, pars VI, p. 725.

7 Pius XII, Allocution Ci riesce, 6-XII-1953: AAS 45 (1953) p. 799

8 Acta Synodaliacit., vol. IV, pars I, pp. 189-190

9 Cf. J. Hamer, Histoire du text de la Déclaration, in AA.VV., “Vatican II. LA liberte religieuse,” cit., p. 104.

10 Acta Synodalis, cit., vol. IV pars I, p. 190

11 Acta Synodalis … , cit. Vol IV, pars VI, p. 744.

12 Acta Synodalia..., cit., vol. IV, pars VI, p. 769.

13 Acta Synodalia..., cit., vol. IV, pars V, p. 154.

14 Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, S. Th. I-II q. 96, a. 2; a. 3

15 Pius XII, Alloc. Ci riesce, Dec. 6, 1953: AAS 45 (1953) p. 799

16 Acta Synodalia..., cit., vol. II, pars V, p. 492.

17 Acta Synodalia..., cit., vol. II, pars V, p. 494.

18 Acta Synodalia..., cit., vol. III, pars II, p. 327.

19 Acta Synodalia..., cit., vol III, pars II, pp. 349-350.

20 cf. Paul VI, Discorso, 8-18-1971: “Insegnamenti di Paolo VI” 9 (1971) p. 705.


  1. Re: "lay ideology" and "lay intent"
    Ought "lay" here be "secular" or even "secularist?" I haven't looked at the Latin, but I know in both French and Italian that "laicitè" and "laicitá" and the corresponding adjectives indicate a strict secularism such as that practiced by the French and Italian republics. That seems to be indicated by the context (the discussion of Leo XIII's concerns while writing), and, to my ear, "lay" in English just doesn't capture the hostility towards the Church of 19th Century European republicanism.

    In any case, many thanks for taking the time to translate and post this. It's much appreciated.

    1. That is a good point. The Latin was laicistica. I wasn't able to find it in any of my Latin dictionaries, so just took it as an adjectival form meaning lay. I figured it must mean something like secular or anti-clerical, but couldn't find a source. But thinking about it again, I think you are right it should be rendered secularist.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.