Tuesday, February 10, 2015

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY Response to the dubia presented by His Excellency Archbishop Lefebvre- Pars I

Response to the dubia presented by His Excellency Archbishop Lefebvre

At the request of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, I have studied with care the large dossier prepared by His Excellency Msgr. Lefebrve, in which a certain number of dubia are presented on the possibility of reconciling Vatican II's doctrine on religious liberty and the prior magisterium.

Already in the different stages of the preparation of the Declaration Dignitatis humanæ, this question was very present and the definitive text of the Declaration itself, within its preamble, explicitly affirms that “the Council of the Vatican searches the sacred tradition and holy doctrine of the Church from whence it draws from the new in constant accord with the old” (DH no. 1). Likewise, afterwards, many theological studies, in commenting on the conciliar Declaration, tried to show how the indisputable newness which this document represents was in continuity and harmony with the prior magisterium.1

However, in order to respond to the question posed by Msgr. Lefebvre, it is not sufficient to publish from what is already handed down in the existing bibliography, and it was judged necessary to conduct a more detailed study, the result of which will be presented in the following pages.


The dubia expressed in Msgr. Lefebrve's brief are different formulations of the same question: are the general perspective and the particular affirmations of Dignitatis humanae reconcilable with the prior magisterium?

In reality, they seem to express, in the manner of a question, a profound conviction that the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI have endorsed “liberal values (such as religious liberty),” which would, in reality, be “incompatible with the vision of the person and the city” as the popes of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century defended, under pain of condemnation.

This conviction is the object of a demonstrative essay within which the first part strongly emphasizes the idea of the Kingship of Christ and, indirectly, of the subordination of the temporal to the spiritual.

Three points, in particular, are attributed to the Council:

1. The dignity of the human person, as presented in Dignitatis humanae, consists uniquely in his nature alone, independently of his adhering to the true and the good. Consequently, the Council admits a moral liberty for error or evil, even a right to spread false doctrines.
2. Within this perspective, the truth would itself be relative: “The truth is no longer one, the Catholic religion no longer the only true one,” other religions have “values of salvation,” a “signification within the mystery of salvation, they are different paths for coming to God.”

3. From this, the principle of agnosticism and religious indifference of the State is also encouraged: it may act independently of the Church and place on the same level other religions (false religions). As such the state does not honor God with the worship of true religion unless it recognizes the Catholic religion as the religion of the State, positively fosters the good within the temporal order, and lends the aid of the secular arm against those who disturb the Evangelical order and the Kingship of Christ. The dubia also ask, if Dignitatis humanæ (in particular n. 13) does not exclude a particular protection of the Catholic Church by the State, contrary to the teaching of Leo XIII on the recognition and special favor due to the true religion by the State.

Apart from these general points, the Dubia question the “troubling parallelism” which arises from a comparison of different propositions condemned by Pius IX in the Encyclical Quanta cura with corresponding affirmations in Dignitatis humanæ.


1. Granted the many aspects involved in the dubia, they all lead to an exposition of practically the entire doctrine of religious liberty, with many and inevitable repetitions. Moreover, an attempt to focus each response on an aspect more directly involved in each dubium could, in many cases, prove to be insufficient. Frequently, ideed, the dubia contain apparently secondary nuances, which are crucial for the response to be affirmative or negative.

2. Consequently, not only for reasons of brevity (to avoid repetitions), but above all for reasons of clarity and rigor of exposition, we prefer to give a detailed response to the aforementioned fundamental points. To the extent that these points will be clarified, it is certain that the other aspects of the dubia also will be, since they are consequences of the preceding fundamental points. However, because of the close relations which exist between these fundamental points, we cannot always avoid certain repetitions.

3. The study, long and meticulous, of which these pages are the result, was conducted with the deep conviction that the proposed problem necessitated the application of all the traditional criteria in interpreting texts of the magisterium2, in particular, the consideration of their historico-doctrinal context and their objective. However, this cannot make us forget that, frequently, the Roman Pontiffs, in the questions that occupied them, as in so many others, on the occasion of errors in contingent situations, issued teachings which went beyond this contingency, teachings more general, of permanent value, independently of historical circumstances. However, within the same cases, the awareness of these circumstances can be necessary to comprehend the precise content proposed permanently by the teaching.

4. Moreover, with the study of these questions, it will be necessary to also keep in mind that, as we know, the Tradition of the Church, of which the magisterium is the organ and the authentic interpretor of the faith, is a living reality. This Tradition cannot be a simple repetition, but includes a doctrinal development with continuity, as the history of the Church amply proves.3 The fact that on the question of religious liberty, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council represents, indubitably, a certain newness relative to the prior magisterium, cannot be a problem if it is a newness which is formed within this reality of “development within continuity.”
1 Cf., for example, the volume Vatican II. La liberté relígieuse, series “Unam Sancta,” n. 60, Ed. By Cerf, Paris 1967, in particular the article by John Courtney Murray, Vers une intelligence du développement de la doctrine de l'Eglise sur la liberté religieuse, (pp. 111-147). Cf. Also Nicolau, Magisterio eclesiástico sobre libertad religiosa. Conciliación armónic de sus enseñanzas, “Salmanticensis” 17 (1970) ppg 57 ff.
2 Cf. For example, S.C.D.F, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiæ, 24-VI-73, n. 5.

3 Cf. Vatican I, Constituion Dei Filius, chap. 4: DS 2020; Vatican II, Constitution Dei Verbum n. 8

Pars II

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