A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Friday, July 25, 2008

Religious Freedom (Part IV)

Conclusions & Application to Modern Circumstances

If now, after our discussion of the question, to what extent the Church must use external compulsion against the abuse of religious freedom, and whether Catholics may regard religious freedom as essential, we wish to answer the questions as they apply to our own times, we have to present the following conclusions:

1. In general, the Church regards the acceptance of religion as a matter for inner self-determination, and would contest the right to use external force by either the state or by ecclesiastical authority. [Ed: Created according to God's own image, the right to inner self-determination is man's ontological dignity and would appear to be the ultimate foundation for Religious freedom: "Christianity accords to man his full right of self-determination and recognizes in this right his fullest dignity and nobility. In fact, Christianity by its doctrine of eternal damnation recognizes the ultimate consequence of this right, because this teaching implies that God will even permit men to eternally contradict Him rather than violate man's sacred right to self-determination." (Von Ketteler, Sermon on "The Christian Concept of Human Freedom", December 17, 1848, op. cit., p. 47 )]

2. The punishment of heretics by the Church in relatively few instances was not undertaken to effect conversion by external force, but rather in the sense that a Christian accepted certain responsibilities when he was baptized, and that he ought to be held accountable for them. Such external punishment, however, only took place in special circumstances and in the case of proclaimed formal heretics in the sense which we discussed above. Validly baptized Protestants are still by virtue of baptism in a certain union with the Church. However, even aside from all other reasons which ought to make it abundantly clear that the Catholic Church has not the remotest inclination to wish to use force against them, the very notion of formal and punishable heresy cannot be applied to them. Any suggestion to the contrary is therefore an irresponsible scare tactic.

3. Heresy as a violation of civil law presupposed unity in Faith, and with the disappearance of that unity it too has become a dead letter.

4. Where other religious organizations exist legally, a Catholic ruler is required to give them the full protection which the law affords. If he were to use external force against them he would violate the principles of his Church. [Ed. Civil rulers have an obligation to defend the rights of the Church and other legally established religious societies: "The state must see to it that the Church's rights are safegaurded not merely because God demands this, but because the state's own well-being requires it. If it separates itself from the Church and from the religious convictions of its subjects, it separates itself from God and thereby destroys its own foundation. Finally, the state is obligated to protect these rights and to support the Church on behalf of its own citizens. They have a right to expect that the state will respect their religious convictions, and to the protection and support of their ecclesiastical society. The state is not some arbitrary abstraction which floats on clouds but rather a reality determined according to the needs of the people who make it up. Therefore, to separate it from their highest interests represents delinquency to duty on the part of state authority. What I have said here regarding the obligation of the state to protect the rights of the Church and to support it, is meant to apply not only to the Catholic Church. It applies to any religious society once it is recognized as such by the state, provided only that such a society upholds the requirements of natural morality and honors the one true God, as we discussed earlier." (Von Ketteler, op. cit., p. 243)]

5. In this sense, there exist in Germany along with the Catholic Church also the Lutheran and the Reformed Church. A Catholic ruler, without question, owes them full legal protection as well as love and concern for their well-being.

6. To what extent civil authorities wish to afford to other religious groups the free legal right to operate, the Church leaves this up to their own free self-determination. There is no ecclesiastical principle which would prevent a Catholic from upholding the principle that under given conditions, the civil authorities would best afford full religious freedom to all, subject to the conditions we have now to mention.

7. We have to insist upon the limits of religious freedom referred to earlier, whereby it is an abuse of that freedom if the state, under the guise of religious freedom, tolerates sects which deny the existence of a personal God, or which jeopardize morality. Such conduct stands in open contradiction to the obligations of civil authority, first of all by virtue of the origin of civil authority. Ultimately, all authority comes from God, and therefore, there can be no more flagrant abuse of that authority than to tolerate the denial of God. Secondly, the ultimate goal of civil authority sets certain limits. That goal is to preserve peace and justice on earth, and neither of these is possible without morality; and morality is impossible without fear of the Lord.

8. The Church will not cease, however, to use that force upon its own members which Christ Himself has entitled her to use, namely, to expel from her midst those members who deny their Faith.

Related Church Documents:


CI RIESCE (1953)


ADDRESS TO THE ROMAN CURIA (December 22, 2005)

Other Readings:

On Human Freedom (Von Ketteler)

Religious Toleration, Catholic Encyclopedia (1912)

Religious Freedom: Innovation and Development (Avery Cardinal Dulles)

Various Articles

Table of Contents:

Religious Freedom (Part I)

Religious Freedom (Part II)

Religious Freedom (Part III)

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Religious Freedom (Part III)

The Middle Ages and Continuity in Principles

These principles which suggest that no manner of compulsion may be employed against unbelievers to force them to believe, and that even their form of worship, so long as it is not immoral in itself and does not reject worship of the one, true God, must be tolerated, seems at first glance to contradict the conduct of the Church and of temporal rulers toward heretics during the Middle Ages. If we take a closer look at the basis for their actions we shall see that there was in fact, no contradiction. By the same token, that basis for action no longer exists in our time, so that the use of external compulsion in matters of faith are no longer an issue at present. [Ed: Bishop Von Ketteler's goal here is to demonstrate "continuity" of doctrine and of principles, where some who at first glance may see what only appears to be "contradiction".]

Before we demonstrate that, we have to examine the legal nature of the kind of heresy which alone, according to the principles of the Church, justified punishment because it was an offense against the Faith. Heresy in this sense involved two factors. First, there was a stiff-necked persistence and perseverance by a baptized Christian in error as determined by prior, thorough investigation. Secondly, implicit in this stiff-necked posture, there was active rebellion against the authority of the Church. It is apparent that there is a great difference between one who is in error in the matter of Christian dogmas and a heretic who was subject to punishment. Innocent error is not only not punishable heresy; it is not even an infinitesimal moral violation. Punishable heresy entailed a clear perception of the Christian truth that was in controversy, stiff-necked rejection of it, and at the same time a rejection of the authority of the Church. In the Church's view the real malice of heresy lay actually in rejection of the Church's teaching authority, because the whole body of Christian teaching rests on that authority, and that authority is the arbiter of all disputes and the very essence of the Magisterium. Therefore, where there is no insight into the nature of the Church's authority, where only prejudices prevail, and where the Church's authority is considered to be tantamount to arbitrary human judgments and the judgments of priests, there can be no question of punishable heresy. It is clear that the concept of punishable heresy does not apply when we are dealing with persons who did not themselves choose to leave the bosom of the Church, but who are the descendants of those who centuries ago made that decision. Whether and to what extent their false beliefs constitute sin, only God who sees into the human heart can judge. Externally, it is impossible to pass judgment. Even though the Church regards all those who are validly baptized as members of the one, holy, Catholic Church and therefore as basically and before God subject to ecclesiastical authority, there has never been any intention to exercise external force to punish them. Toward them, the Church can only adopt the position which it takes toward all unbelievers. It is left to their completely free self-determination whether they wish to return to the Faith. [Ed: This section draws attention to the important distinction between "formal" and "material" heretics. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Heresy" (1910) quotes St. Augustine and Pope Pius IX as follows on the matter of material heretics: "Towards material heretics her conduct is ruled by the saying of St. Augustine: 'Those are by no means to be accounted heretics who do not defend their false and perverse opinions with pertinacious zeal (animositas), especially when their error is not the fruit of audacious presumption but has been communicated to them by seduced and lapsed parents, and when they are seeking the truth with cautious solicitude and ready to be corrected' (P. L., XXXIII, ep. xliii, 160). Pius IX, in a letter to the bishops of Italy (10 Aug., 1863), restates this Catholic doctrine: 'It is known to Us and to You that they who are in invincible ignorance concerning our religion but observe the natural law . . . and are ready to obey God and lead an honest and righteous life, can, with the help of Divine light and grace, attain to eternal life . . . for God . . . will not allow any one to be eternally punished who is not wilfully guilty' (Denzinger, "Enchir.", n. 1529). X.”]

On the basis of this conception of punishable heresy by temporal authorities in earlier times, such authorities regarded it as a civil matter and therefore felt justified in inflicting severe external punishment up to the death penalty itself. Even in Roman law, after the conversion of the emperors to Christendom, heresy came to be regarded as a civil offense. The same view was taken over into German common law, and from there it eventually found its way into laws promulgated by German emperors. It is a conception which developed spontaneously because of the unity of belief that was deeply and universally imbedded in the whole culture, without the Church having had to demand compulsion and the pain of punishment even though she later accepted that as justified. A diversity of various Christian confessions -- or if one prefers, churches -- was totally unknown to people in those times. People all lived with the conviction that there was just one, holy, Christian Church which was spread over the whole world and which alone was the true Church. This Christian Church was regarded as a gift from heaven which was the great common benefit and possession of all Christians everywhere and the repository and custodian of all of their greatest treasures. How could it have happened otherwise then that men came to regard as a crime, also in the temporal order, an attack upon this great spiritual temple of God here on earth, which was also rightly regarded as the bastion of all social order, especially since the attacks came from its own children and members. Would it be surprising that men came to regard the adulteration of the common Faith as a more serious punishable offense than the counterfeiting of currency, as St. Thomas pointed out? The unbaptized retained their full freedom. Baptized Christians, however, were regarded as bound by their baptismal vows to be loyal to the Church. They were, therefore, considered the more as criminals when they fell into heresy, the more highly one came to regard the great benefit of which these heretics were trying to deprive everyone. Even though people recognized and accepted unconditionally the truth that the Faith is basically a matter for free self-determination, they saw the situation as essentially different for those who by baptism into the Church had taken on the sworn responsibility to remain true to their Faith until death. Aside from that, the right of all the faithful to be secure in their beliefs and to have them jeopardized took precedence over the religious freedom of the individual. If ever any law emanated from the general consensus of all men in those times, the civil laws against heretics would have to be regarded as such laws. One may rightfully regard them as natural laws in the proper sense of the word, because whenever men have lived together in civil society, even among the pagans, they have regarded it as their right to protect from attack by individuals the religious conviction which they all shared. If it is at all legitimate to question this practice, the attack ought to be launched not against the Church, but against the legal and national consciousness of all peoples who have enjoyed unity in religious beliefs.

We must also draw attention to the fact that the actions by temporal authorities against heresy were not exclusively, and often not even chiefly, directed against denial of the Faith. Many other kinds of misconduct were included in the proceedings, as, for example, crimes of immorality. The heretic trials of the Middle Ages were far more frequently penal actions against abominable crimes of immorality than against actual sins against the Faith. Later inquisitional proceedings in Spain, the horrors of which incidentally have been too much exaggerated, have nothing immediately to do with the Church and with its principles. They were simply the outcome of an ever more prevalent state absolutism which, here too, pretended to be acting in the interests of the Church so as to gain limitless power and, eventually, under this mantle, to acquire total power.

From what we have said, it is clear that treating heresy as a civil matter is no longer legitimate once the unity of the Faith has been shattered. Disunity destroys the essential prerequisites, and in Germany this began with the Religious Revolt. By order of the Capital Court of Charles VI in 1532, heresy already appears to have been removed from the area of civil proceedings. [Ed: Other laws that presuppose religious unity also begin to lack foundation once that basic unity has been shattered. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1912) states: “…the coexistence of the most varied religious beliefs in every land have imposed the principle of state tolerance and freedom of belief upon rulers and parliaments as a dire necessity and as the starting-point of political wisdom and justice. The mixture of races and peoples, the immigration into all lands, the adoption of international laws concerning colonization and choice of abode, the economic necessity of calling upon the workers of other lands, etc., have so largely changed the religious map of the world during the last fifty years that propositions 77-79 of the Syllabus published by Pius IX in 1864 (cf. Denzinger, op. cit., 1777-79)…do not now apply even to Spain or the South American republics to say nothing of countries which even then possessed a greatly mixed population (e.g. Germany).”] The unity of the Faith was lost to Christendom because of men's fault, something which God rightfully permitted to happen. As it was originally won not by force, but simply by the power of the word of God and by God's grace, and by the virtues of Christians, and the blood of martyrs, so, without a doubt, it will be restored once again. [Ed: “Christendom” will reemerge when Christian principles once again begin to inform all aspects of social life, however, it will reemerge in a form adapted to the requirements of our age. The implication here is that “Christendom” in our time does not call for a return to the “social and political institutions of a bygone era…we cannot tell beforehand what civil and social institutions the spirit of Christianity may give rise to when it has again permeated all of humanity…All of those first principles and laws are in themselves unchangeable. Only their application is remarkably adaptable in many different ways.” (Ketteler, op. cit., p. 114) In this sense, it would not be appropriate to elevate any particular form to the level of “absolute ideal” in the contingent order. In other words, ideals in the order of “abstractions” must find a proper application in the order of “facts” by giving due consideration of concrete circumstances and the just requirements relative to hic et nunc. (Cf. Pope Leo XIII, AU MILIEU DES SOLLICITUDES, 1892, #14-15; See also Pope Benedict XVI who recalled these principles in his Address to the Roman Curia on the 'Hermeneutic of Continuity' given December 22, 2005) Christendom, therefore, can be manifested according to a variety of forms. Journet distinguishes between two basic types of “Christendom” depending upon the existence of unity or plurality of religious belief among a people: “Under the influence of the kingdom of grace, that is to say, in a Christian climate, we can envisage the flowering of two general types of political regime. Those of the first type—which are not to be dreamed of save in a region populated exclusively or mainly by Christians, indeed by visible members of the Church of Christ—seek to form a political unity of Christians alone, or visible members of the Church alone; granting civic rights to no others. Those of the second type would try to weld into a political unity all the inhabitants of a region, granting citizenship to all no matter what their religion, but directing them to temporal and political ends which Christianity would regard as legitimate and would not disavow. In the first case, Christian values permeate the whole political order; the notion of Christianity, of visible membership of the Church, enters into the very definition of the citizen. That is the Christian consecrational conception of the temporal regime. In the second case, Christian values affect the political order from without, to sustain, enlighten and sublimate it; the notion of Christianity, of visible membership of the Church, remains outside the definition of the citizen; it designates only a perfect way of being a citizen, distinguishing a spiritual family of citizens. That is the Christian secular conception of the temporal regime. We may use the word "Christendom" in a limited and recent sense, not directly of the Church nor yet of her successive stages of development and internal organization, but directly of a certain temporal regime of peoples who welcome her, a certain cultural complex which she maintains and inspires, a Christian civilization, a Christian world. In this sense there are two possible realizations—not univocal, but proportional and analogical—of the idea of Christendom, two specifically distinct types of Christendom: the consecrational and the secular.” (Cf. Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, Sheed and Ward, 1955, pp. 214-215)] Until that happy day comes, we will have to bear with each other as best we can, and the State will have the obligation, above all, to preserve the religious freedom of all. [Ed: Charles Cardinal Journet makes the same point by using the metaphor of the wheat and the tares that have become increasingly mixed together in our time: "Consider the hypothesis of a civil society, a cultural world, whose aim it was to bind together politically a religiously disparate multitude, and in which the ruler, even were he Catholic, would represent only the political union of that multitude. None can doubt that such a union has become legitimate and necessary today. Since the days of the medieval Church, a field in which wheat alone was sown, but enclosed in the narrow limits of the West, Providence has prepared a new era in which tares are to be mixed with the wheat but the field is to cover all the earth. On this hypothesis, it is clear that heresy, no longer anti-constitutional simply as heresy, cannot be justly made the object of a constitutional repression, either on the initiative of the State or the injunction of the Church. This applies to any sort of repression whatever, and with all the more reason therefore to repression by the sword." (Cf. Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, Sheed and Ward, 1955, pp. 283-284)]

It is an absurdity therefore to want to assert that the Catholic Church finds it necessary, or at least nurtures the intention, to secure the services of some ruler who will use temporal power to punish those who abandon the Catholic Faith. [Ed: While such recourse to the "secular arm" is not essential to the Church or her mission, the Church does demand, however, that temporal rulers respect her essential freedom and rightful autonomy. Von Ketteler states: “Freedom of the Church means the right of the church to manage her own affairs according to her own principles and to be subject only to the general laws of the state. We distinguish between freedom of the Church and privileges. In earlier times, the Church enjoyed various privileges which developed spontaneously because unity of Faith prevailed. Those are virtually extinct in our time, but the Church is able to survive without them. Nevertheless, let us not confuse privileges with legitimate rights, as often happens nowadays. The Church is entitled to the protection of her legitimate rights, just as any other legal personality.” (op. cit. p. 225) In his 1953 “Ci Riesce” Address to Catholic Jurists, Pope Pius XII stated that Concordats are an "expression of collaboration between the Church and State...The Concordats, therefore, must assure to the Church a stable condition in right and in fact in the State with which they are concluded, and must guarantee to her full independence in the fulfillment of her divine mission."] The fact is, if we except the period of the Reformation and the Peasant Wars, that Catholics have in recent centuries used no force against others; and least of all have there been such actions on the part of the Church or of the popes. In England, Sweden, and other countries, on the other hand, the most gruesome criminal legal proceedings were taking place not only against who fell away from religion but against those who remained loyal to the Faith of their fathers. These horrors were perpetrated under laws which prevail practically until our own time. The least one could do would be to not ignore historic facts so stubbornly!

As regards the use of spiritual compulsion against heretics in the context that we have been discussing, the Church has always affirmed the authority to use such force on those who are by belief and by baptism her own members. Such force consists in spiritual and ecclesiastical penalties which have as their special purpose to bring about their spiritual improvement. The most severe of these punishments is excommunication. The Faith is the foundation of the Church. Therefore, as every organization which wishes to survive has the right to protect by expulsion those members who are at odds with its basic constitution, so the Church too must have the right to expel members who make an assault against her foundations. Even when the Church used external means of compulsion, this too was done for improvement and enlightenment purposes, not in the sense that the Faith has to be forced on people or that it is something other than an act of inner conviction. The family as well as the State uses external means of punishment also to bring about inner moral betterment. In any case, the possibility of employing such external means of compulsion was contingent on the state's making such power available, and it comes to an end once the state withdraws its external assistance.

Table of Contents:
Religious Freedom (Part I)
Religious Freedom (Part II)
Raligious Freedom (Part IV)

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Religious Freedom (Part II)

Concerning the Unbaptized

We regard St. Thomas, as certainly the most reliable exponent of Catholic teachings, and he lived in the very times (d. 1274) when it is maintained nowadays, albeit wrongly, that the Catholic Church exercised limitless power. He answered the questions: whether the unbeliever may be forced to accept the true religion as follows:

The non-believers who, like the pagans and the Jews, have never accepted the true Faith may in no way -- nullo modo -- be forced to accept it, since Faith is a matter of free consent by the will. (ST. ii-ii., 10)

The noted and learned Jesuit Suarez addressed himself to the same question 400 years later when he was discussing the power of the Catholic Church and Christian rulers. He said: "It is the universal opinion of theologians that non-believers, whether they are one's subjects or not, may not be forced to accept the Faith even if they have attained sufficient knowledge of it." (Suarez, Tract. de Fide Disp. 18 Sect. III, n. 4.) [Ed: To know the Gospel merely in its exterior form is not sufficient, in itself, to beget conviction or bind in conscience: “The Indians are not held to believe as soon as they have heard the preaching of the Christian faith, so that they would sin mortally against the faith from the sole fact that it is announced to them and that they are assured that the Christian religion is true…They would be held to believe only if the Christian faith had been proposed to them with worthy witnesses to persuade them. Yet I do not hear that miracles have been performed among them or that they have been shown extraordinary examples of sanctity; on the contrary, they have been given a spectacle of scandals, horrible crimes, and innumerous impieties.” (Cf. Francisco de Vitoria, De Indis, 1532; See also, Charles Cardinal Journet, Theology of the Church, Ignatius, 2004, pp. 299-300)] He then enumerated a long list of the most reputable theologians who supported this position and came to the conclusion that: "This opinion is therefore completely true and certain." To make it the more conclusive, he added: "We regard it, first of all as intrinsically evil -- intrinsice malum -- to wish to force non-believers who are not one's subjects to accept the Faith, because such force, to be applied, presupposes the existence of legitimate authority, as must be obvious. The Church, however, does not possess legitimate authority over such persons." (ibid. n. 4) He continues: "Secondly, the Church cannot compel even non-believers who are subject to her temporal authority to accept the Faith. That is because the direct use of force presupposes full authority and jurisdiction, and it is clear from what has been said that the Church has not gotten such full power over her temporal subjects by any specific commission from Christ." (ibid. n. 7)

Until now we have only spoken of non-believers as individuals. St. Thomas went further now and asked whether the religious practices of non-believers must also be tolerated. In other words, we are face to face with the issues...integral to religious freedom. St. Thomas first mentioned the possible objections to his position in his accustomed manner: "It appears as though the religious practices of unbelievers must not be tolerated inasmuch as it is obvious that by their observance of these practices they are sinning; and we must conclude that he who does not prevent such a sin when he is able, himself shares in its guilt." The Saint answered:

"Temporal government has its origin in divine government, and it must, therefore to the extent that it can, imitate it. God, however, though He is almighty and infinite, permits certain evils to occur on earth, even though He could prevent them from occurring. He does this because, first of all, by preventing evil in this manner He would deprive man of greater benefits and secondly, because therefore greater evils would result." (ST. ii-ii, 10, 11)

The greater benefits which St. Thomas had in mind here are not hard to determine. God would have to deprive a man of his liberty which is the highest endowment that man has, if He were to deny a man every possibility of abusing that liberty. [Ed: Here we come back to the concept of self-determination or natural liberty as the basis for moral freedom discussed in Part I. We can recognize the “principle of double-effect” at work where God wills to tolerate evil effects for the sake of some “greater good” directly willed. In other words, natural liberty is directly willed by God and is a good, in itself, insofar as it is what makes man distinctly human and capable of freely choosing the good and the true. Yet, such liberty involves the possibility of abuse. One is not permitted to directly will the abuse -- yet one must will to tolerate the abuse insofar as God Himself wills to tolerate it – and only for the sake of the "greater good" directly willed. In this sense St. Thomas says: “God therefore neither wills evil to be done, nor wills it not to be done, but wills to permit evil to be done; and this is a good.” (ST. I, 19, 9)] Applying that principle to temporal governments, St. Thomas concluded that they too must tolerate certain evils, and he stated finally: "Even though the non-believers sin because of their religious practices, these must nevertheless be tolerated, either because of the good that they still have in them, or because of the greater evil that would result." Among such evils, he listed the scandal and discord which might result from forceful interference or, even more important, the hindrance that such interference could prove to be to the true conversion of the unbelievers.

We see here with what great circumspection the great teachers of the Catholic Church opposed that much abused viewpoint according to which anyone who holds authority is obliged to promote as much good as lies within his power. To avoid evil by the use of force involves a whole lot more than simply the possession of physical force, but also legitimate authority. [Ed: Pope Pius XII, in his 1953 Address to Catholic Jurists, affirms this principle as follows: "Could God, although it would be possible and easy for Him to repress error and moral deviation, in some cases choose the "non impedire" without contradicting His infinite perfection? Could it be that in certain circumstances He would not give men any mandate, would not impose any duty, and would not even communicate the right to impede or to repress what is erroneous and false? A look at things as they are gives an affirmative answer…Moreover, God has not given even to human authority such an absolute and universal command in matters of faith and morality. Such a command is unknown to the common convictions of mankind, to Christian conscience, to the sources of Revelation and to the practice of the Church."] Secondly, it involves the employment of means which do not promote more evil in the process of avoiding evil. It is madness to deprive a neighbor of both of his eyes in an effort to save a hand which may be endangered. Thus every authority -- where the liberty and self-determination of the human being is involved -- must pause to analyze not only the scope of its legitimate authority, but also the correctness of the means which it wishes to employ.

Since this question has such overriding importance, we shall also see what Suarez, the great interpreter of St. Thomas, had to say about it. Suarez not only confirmed St. Thomas' opinion regarding the toleration of the religious practices of unbelievers, he went further and sets the precise limits to which such toleration can go. His determination is of the greatest practical significance in dealing with the question of how far the limits of religious freedom can extend in our own time and remain in conformity with the Church's principles. In his commentary on St. Thomas, Suarez begins much in the style of the latter:

"It appears as though the religious practices of the unbelievers, notably all of the unbaptized as, e.g., pagans and Mohammedans, may not be tolerated in Christian nations since they involve superstition and injury to the honor that is owed to the true God, whose honor Christian rulers have an obligation to uphold. [Ed: In other words, Suarez is essentially dealing with the question whether the toleration of non-Christian religious practices, in itself, contradicts or violates the “traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.” (Cf. DH, 1)] St. Thomas, however, rightly distinguishes two kinds of religious practices: there are those which go against reason and against God insofar as he can be recognized through nature and through the natural powers of the soul, e.g., the worship of idols, etc. Others are contrary to the Christian religion and to its commands not because they are evil in themselves or contrary to reason as, for example, the practices of Jews and even many of the customs of Mohammedans and such unbelievers who believe in one true God. [Ed: Such "unbelievers", while not in possession of the Christian Faith, conform to the natural moral law insofar as they "believe in one true God", and with the assistance of Divine grace can attain supernatural Faith, properly speaking: "But without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that cometh to God must believe that he is: and is a rewarder to them that seek him." (Cf. Heb. 11: 6; ST. ii-ii, 2, 5)]

Regarding the first, the Church may not tolerate them on the part of her own unbelieving subjects. But that is merely the general principle. It may happen often that Christian rulers cannot prevent even such practices without causing greater harm to the nation and to the Christian inhabitants. In that case, the ruler may tolerate such evil with a clear conscience on the basis of what Christ said to the servant who asked the master whether they should remove the weeds from the field. He replied, 'No, or perhaps while you are gathering the tares you will root up the wheat with them.' (idid. sect. IV, n. 9)

As regards the other religious practices of unbelievers which go contrary to Christian beliefs but not counter to natural reason, there is no doubt but that the unbelievers, even though they are subjects, may not be forced to abandon them. Rather the Church has to tolerate them. [Ed: In other words, while both groups have the same right to inner self-determination or natural liberty, the second group has the moral freedom to act without constraint insofar as their actions conform to the objective moral order as expressed by the natural law that is inscribed on the hearts of all men and insofar as God confers the corresponding right to fulfill one’s moral obligations. Such obedience to the honest dictates of conscience is true ‘liberty of conscience’ as described by Pope Leo XIII in Libertas: "...every man in the State may follow the will of God and, from a consciousness of duty and free from every obstacle, obey His commands."] St. Gregory addressed himself clearly to this problem regarding Jews, and he forbade anyone to deprive them of their synagogues or to prevent them from observing their religious practices therein. (Lib. I Epistol. 34) Elsewhere he reaffirmed that no one should prevent Jews from participating in their religious observances. (Lib. II. Ep. 15) The reason is that such observances do not in themselves violate the natural law, and therefore, the temporal power of even a Christian ruler does not confer a right to forbid them. Such action would be based on the fact that what is being done goes contrary to the Christian Faith, but that is not enough to compel those who are not subject to the spiritual authority of the Church. This opinion is also supported by the fact that such a ban would involve, to some extent, forcing people to accept the Faith; and that is never permitted. (ibid. n. 10)

From all of what these authorities have said, we are able to derive certain important principles regarding how the Catholic Church and Christian rulers must conduct themselves in the matter of religious freedom of the unbaptized:

1. The acceptance of the Christian Faith, which is before God the greatest obligation facing any human being, must be an act of the free will and free self-determination of each individual, and no one may in any way -- nullo modo -- as St. Thomas said -- be compelled to do so by the use of external force. [Ed: Ketteler describles the concept of "self-determination" as follows: "The essence of liberty, whatever the context, lies in free self-determination stemming from inner conviction rather than from external force. Such free self-determination and free choice are the necessary prerequisites for social and political freedom. What it all means is that a man, in his personal, social, and political life, to the extent that he is able to take care of his own needs without violating the rights of others, enjoys the widest possible latitude in managing his own affairs. This liberty is therefore aptly designated as self-determination or individual autonomy." (Ketteler, op. cit., pp. 135-136)]

2. The spiritual authority of the Church, like that of any temporal authority, is limited. Those who exercise that authority may not do all that they would be capable of doing, or what they regard as useful, nor may they use any force at their disposal to accomplish such ends. The application of external force can only be justified to the extent that the nature of authority indicates. Thus, every absolutism is unthinkable, and the implications contained here are of the greatest significance. It is a basic fallacy of our times, and many of the best and well-intentioned fall prey to it -- a fallacy, incidentally, which we have grown accustomed to because of absolutism -- to look for remedies by the use of external force especially as applied by some great and powerful ruler. Far be it from us to deny the great blessing that a true Christian ruler would be, but such a ruler would be the more blessed, the more he operated within the bounds of what he could legitimately do. When a ruler, with the best of intentions, goes beyond his authority to do good, such good turn out to be spurious, and he can end up doing grave harm to both Church and state...All power has its limits, and whenever those limits are transgressed, no matter how good the intentions may be, God's will is opposed; and what was intended as a blessing ends up being a curse. [Ed: The pagan state-absolutism that had eventually given way to the Christian concept of freedom that prevailed during the medieval era slowly began to reemerge during the Renaissance only to be fueled by Protestantism and given support by the Catholic House of Bourbon: “We can see how rapidly this pagan absolutism progressed when we recognize how suddenly the principle, ‘cujus regio, ejus religio,’ gained widespread acceptance. This meant that subjects had to take on the same religion as their prince. Christianity had toppled pagan absolutism through the force of conscience. The martyrs had appeared before the Roman emperors and told them: ‘We cannot do what you command because our consciences, which are attuned to God’s will, do not permit it.’ With that kind of action, began the restoration of human dignity. The neo-pagan absolutism attacked this conscience, which had once been its downfall and declared, in effect, that subjects are not entitled to a conscience. They must believe what their prince believes. It happened, therefore, that the subjects in certain Protestant principalities were forced to change their religion several times in short order…Even the ancient Roman emperors, who insisted that the wish of the emperor was the law of the empire, did not attempt to dominate the consciences of their subjects in so crass a manner…As a Catholic, Louis XIV could not accept the “cujus regio, ejus religio” principle of the Protestant princes. Instead, he said, “L’Etat c’est moi.” (I am the state.) And he applied the principle with such thoroughness that even in France no trace of the ancient Frankish-Germanic liberty remained. The absolutism of Louis XIV became the pattern for all who exercised state authority from that time on. The absolutism of state authority became incarnate throughout Europe – with England excepted, albeit only partially – and it thoroughly poisoned the entire political system.” (Von Ketteler, op. cit., pp. 162-163)]

3. The spiritual authority of the Church which was conferred upon it by Christ extends only over her members, and even then only to the extent that Christ has given her authority. The unbaptized and the non-Christians are not subject to the Church's authority. (Ecclesia in neminem judicium exercet, qui prius per baptismum non fuerit ingressus. Conc. Trid. Sess. IV. c. 2.) Thus, she has only the right to preach the gospel to all men and to urge them for the salvation of their souls to join the Church. She does not have proper authority to use external force directly or indirectly to compel anyone to become a member of the Church, or to order anyone else to use such force. [Ed: While not subject to the law of the spiritual authority of the Church, the unbaptized must conform their actions to the objective moral order insofar as they are subject to the natural moral law: "For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these, having not the law, are a law to themselves. Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them: and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another..." (Rom. 2: 14-15)]

4. The temporal power exercised in the state, whether by Christian rulers or by others, concerns itself only with a part of the temporal well-being of the subjects, not with the supernatural truths of revelation. The scope of temporal power and the authority which is proper to it and not conferred upon it by others derives from the natural order of things and the unchangeable laws which God has implanted in that order. [Ed: The respective scope of authority for the spiritual and temporal powers was later summed up by Pope Leo XIII in Immortale Dei as follows: "The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right."] The scope of that authority can be extended if the Church chooses to confer more powers, as the Church did grant additional rights to the ancient Christian rulers -- powers which they then exercised in the name of the Church. Likewise, certain historical situations may develop which add to the state's power. Yet, the basic limitation of its authority derives from laws of God who, in laying down His plan for order in the universe, also included a proper sphere for the temporal community. No one, either the Church or the people, has a right to transgress these limits. Christ acknowledged the natural order and sanctified it. In doing so, He imparted to those who were vested with temporal authority as well as to their subjects a purity and nobility of purpose, as well as a loyal devotion to duty which the world had not known hitherto. The temporal order was blessed and ennobled by Him, but He did not enlarge the scope of temporal authority. The new powers which He brought to humanity were conferred upon His Apostles and their successors. [Ed: Cardinal Ratzinger, in contrasting Eastern and Western traditions, quotes Pope Gelasius I who explains why Christ had not consolidated and delegated all authority, both spiritual and temporal, to a single human power: "In Byzantium, the empire and the Church were virtually identified with each other, and the emperor was also the head of the Church. He understood himself as the vicar of Christ and bore the official title "king and priest" from the sixth century onward, following the example of Melchizedek, who was both king and priest (Gen, 14:18). After Constantine left Rome and the emperors no longer resided in the earlier imperial capital, it was possible for the autonomous position of the bishop of Rome as successor of Peter and head of the Church to develop there, and the doctrine of the dual authority was taught in Rome from the beginning of the Constantinian epoch. The emperor and the pope each had an authority of his own, and neither of them possessed the totality of power. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) formulated the Western view in his famous letter to Emperor Anastasius, and even more clearly in his fourth treatise, in which he responds to the Byzantine use of the typology of Melchizedek by emphasizing that it is only in Christ that the two authorities are united: 'It is Christ himself, because of human weakness (superbia!), who separated the two offices for the subsequent ages, so that no one might exalt himself' (chap. 11). The Christian emperors require the priests (pontifices) for things pertaining to eternal life. In turn, the priests adhere to the ordinances promulgated by the emperor for the temporal course of affairs. In secular matters the priests must follow the laws of the emperor, who is installed in office by God's decree, but in divine matters the emperor must submit to the priests. This introduced a separation and distinction of powers that was to be immensely important for the subsequent development of Europe, laying the foundation of that which is typically Western. Since such demarcations did not suppress the desire on both sides to possess the totality of power or the yearning to subordinate the other side to its own authority, this principle of separation was also the source of unending suffering." (Cf. Cardinal Ratzinger, Address to the Italian Senate in Rome, May, 2004)] Temporal rulers, therefore, do not have the authority to compel non-Christians to convert to the Christian Faith, since that is a purely supernatural concern; nor can the Church grant that authority to temporal rulers, because the Church itself does not have it.

5. On the other hand, religious freedom has its own natural limits as dictated by reason, by natural morality, and by the natural order of things. No reasonable moral freedom can go so far as to destroy moral order to which everyone has a right. [Ed: The limits to Religious Freedom were later set forth in the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom (Cf. DH, 7)] Therefore, Christians as well as non-Christian rulers and those who hold temporal authority are obliged to oppose religious teachings and practices which are in latent violation of the laws of reason and morality. For this reason, Christian rulers may not tolerate, for example, the worship of idols by their subjects, if they are able to prevent it. As Suarez said, "Reason and the natural law demand of human society that it worships the true God. Therefore it must possess the power to require people to honor the true God and to prevent the honoring of false gods. Aside from this, it is the goal of temporal authority to preserve peace and justice in society, but it cannot accomplish this without requiring virtuous conduct among its subjects. But the latter cannot live according to natural morality and virtue unless they have religion and serve the one, true God. Thus, temporal authority is justified and obligated to tolerated only the worship of the true God and to suppress the worship of false gods as unreasonable and immoral." (Suarez, op. cit. 18 s. IV. n. 7)
The same rule applies for all other religious practices which transgress against the natural moral law, but only so far as one's own subjects are concerned. (ibid. n. 3)

On the basis of these principles, the Church fully protects the religious freedom of unbelievers in the sense the Guizot required. [Ed: In a previous section the author had outlined the requirements of Religious Freedom proposed by Guizot as an example of what is commonly understood by the term] We have purposely taken pains to discuss this matter at length to show that we are not dealing with a casual opinion, but a matter which has been subject to painful scrutiny and one which rests on important principles. The Church places so high a value on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion that she rejects as immoral and illegitimate any use of external force against those who are not her members. [Ed: See, for example, Pius XI (Mit Brennender Sorge, 1937) in his forceful defense of man's right -- rooted in the natural law -- to profess his Faith: "...man as a person possesses rights he holds from God, and which any collectivity must protect against denial, suppression or neglect...The believer has an absolute right to profess his Faith and live according to its dictates. Laws which impede this profession and practice of Faith are against natural law. Parents who are earnest and conscious of their educative duties, have a primary right to the education of the children God has given them in the spirit of their Faith, and according to its prescriptions. Laws and measures which in school questions fail to respect this freedom of the parents go against natural law, and are immoral."] At the same time, she recognizes definite limits beyond which religious freedom would constitute a wrong that would jeopardize the moral well-being of society. Even in the area of morality, freedom reaches its limits when it constitutes a wrong which poses a threat to society. Therefore, religious freedom too must have its limits, not only where it is a threat to the state, but also if it threatens the rights of others to the higher moral benefits of society. That becomes the case, when, as at present, sects are founded which under the guise of religion add up to a denial of Almighty God, foster crass materialism, and thereby lay the groundwork for destroying the entire moral foundations of human society. Such religious liberty is in fact immoral and unreasonable abomination which God is bound to curse; and states which tolerate it are doomed. [Ed: Such false notions of "religious freedom" condemned, for example, in "Quanta Cura" and "Libertas"]

Table of Contents:

Religious Freedom (Part I)

Religious Freedom (Part III)

Religious Freedom (Part IV)

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Religious Freedom (Part I)

"Religious Freedom and the Catholic Church"
By Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler

[Note: "Religious Freedom and the Catholic Church" by Ketteler is taken from chapter XXIII of his work "Freedom, Authority and the Church" originally published in 1862 with seven subsequent editions. All excerpts are taken from "The Social Teachings of Willhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler", University Press of America, 1981, Translation by Rupert J. Ederer. Biographical note, emphasis and comments between brackets mine.]

Biographical Note

Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (1811-1877), Bishop of Mainz, is widely recognized as the pioneer of modern Catholic social teaching and his thought has found expression in the great social encyclicals since his time. Pope Pius IX had a high regard for Bishop Ketteler calling him “everything that a Bishop should be” while Pope Leo XIII would later refer to him as “our great predecessor from whom I have learned.” (op. cit., xi; xiv)

The State of the Question
We come now to the all important question whether religious freedom...is opposed to the principles of the Catholic Church. May Catholics who wish to remain true to the principles of their church concede to those of other religions such a position in the state? May Catholic rulers legally permit to their subjects such freedom of conscience without violating their own consciences? Can there be situations in which rulers are even bound in conscience to grant such freedom? Would not such a position be completely opposed to the way the Church operated in the Middle Ages?

Moral Freedom
Before we proceed to answer these questions, we have to come to grips with an ambiguity that exists here and make clear precisely what is meant. Moral freedom is not a right to do evil, but simply the free and inner self-determination towards what is good; it involves free choice which includes the possibility of choosing what is evil without external compulsion. [Ed: Moral freedom, in this sense, presupposes the inner self-determination required for “voluntary” action of the will and it therefore excludes external compulsion or internal necessity. In this sense, Pope Leo XIII opens LIBERTAS with the concept of “natural liberty” as follows: "Liberty, the highest of natural endowments, being the portion only of intellectual or rational natures, confers on man this dignity -- that he is 'in the hand of his counsel' and has power over his actions....natural freedom is the fountainhead from which liberty of whatsoever kind flows...The unanimous consent and judgement of men, which is the trusty voice of nature, recognizes this natural liberty in those only who are endowed with intelligence of reason; and it is by his use of this that man is rightly regarded as responsible for his actions."] The freedom to make up one's own mind is, in itself, no right to choose error and to lie. It is the free inner self-determination towards what is truth without external compulsion. [Ed: Moral freedom also presupposes the freedom to recognize truth through a process of conviction and without external compulsion or internal necessity: “Just as the Catholic Church holds with reference to moral freedom that what goes against a man's conscience is sinful, so she also teaches as the Apostle Paul did about freedom of conviction, the necessity of following one's convictions - rationabile obsequium - in the area of religious beliefs. That too is a freedom of the human spirit at the second level of man's spiritual nature, namely, in the recognition of truth. As the Catholic Church makes a moral good the object of inner free choice, so too she requires that the acceptance of any truth which is worthy of man's recognition must be the object of free inner conviction in human reason. The motivations for accepting what is good and what is true must not be merely external, but they must stem from an interior disposition as is worthy of man's proper dignity. A man cannot build his house on someone else's foundation. This means that he cannot establish true moral behavior on someone else's will, or genuine conviction of what is true on someone else's intellectual grasp of the truth. No matter how proper another person's will may be and no matter how correct another person's grasp of the truth may be, a man has to reconcile his own free will and his own intellect, in other words - his own soul - to what is good and what is true, before his own judgments and actions become morally valid. God instilled this truly frightening freedom as an essential quality of human dignity; and perilous though it may be, He expects us to use it not only in our relationship to other men but even in our relationship to God Himself. The Church applies the self-same principle to man's religious beliefs…” (Ketteler, op. cit., p. 121)] The choice of what is good and what is true is at the same time our bounden duty, in fact, the highest obligation that a man has. The choice of what is evil and untrue, on the other hand, is the wonton abuse of our legitimate liberty. Only in this sense can we speak of freedom of religion. The right to adopt a false religion, to organize it, to propagate it does not exist, as such. On the contrary man's first and highest obligation is to seek out the true religion and to give all of his devotion to it. For that reason, the Catholic Church cannot cease to regard the existence of all false religions as the gravest abuse of freedom that it must fight against with all of its might. As opposed to this we are faced with the question whether the Catholic Church can remain loyal to her principles and waive the exercise of external force in the area of religious freedom, or in the area of moral freedom; whether she may leave to the individual freedom of choice in this matter of choice of religion, as she does regarding his freedom to choose between good and evil; and finally, whether, since she possesses no means of external compulsion, she must demand the exercise of such compulsion by public authorities or at the very least by Catholic rulers? That is the real nub of the problem.

We intend to consider this matter in three parts: First, the position of the Catholic Church towards the unbaptized unbelievers; Secondly, the position of the Catholic Church and the secular authorities in earlier ages toward those who were baptized but who fell into erroneous beliefs; Thirdly, the conclusions which we have to draw from these positions for pertinent situations in our own time.

Table of Contents:
Religious Freedom (Part II)
Religious Freedom (Part III)
Religious Freedom (Part IV)

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