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

Friday, July 25, 2008

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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