Religious Freedom (Part IV)
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:
Table of Contents: