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

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Letter In Defense of Bishop Ketteler


Editor, The Remnant:

I would like to respond to the letter by Arnaud de Lassus printed in the edition of June 30, 2009 where some surprising statements appear in reference to Bishop Ketteler of Mainz (1811-1877).  Naturally, since the Bishop is not able to defend himself against the charge of liberalism, and since I had originally submitted his work for publication in The Remnant, I feel obliged to make some response in order to set the record straight. 

May and Must

Considering first the question of translation Arnaud de Lassus objects to “tolerati possunt” being rendered into English as “these must…be tolerated” and instead insisting on the term “may”.  It should be noted that the English translation to Ketteler’s works are by Dr. Rupert J. Ederer.  I do not know whether the quote from St. Thomas was translated from Ketteler’s German original or if it was simply taken from some other existing English translation of the Summa.  Putting that aside, it seems to me that Arnaud de Lassus misses the point insofar as “may” simply indicates the possibility of two scenarios.  In the first case are those situations where we have a moral obligation [must] to repress error or vice.  In the second case are those situations where we have a moral obligation [must] to tolerate error or vice.  In other words, we [may] tolerate inasmuch as the duty to repress religious and moral error is not absolute or unconditional (Cf. Pius XII, Ci Riesce).  Yet in those circumstances that dictate either repression or tolerance – our response is not optional (i.e., “may” in the morally neutral sense) but has the character of a duty or moral obligation [must].  Therefore, an exact translation within the context cited (ST. ii-ii 10, 11) does not rule out the rendering of “must” inasmuch as it reflects the meaning indicated – one of two scenario where there is a moral obligation [must] to tolerate – in imitation of the divine governance – by virtue of the existence of one of the following: (a) a superior good that should not be prevented or (b) a greater evil that would ensue upon repression.  In this sense, “must” is entirely faithful to the meaning of the text insofar as it conveys a moral duty – and it avoids the possible ambiguity rendered by the use of “may” that can easily be taken in the mistaken sense of an optional choice that is morally neutral.   

Private and Public

We are then presented with a second objection in reference to Ketteler’s assertion that the Church “rejects as immoral and illegitimate any use of external force against those who are not her members.”  Arnaud de Lassus counters as follows: “According to the traditional doctrine on civil liberties, public expression of heretical and pagan rites is forbidden…”  Yet in Ketteler’s following sentence he makes the following qualification:

“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.”

Therefore, Ketteler clearly does not rule out the use of “external force” absolutely and unconditionally.  On the contrary, he outlines here the [due] limits to religious freedom.  We are left to wonder whether the objection is based on an absolute and unconditional rejection of the principle of toleration concerning the public profession of non-Catholic worship.  This runs directly counter to the teaching of Suarez (quoted by Ketteler) insofar as it entails both private and public worship: 

“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.[14]  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.”

Man is a social being according to his nature and therefore he has the duty and corresponding right to worship in private and in public according to the dictates of conscience.  Pope Pius XI stresses that this [outward profession of one’s faith] is a basic natural right rooted in the natural law: “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 the natural law” (Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, 1937).  Note that he speaks of the right as one founded on “natural law” rather than positive divine law.  Pope Pius XII affirms the same principle when outlining the basic natural rights belonging to man including the right to…“Promote the respect of the fundamental rights of the human person - that is, the right to maintain and develop corporal, intellectual, and moral life, specifically the right to religious formation and education; the right to worship God in public and in private, including charitable religious action” (Pius XII, Radio Message of December 24, 1942).

Duties and Rights

Arnaud de Lassus seems to consider, in his third objection, that the right to religious freedom, in the sense outlined by Ketteler, is necessarily opposed to the “duty of the State to uphold the One True Faith”.  This is an entirely natural question arising from an [apparent] contradiction.  In fact, Ketteler opens the chapter on Religious Freedom by posing the following set of questions:

“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?” 

Ketteler begins to tackle these head on [Part II of the article] and refers to Suarez who essentially poses the same general question in different form:

“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.” 

Suarez proceeds to answer the [apparent] contradiction by distinguishing, after St. Thomas, the two classes of unbelievers:

“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.” 

Suarez then concludes that the religious practices of the first type of unbeliever ought not to be tolerated – unless greater evils would ensue.  However, the religious practices of the second group [must] be tolerated insofar as they adhere to the natural moral law:

“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…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.”

The other key distinction made by Ketteler [Part III of the article] is a natural consequence of disunity in religious belief.    Ketteler laments the destruction of Christian unity in formerly Catholic countries, however, he also asserts that civil rulers could then only have recourse to the principle of toleration by respecting the religious convictions of all members of society.  Pius XII makes the same point as follows:

“The increasingly frequent contacts between different religious professions, mingled indiscriminately within the same nation, have caused civil authorities to follow the principles of tolerance and liberty of conscience.  In fact, there is a political tolerance, a civil tolerance, a social tolerance, in regard to adherents of other religious beliefs which, in circumstances such as these, is a moral duty for Catholics.” (Pius XII, Allocution to the Roman Rota, October 6, 1946)

The principle of tolerance and freedom of conscience in this context extends even to heresy.  Here it is important to distinguish “punishable heresy” from innocent error. The former has to do with baptized Catholics obstinately rejecting the authoritative teaching of the Church in matters of dogma. Therefore, the very notion of punishable heresy excludes those who are not visible members of the Catholic Church.  Ketteler explains that the treatment of heresy as a civil crime in former times presupposed a state constituted on the basis of unity in faith: “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...” 

From all of this it is clear that 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) does not entail an absolute and unqualified right or duty of repression of all that is opposed to supernatural truth.  Therefore, just as grace presupposes and builds on nature, the first duty of the State toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ is to uphold the natural law.  In this sense, one can’t pretend to honor and defend the spiritual, social and temporal Kingship of Christ without first having reference to His natural law – which is the participation for all rational creatures (Catholic and non-Catholic) in His Eternal Law.       

The Life and Work of a Liberal?

Bishop Ketteler is regarded as the pioneer of Catholic Social Teaching in our time and was highly esteemed by the Popes who knew him and his work.  Pope Pius IX highly regarded Bishop Ketteler calling him “everything that a Bishop should be” (Cf. Rupert Ederer, The Teachings of Wilhelm Emmunuel von Ketteler, University Press of America, 1981).  Pope Leo XIII often drew from Bishop Ketteler’s teaching and would later refer to him as “our great predecessor from whom I have learned” (Cf. Rupert Ederer, op. cit.).  So much so was his life and work esteemed that Pope St. Pius X “placed a loving tribute upon his honored tomb” (Cf. Cardinal O’Connel, Christian Social Reform, 1912).  The work of von Ketteler continues to manifest itself in the encyclicals of the Popes.  Pope Benedict XVI credits Bishop Ketteler as a “pioneer” in the leadership of the Church who recognized earlier than most that “the just structuring of society needed to be approached in a different way” (Cf. Deus Caritas Est, 27).  Based on all of this, it would be unwise to dismiss Bishop Ketteler as some sort of early “liberal”.  The better approach, it seems to me, would be to see what he has to teach us today.



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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arnaud de Lassus shouldn't be taken too seriously...

December 09, 2011 6:02 AM  

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