The Intervention of Mgr. Dupanloup (Part II)
Mgr. Dupanloup identifies the “thesis” as a kind of "absolute" ideal (perfectus) in the abstract order or in the realm of “theory” and speculative ideas. On the other hand, the “hypothesis” is supposed to represent the “relative” view – that relatively best “application” of universal principles to particular circumstances (optimus). In other words, the thesis-hypothesis is simply the distinction between the absolute and the relative orders. How do these two distinct orders relate to one another and what are the linkages? To get a clearer picture of this we will need to broaden the scope and take a wider view of the metaphysical framework.
Philosophy of Analogy
This basic metaphysical framework applies anytime we need to distinguish between the “thesis” or ideal considered in the absolute sense (abstract order of speculative ideas) and the “hypothesis” or relative best application to particular circumstances (contingent, factual and practical order).
By giving one's self up to abstractions, one could at length conclude which is the best of these forms, considered in themselves; and in all truth it may be affirmed that each of them is good, provided it lead straight to its end -- that is to say, to the common good for which social authority is constituted; and finally, it may be added that, from a relative point of view, such and such a form of government may be preferable because of being better adapted to the character and customs of such or such a nation...
In descending from the domain of abstractions to that of facts, we must beware of denying the principles just established: they remain fixed. However, becoming incarnated in facts, they are clothed with a contingent character, determined by the center in which their application is produced. Otherwise said, if every political form is good by itself and may be applied to the government of nations, the fact still remains that political power is not found in all nations under the same form; each has its own. This form springs from a combination of historical or national, though always human, circumstances which, in a nation, give rise to its traditional and even fundamental laws, and by these is determined the particular form of government, the basis of transmission of supreme power.” (Cf. Pope Leo XIII, AU MILIEU DES SOLLICITUDES, 1892)
Dupanloup is generally regarded as one of the first to employ the terms “thesis” and “hypothesis” to differentiate the absolute ideal from the relative.2 Furthermore, in his “intervention” he applied these concepts and terms in the context of religious freedom and relations between Church and State. The modern error in this context had to do with absolutizing false principles (i.e., unlimited freedom or license and a false anti-Catholic conception of the separation of Church and State) and imposing these on the Church and on society.
“There are, however, those who, going far beyond these principles, aim to make unlimited freedom of worship the universal, absolute, and obligatory ideal of all nations; who would impose upon all, even the Pope and the Church, an anarchy of intellects, and the multiplication of sects, as the most perfect state of society, as the real religious and social optimism.”
Mgr. Dupanloup proceeds to describe the true ideal in this context considered in the absolute sense: The perfect unity of hearts and minds. Division can never displace the absolute goal of perfect unity and chaos can never displace the absolute goal of the perfection of order.3
No, no; The Pope is of a different opinion. For him and for the Church there is another ideal; and it is needless to ask them to transform relative necessities into absolute truths, or to elevate facts that are to be regretted, and unhappy, though tolerated divisions, into dogmatic principles.
No; the ideal of the Pope and the Church is not anarchy – it is the harmony of minds; it is not the division, it is the unity of souls. The ideal of the Pope and of the Church is found in the admirable words of Jesus Christ: “MAY THEY BE ONE! UNUM SINT! One single flock! One only Pastor – UNUM OVILE! UNUS PASTOR.” The unity of minds in the truth, and the unity of hearts by love – this is the ideal of the Pope and the Church.4
Within the thesis-hypothesis distinction it was the "hypothesis" that often generated intense theological discussion that sometimes resulted in confused or mistaken ideas in various contexts or applications. In other words, the thesis-hypothesis framework (if not properly understood) was open to abuse. In some cases the concept of analogy is forgotten and the attempt is made to apply universal principles in a univocal manner (a univocal or “ideal” way of applying principles leading to rigid ideological models). Maritain indicates that such a notion is “self-contradictory, since any application or realization is existential and takes place in time, therefore is relative to some given set of historical conditions.”7 (Cf. Maritain, Man and the State, p. 155) According to this mistaken view, circumstances that prevent the univocal and “ideal application” of principles are regarded as a temporary and practical toleration of evil. In this sense, the relative best – a good in its own right – should never be considered as the enemy of absolute perfection (e.g., the married or secular state in life is good in its own right and not considered the enemy of a more perfect state). Another mistake is to elevate some existential form or historical realization into an absolute. Mgr. Dupanloup puts it another way: "...that which might be admissible in hypothesis will often be false in thesis." Finally, there is the equivocal conception (relativism) where the relative is completely severed from the absolute and the universal principles linking these two orders have been lost or forgotten. In this case, where there are no absolutes or immutable principles – everything becomes relative and shifting with the winds.8
Development in Continuity
While Pope Leo XIII did not himself employ the thesis-hypothesis terminology, he does seem to have accepted the distinction. In Immortale Dei he expresses himself as follows: "No one has any legitimate ground for accusing the Church of being the enemy of either just tolerance or healthy and justifiable liberty. While the Church considers that it is not right to put the various forms of worship on the same footing as the true religion, it does not follow that she condemns heads of States who, with a view to acheiving good or preventing evil, in practice allow these various creeds each to have their own place in the State. It is indeed the custom of the Church to take the greatest care to ensure that no one shall be forced to embrace the Catholic faith againt his will, for, as St. Augustine wisely observes, a man can believe only of his own free will." The remarkable thing about this usage of the thesis-hypothesis distinction is that the Pope's criterion for applying it is not whether Catholics are in such a strong position in the State as to ba able to oppress non-Catholics. On the contrary, while affirming that the ideal is religious unity, he explicitly allows that a system of pluralism may have to be adopted by a State so as to ensure freedom of faith and avoidance of coercion. (Cf. Jeremiah Newman, Studies in Political Morality, Scepter, 1963, pp. 276-277)
Even though the establishment of juridical relations between Church and State is the Catholic ideal, the Catholic “thesis,” it is no necessary corollary, it seems to us, that any other arrangement is necessarily evil (per se malum). The dichotomy proposed: “either you have the ideal, or you have something per se evil” surely seems a false one. There are many gradations between ideal and evil: there is ideal (best), better, good, and only then, evil. The dichotomy is a false presentation of our position, or at least an overly rigid representation of it by some Catholic theologians. Because the Church affirms virginity to marriage, it does not mean she despises the latter, but rather venerates it highly. Similarly, though the Church praises and wishes her members to seek the ideal Church-State relationship by all honorable means, the while respecting the consciences of non-Catholics in their midst, she by no means despises or considers evil other relationships called for by particular circumstances. The Church has not just one principle to keep in mind – man’s obligation as a social being to make social profession of his religion – there are other Catholic principles: that individual persons are obliged to follow their consciences, even erroneous consciences; that no man may be constrained to accept Catholicism; and finally, that the State has the obligation to provide for the common welfare of all, not simply its Catholic citizens.10 Where, then, the ideal is unrealizable without injury to other principles, the Church is content with something good, though less good. (Cf. Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. II, Newman Press, 1957, pp. 382-383)
Van Noort then goes on to quote Pope Pius XII who refers to a "normal" form of relations between Church and State while also noting new "evolving" circumstances (i.e., coexistence resulting from progressive globalization) that require the Church to be adaptable to the requirements of time and place.
The Church does not hide the fact that in principle she considers such collaboration [i.e., between Church and State in a Catholic nation] normal and that she regards the unity of the people in the true religion and the unanimity of action between herself and the state as an ideal.
But she also knows that for some time events have been evolving in a rather different direction, that is to say towards the multiplicity of religious beliefs and conceptions of life within the same national community, where Catholics are more or less a strong minority. It may be interesting and surprising for the historian to encounter in the United States of America one example, among others, of the way in which the Church succeeds in flourishing in the most disparate situations.
The Church knows that her mission, although by its nature and its goals it belongs to the religious and moral domain, situated in the beyond and eternity, nevertheless penetrates to the very heart of human history. Always and everywhere, by unceasingly adapting herself to the circumstances of time and place, she seeks to model person, individuals and, as far as possible, all individuals according to the laws of Christ, thus attaining the moral basis for social life. The object of the Church is man, naturally good, imbued, ennobled and strengthened by the truth and grace of Christ. (ibid; Pope Pius XII, Address to Historians)
Key Take Away Points
So what are we to take away from all of this? We can summarize by defining the “thesis” as the absolute ideal of Catholic unity.11 While undergoing a certain development the continuity of the absolute Catholic ideal (the perfection of Christian unity) proposed by Mgr. Dupanloup as the "thesis" has remained constant. In fact, such an ideal is not limited to certain Catholic countries or even certain continents. The Catechism states that the "Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation." (CCC 845) More recently, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in Caritas In Veritatis that the ultimate goal of Christian unity is one that encomapasses the entire human family: “Christians long for the entire human family to call upon God as “Our Father!” In union with the only-begotten Son, may all people learn to pray to the Father and to ask him, in the words that Jesus himself taught us, for the grace to glorify him by living according to his will, to receive the daily bread that we need, to be understanding and generous towards our debtors, not to be tempted beyond our limits, and to be delivered from evil.” (cf. Mt 6:9-13)The “hypothesis”, on the other hand, should not be understood as some sort of compromise with the lesser of evils that is tolerated with great hesitation only because Catholics find themselves too weak to enforce or artificially impose the “ideal”. On the contrary, the “hypothesis” is a good in its own right that approaches the absolute ideal to a greater or lesser degree.12 Furthermore, from a relative point of view, the “hypothesis” is that best or optimal solution in the factual order (hic et nunc) since it takes into account and satisfies – not only one absolute principle considered in the abstract – but all absolute and essential universal principles taken together. What all of this means is that we should think of the various legitimate and suitable adaptations to existential forms (hypothesis) in terms of degrees of the absolute (e.g., degrees of unity) and that the specific degree reflected in a social form (e.g., specific forms given to realize the necessary mutual cooperation between Church and State) will be determined by the nature and composition of a given society.
1 Cf. AAS, Vl (1914), 38386, 4th Thomistic Thesis; Ens, quod denominatur ab esse, non univoce de Deo ac de creaturis dicitur, nec tamen prorsus aequivoce, sed analogice, analogia tum attributionis tum proportionalitis.
2 Dr. John Rao notes the following: "Taparelli began using a thesis-hypothesis distinction as early as 1850, taking it from a book by Mgr. Parisis (1795-1866) of Langres entitled Cas de conscience (A Case of Conscience)." (Cf. Rao, Theology of the Mystical Body, Ch. 4)
3 Vermeersch gives additional insights into this notion: "We may compare the thesis to an ideal, the perfect realization of which is not possible in this world...And even where complete realization cannot be obtained, it is a great blessing to come near it, and to possess in the ideal that we cherish and the reality that we accept with resignation an end of our efforts, and a rule by which we may measure our social progress". (Cf. Vermeersch, Tolerance, Benziger, 1913, pp. 252-253)
4 The essence of the Catholic ideal or "thesis", therefore, is a unity that has is basis in charity and truth.
5 Dr. Rao quotes Taparelli who makes the same point as follows: “And, truth to say, one cannot artificially enforce a unity that does not exist. In such circumstances, the Church might ask for only one thing: freedom to preach, to speak, to publish, and to teach---the same freedom that would be granted to all other groups that did not manifestly violate the dictates of reason. ‘This is the protection she demands from the governments of non-Catholic peoples’, Taparelli wrote in 1850; ‘she does not ask for violent actions to promote her; she asks no benefit to suborn others; she is strong enough with her own light and efforts’” (Rao, Op. cit.)
6 Those who opposed these views would label Mgr. Dupanloup as a "liberal Catholic", however, at the time this was commonly used in the sense of a political category and therefore should not be confused with the error of "theological liberalism", properly speaking.
7 As a result of the increasing confusion, Maritain avoided using the thesis-hypothesis terminology altogether -- simply affirming its legitimate use when properly understood. Also, he seems to have simply replaced the classical "hypothesis" term with the equivalent notion of what he calls a "concrete historical ideal." Similarly, the equivalent notion of the "thesis" he described as a civilization where the ideal of fraternal love is the dynamic principle. (Cf. Maritain, Integral Humanism) Later, Pope Paul VI would speak about a "civilization of love." In any case, the confusion in terminology is certainly evident by the following from Fr. John Courtney Murray commenting on the religious situation in the United States: "Are we to suppose that 30 Million Catholics must live perpetually in a state of hypothesis?" (Cf. Cavenaugh, Blackwell Companion to Political Theology, p. 158), It is evident that the terms "thesis" and "hypothesis" eventually had little to do with the classical formulation -- as the distinction between the "absolute" and the "relative" orders.
8 What is critical is to keep in view the absolute and relative orders at the same time. Distortions come into play when one looses the proper perspective of analogy linking together these two orders and adopting a narrow or one-sided view of the thesis-hypothesis.
9 Dr. Rao, in his analysis of Taparelli's work on the thesis-hypothesis distinction, makes a similar observation as follows: “A Catholic who is truly free will seek the transformation of society through his use of religion, education, speech, and the press. He will seek the suppression of falsehood as well. But a Catholic could use his freedom justly only when he used it in accordance with the demands of equity and charity. Equity and charity required him to modify the active use of his freedom according to circumstances of time and place. Again, if men lived as human natures, then abstract truth could be applied abstractly, and the same strategy be employed everywhere and at every moment. But the world is populated by creatures of flesh and blood, whose different problems require consideration lest a narrowly conceived “thesis” regarding how freedom is to be used and justice to be achieved lead, in practice, to disaster; to violation of the well-being of the citizenry as a whole…” (Op. cit.)
10 Van Noort here rejects any notion of a narrow or one-sided conception of the thesis-hypothesis distinction insofar as the hypothesis must always be a "good" in itself (even if it falls short of absolute perfection in every respect) that satisfies all essential and immutable principles.
11 In a social context this ideal of unity has come to be known as solidarity: "What we nowadays call the principle of solidarity...is frequently stated by Pope Leo XIII, who uses the term 'friendship'...Pope Pius XI refers to it with the equally meaningful term 'social charity.' Pope Paul VI, expanding the concept to cover the many modern aspects of the social question, speaks of a 'civilization of love'" (Cf. Pope John Paul II, CA, 10). Pope Benedict XVI is more explicit in linking solidarity to the ideal of Catholic unity: "The theme of development can be identified with the inclusion-in-relation of all individuals and peoples within the one community of the human family, built in solidarity on the basis of the fundamental values of justice and peace. This perspective is illuminated in a striking way by the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity within the one divine Substance. The Trinity is absolute unity insofar as the three divine Persons are pure relationality. The reciprocal transparency among the divine Persons is total and the bond between each of them complete, since they constitute a unique and absolute unity. God desires to incorporate us into this reality of communion as well: 'that they may be one even as we are one' (Jn 17:22). (Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Vertitate, 54)
12 Bishop Ketteler's approach to the "unity of Germany" reflect these same principles in light of the proper conception of the thesis-hypothesis distinction. (Cf. Ketteler, Freedom, Authority and the Church, Ch. 33)