Religious Freedom: Disputed Questions (Part I)
It has become apparent that many approach the question of Religious Freedom with a presupposition that involves the context of a Catholic state with a (predominately) Catholic population. Unfortunately, some commentators have wrongly assumed that von Ketteler makes the same presupposition. In fact, it is because von Ketteler was primarily addressing changed circumstances within the context of a mixed population (19th century Germany) that he sought to clearly outline the truly universal principles governing religious freedom. In other words, he outlines the essential immutable principles that ought to apply in any given context (confessional or mixed). What this means is that the juridical norms within the context of a Catholic confessional state will not necessarily equate to the juridical norms called for in those social contexts involving mixed populations.
Two Types of Civil Society: Sacral and Secular
“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)
Fixed Universal Principles with Variable Application
It is clear that in all these sectors, which all together form a single problem, some kind of discontinuity might emerge. Indeed, a discontinuity had been revealed but in which, after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned. It is easy to miss this fact at a first glance. It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church's decisions on contingent matters…precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within. On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change. Basic decisions, therefore, continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change. (Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2005)
We can see this clearly in the case of the “due limits” to religious freedom that will legitimately vary according to the social context. The active use or exercise of rights (even natural rights) is not unlimited and unqualified.1 Therefore, the “due limits” inherent in religious freedom must also be applied analogically and proportionately according to the just requirements of a given social context (CCC #2109). What this means is that the “due limits” will be applied differently in the context of a confessional state than in the context of a “secular” state that is lacking true religious unity among the body politic. The sacral state, for example, will not permit the spread of heresy insofar as it militates against public order and the common good in a social context that is constituted on the very basis of unity in faith. The secular state, on the other hand, being constituted on the basis of affinities of nature, will restrict those religious practices that are in latent violation of the natural moral law.
Another example of the variable application of universal and immutable principles has to do with the particular social form and manifestation of 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). The religious duties of political societies will be fulfilled differently and according to the particular social context.2 In a sacral state the social duties to religion and “civic worship”, as such, will typically be initiated by the political authorities in a formal capacity as head of state (from above). In a secular form of society, the same social and civic duties will be fulfilled, however, these will be primarily driven by the free-initiative of the body politic itself (from below) and with the necessary support and protection from political authorities3 who have an obligation to respect the religious conviction of its subjects as Ketteler has noted: “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”.
Unfortunately, without a clear grasp of these concepts some have been lead to conclude that Ketteler’s teaching amounts to a “liberal” or “liberalizing” attempt to somehow reconcile the Church with anti-Catholic principles. Therefore, rather than grounding one’s arguments on truly universal and immutable principles that apply (although differently) in any given social context, one ends up basing his rejection of Ketteler on merely “relative” principles that are determined by and relative to a given hypothetical set of facts (i.e., a Catholic state with a Catholic population). As we shall see, this ambiguity and presupposition has important implications for many of the disputed questions that we shall now turn our attention to.
1 The legitimate possibility of capital punishment implies that even the enjoyment of the right to life itself is not without its due limits. (Cf. Dulles, Church and Society, Fordham, 2008, pp. 332-344)
2 The sacral state often presupposed a kind of "paternalistic" character for civil authority while the modern form of the secular state presupposes a democratic and pluralistic context with greater emphasis and reliance upon individual freedom and responsibility. This is not to imply that the "political authority", as such, can be indifferent to religious truth in a "secular" form of society. The political authority must fulfill its "traditional" duties toward the true religion, however, exercized in a manner that is in conformity with the just requirements determined by the social context. (Cf. De Smet, final relatio, AS IV/6:719; Dulles, Church and Society, Fordham, 2008, pp. 354, 359)
3 We can consider the American Thanksgiving holiday as an example of civic worship carried out in the context of a secular state. In this case the political authority proposes and supports this civic duty by way of the Thanksgiving Proclamation. The civic duty towards the "Lord and ruler of nations" is then carried out and fulfilled by the body politic.