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

Friday, November 06, 2009

Religious Freedom: Disputed Questions (Part I)


There have appeared in recent months a number of disputed questions within the context of Religious Freedom in the pages of The Remnant.  With a view towards making a positive contribution to the ongoing discussion, and in the spirit of full continuity with Tradition, I would like to formulate some responses to the themes that seem to arise time and again.  Many of these disputed questions have arisen in response to Bishop Ketteler’s “Religious Freedom and the Catholic Church” that I submitted to The Remnant over one year ago (September 2008). 
First off, I think all can agree that The Remnant has provided a valuable service by facilitating such an “important discussion” that was provoked by presenting the comprehensive treatment on the matter of Religious Freedom from a respected 19th century Catholic Bishop.  Furthermore, I think all sides can agree on the fundamental consistency and “continuity” between von Ketteler’s teaching (1862) and the teaching later reflected in Dignitatis Humanae (“Declaration on Religious Freedom”, 1965).   One consequence of such continuity seems to imply that any thesis of “rupture” relative to DH now must extend to von Ketteler.  An obvious problem for the thesis of “rupture”, however, is that Ketteler’s teaching has never been called into question by the Magisterium.  On the contrary, the corpus of Ketteler’s social teaching (broadly including such fundamental principles regarding the nature of man, the nature of civil society and its essential relationship to the Church, reciprocal duties and rights between institutions and members of society, the range of human freedom, socio-economic and socio-political matters, etc.) has been widely praised and adopted by the Magisterium of the Popes.   Before proceeding to discuss the key disputed questions, however, I would like to attempt to address an ambiguity.

An Ambiguity

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

The unity or plurality of religious belief among a people gives rise to different social and political forms.  The confessional or sacral state is freely constituted on the basis of unity in faith.  On the other hand, the secular state is freely constituted on the basis of affinities of nature.  Yet it would be incorrect to assert that the Church demands that the former be established universally and regardless of circumstances.  It also would be incorrect to assert that the later is an intrinsic evil to be rejected in every circumstance.  In other words, depending upon the circumstances and the nature of a given society, each of these two basic forms can have its place in view of the common good and the good of individual citizens. 
Cardinal Journet defines these two basic types of political regime: the consecrational (sacral or confessional) and the 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

Therefore, the application of principles will vary according to the social context.  One cannot hope to understand Ketteler or DH without a basic grasp of this fundamental concept: The principles are universal whereas the variable component lies within the application that must be prudentially determined according to circumstances within a given context (Cf. DH 7; CCC 2109). 
This is also how Pope Benedict identifies the key to the “hermeneutic of continuity” with Tradition.

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.

Forward to Part II


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. 


Blogger threehearts said...

really good. a very clever way to see the properly constituted teachings of today developing fully with yesterday's. This article puts to bed the false and opinionated private revelations of so many wrong headed interpretations arising since the dreadful sixties

November 08, 2009 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Ben G said...

Mr. Gurries,

I'm trying to figure out if Pope Pius VII's "Post Tam Diuturnas" is contrary to DH, since the Holy Father writes:
"We were crushed, overwhelmed and torn in two - from the twenty-second article of the constitution in which We saw, not only that "liberty of religion and of conscience" (to use the same words found in the article) were permitted by the force of the constitution, but also that assistance and patronage were promised both to this liberty and also to the ministers of these different forms of "religion". There is certainly no need of many words, in addressing you, to make you fully recognize by how lethal a wound the Catholic religion in France is struck by this article. For when the liberty of all "religions" is indiscriminately asserted, by this very fact truth is confounded with error and the holy and immaculate Spouse of Christ, the Church, outside of which there can be no salvation, is set on a par with the sects of heretics and with Judaic perfidy itself. For when favour and patronage is promised even to the sects of heretics and their ministers, not only their persons, but also their very errors, are tolerated and fostered".

I couldn't find the Constitution he's referring to to figure out exactly what "liberty of religion" he is condemning. Do you think he would be happy with the religious liberty of the 1814 Constitution of the Bourbon Restoration, which says:

5. All may with equal liberty make profession of their religion and enjoy the same protection for their worship.

6. Nevertheless the Roman Catholic and apostolic reli­gion is the religion of the state.

7. The ministers of the Roman Catholic and apostolic religion, and those of other Christian forms of worship only, shall receive subsidies from the royal treasury.

May 24, 2011 2:28 PM  
Blogger K Gurries said...

Hi Ben G. I think we need to take into account that the 19th century Popes condemned the errors of relativism, religious indifferentism and license (sometimes under the generic label of "religious freedom"). These errors remain condemned today and have nothing to do with "religious freedom" properly speaking. In any case, you may get some additional context by looking at the following from Bishop Dupanloup. He touches on this problem within the context of the coronation of Napoleon by Pius VII. Pope Pius VII received Napoleon's oath to uphold religious freedom (not indifferentism) in France:


May 24, 2011 3:13 PM  

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