Religious Freedom: Disputed Questions (Part V)
In the first place, Bishop Ketteler establishes that religious unity is a blessing for society. Additionally, he establishes that societies have a natural right to preserve and protect those bonds of social unity (i.e., their common faith) from corruption. Consequently, in a context where there is lacking true religious unity among the body politic the temporal authority, as such, has no justification or foundation in natural law to employ coercive power in matters of supernatural faith (i.e., religious truth that is beyond the reach of unaided natural reason). In this sense, Bishop Ketteler says 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…” Therefore, within the context of a mixed society where religious unity is lacking, civil rulers have the obligation to protect the religious freedom of everyone (Catholic and non-Catholic citizens), within the due limits of the natural moral law. In this sense, Bishop Ketteler refers to the situation of Germany in his day when he wrote that “…today we will have to bear with each other as the best we can, and the State will have the obligation, above all, to preserve the religious freedom of all.” Here we must pause to consider an objection raised by Chris Ferrara who rejects Ketteler’s teaching on this point as “pure liberalism”. The main thrust of Ferrara's argument goes as follows:
Without even defining the term religious freedom in the first place, von Ketteler has moved from acknowledging the validity of “natural laws” protecting the faith of the Christian people from error in “those times” to an “obligation” on the part of the State not to enact or enforce such laws any longer…Notice the non sequitur implicit in the argument: Since protection of the true religion by admittedly “natural laws” has become impracticable in Catholic countries because they are no longer religiously united, therefore everyone in Catholic countries must have “religious freedom”…Now, if the current non-enforceability of “natural laws” defending true religion implied a correlative general “freedom” from such laws rather than a strictly limited toleration dictated by political prudence, then the subjects of civil authority would logically have to be given “freedom” not to be prevented from committing any offense whose punishment is deemed impractical because the subjects no longer agree that the prohibited conduct is wrong. (Cf. The Remnant, October 15, 2009, p. 14)
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1 This does not in any way diminish the importance and necessity of positive divine law or supernatural truth. What this does imply, however, is that the Church has competence in matters pertaining to the supernatural truths of revelation and it belongs to the Church to bring these truths to bear upon society by enlightening consciences. For its part, the State has an obligation to cooperate with and support the Church in the accomplishment of her divine mission (see Part IV of this series).