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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Religious Freedom: Disputed Questions (Part VII)

Religious Freedom and the Social Kingship of Christ

I would like to conclude these reflections by taking a closer look into the relationship between religious freedom and the Social Kingship of Christ.  Specifically, do the rights to religious freedom and conscience contradict the absolute rights of God?  Do “modern” political systems, as such, violate the rights of the one true Church?  According to some these appear to be mutually exclusive and necessarily opposed.  One could summarize the essence of the argument as follows:           

The Social Kingship of Christ universally demands - regardless of particular circumstances or social context – the civil recognition of the Catholic Church as the one true Church along with all of the rights and prerogatives that this entails – to the exclusion of all other religious bodies and forms of worship.  Therefore, modern pluralist systems and secular democratic states deny the Social Kingship of Christ and the absolute rights of God and His Church.  Catholics are forced to a practical toleration of such “modern” systems only because we do not currently have the necessary means to implement the “Social Kingship of Christ”.  This is the teaching of Pope Pius IX reflected in the Syllabus.    


Unfortunately, certain propositions (e.g., 77 & 78) from the Syllabus are often badly understood or taken without due regard for context, principles of interpretation and logic (Cf. The Intervention of Mgr. Dupanloup).  I would propose, however, that religious freedom, in the sense we have discussed, is rooted in God’s absolute rights over man and society.  Therefore, the Social Reign of Christ presupposes a social context consistent with the requirements of human freedom – in accordance with the will of God.  In this sense, Christ does not truly reign in society until he first reigns freely in hearts, minds and wills.1  When Christ reigns freely in hearts, minds and wills His reign will overflow [naturally and organically] into families, social institutions and the state itself.2  What this means is that pluralist systems of government may often be required precisely in order to uphold the rights of God – who wills human freedom (individually and in a social context) as a precondition to show forth the Kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies (Cf. CCC, 2105).  In order to demonstrate this more clearly we will consider a number of Catholic principles that must be taken together as a whole:


First, we should recall that man’s rights are ultimately founded upon his duties toward God.  Yet human rights are not unlimited and unqualified.  On the contrary, "duties set a limit on rights because they point to the anthropological and ethical framework of which rights are a part, in this way ensuring that they do not become license" (CV, 43).  Therefore, man’s relative rights are ultimately rooted in God’s absolute rights – and never opposed. 


Second, we may recall that God has created man in His own image and wills the natural freedom or self-determination of man as the foundation for moral freedom.3  Therefore, even in turning away from God, man retains his natural right to self-determination and freedom [immunity] from coercion in faith (Cf. DH, 2).  Bishop Ketteler articulated this point as follows: “Christianity accords to man his full right of self-determination and recognizes in this right his fullest dignity and nobility. In fact, Christianity by its doctrine of eternal damnation recognizes the ultimate consequence of this right, because this teaching implies that God will even permit men to eternally contradict Him rather than violate man's sacred right to self-determination." (Cf. Ketteler, Sermon on "The Christian Concept of Human Freedom", December 17, 1848; See also: FAQ's On Religious Freedom)   


Third, God requires man to be obedient to the dictates of conscience as the proximate and subjective norm of morality.  Therefore, man has the corresponding right to act in obedience to conscience, within due limits (See Part II of this series). 


Fourth, the right to self-determination and immunity from coercion in faith applies to all men – individually and collectively.  Therefore, the civil ruler may not simply establish his own religion – to the exclusion of all others – without due regard for the religious convictions of the body politic.  In other words, the Social Kingship of Christ is something to be freely and organically realized rather than something to be mechanically imposed upon society in an absolutist manner.  The response to such forms of absolutism in modern times has been a steady movement to recover those legitimate and essential aspects of "democracy" especially to curb “authoritarianism [that] excludes the citizens from all effective participation in, or influence upon the formation of the will of the society. Consequently, it [absolutism] splits the nation into two categories, the rulers and the ruled, and the mutual relationship between the two either becomes purely mechanical, being governed by force, or has no more than a biological basis…On the other hand, if we keep in mind the favourite thesis of democracy – which has been expounded in all ages by outstanding Christian thinkers – namely, that the original subject of civil power derived from God is the people (not the “masses”), then the distinction between the Church and even the democratic State becomes increasingly clear…The ecclesiastical power is, indeed essentially different from the civil power, and hence its judicial power is also different from the State. The origin of the Church, unlike the origin of the State, is not to be found in the Natural Law…In one point, however, the fundamental difference between the two is particularly manifest. The establishment of the Church as a society was not effected from below, as was the case in the origin of the State, but from above…” (Cf. Pope Pius XII, AAS, 1945, p. 256; See also: On Governmental Forms)



Fifth, the Church is entrusted by God with a spiritual mission and is entitled to pursue it in full freedom and with the necessary support from the civil power.4  Therefore, the state has the duty to respect the full freedom and rightful autonomy of the Church.  Additionally, political leaders must cooperate with the Church while ensuring her protection.  In his 1953 Address to Catholic Jurists (Ci Riesce), Pope Pius XII identified the essential requirements of any Concordat between the Church and the State.  Concordats are an "expression of collaboration between the Church and State...The Concordats, therefore, must assure to the Church a stable condition in right and in fact in the State with which they are concluded, and must guarantee to her full independence in the fulfillment of her divine mission." (See also: FAQ's On Church and State) 


Sixth, political leaders must favor religious truth and objective moral goodness – while at the same time respecting the rights of conscience and the religious convictions of the body politic: “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” (Cf. Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. II, Newman Press, 1957, pp. 382-383; See also Part IV of this series). 


Seventh, while the Catholic ideal (thesis) is the perfection of Catholic unity5, the optimal solution in the juridical order (hypothesis) – to analogically realize the “full freedom”, “cooperation” and “favor” towards religious truth – will legitimately vary according to the just requirements of a given social context.  For example, concordats between the Church and the state – while always preserving the essential immutable principles – often will vary in practical application depending upon the particular circumstances.  In other circumstances the Church may prudently renounce certain acquired rights or other non-essential privileges that may be potentially detrimental to her spiritual mission or no longer considered equitable within the context of a non-Catholic or mixed population (See, for example, Pope Pius XI concerning the Lateran Treaty, A.A.S., 1929, pp. 108-109; Cf., Journet, op. cit., p. 466; Also, see Cardinal Cerejeira, patriarch of Lisbon, concerning the 1940 concordat with Portugal, November 18, 1941; Jacques Maritain, Man and the State, CUA Press, 1951, p. 163).  Dr. John Rao provides some helpful insights from Taparelli in this context: “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.’” (Cf. Rao, Theology of the Mystical Body, Ch. 4; See also: The Intervention of Mgr. Dupanloup - Part II)


Eighth, within a mixed or pluralist context, prudence and justice often dictate political systems that satisfy in a stable manner the demands of tolerance and due freedom of conscience.  Far from being opposed to the Social Kingship of Christ, such systems ensure respect for human rights rooted in God’s rights as stated above.  In other words, the rights of God and the Church may dictate pluralist systems for the sake of the immutable principles themselves.6  Additionally, the reality of a pervasive and progressive globalization has created the need for national and international structures of peaceful coexistence, tolerance and religious freedom.  In this sense, Pope Pius XII affirmed that 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)



In conclusion, I would like to recall that Bishop von Ketteler had articulated the fundamental principles in connection with Religious Freedom in a manner wholly consistent with the teaching of the great theologians before his time (e.g., St. Thomas and Suarez).7  Additionally, we can recognize clear continuity between the teaching of the Bishop of Mainz and the teaching later reflected in Dignitatis Humanae (DH).  Therefore, if there is any novelty or innovation to be found in Bishop Ketteler’s teaching it is certainly not at the level of immutable principles.  On the other hand, we can find much value in Bishop Ketteler’s application of immutable principles to “new” contexts involving mixed populations within formerly confessional states.  In my opinion, this “innovation in continuity” constitutes one of the most valuable aspects of his work – and it greatly anticipates the concepts behind the “hermeneutic of continuity” given by Pope Benedict XVI nearly 150 years later. 

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)

Back to Part VI            Back to Part I


1 Cf. Quas Primas, 7, 33.  This aspect of the Social Kingship of Christ is considered from the subjective point of view -- where His objective dominion over all creation is duly recognized by individual hearts, minds and wills.  This also corresponds to the petition in the Our Father -- that His Kingdom may come.

2 This is also the triple basis of social unity: minds united in truth, wills united in the good, hearts united by the flame of charity.  Christians explicitly recognize in Christ all truth, goodness and love - and therefore the basis of all true unity.  At the same time, however, others who by grace of faith implicitly recognize Christ as Lord can also contribute towards the building up of a true social unity based upon truth, goodness and the reign of God's love: "The coming-together of such men to co-operate for the good of human society is not based on equivocation. It is based upon "analogical" likeness as between the practical principles, motions, and progressions implied in their common acceptance of the law of love and corresponding to the primary inclinations of human nature. And why should I, a Christian, according to whose faith a single Name has been given to men through whom they can be saved, even in the temporal order, why should I disguise the fact that this community of analogy itself supposes a primum analogatum purely and simply true; and that implicitly and ultimately everything which is authentic love, working in the world for the reconciliation of men and the common good of their life here below, tends, under forms more or less perfect, more or less pure, toward Christ, who is known to some, un- known to others?" (Cf. Maritain, The Journal of Religion, University of Chicago Press, Vol. 21, No. 4, October, 1941) 

3 Cf. Libertas, 1-3; In DH this is referred to as "psychological freedom" (Cf. DH, 2).

4 Pope Pius XI identifies the evils that prompted him to initiate the Feast of Christ the King: "The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God's religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God." (Cf. Quas Primas, 24)

5 According to Vermeersch 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).   In this sense, the notion of a true Catholic "confessional" state, understood as a society freely constituted on the basis of unity in the Catholic Faith, can be understood as "coming near" the absolute ideal considered in the abstract.  Such a religiously united society will naturally lead to the "special civil recognition" of the Catholic Church, however, without contradicting due respect for the religious freedom of non-Catholics in their midst. (Cf. DH, 6) 

6 By way of analogy, we can compare this to the legitimate variation in economic systems depending on the context of time and place.  For example, in one context just price determination may be fixed by a guild or occupational association.  In another context market systems may be utilized as an efficient mechanism for just price determination.  In either case, the goal of justice in pricing -- founded upon the immutable prinicple of equivalence -- remains constant.  Therefore, in changing circumstances, the systems themselves may need to change for the sake of the immutable principles themselves.  We find another example in the case of interest on loans.  Fr. Heinrich Pesch notes: "In pastoral practice, those who take modest interest nowadays need not feel concerned, in the light of the penitentiary instructions. The new Codex luris Canonici (Can. 1543) goes further...There were those who attributed the easing of the Church’s position to a concession to the sad state of affairs which came about with capitalism, or to the hardness of men’s hearts. The theologian would have some genuine reservations about such a position. The divine moral law remains ever the same and unchangeable; and the Church, according to Catholic teaching, is its true guardian through the ages…" (Cf. My Opuscula post "Solidarist Perspectives"; Pesch, LDN, 5.2, 4, 1, 5)

7 Cahill characterizes Ketteler's "Freedom, Authority and the Church" as a "classical expression of the Church's position" on the social question - where the question of religious freedom was thouroughly treated (along with many other related topics) within the context of the broader social question. (Cf. Cahill, The Framework of a Christian State, 1932, RCB,  p. 256)


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