Faith and Reason (Fall 1983): 222-248.
Vatican II clearly holds that there is a rightful religious liberty which, within “due limits,” even objectively false religions ought to enjoy vis-à-vis the State. In what follows, I shall refer to this claim as the “basic holding” of the Declaration Dignitatis humanae, whose title I shall shorten to DH.
It is sometimes said that this basic holding contradicts certain well-known papal teachings of the past. Some theologians accept those teachings as immutable (and I am of their number); whereupon, when they see a contradiction with DH, they dissent from Vatican II. Others regard the older Church-State doctrine as merely authentic teaching (hence fallible), or even as mere political policy dressed up as doctrine, to which they welcome DH as a corrective. The present writer rejects both these positions. I shall try to do two things. First, I shall try to show in a careful way that there is no doctrinal conflict between the immutable teaching of the 19th Century Popes and that of Vatican II. Then, secondly, I shall try to show that the doctrine of DH is a harmless addition, even a slight improvement, to the older teaching, since it disturbs no just power of a Catholic State to protect its citizens from the “corruption of morals and spread of the plague of indifferentism,” which Gregory XVI and Pius IX feared would result from too much religious liberty.
I. The Points at Issue
Let us begin by reviewing the most important of the alleged points of conflict.
In Mirari vos (August 13, 1832), Gregory XVI denounced as “delirium” the idea that liberty of conscience, especially liberty of worship, is the proper (or inalienable) right of every man, which should be proclaimed by law, and that citizens have such a right to the free dissemination of their ideas, however false, that they are to be restrained from doing so by no law, whether ecclesiastical or civil. In terms of the Second Vatican Council’s basic holding, this denunciation merely excludes the following view:
Such freedom of action as an objectively false religion ought to have (however broad or narrow that may be; we shall come to that point in due time), it in fact does have by a natural right of conscience, whereby the person’s freedom of religious speech and action transcends the scope of what positive law, civil or ecclesiastical, may rightly restrict.
Vatican II also excludes such a view. It does so in no less than three ways. First, the Council leaves untouched the restrictive powers of ecclesiastical authority (DH 14, with footnote 58 provided by the commentator, John Courtney Murray, S.J., in the Abbott edition); secondly, the Council recognizes the right of civil authority to restrict religious liberty according to the “just requirements of public order” (DH 2 and 4); lastly the Council refuses to grant any immunity to proselytizing activities of the “hard sell” variety (DH 4). It follows that the transcendentally grounded, unrestrictable religious liberty that was championed by revolutionary liberals and denounced as madness by Gregory XVI is not the same kind of liberty as that endorsed by Vatican, II.
In Quanta cura (December 8, 1864), Pius IX condemned the proposition that “the best condition of human society is that wherein no duty is recognized by the Government of correcting, by enacted penalties, the violators of the Catholic religion, except when the maintenance of public peace requires it.” Again, in terms of Vatican II’s basic holding, what this teaching excludes is the following conditional:
If objectively false religions have the freedom of action which they ought to have, then the government ought to have no obligation to punish violators of the Catholic religion, except where such violators disturb the public peace.
Vatican II also excludes this conditional by its teaching that anti-Catholic proselytism is not a protected exercise of religious liberty. For unlike riots or sacrileges, proselytism rarely if ever disturbs the “public peace.” This paragraph in DH 4 is a clear indication that the Council’s notion of “public order,” whatever its exact extent was intended to be, cannot be reduced to the classical liberal or libertarian notion of public tranquility.
More deeply, the proposition being rejected in Quanta cura comes out of a confidently secularist perspective, according to which, ideally, the Catholic Church should mean no more to the government than any other lawful corporation in society. It gets the protection of the criminal law and no more. As we shall see below, the role accorded to the Natural Law in Vatican II’s theory of government, plus the acknowledged fact that the Catholic Church is the historically indispensable guardian of the Natural Law, separates the political doctrine of DH from any such “laicist” point of view.
In n° 77 of the Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX condemned the claim that “in the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship,” i.e. to their exclusion from state ceremonies. In light of DH’s basic holding, this condemnation excludes the following conditional:
If objectively false religions have the freedom of action which they ought to have, then it is disadvantageous for the State so to acknowledge the Catholic religion that all other forms of worship are excluded from State occasions,
If objectively false religions have the freedom of action which they ought to have, then it is advantageous for the State to admit their forms of worship (sometimes) in State ceremonies.
What stands condemned, then, is a universal claim to the effect that, under the conditions of modern times, due religious freedom entails the inappropriateness or inadvisability of a Catholic confessional State — i.e. a State whose very hallmark is the Catholicity of its public ceremonies, of its prayer on official occasions, etc. The very least one can say about Vatican II is that it does not assert this condemned entailment. It does not teach the inadvisability of confessional states; on the contrary, the Council explicitly envisions their continued existence in particular places (DH 6). Even John Courtney Murray has to admit that the Council had no intention of condemning such Church establishments (see his footnote 17 in Abbott). But it seems to me that one can go further. By acknowledging that such states can continue to exist, the Council not only does not assert the ‘condemned entailment but implicitly rejects it. For if local circumstances can still make a confessional State an acceptable arrangement, then it seems to be false that all such States have become inexpedient. Moreover, if it is true that the religious liberty preached by 19th Century liberals (not to mention a large party of recent theologians) does entail this inexpediency, then we must say that Vatican II has not endorsed that kind of liberty.
This issue is important enough to deserve a further comment. From the early 1930s onward, a growing party of Catholic philosophers and theologians — Congar, Journet, Lubac, Maritain, Montcheuil, Murray, and many more — tried to advance a new theory of Church and State.
Essential to this theory was a dethronement of the Catholic confessional State from its long-held eminence as the Church’s sole official “idea” or “thesis.” Some allowed such a State to remain an ideal but not the only one; most contended that a Catholic State should no longer be, and could no longer be, an ideal at all. (Even those like Murray who said the confessional State was still a valid ideal tended to present arguments [some drawn from the nature of government, some from the value of modern history] which, if taken at face value, would render any contemporary project for a confessional State indefensible, and hence would eliminate it as an ideal, contrary to their professed intent.) In any case, the attempt to give this new theory, containing this essential claim, a status of tenability as Catholic theology involved all of these thinkers in a tortured hermeneutic not only of a long chain of patristic and scholastic texts but some especially of the major Papal encyclicals from the 19th century — texts and encyclicals which, with great cumulative power, seemed to exclude forever any but the confessional-State ideal. The very acceptability of such a hermeneutic, theologically and methodologically, has posed a problem of high moment and peril for the Church’s magisterium. It is therefore supremely important (as well as a great relief) to realize that nothing affirming or tending to bear out this essential claim of the new theory is asserted anywhere in DH. The Council document prescinds from the whole question of what is the Catholic “thesis ” or “ideal.” It says nothing about that question. Nor, by declining to repeat the doctrine of previous Popes in this document, where there was certainly opportunity to do so, can the Council be “inferred” to repudiate it or cast doubt upon it. Non-repetition does not a denial make, especially when the Council had good reasons of politics and policy to leave the matter in silence.
By virtue of this one fact — the fact that DH prescinds from the question of the “thesis” — a vast body of journalism, claiming that the Council vindicated the new theories, especially the work of John Courtney Murray, falls to the ground. The truth is that no document of Vatican II simply adopts or “vindicates” a new theology. All the documents were written in the light of the still-unsettled theological disputes which were in progress prior to the Council, written in such a way as to assert only what was common or acceptable to all the disputing parties, and written therefore in such a way as to avoid closing those legitimate disputes in anyone’s favor. (Therein lay the Council’s “revolution”; for the original schemata, drawn up by the Curia at the outset of the Council, would have closed some of these disputes to the detriment of newer theories.) In DH it is the same. Prescinding from the hotly disputed “thesis” question, the Council confined its teaching to a point which can be given an adequate rationale under either Church-State theory, the old or the new, namely a certain rightful religious liberty.
And since the untouched question is already, and on other grounds, closed in my opinion (closed in favor of the confessional State), I am free to read the Council’s answers to the questions it does address in the light of that traditional idea — as I am equally free to do, of course, if the question is not closed. For the one thing it is impossible to maintain is that the Council, by some sort of eloquent silence, closed the question the other way, against the confessional ideal.
With that issue laid to rest, let us move on.
In its n° 78, the Syllabus condemns the claim that laws passed in certain Catholic countries, giving non-Catholic immigrants freedom to conduct their form of worship openly, were wisely passed. So Catholics are bound to hold that those laws were not wisely passed. But they may have been unwise because of drafting defects, because they were too sweeping, or because of any number of local and contingent considerations, which have nothing to do with general political doctrine.
Finally, n° 79 of the Syllabus condemns this claim: “Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions and thoughts whatsoever, conduce more easily to corrupting the morals and minds of the people, and to propagating the plague of indifferentism. ” The condemned proposition, then, holds that an alleged relation of conducement is false. In obedience to the Church (not to mention the obedience we owe to blatant facts), we must hold the opposite, namely, that the alleged relation is genuine. We must hold that plenary freedom of religious speech and worship do indeed conduce to (a) the corruption of morals and (b) the spread of indifferentism. And, of course, we must also hold that what conduces to things ought not to obtain. So the teaching at hand, in its bearing on Vatican II’s basic holding, excludes the following conditional:
If objectively false religions have such freedom of action as they ought to have, then what conduces to (a) moral corruption and (b) religious in difference obtains.
I phrase the excluded conditional in this way, because, if that conditional were true, there would be a conflict of obligations. It would be the case that one and the same thing ought to obtain and ought not to obtain. A certain measure of religious liberty ought to obtain (because, by the teaching of DH, it is the sort that ought to be granted) and ought not to obtain (because, by the teaching of the Syllabus, it is what conduces to corrupt morals and religious indifference). Now, there will be conflict between Syllabus n° 79 and Vatican II, if and only if Vatican II either asserts that plenary religious liberty does not conduce to (a) and (b) or asserts that the sort of religious liberty which does conduce to (a) and (b) is the sort that ought to be granted. But Vatican II does neither. By asserting a limited religious liberty, the Council says nothing that would tend to deny the baleful effects of a plenary one. And by excluding a plenary religious liberty, the Council excludes the very thing that Pius IX said ought not to obtain because it does conduce to (a) and (b).
Of course, the possibility remains that even the limited religious freedom which Vatican II endorses will prove dangerous — will lead in time to the corruption and indifference that Pius IX feared. But if that possibility should materialize, it would only prove that Vatican II was prudentially wrong; it would not prove that the Council was in conflict with the Syllabus on the level of doctrine.
Here is a strategic point at which to remind ourselves of the difference between conflict on the level of doctrine and conflict on the level of policy.
Pastoral policies are not doctrines; they are disciplinary directives, and they may certainly change. The sweeping radicalism of 19th Century biblical criticism (and its exploitation by the Modernists) left the Church little choice but to adopt a stringent policy of denying to her scholars the use of its methods and “findings”; the greater moderation of mid-20th Century exegesis (along with the apparent waning of the Modernist threat) gave Pius XII an opportunity to change the Church’s policy, allowing Catholic scholars a freer use of critical methods. If you will, the policies of Pius X and Pius XII are in conflict; that is why the latter represents a change of the former; but the doctrines of the two Popes are not in conflict; they are identical. Both held the Scriptures inerrant by virtue of their divine authorship, and both held that historical exegesis could discover valuable truths about the Scriptures’ meaning. The former part of this doctrine served to justify the policy of Pius X in its time, while the latter part served to justify the policy of Pius XII when times had changed.
Thus pastoral policies are not independent of doctrines. Doctrines are justificatory grounds for such policies. But one and the same body of unchangeable doctrines can justify different policies in different situations. That is why the immutability of the former does not confer an immutability upon the latter.
Perhaps another illustration will also help. In the middle years of the 1960s, the Church clearly changed her policy on ecumenical initiatives. She changed from a policy of extreme reserve to one of fairly far-reaching cooperation. But, underneath this conflict, ecclesiological doctrine did not change. From the Patristic age down to the Council documents and beyond, the Church has constantly held that the set of dioceses in union with the see of Peter is the one and only true Church of Jesus Christ, and yet she has held that certain valid Sacraments and other goods proper to this one Church, along with human persons oriented to the Church desiderio ac voto, may be found in heretical and schismatic bodies. Again, the first part of this unchanging ecclesiology served to justify the former policy of anti-ecumenism, while the latter part serves today to justify a policy of cooperation (while still excluding, of course, inter-communion, false irenicism, and other abuses of the ecumenical process).
Similarly, it does no harm to recognize that there is a serious conflict of policy between Pius IX and Vatican II on our present topic. Pius IX confronted bourgeois revolutionary movements in the full heat of ideological passion, still tasting the first successes of their efforts to transform society; he hoped to roll back those successes and committed the Church to a policy of resistance and restoration; Vatican II confronted the remnants of those movements, gorged with victory but ideologically spent, in the midst of societies more or less irreversibly transformed by a variety of “modernizing” pressures; the Council hoped to ameliorate and gradually “Christianize” these post-liberal societies; abandoning restorationist aims and resistances, Vatican II committed the Church to a policy of accepting the status quo and trying to make the best of it. Personally, I applaud the policy of Pius IX, and I receive the policy of Vatican II with many ‘misgivings. In this case, as in the cases of exegesis and ecumenism, a loyal Catholic can wonder whether the new policy is altogether wise. That is not a doctrinal issue. Doctrines are true or false. Policies are neither. Policies are wise or unwise, prudent or risky, fruitful or ruinous. We are not called upon to assent to policies; rather, our duty as Catholics, depending on our station within the Church, it is either to obey her policies or else, at least, to “give them a chance,” to give them that deference which the august authority promulgating them deserves — while criticizing, of course, false extremes and abusive “applications” of the Church’s policies.
(A certain “conservative Catholic” mentality is quick today to pronounce all three of these new policies catastrophic. I appreciate the evidence on which that judgment is based, but I hold out the hope that it may be premature. It is possible to hold that irresponsible forms of dissidence, which will eventually pass away, are temporarily depriving the new policies of the fine fruits which the Church had, and still has, every reason to think they will bear. In any case, our legitimate worries over these policies need have nothing to do with doctrine.)
Nevertheless, there is a difference between the Church-and-State issue and the other two examples of policy change. Unlike the exegetical and ecumenical shifts, the Council’s policy change on Church-and-State was accompanied by an attempt to break new doctrinal ground. I have been arguing that this new ground is logically consistent with the teachings of previous Popes (and since I regard the previous teaching as irreformable ex magisterio ordinario, I use this logical consistency to prove that the new teaching is not ruled out a priori by conflict with established truths; hence I feel no need to “dissent” from the new teaching on the basis of the old; I concede rather that the new ground can be given an adequate rationale within the framework of the old). At the same time, however, I join with all other theologians in saying that the new ground is non-infallible teaching. So when I say that the possibility exists that Vatican II is wrong on one or more crucial points of Dignitatis humanae, I do not simply mean that the Council’s policy may prove unfruitful. I mean to signal a possibility that the Council’s doctrine is false.
But may a Catholic theologian admit that such a possibility exists? Of course he may. The decree Dignitatis humanae is a non-infallible document, and the teaching which it presents is admitted to be a “new development,” hence not something which is already acknowledged dogma ex magisterio ordinario. Therefore, the kind of religious assent which Catholics owe to that teaching is the kind of assent which does not exclude the logical possibility that the teaching is wrong; rather, our assent excludes any probability that the new teaching is wrong.
As a believer, I simply yield that assent. As a theologian, however, I have a duty to clarify the intellectual grounds on which such assent may be seen to be prudent. We are on a terrain of social and spiritual facts. We know from the Syllabus (as I am arguing it is), then Vatican II tells us, in effect, that there is another kind of degree of religious liberty (namely, the kind endorsed by DH) which is socially and spiritually safe. Now: if it is to be the case that the Council is, in all probability, correct in this assertion, then there must be something tutelary in the Council’s manner of defining the liberty it endorses — something which makes it probable that this sort of liberty would be safe. I now turn to my second announced task in this essay, the task of seeing what this “something” might be.
Let us begin with a principle which Vatican II teaches in all clarity.
(0) No one ought to use force to change another’s beliefs (especially his religious beliefs).
What ought to be the case, rather, is that each person is allowed to acquire, reject, or otherwise change his own beliefs without coercive interference in his normal mental physical processes. In other words, no one ought to be brain-washed, tortured, harassed, drugged, seduced, behavior-modified, etc., with the purpose of getting him to change his beliefs. The only way in which other persons ought to influence someone’s changes of belief is through forms of persuasion which appeal to reason and good sense. Hence even persuasion, when it comes about through dishonest or high-pressure propaganda, is ruled out.
The content of principle (0) seems to me to be true beyond controversy; and I have no difficulty in seeing that (0) follows from human dignity itself, as the Council claims. Man’s dignity is grounded in his free and rational nature. A man’s beliefs are major commitments of his rationality. From the fact that man has a free and rational nature, it then follows that he ought to form his beliefs freely and rationally. (And this is true above all for the assent of supernatural faith, which is also rational, and which must be free in order to be salvific. But such assent is a special case, about which I shall have more to say in a moment.)
It must be understood, however, that principle (0) has no bearing whatever on whether the Church or the State may set penalties for false belief. For the purpose of a penalty is not to change (or prevent change of) belief by force. The penalty is intended to dissuade, obviously, but it does not impede a person’s free deliberation as to what he ought to believe. It simply injects an additional consideration into that deliberation. It gives one something else to deliberate about, without in any way coercing the deliberative process. To be sure, the penalty may also inject fear into the process, and fear can corrupt judgment. But fear is not coercive; it can be ignored or surmounted; fear can also be salutary. Since fear is part of our nature, we have no natural right to a life devoid of it. Hence the Church does not violate human dignity, nor fall afoul of principle (0), when she sets loss of teaching-mandate or other loss of status (hence often loss of income, property, etc.) as a penalty for heresy. Nor does the State violate human dignity when, for example, it sets loss of employment in certain sensitive industries as a penalty for subversive opinions.
It might be argued that these penalties fail to violate principle (0) merely because that principle concerns the internal, psychological process of belief-formation, whereas the penalties attach to the external action of manifesting one’s beliefs socially. This argument is partly correct, I should reply, but doesn’t go deeply enough. Granted, the penalty attaches to external action; yet it must be admitted to have at least an indirect impact on the internal process. If I am tempted to believe S, the fact that I am likely to be punished for saying S in public will often have a bearing on how I handle that internal temptation. Moreover, if human penalties bear only on the external, divine penalties do not. In cases of occult heresy, God sets eternal torment, Hell itself, as the penalty for acts of false belief which remain wholly within the internal sphere. Must we say, then, that God attempts to coerce our beliefs, through fear of Hell? Does God violate human dignity? Surely not. Of course not. But if He doesn’t, it can only be because the setting of penalties for false belief does not coerce belief in violation of principle (0). I have tried to give a deeper reason why this is so: it is that penalties enter into our free deliberations as objects of consideration, not as preventions, suppressions, or coercions of consideration. Unlike brain-washing practices, even the more severe traditional penalties do not violate the freedom which our rational nature and human dignity demand. Remember that the purpose even of the auto da fe was not to force abandonment of some belief but to test the sincerity of a false belief. This is not to say that any and all traditional penalties for false belief, civil or ecclesiastical, were wise or just. I am not defending the auto da fe. I am simply pointing out that those much-deplored practices of militant Christendom do not violate this key principle of Vatican II, principle (0), whereas the practices of modern totalitarianism do.
With the bearing of (0) clear, let us add to it another principle, on which both the Council’s teaching and previous tradition are clear.
(0a) No human authority may set penalties for non-conversion to Catholicism or for failure to elicit the first assent of supernatural faith.
I said a moment ago that the formation of supernatural assent was a special case. It is special in that, as far as the rules against coercing belief are concerned, it excludes not only interferences of the brain-washing variety but even the imposition of temporal penalties. The reason for this oddity is as follows. Assent to supernatural truth exceeds man’s native abilities. It requires the help of actual graces. Because the grace is a gift, the assent itself is a gift: The State therefore cannot demand it in justice, any more that the State can demand that everyone paint like a master, sing like an angel, or reason like a genius. Gifts transcend the order of just exaction. Only God who gives such gifts, who alone knows which of us has, with what wooing, received them, or with what culpability abused them — only God is in a position to punish justly in this connection. Therefore, a Catholic State is not permitted to fine, imprison, or otherwise penalize its Jewish subjects just for remaining Jews, its pagan subjects for remaining pagans, or its subjects born into heretical families for remaining manifest heretics.
Still, (0a) does not mean that all social distinction is a priori illicit. A Catholic State might wish to give a certain privilege to its Catholic citizens: for the others, non-conferral of this privilege would be something different from the imposition of a penalty. But it must be admitted that the difference is a delicate one, often abused, and valid only where an equitable legal system accommodates it.
More importantly, principle (0a) has nothing to do with acts of heresy, schism, or apostasy, performed by those who have already elicited supernatural acts of faith, and who now wish to abandon one or more of the conditions necessary to their habitual continuance. The Church teaches that such abandonments are never innocent, even subjectively (Denz-Sch. 2120, 3014). More to the point, where such acts bear the visible, justiciable aspect of injuring Catholic unity, these acts may justly incur such penalties as the Church sees fit to demand. The basis for drawing a distinction between these penalizable cases and the unpenalizable cases to which 0a) applies, is very simple. Formal heretics, schismatics, and apostates are persons who, by virtue of their (former) Catholicism, fall under the jurisdiction of the Church, while those to whom (0a) applies, precisely because they have never been Catholics, do not. Cf. I Corinthians 5:12-13.
Now, lest it be supposed on the basis of (0a) that non-Catholicism is a kind of free ride, Vatican II hastens to re-affirm what has long been a dogma:
(0b) God obligates all men to obey the Natural Moral Law; and beyond that, God obligates all men to seek and embrace the religious truth which He has revealed.
Both clauses of this dogma have a large bearing on our present topic, and yet they show some interesting asymmetries. The obligation to obey the Natural Moral Law translates into a power of the State to enforce it. The obligation to embrace the true religion translates into no such power, as (0a) has just reminded us. Why the difference? It emerges, I think, from things already said. Whereas the business of recognizing and embracing the true religion requires supernaturalized acts exceeding our nature, relying on gifts, and so transcending the order of justice, the business of knowing and obeying the Natural Law does not. To know the Natural Law, at least in its basic principles, is not merely within the reach of our nature but easy and spontaneous to us. There is thus no separate problem of seeking the Natural Law. (There is, of course, a problem of seeking moral enlightenment, resolving moral doubts, etc.; but this is largely a matter of learning how to apply moral insights we already possess — not a matter of acquiring new facts or receiving revelations.) Of course, knowing the Natural Law is a good deal easier than obeying it. At that task we all fail. But it does not follow that the government is unjust if it requires us to obey that Law (I mean, requires us to obey it in those external and justiciable things that are appropriate and manageable concerns of government). For by requiring this, the government demands no more than decent men demand of themselves.
Now here is another asymmetry. To any valid obligation there corresponds a right to fulfill it. Yet talking about a “right” to obey the Natural Law — a right to behave yourself — sounds remarkably silly, whereas talking about a right to embrace the revealed religion doesn’t sound silly at all. Why, again, the difference? There is a superficial reason which is historical: we have a long and dramatic history of men being persecuted for embracing our religion, whereas there is virtually no history (prior to some modern population policies) of governments’ proscribing the deeds of natural virtue. And what governments do not tend to resent, there is no need to vindicate as a “right.” I think that the difference also has a deeper reason, however. We do not trumpet our right to do something unless we rather fiercely want to do it. Now which of us, Socrates aside, has been able to keep up a high head of steam behind the project of being . . . just plain good? No, our experience indicates that “righteousness’ is not an object of “hunger and thirst,” unless it is invested with the pith and density of religion, unless it is caught up in the hunger and thirst for God. For that longing men will vindicate a right; and if governments want good behavior, they had better acknowledge it.
So, there are two clauses in (0b), one about the Natural Law and one about the True Religion. I have highlighted their asymmetries in order to pave the way for my next principle, on which Vatican II is again explicit. Namely:
(0c) Since God obligates all men to seek and embrace the religious truth which He has revealed, it follows that man has, over against any human government, a right to seek and hold that truth.
This principle, too, is beyond the reach of theological dispute. The objective obligation in the ‘since’ clause is de fide, as already noted. The subjective obligation of each man to embrace God’s truth in proportion as he comes to know it, is also de fide. Then, it is an elementary principle of deontic logic that ‘ought’ implies `can’. No one is obliged to do the impossible. If man always and everywhere ought to seek religious truth, then he always and everywhere can seek it. But man cannot always do what he has no right to do; man cannot always do what governments sometimes have the rightful power to prevent him from doing. It therefore follows, as the Council holds, that the quest for religious truth is an activity for which man must have a natural or God-given power, against which all temporal governments suffer a natural or God-given disability.
No traditional theologian disputes this point when it is a question of religious truth already in hand. That truth is Catholicism; and every human being, anywhere in the world, has an imprescriptible right to embrace it, practice it, and persevere in it. As a result, each government in the world, no matter what its commitments to another religion (or to none), suffers from an absolute disability in justice to prevent one of its citizens from becoming or remaining a Catholic.
Yet it does not follow, oddly enough, that Catholics are ‘thereby the beneficiaries of an eccentric privilege. Governments have all kinds of good reasons to suppress, discourage, or disqualify particular ideas. What tells in favor of such efforts, though not always decisively, is the idea’s falsehood. What tells against their efforts, tells against the very justice of them, and always decisively, is the idea’s mere truth. Anyone who embraces what is in fact a truth, on any subject, enjoys the same “privilege” as Catholics. For example, Stalin’s attempted suppression of genetic science was every bit as unjust as his attacks on the true religion.
Scholastic thought compresses this matter into the maxim that truth alone has rights; error has no rights. The more complete statement is that the rights which men enjoy (for men are the subjects of rights) cannot have error as their object. Truth and moral goodness alone are the objects of rights. This maxim, in turn, is more completely stated this way: the “right” to profess or perform X cannot be a natural or inalienable right, unless X is true or morally good.
Vatican II is often accused of betraying or “softening” this principle. By according a rightful liberty to various religions, the Council is accused of spoiling truth’s monopoly, of spreading the canopy of her immunity over a large sector of error.
This accusation is misguided. No right to hold falsehood is asserted anywhere in DH. What is asserted is the right of religious inquiry, the right to seek the truth, as that right is held by persons who haven’t found it yet. Not everyone has the good fortune to be born within earshot of the Church’s message. What is worse, many people are born into places where the very name of Catholicism, and all its tokens, and much that leads or predisposes to it, are covered with the reputation of evil; Satan sees to it that millions must add dis-information to the list of their impediments. All of these people must grope toward religious truth with whatever genuine information is available to them, and with whatever unnourished hungers their souls harbour. It is humanly inevitable that these people — no matter on what arrow-like trajectory they head toward the true Church — will hold intermediate positions that are incomplete, confused, and therefore false. This is not a fact about truth or error as such. It is a fact about human inquiry. Even where the right answers are already known to someone, where it is just a question of pupils gaining insights already familiar to their betters, it is still the case that sound pedagogy recommends leaving a certain scope for trial and error, for the tasting of failure, for the puzzlement and personal effort without which even the best truths, once reached, are often undervalued.
It may be objected that all I have done here is shuffle names. Society is not a classroom; and those in authority, unequipped with knowledge of the future, have no way of knowing whether someone’s error is tentative or stubborn, provisional or definitive. So in practical terms, the objection may conclude, what I have introduced under the name of a “right to seek truth” is just the reality of a right to hold error.
I reply to this objection with an obvious (and traditional) distinction. What cannot be allowed is that error should be the object of rights simpliciter or per se. But error can be the object of a right accidentally, secundum quid or per aliud. Of that there is no doubt. The natural right of parents to form the beliefs of their own children is not dissolved when those parents are unbelievers; hence the parental right will often have some error as its object per accidens. Inevitably. Or is the Catholic State supposed to confiscate their children? Or consider what has already been conceded under principle (0a): the Jews living in a Catholic State have a right, vis-à-vis that State, to keep on believing the errors of their Judaism — not per se, not by reason of a right to error, but per aliud, by reason of the State’s disability injustice to punish them for not abandoning those errors. Pari ratione, the errors which crop up in the course of man’s effort to fulfill his duty toward God, his duty of religious inquiry, might be immune from civil penalty — not per se, not by reason of a right to error, but per aliud, by reason of the State’s disability in justice to punish the pursuit of religious truth.
Admittedly, this is a rather abstract and “in principle” sort of an answer to the objection raised. There is more to be said, but it is better postponed until we have left the terrain of “rights in principle” and crossed over to the concrete terrain of the exercise of such rights. Which crossing we are about to make momentarily.
Thus far I have tried to establish that recognition of a right to seek religious truth, along with such freedom to make honest mistakes as that right entails, does not violate the Catholic principle that error as such, per se, cannot be the object of a right. We are therefore free to recognize the whole truth of (0c). It violates no patrimony of orthodoxy or right reason. But it is important to realize how little this (0c) really says. There is right of inquiry. The question remains what activities are to count, unequivocally, as instances of its exercise. The question remains how far the State, having conceded the right to such inquiry, may yet have an interest in how the quest comes out, and may therefore take steps to exercise a prudent guidance over its progress. Anyone who thinks that a State posture of religious laissez-faire follows automatically from (0c) is simply begging all of these questions.
But we must beware of the opposite extreme as well. If (0c) says little, it still says something. It is not socially vacuous. The right which it acknowledges is the right to an activity which necessarily has social dimensions. We are not egos meditating in Cartesian isolation. The pursuit of any sort of truth is a cooperative enterprise. Inquiry involves dialogue, reading, consultation; it involves voicing our views on suitable occasions, getting into arguments, losing arguments, delving back into research. And beyond these general traits, religious inquiry has a further, specific trait. It is pursuit of a truth which is meant to be lived, with the result that each stage in its pursuit requires the “test” of a life conformed to it. When a Southern Baptist begins to see the truth of certain “High Church” notions, he must often become an Anglican, acquire the taste and experience of that kind of denominational life, before he can really consider (or appreciate the need for) any further destination.
The Social Sphere
The question now to be faced is this: how does Vatican II project principles (0)-(0c) into the social sphere? What sort of overt religious activity is the Council prepared to recognize as the exercise of the right acknowledged in (0c) and hence prepared to recognize as protected from infringement? That is the question to which, alas, the Council’s answer is much less clear than one might suppose.
A superficial reading of Dignitatis humanae readily suggests the hypothesis that the protected activity, in the Council’s view, is simply the person’s doing that which he believes he ought to do on religious grounds. This hypothesis would project (0)-(0c) into the following new principle regarding action-upon-belief:
(1) No one ought to interfere with anyone’s doing what he believes he ought to do on religious grounds.
This principle would make religious belief (or conscience) itself the test of what is to count as protected activity. If you have a conscientious/religious belief that you ought to do A, then no one ought to interfere coercively with your doing A. Classical Enlightenment and Liberal statements about the “right of conscience” appear to say exactly what (1) says. We shall experiment with the hypothesis that (1) is also what Vatican II says. In order to conduct the experiment, we need to set down another principle regarding action, one about which the Council document suffers from no obscurity at all. Namely:
(2) The proper authorities ought to interfere coercively with the commissions of acts that are crimes.
If this principle is uncontroversial, we may continue our experiment by positing two perfectly plausible contingencies:
(3) Jones believes that he ought to do A on religious grounds.
(4) A is a crime.
From the conjunction of these four premises, it follows both that
(5) The proper authorities ought to interfere coercively with Jones’s doing A,
(5′) No one ought to interfere coercively with Jones’s doing A.
Thus (1)-(4) form an inconsistent set; they yield a formal contradiction. If Dignitatis humane is a self-consistent document, it must exclude at least one member of such a set. I see only two possibilities.
The first possibility is that one or the other of (3) or (4) is excluded.
Many people would like to hold that conscientious/religious belief cannot mandate vicious or criminal actions. They imagine that religion is inherently ennobling, or that conscience is an infallible guide. They would therefore regard premises (3) and (4) as incompatible; if we stipulate that (3) is true, we must eliminate (4), or vice-versa, they think. However, these suppositions which, if true, would render (3) and (4) incompatible, are clearly not true. To take only some recent cases, Mark David Chapman believed he had divine instructions to shoot John Lennon. A large number of Islamic fundamentalists had religious/conscientious reasons to believe that they ought to assassinate Anwar Sadat. Other Islamic extremists have had religious reasons to violate the rights of tens of thousands of Iranians. Many of the followers of the late Jim Jones no doubt believed religiously that they were obligated to obey his vicious commands. In short, there is abundant evidence that religion and conscience sometimes mandate actions which are, or ought to be, crimes. Moreover, there is no question but that the Fathers of Vatican II were aware of such evidence. The existence of “erroneous conscience” is a common-place of Catholic doctrine. The Council explicitly says that protected religious activity must remain within the limits set by the “just requirements of public order — a limitation which would be pointless if (3) and (4) were incompatible. So this first possibility fails.
The remaining possibility, of course, is that (1) and (2) are incompatible. Their combination produces a contradiction in the face of religious violence, enthusiastic turpitude, and similar, routine contingencies of the human condition. Therefore, if either (1) or (2) is true, the other must be false. But observe that (2) cannot be false. For if (2) were false, there would be no limits on religious liberty, or on any other kind of liberty. There would be no limits on (1). But Dignitatis humanae repeatedly says that there are limits on the kinds of liberty dealt with by (1). Hence we have no choice but to conclude that (1) is false. If DH appears to assert (1), that appearance must be deceptive. The real principle taught by DH must be different from (1).
We must now try to amend (1) so as to get a principle which more accurately reflects the Council’s intention. Let us first try a simple solution.
(1a) No one ought to interfere coercively with a person’s non-criminal acts of doing what he believes he ought to do on religious grounds.
The combination of (1a) with (2) is indeed consistent. Even in union with (3) and (4), no contradiction follows. However, the consistency thus gained is devoid of substantive value, For (1a) yields a vacuous doctrine, in clear violation of the Council’s intent. To see this, suppose that DH asserts no more than (1a) and (2); then any State can automatically square its persecutions with Catholic teaching, by the simple expedient of declaring religious practice a crime!
No, clearly, the Council means to set limits on what the State can declare a crime and still be acting justly. Within the teaching of DH there is intended to be a criterion of criminalizability. What is it?
Again, superficial reading would suggest that honest pursuit of religious truth is this criterion. The result would be an addendum to (1a) such as the following:
(1b) If a person’s honest quest for religious truth has led him to believe that he ought to do A, then no one ought to treat his doing A as a crime.
This says that where religion is concerned, honest mistakes cannot be criminalized. But (1b) has a serious impact on (1a) and on (2). It can transform (1a) back into (1) by rendering (2) vacuous. For if all things professedly done out of religious conviction are to be presumed the fruits of honest inquiry, then none of the person’s ostensibly religiously motivated acts ought to be treated as crimes; (2) loses all reference in religious cases, and (1a) becomes equivalent to (1). We have already seen that the Council rejects this possibility by asserting that the social projection of even the most “honest” religious pursuit has “due limits” set by public order, which includes the maintenance of public morality (see DH 7).
Therefore DH must not be taken to imply that all action ostensibly done for religious motives are to be presumed the fruits of honest quest and hence to be treated as unpunishable. But what is the alternative? Clearly, that religious acts are not to enjoy, in general, any such presumption. Those responsible for the maintenance of “public order,” of “public morality,” etc., will have to decide when religiously motivated actions are honest enough to require toleration. Whereupon the religious-honesty criterion for non-criminalizability will have to be supplemented by some further criterion for genuine honesty.
This further criterion will have to be either a subjective norm or else an objective one. If it is subjective, the idea of honest religious inquiry reduces without remainder to the idea of religious sincerity but it is clearly possible for very injurious acts to be considered religiously obligatory in all sincerity. What if I sincerely believe that white people ought to be exterminated as incarnate devils? Or that this child ought to be sacrificed to Quetzalcoatl? Indeed, what if I sincerely believe that blaspheming heretics ought to be silenced? In short, the subjective norm of sincerity has no tendency to exclude such actions as we would normally think criminalizable. Moreover, besides being useless, the subjective criterion is impossible to prove in any way likely to satisfy the concerns of Vatican II. Recall that the old-fashioned way to test sincerity was capital punishment. A belief for which one would willingly die was obviously sincere. But then each person professing the belief would have to be tested. One would not know that one should have extended toleration, until one had exterminated its possible beneficiaries? Surely, the Council had something else in mind.
The something else will have to be an objective criterion. Religious inquiry that is objectively honest is not just sincere but on a vector towards Catholic truth; it proceeds by defensible arguments from defensible premises, and it yields fruits of action which are in harmony with the Natural Moral Law. The social projections of such inquiry can only be statements and actions that are creditable intellectually, innocent and upright morally. Thus religious preachments which are philosophically absurd (like Scientology), false to historical fact (like Mormonism), or exegetically incompetent (like the claims of Jehovah’s Witnesses), would not have to count as protected expressions. More importantly, religiously motivated deeds which objectively violate the Natural Law would not have to count as protected activities. I say “more importantly” because, as a matter of practicality, few governments are likely to make intellectual respectability the test of what they will feel duty-bound to tolerate; but most governments will accept moral inoffensiveness, the tendency and capacity of a religion to form “model citizens,” as a realistic value for their statutes to capture.
It is time to take stock of where we have gotten and how we got here. Where we have gotten is back to the Natural Law. In order to preserve the self-consistency of DH, we have had to arrive at an objective, Natural-Law criterion for what is allowed to count as a protected exercise of the right to seek religious truth. How we got to this point was needlessly roundabout. We took a long route, in order to see how far we could get with the ideas of “religious belief,” “honest religious search,” “honest mistakes,” etc., which seem to lie on the surface of the Council’s rhetoric. We found, however, that every attempt to use these ideas, subjectively defined, as criteria for what was to count as protected exercise, failed; every attempt led back to the initial contradiction between (5) and (5′). We have proved that there is no alternative, therefore, but to transform such terms into their objective understanding. We must return to honestum in the Latin sense. Nothing base, disreputable, ignoble, nothing demesure, nothing partaking of enormity — nothing like that will count as a protected exercise of this right.
We could have gotten to the same point more quickly. As soon as the simple solution, (1a), revealed the Council’s need for a criterion of criminalizability, we could have turned to the only defensible such criterion there is: the Natural Moral Law itself, restricted to those matters external enough, justiciable enough, to fall under the State’s sphere of practical competence. For what better answer can there be to the question of what must never be made a crime than this: actions which are objectively innocent, morally good, or even obligatory?
In short, by any consistent route, we arrive at the following principle:
(1′) No one ought to interfere with anyone’s doing those acts which (a) he believes he ought to do on religious grounds and which (b) cannot justly be treated as crimes because they conform to Natural Law norms of intellectual probity and moral innocence.
This is the real principle with which Vatican II projects into the social sphere, onto the terrain of exercise, the rights affirmed in principle in (0)(0c). That the whole matter is thus handled in a tutelary way, defined so as to leave unprotected all that would conduce to what Pius IX feared, should be obvious. It will be useful to conclude this essay, however, with a few defensive observations.
III. Vatican II and the Catholic State
First, does the doctrine of DH weaken in any way the traditional case for having a Catholic State, as opposed to having a “neutral” or non-confessional one? Surely not. For the way in which DH resolves the religious liberty question, namely by way of (1′), mandates a State which knows, embraces, and acts upon the norms of Natural Law. These norms are knowable by man’s natural reason “in principle,” even after the Fall, but not easily or reliably so. Disordered passions and inordinate interests have all too famous a power to prevent, darken, or corrupt this knowledge in each of us. And if a sage in the calm of his meditations can make mistakes, how much more a politician in the cross-fire of vested interests and group pressures? Each Catholic, in his private life, can therefore verify the fact that his moral reason has been many times saved, buttressed, corrected and protected by that Faith which sets before him the divine authority of the teaching Church. How much more must each Catholic statesman, acquainted with the temptations which tend to exclude sound morality from public policy, verify the same fact? And if the witness of the Church is thus necessary to the maintenance of a morally sound public policy, why should that necessity receive no institutional recognition? In a word, Vatican II resolves the problem of religious liberty in a way which, far from weakening the case for a Catholic, confessional State, adds weight to it.
Second, does the doctrine of DH weaken the just and traditional powers of a Catholic State?
Suppose we have a Catholic State conscientiously determined to render to the Church all such assistance as the traditional “thesis,’-‘-the harmony of sacerdotium and imperium, renders obligatory. Suppose there arises within this State some new, hitherto unsettled problem of religious error or heresy. How does the problem come to the State’s attention.
There are really only two possibilities. The first is that the problem emerges through the normal working of the apparatus of justice. The heresy involves the violation of some just criminal statute — bigamy, fraud, conspiracy, treason, public nuisance, etc. Under the doctrine of Vatican II, as under the older one, the State has every right to prosecute. And it would seem that we can therefore continue to defend, as doctrinally and morally sound, a healthy majority of our past political actions in defense of the unity of Christendom.
The other possibility is that the new error or heresy is brought to the State’s attention by the Church. The sectaries have fallen afoul of no civil laws, but the Church sees them as a danger to the good of souls. Armed with this diagnosis, the Church approaches the State with a request for civil action. Has the State no just response but an automatic acquiescence, or may the State take the request under advisement, evaluate the situation from its own perspective, and sometimes refuse?
It has always been Catholic doctrine that the State can have a just cause to practice toleration in a given case. This is, in effect, a “can-do” law of toleration. By virtue of it, the State is not always obligated of prosecute religious error.
But what if the State fails to convince the relevant Church officials that a toleration would be wise? Traditional doctrine failed to state explicitly any ground on which the State could then continue to refuse to act on the Church’s request. That is, it failed to explicate such a ground until the time of Pius XII.
In his Ci riesce (December 6, 1953), Pius XII made it clear that the duty to suppress moral and religious error, though genuine, is not the Catholic State’s ultimate norm of action. “It must be subordinated to higher and more general norms which, under certain circumstances, permit, and may even show that the best choice for promoting greater good is, the toleration of error.” This is no substantive novelty; it is political common sense. Yet the explication of this sensible point within the fabric of Catholic theory had a new consequence: for the first time, the State is given an explicit ground injustice for refusing a Church request to move against some error or heresy. If State action would injure some aspect of the Common Good more fundamental than the aspect thereof which is being threatened by the new error (e.g. if prosecution would touch off a civil war), then the State not only may but must, out of duty to its own ultimate norms of action, decline to bring its force to bear against the error. Rather, the State will have a genuine right to tell the clergy to carry out their own evangelical mission to convert these people, carry out their own catechetical mission to immunize the faithful, and stop asking the police to solve their problems for them.
In a word, what the Ci riesce contributes, for the first time, is a “must-do” law of toleration. It is thus good, pre-conciliar doctrine, authentically taught by papal ordinary magisterium, that there can be such a law.
All that Vatican II does is add another one. Principles (0)-(0c), projected into the social sphere by (1′) and (2), have no other effect than to say as follows: to the precise extent that those holding a religious error nevertheless profess something rationally defensible and practice what is morally inoffensive, they enjoy an immunity from civil penalties by virtue of which the State has a second ground for telling the Church that it cannot justly use its force against them. This is a second “must-do” law of toleration. Nothing in tradition says that there cannot be such a law, any more than tradition excluded the must-do law of Ci riesce.
But does it not follow that the State’s power to protect higher truths, specifically supernatural truths, has been revoked? By limiting the State’s initiative to matters of public order, which includes the Natural Law but not the Supernatural — instead of allowing the State to strike at anything injurious to the temporal Common Good, which does embrace the Supernatural in certain respects — doesn’t Vatican II shackle the State to a “natural law” perspective, as the partisans of the “Lay State” have always wanted, in contradiction to previous papal teaching?
No. First, the partisans of the “Lay State” formulated their theory of a jusnaturalistic, unsupernaturalizable State as part of their argumentation on the “thesis” question — which question the Council does not touch. Hence their radical jusnaturalism must not be read into the Council’s intent. Secondly, whereas natural truths cannot entail supernatural ones (otherwise semirationalism would be true), the negations of supernatural truths often have false consequences in the natural domain. “Since all authority comes from God (Romans 13), authorities guilty of notorious sin are eo ipso deposed,” is a heresy, the negation of a supernatural truth; in the hands of Wyclif and Hus, it had political consequences injurious to the natural order. “Those who are spiritually perfect are bound by no law” encounter the same problem, as does “In Christ there is no male or female; hence sexual discriminations are contrary to the Gospel.” “Reason is so fallen that Scripture is our only source of truth”; “the Christian State must turn the other cheek”; on and on the list could go. Against all such heresies the doctrine of DH allows the State to take action. (Hence another major aspect of our history; remains defensible.) The Council merely requires the State to act by reason of the injurious natural consequences, rather than by reason of supernatural error per se, which seems perfectly reasonable. Supernatural truth and error is primarily the Church’s business; but insofar as the error has deleterious consequences on natural truth, it becomes also the State’s business, because it is precisely through these consequences that the error impacts upon the temporal Common Good.
But can there not be some supernatural errors (anti-filioquism, for instance) which, by virtue of their subject matter, simply have no entailments in the order of natural truths? (I suppose so.) And wouldn’t the Catholic State be restrained by Vatican II from suppressing those errors? (Yes, I think it would.) Therefore, while it is false to say that Vatican II revokes or eliminates the State’s power to defend supernatural truths (indirectly, ratione naturali), is it not still true to say that the Council has reduced or limited this power? (Yes, I would say so.) And isn’t that still a bad thing?
To the contrary, it may be a very good thing. Supernatural errors which involve no damage to the natural interests of the State really ought to be left to the Church’s care. They deserve spiritual remedies. This is not to deny that religious unity (I mean, the unity of substantially the whole citizen body in professing the true Faith) is itself a component of the temporal Common Good and hence a legitimate interest of the State. It is only to deny that coercive means are always “in principle” appropriate tools to preserve this unity. It is to affirm that spiritual tools are sometimes the only appropriate ones, not just pragmatically but “in principle.”
Not only is this point intrinsically reasonable; it is apologetically valuable. It is a help to the very politics of restoration. After all, with the best will in the world, non-Catholics can hardly be expected to thrust us with the reins of power, if our only answer to their anxiety about a Catholic State is either a harsh assertion of the sole right of Truth or else a pragmatic, always revocable pledge of tolerance. But if we can answer with Vatican II, that their religion will enjoy immunity in our State, on the sole condition that it teach no folly or wickedness, then we have a creditable answer for them — stern but fair, as befits a Catholic majesty. And it will be the answer that we ourselves made in other days, to the majesty of Rome, when our apologists appealed for tolerance on the twin grounds that our doctrine was not absurd (unlike the pagan myths) and our lives were unspotted (unlike the pagan lives).
1. I phrase the Council’s basic holding in terms of a liberty attaching to false religions, rather than one attaching merely to wrong-believing persons, in order to give full weight to the social dimension of religious belief, which the Council was at pains to emphasize. It is the organization of wrong-believing persons into a false religion, of course, which poses the political problem of religious belief in its most acute form.↑
2. The interested layman, seeking a good summary of the new theory, the arguments in favor of it, and those brought against it, will find few sources more accessible to him (and more tailored to his needs) than the following exchange, which introduced the matter to American readers more than 30 years ago: George W. Shea, “Catholic Doctrine and ‘The Religion of the State’,” American Ecclesiastical Review 123 (1950), 161-174; John Courtney Murray, S.J., “The Problem of ‘The Religion of the State’,” ibid. 124 (1951), 327-352; Joseph Clifford Fenton, “The Status of a Controversy,” ibid., 451-458.
Better educated readers may take advantage of the splendidly organized work of Josef Privoznik, S.D.B. , Principia status “Catholici ” et status “Laici ” in controversies theologicis recentioribus (Romae: Officium Libri Catholici, 1968).↑
3. Fr. Murray makes some effort to argue otherwise but without success. In section 13, DH says that “the freedom of the Church is the fundamental principle” in Church-State relations. Fr. Murray attaches a footnote to this sentence (note 53, p. 693, in the Abbott edition), in which he makes the following allegation about the wording just quoted: “Implicit in it is the renunciation by the Church of a condition of legal privilege in society. The Church does not make, as a matter of right or of divine law, the claim that she should be established as the ‘religion of the State.’ Her claim is freedom, nothing more.”
With transparent injustice, Fr. Murray is trying to read “fundamental principle” as though it said “exclusive principle” or “sole requirement.” Moreover, by no stretch of logic can renunciation of legal privilege be “implicit” in the Church’s demand for freedom, unless the Church was somehow contradicting herself during all the centuries when she demanded both freedom and privilege (i.e. in every century from the 5th to the 20th) on the basis of right and divine law. Does Fr. Murray choose to tax the Church with such contradiction? No. In fact, oddly enough, he acknowledges that certain social realities in the past were such that the Church was able to secure her freedom precisely by demanding and holding a position of legal privilege (see his article cited in the previous note). But if freedom and establishment are thus not contradictory aims, logic can have nothing to do with Fr. Murray’s claim that renunciation of the one is “implicit” in the assertion of the other.
Well, with a logical nexus excluded, what basis does the famous Jesuit have for his allegation of implicitness? The answer, alas, is some sort of appeal to history (“The connection is rather more historical” — see his notes 24 and 26 in Abbott), in which the emergence of the modern, secular democracies is valorized as mankind’s forward progress in coming to realize the “exigencies” of human dignity. In other words, renunciation of Church privilege is supposed to be “implicit” in the Council’s demand for Church freedom because historical-moral progress has obsolesced any further privilege. “Time makes ancient good uncouth” is how a Yankee poet put it. This obsolescence is indeed a stock claim of Jacques Maritain and other proponents of the “new theory” on Church and State. But nowhere does the Council itself adopt that claim. Rather, Vatican H leaves open to us the quite different assessment (made by a number of recent Popes) that many democratic institutions, despite their modernity, do not represent spiritual progress, that their dis-establishment of Holy Church is in fact a symptom of serious decline in man’s understanding of the “exigencies” of his dignity. Whether modern history is, in its relevant features, Vatican II (for sensible, practical reasons) simply did not deal. When one sees that Fr. Murray’s appeal to history is thus an appeal to his own construal of history, one sees that his attempt to find the new theory on Church and State “implicit” in the Council’s wording has no basis whatever except the very theory in question. As an exegete, he simply begs the question.↑
4. On the points that the kind of assent owed to non-infallible doctrines proposed in authentic but non-irreformable acts of the Church’s Magisterium is religious assent, that this assent is unlike the higher act of assent involved in acts of divine and Catholic faith in the precise respect that such faith does, and religious assent does not, exclude one’s admitting the remote possibility that the doctrine is false, and that what religious assent does exclude is the probability of falsity, the reader can consult any number of standard scholastic manuals. E.g, Dominic Palmieri, Tractatus de Romano Pontificie cum prolegomeno de ecclesia, 2nd ed. (1891), pp. 718ff.; Ludwig Lercher, Institutiones theologicae dogmaticae in usum scholarum, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Innsbruck: Rauch, 1934), I, p. 519; Ioachim Salaverri, S.J., De Ecclesia Christi nos. 659-713, in Patres Societatis Jesu in Hispania Professores, Sacrae Theologiae Summa, 5th ed., 4 vols. (Madrid: BAC, 1962), I, pp. 704ff.↑
5. That is, I must try to show that an act of withholding religious assent (e.g. in an act of theological dissent), though sometimes permissible within certain limits in cases of this kind, would be intellectually imprudent, groundless, unjustified, and hence temerarious in this case.↑
6. It is not at all clear that Fr. Murray appreciates this point. Certain of his remarks, especially in his preface to DH in the Abbott edition and in his footnote 58, strongly suggest that he would see an abolition of ecclesiastical penalties for false belief as a natural, perhaps even necessary “development” of the Council’s doctrine. That the Holy See has a different view is evident in the recent action against Prof. Hans Kung.↑
7. I owe the design of this experiment to a wonderfully simple, straightforward, yet devastating form of argument first developed by Carl R. Kordig, “Pseudo-Appeals to Conscience,” The Journal of Value Inquiry 10 (1976), 7-17. I also owe to Prof. Kordig the point that the talk of natural rights is correctly translated into talk of what “ought” to be the case via the following basic equivalence: x has a right to do A if, and only if, no one ought to interfere coercively with x’s doing A. See his “A Theory of Rights,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 62 (1981), 170-183.↑
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