There seems to be a contradiction between Vatican II’s support for right of conscience and religious liberty with the Old Testament. For example, consider 2 Kings 23 (Knox Translation), wherein the destruction of religious artifacts, desolation of religious sites, and prohibition of worshipping other gods is depicted as the correct thing to do. There are other examples, too; I once heard what might be called a “radical traditionalist” priest argue that Moses destroying the Golden Calf in Exodus was a role model for what we were supposed to do when seeing idolatry, that “people don’t have a right to sin”.
Indeed, one of the fundamental lessons of 1-4 Kings is that obeying God and worshipping Him alone = good, worshipping other gods = bad. It thus appears that with the ‘right to religious liberty’ Vatican II is saying we have the right to do bad, and that people must be left free to do bad. But clearly this is inconsistent, because in other places they declare, for example, that the government has the responsibility to prohibit pornography in the Catechism; likewise everyone’s always fighting to criminalize feticide (misnomered “abortion”).
So why is it this king’s behavior in prohibiting worship to other gods was good then, but for a political leader to do so now is bad? Is worshipping other gods not sinful? How do we decide which sins to criminalize (e.g. pornography, feticide, contraception, sodomy, prostitution) and which sins to keep legal (sacrifices and ceremonies to other gods? religious prostitution?)?
Part of the answer to your question comes from the Catechism:
CCC 2108-2109 "The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. … The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a public order conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner. The due limits which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order. (CCC 2108-2109, internal quote marks removed)
St. Thomas Aquinas gives us some principled reasons for the Church’s stance:
1274 A.D. - St. Thomas Aquinas said: “[T]he heathens and the Jews…are by no means to be compelled to the faith, in order that they may believe, because to believe depends on the [free] will.” (Summa Theologica II-II Question 10 Article 8)
And: “Christ’s faithful…wage war with unbelievers, not indeed for the purpose of forcing them to believe, because even if they were to conquer them, and take them prisoners, they should still leave them free to believe, if they will.” (Summa Theologica II-II Question 10 Article 8)
And: “Human government is derived from the Divine government, and should imitate it. Now although God is all-powerful and supremely good, nevertheless He allows certain evils to take place in the universe, which He might prevent, lest, without them, greater goods might be forfeited, or greater evils ensue.” [Note: in classic Catholic theology, God doesn’t prevent all evil because doing so would take away a greater good, that being man’s free will.]] “Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority, rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain greater evils be incurred.” (Summa Theologica II-II Question 10 Article 11)
And: “[The] rites of [some] unbelievers…[may] be tolerated…in order to avoid an evil, e.g. the scandal or disturbance that might ensue, or some hindrance to the salvation of those who if they were unmolested might gradually be converted to the faith. For this reason the Church, at times, has tolerated the rites even of heretics and pagans…” (Summa Theologica II-II Question 10 Article 11)
You are correct that the Church does not believe that someone can have a God-given right to worship false gods or false ideas of the true God.
It is actually at least partly an unrelated matter whether the state enforces the supremacy of one religion over another, and at least in some cases the Church has held that the state should not. Freedom of religion has frequently benefited Catholics in a minority position, after all, and it’s hard to demand our rights while not extending the same to everyone else in a multi-faith society.
That said, I believe the Church does see a difference between a majority-Catholic state promoting Catholicism (because we’re right ) and a majority-non-Catholic state doing the same for another faith. That makes me uncomfortable because I am an American and because historically Catholics have been little better than anyone else, in practical terms, when put in a position of power over others. As I’ve put it before, the only Catholic theocracy I want to live in is Heaven.
Well, in the Northern Kingdom, Jehu king of Israel conducted a campaign of extermination against both the Omride royal family and the worshippers of Baal. It is in fact, how Baalism was eradicated from the Northern Kingdom. Jehu obviously obtained God’s favour for doing this, as it was for this that he was anointed and he was rewarded by four generations of descendants sitting on the Northern throne.
Ultimately, I see no reason to try to “reconcile” the books of Kings with Vatican II. Religious liberty simply did not exist in the ancient Levant (and it’s not just Yahwists persecuting those of other religions; Baalists also persecuted Yahwists when Baalism was in vogue during the reign of Ahab, for example). This was the Old Testament, before the fullness of revelation, and God dealt with his people according to the circumstances of the times.
Remember a couple of things: in those days, God was leading His chosen people and the entire Old Testament was about the Israelites and their ancestry. So the prohibitions in Kings was to the inclusion of God’s chosen people only, despite that fact that God let them to the destruction of many other tribes and countries…
The New Testament is about the fulfillment of the Old and much of what is written there is left in the past, for the New Covenant to supplant. We must take care when selecting Old Testament scripture as justification for or against present day practices and beliefs. Christ wasn’t above tipping a few tables, but His message is of peace and forgiveness to all.
With all of the references given to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, how does it square with the Syllabus of Errors which considers things like separating church from state or the free exercise of a religion of a person’s choice as false?
With the quote from Thomas Aquinas about allowing Jews and pagans to worship as they wish, how does that square with him calling for the execution of heretics (which would naturally include all non-Catholic Christians)?
The Catechism is clear as mud – they couched their terms, hedged their bets, used ambivalent language (affirmed both sides) to avoid saying something false, and, consequently, didn’t say much at all. However, the quotations from St. Aquinas helped a lot. Thanks. I haven’t looked at the webpage.
One explanation I’ve seen is that the Syllabus was to specifically address political contentions in Europe at that time, not how matters exist or how philosophies are understood today. I’m not going to defend this explanation, however: In fact, I also am perplexed by Pope Pius XI (or was it IX?) – he seems to denounce specific things unequivocally…
A heretic is not a Protestant. A heretic is a Christian who is obstinately proclaiming falsehood, found guilty of doing so, and refuses to recant. So we see heretics are categorically different from non-Christians. As for the concern about clemency vs capital punishment, the explanation a historian gave on “Catholic Answers Live” years ago was that heresy was seen both to upset the political order, like treason, and, worse, to be infinitely worse than homicide: Murder only kills the body, whereas heresy kills the soul, causing eternal death. So capital punishment “ought” to be issued to both murderers and heretics in an attempt to both stifle the evil and encourage repentance.
I agree with you that it wouldn’t make sense to argue for the Syllabus of Errors as a document intended for a specific place, time, or event.
A heretic is not a Protestant. A heretic is a Christian who is obstinately proclaiming falsehood, found guilty of doing so, and refuses to recant.
I’ve seen that definition in the Catechism, but it’s not clear what they consider falsehoods in this specific regard. I did a bit of minor digging.
This article from Catholic Answers definitively states Protestantism (as well its more common components of sola fide, sola scriptura, and denying the supremacy of the pop) as heretical.
This article and others like it seem to make a point of separating heresies into formal and material, putting a majority of Protestants into the less drastic material heresy (which is supposedly different from canonical/formal heresy).
So we see heretics are categorically different from non-Christians. As for the concern about clemency vs capital punishment, the explanation a historian gave on “Catholic Answers Live” years ago was that heresy was seen both to upset the political order, like treason, and, worse, to be infinitely worse than homicide: Murder only kills the body, whereas heresy kills the soul, causing eternal death. So capital punishment “ought” to be issued to both murderers and heretics in an attempt to both stifle the evil and encourage repentance.
There is only a Seeming contradiction between the Catholic doctrine on religious liberty and the condemnation of religious liberty by the Syllabus of Errors, not a Real contradiction. Quanta Cura, which was an encyclical issued together with the Syllabus, and the Syllabus itself, are condemnations only of specific interpretations of “freedom of conscience” that involved an assumption of religious indifference and a State-backed policy of secularism. Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors both refer the reader to the specific documents in which the false interpretation of religious liberty is espoused, and Pius IX’s successor Pope Leo XIII was clear that the Church is not opposed to Catholic states extending religious tolerance to non-Catholics (e.g. Immortale Dei 36-38, Libertas 42-43).
Other faithful Catholics from that period who defended of the “true” interpretation of freedom of conscience were St. John Henry Newman and Archbishop Gibbons of Maryland. St. John Henry Newman is specially of note here because of a response he wrote to the Duke of Norfolk in reaction to his criticism of the Syllabus of Errors and Quanta Cura over their condemnation of “freedom of conscience.” St. John Henry Newman’s response proves what interpretation was being condemned and explains why the true interpretation of “freedom of conscience” should be defended. This appears in Sections 6 and 7 of his book “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk”. These sections can be read here. (Other helpful documents re: the Syllabus and modern Church doctrine are this and this.)
Archbishop Gibbons is also noteworthy on this account because he published his book “Faith of our Fathers” in this time period, which was widely translated and published in both Europe and America. In it, he devotes two chapters to the defense of the “true” understanding of religious liberty, and shows that it has been a part of the Church’s tradition since the beginning. (See this chapter and this chapter.)
Here are some relevant quotes from Church History illustrating that:
Careful, Protestants are heretics, even if they aren’t guilty of heresy. Since the Church is an external, legal organization, her faith also consists of an external profession thereof. And since Protestants deny articles of the Catholic faith objectively, and yet claim to be Christians (and have valid baptism), they must be heretics objectively. Of course, this says nothing of their culpability. They may err in perfectly good faith and thus be entirely without sin.