Is Religious Liberty a matter of "faith and morals"?

I’m discussing religious liberty with someone at the moment, and they say that the Church has changed her teaching on religious liberty from Pius IX’s Quanta Cura and Syllabus Errorum to the Second Vatican Council’s declarations on religious liberty, with particular reference to something Pope Benedict said.

Therefore, the lady argues, the Church has changed her doctrine and can do so in the future.

My position is that the Church has never changed her doctrines or dogmas and cannot do so by the very nature of the matter. My argument is that religious liberty and the state’s relation to it is not a matter of faith and morals. I based it on a paragraph from a publication of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome:

Pope Benedict concluded his exemplification of the “hermeneutic of reform” with the doctrine of religious freedom with a concise statement: “The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relations between the Church’s faith and certain basic elements of modern thought, reelaborated or corrected some decisions made in the past.” This correction does not imply a discontinuity at the level of Catholic doctrine on faith and morals—the competency of the authentic magisterium and possessed of infallibility, even as ordinary magisterium. The Pope thus spoke here only of an “apparent discontinuity,” since, in rejecting an outdated teaching on the state, the Church “has recovered and deepened its true nature and identity. The Church was and is, both before and after the council, the same Church: one, holy, Catholic and apostolic, making its pilgrim way through time.”

In short: the teaching of Vatican II on religious freedom does not imply a new dogmatic orientation, but it does take on a new orientation for the Church’s social doctrine—specifically, a correction of its teaching on the mission and function of the state. The Council gave the same immutable principles a new application in a new historical setting.There is no timeless dogmatic Catholic doctrine on the state—nor can there be—with the exception of those principles that are rooted in the apos- tolic Tradition and in Sacred Scripture.

u.arizona.edu/~aversa/modernism/Benedict%20XVI’s%20%22Hermeneutic%20of%20Reform%22%20and%20Religious%20Freedom%20(Rhonheimer).pdf

The lady responded in these words:

“Do you really believe you can claim that a statement about the free choice of one’s religion (or the right to distance oneself from it) is not doctrine? That is ludicrous. The Church of the 19th century was not primarily concerned with the understanding of the state, rather it feared that by abandoning the one true Religion (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus) many souls would be lost, which is why they were not to be granted the related freedoms.”

Now, my question is thus: Is it a matter of faith and morals? Has the Church truly changed this “doctrine”? If she has, this seriously shakes my faith in the Church.

By the very nature of your question “faith and morals” you are wondering if she is questioning infallible statements of the Pope.

The short answer is no, those are not infallible documents per se. The longer answer is that those documents have to be seen in the whole context of when they were issued, to whom they are referring, and what was their intent etc. just to understand what the document is teaching. Individual passages taken out of context can not be quoted as proof texts for some singular point.

It is exactly as Pope Benedict has stated. These corrections were necessary because of an APPARENT discontinuity. This is exactly the normal process in the development of doctrine. The kernel of doctrine remains bound to the Truth. But the enunciation of that doctrine develops over time with added circumstances of deeper understanding.

Religious liberty is a matter of “morals”, as are teachings on topics such as contraception, abortion, social justice, death penalty, etc.

Matters of “faith” are things like transsubstantiation, the assumption of Mary, papal infallibility, etc.

The Church cannot change doctrine. Therefore, if something is changed, it was not doctrine. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that the Church changes its doctrines because it doesn’t. It doesn’t have the authority to amend/tamper with Divinely Revealed Truths. The Church is the pillar of Truth. Benedict XVI was very clear in what he said in the quote you provided.

The doctrine has not changed, but its application to particular circumstances have. This is what Pope Benedict said on this topic:

[quote=Benedict XVI]In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church’s decisions on contingent matters - for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible - should necessarily be contingent themselves, 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. Thus, for example, if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.
[/quote]

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia_en.html

You also have to understand what the doctrine is. Neither Dignitatis Humanae, nor Quanta Cura and the Syllabus can be read in a vacuum as both are applying fixed principles to specific things and therefore you need to understand what those things were.

The fixed principles–the doctrine–is this: all men have a duty toward the true religion–no one is morally free to pick and choose whatever religion he wants. However, this act of freedom must be physically free–the state does not have direct authority to coerce it. That being said, the state exists for the benefit of the common good, and therefore, it can limit false religious activity that harms the common good or go against the objective moral order (the natural law, rather than revealed truth). See CCC 2104 to 2109 (these paragraphs apply both Dignitatis Humanae and Quanta Cura harmoniously–see their footnotes).

The 19th century Popes saw the declarations of religious freedom made by the Liberal regimes of that time as including the moral freedom (which at the time they were intending to include, as this was a central tenet of Liberalism) and they were also concerned with an absolute and positivist freedom that was being advocated, which neglected an objective conception of the common good and also affected the Church’s own discipline of its erring members.

Vatican II’s declaration deals with physical freedom, and specifically teaches against the latter moral freedom. Vatican II took place at a time where broad freedom existed already in many places and had for some time, and where it had been conducive to the common good for various good reasons. On the other hand, there existed a growing trend from Communists and Socialists to forcibly coerce and suppress religious activity for evil reasons contrary to the common good. Likewise, there still existed many who feared that granting Catholics greater influence in society would result in their persecution of non-Catholics to the detriment of the common good.

As you can see, the Church in the 19th century and the Church in the 20th were applying the same principles to vastly different circumstances, which is why the conclusions appear different.

If you have any questions about the meaning of particular magisterial texts like Qunata Curra (the Syllabus is especially confusing to many, because it requires one to read the actual texts cited), please let me know. I’ve looked into this topic in some depth because it does appear problematic on its face–but I have concluded that ultimately, it is the Church that is right, as usual.

What the pope has said is not an infallible declaration, though it is perfectly defensible. That doesn’t mean the Church doesn’t have a doctrine about religious liberty, though – it does, and it is contained with Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.

The contradiction between Vatican II and the Syllabus of Errors is, however, a contradiction in appearance only. Quanta Cura, which was 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 both Pius IX (who issued the document) and, especially, his successor Pope Leo XIII, were clear in other contexts that the Church was not opposed to Catholic states extending religious tolerance to non-Catholics – Pope Leo XIII even said that “true” liberty in matters of religion comes from this context.

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 at this time period is also noteworthy on this account because he published his book “Faith of our Fathers” in this year, 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.

Here are some relevant quotes from Church History illustrating that:

213 A.D. - Tertullian said: “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man’s religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion—to which free-will and not force should lead us.” (Ad Scapulam, chapter 2)

308 A.D. - Lactantius said: “Religion, being a matter of the will, cannot be forced on anyone. In this matter it is better to employ words than blows. Of what use is cruelty? What has the rack to do with piety? Surely there is no connection between truth and violence, between justice and cruelty.” (De Divinis Institutionibus 5, 10)

313 A.D. - The edict of Milan (passed by the first Christian emperor Constantine) grants “to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each [has] preferred” so that both Christians and non-Christians may have “the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, [and so] that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases.”

597 A.D. - King Ethelbert of England learns from the Roman missionaries who converted him that the Christians believe in religious freedom, and thus he does not coerce his subjects but lets them adopt Christianity freely: “Their conversion the king so far encouraged, as that he compelled none to embrace Christianity, but only showed more affection to the believers, as to his fellow*-citizens in the heavenly kingdom. For he had learned from his instructors and leaders to salvation, that the service of Christ ought to be voluntary, not by compulsion.” (Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England, Chapter 26)

633 A.D. - The Fourth Council of Toledo decrees against religious intolerance: “No one should henceforth be forced to believe, [for] God hath mercy on whom he will and whom he will he hardeneth; such men should not be saved unwillingly but willingly, in order that the procedure of justice should be complete; for just as man perished obedient to the serpent out of his own free will, so will any man be saved—when called by the divine grace—by believing and in converting his own mind. They should be persuaded to convert, therefore, of their own free choice, rather than forced by violence.” (Fourth Council of Toledo, Canon 57)

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787 A.D. - St. Alcuin of York said: “Faith is a free act of the will, not a forced act. We must appeal to the conscience, not compel it by violence. You can force people to be baptised, but you cannot force them to believe.” He was confronting Charlemagne over his recent decision to force Saxon pagans to be baptized or be killed, and as a result of this confrontation Charlemagne abolished the death penalty for paganism. (Needham. Two Thousand Years of Christ’s Power, Part Two: The Middle Ages. Grace Publications, 2000. p. 52.)

866 A.D. - Pope Nicholas I said: “Concerning those who refuse to receive the good of Christianity and sacrifice and bend their knees to idols, we can write nothing else to you than that you move them towards the right faith by warnings, exhortations, and reason rather than by force, proving that what they know in vain, is wrong. … Furthermore, violence is never in any way to be inflicted upon them to make them believe. For whatever is not from an inner desire [ex voto], cannot be good.” (Ad consulta vestra, Response of Nicholas I to the Bulgarians)

1065 A.D. - Pope Alexander II said: “Although We have no doubt it stems from the zeal of devotion that your Nobility arranges to lead Jews to the worship of Christendom…you seem to do it with a zeal that is inordinate. For we do not read that our Lord Jesus Christ violently forced anyone into his service, but that by humble exhortation, leaving to each person his own freedom of choice, he recalled from error whomsoever he had predestined to eternal life, doing so not by judging them, but by shedding his own blood. Likewise, the blessed Gregory forbids, in one of his letters, that the said people should be drawn to the faith by violence.” (Letter Licet ex to Prince Landolfo of Benevento)

1201 A.D. - Pope Innocent III said: “It is contrary to the Christian religion to force others to into accepting and practicing Christianity if they are always unwilling and totally opposed.” “The one who never consents and is absolutely unwilling receives neither the reality [rem] nor the character [characterem] of the sacrament because express dissent is something more than not consenting at all.” (Letter Maiores Ecclesiae causas to Archbishop Humbert of Arles)

1482 A.D. - During the Spanish Inquisition, Pope Sixtus IV condemned the violence of the Inquisitors, and intervened on behalf of the accused, instituting several humanitarian reforms so that the victims of abuses could find safety from abusive Inquisitors. (Papal Bull Ad Perpetuam Rei Memoriam, reproduced in page 587 of Volume 1 of Henry Charles Lea’s “A History of the Inquisition of Spain.”)

1528 A.D. - St. Thomas More wrote that violence should not be used against heretics even by secular authorities, unless the heretics themselves are violent, and then only for that reason. (Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Part IV, Chapter 13)

1557 A.D. - Francisco de Vitoria’s book De Indis, a classic of the School of Salamanca, is published in this year. It proclaims the right to religious liberty both in regard to those who have heard of the Christian faith and in regard to those who have not: “[E]ven if [unbelievers] refuse to recognize any lordship of the Pope, that furnishes no ground for making war on them and seizing their property. … [And] even if the barbarians refuse to accept Christ as their lord, this does not justify making war on them or doing them any hurt. … The proof lies in the fact that belief is an operation of the will, which is free].” (De Indis Book 4 Section 2 #7, #15)

~1612 A.D. - Martin Becan, the religious advisor of Emperor Ferdinand II, argues, in the words of Cardinal Gibbons, that “[A Catholic] ruler may [legitimately] enter into a compact [which] secure[s] to his subjects…freedom in religious matters; and when once a compact [like this] is made it must be observed absolutely in every point, just as every other lawful and honest contract.” (Becanus, de Virtutibus Theologicis, c. 16, quaest. 4, No. 2, as cited in Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers, Chapter XXX)

1634 A.D. - The state of Maryland is founded by Catholics with the express purpose of being a safe-haven where religious liberty will be respected.

~1701 A.D. - After the deposition of King James II, the last Catholic king of England, Bishop Fenelon advises James the Pretender to respect the religious liberty of his subjects: “Above all, never force your subjects to change their religion. No human power can reach the impenetrable recess of the free will of the heart. Violence can never persuade men; it serves only to make hypocrites. … Grant civil liberty to all, not in approving every thing as good, nor regarding everything as indifferent, but in tolerating with patience whatever Almighty God tolerates, and endeavoring to convert men by mild persuasion.”

That brings us up nearly to the 1800s, when voices like Pope Leo XIII, St. John Henry Newman, and Archbishop Gibbons brought us the doctrine of religious liberty that was professed at Vatican II. Don’t let anybody tell you the Church used to teach the contrary; although religious liberty was not always applied to heretics during the Middle Ages, the Church’s doctrine was not changed from what it had been during the age of the Fathers and was not different then from what it is now.

Good posts dmar198–the Newman citation is definitely a good one that really explains what was actually being condemned.

In addition to Gibbons, I would also recommend Archibishop John Hughes’ 19th century debate with the Presbyterian minister John Breckinridge on the Catholic doctrine on religious liberty. He also explains why heretics’ freedom was limited in certain circumstances and why this was compatible with Catholic doctrine (because of their grave harm to the common good, and he gives various examples).

I would also add this encyclical of Paul III, which condemned depriving the American natives of their liberty even though they were outside the faith, and said they should be instead converted by preaching the Gospel and by good example:

papalencyclicals.net/Paul03/p3subli.htm

I would also point out, that in the past the Church justified punishing heretics based on its ownauthority to punish them, not a power inherent in the state (the state sometimes acted as an arm of the Church, when the rulers were members of the Church.).

The Church’s power of coercion was taught by the Council of Trent, at Session VII, Canon 14, and is still in the Church’s canon law, which allows the Church to coerce with both spiritual and temporal penalties:

Can. 1311 The Church has the innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faithful with penal sanctions.

§2. The law can establish other expiatory penalties which deprive a member of the Christian faithful of some spiritual or temporal good and which are consistent with the supernatural purpose of the Church.
vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P4U.HTM

dmar, your answer ROCKS! Are you a theologian?

God bless you!

:heart::heaven:

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia_en.html

You also have to understand what the doctrine is. Neither Dignitatis Humanae, nor Quanta Cura and the Syllabus can be read in a vacuum as both are applying fixed principles to specific things and therefore you need to understand what those things were.

The fixed principles–the doctrine–is this: all men have a duty toward the true religion–no one is morally free to pick and choose whatever religion he wants. However, this act of freedom must be physically free–the state does not have direct authority to coerce it. That being said, the state exists for the benefit of the common good, and therefore, it can limit false religious activity that harms the common good or go against the objective moral order (the natural law, rather than revealed truth). See CCC 2104 to 2109 (these paragraphs apply both Dignitatis Humanae and Quanta Cura harmoniously–see their footnotes).

The 19th century Popes saw the declarations of religious freedom made by the Liberal regimes of that time as including the moral freedom (which at the time they were intending to include, as this was a central tenet of Liberalism) and they were also concerned with an absolute and positivist freedom that was being advocated, which neglected an objective conception of the common good and also affected the Church’s own discipline of its erring members.

Vatican II’s declaration deals with physical freedom, and specifically teaches against the latter moral freedom. Vatican II took place at a time where broad freedom existed already in many places and had for some time, and where it had been conducive to the common good for various good reasons. On the other hand, there existed a growing trend from Communists and Socialists to forcibly coerce and suppress religious activity for evil reasons contrary to the common good. Likewise, there still existed many who feared that granting Catholics greater influence in society would result in their persecution of non-Catholics to the detriment of the common good.

As you can see, the Church in the 19th century and the Church in the 20th were applying the same principles to vastly different circumstances, which is why the conclusions appear different.

If you have any questions about the meaning of particular magisterial texts like Qunata Curra (the Syllabus is especially confusing to many, because it requires one to read the actual texts cited), please let me know. I’ve looked into this topic in some depth because it does appear problematic on its face–but I have concluded that ultimately, it is the Church that is right, as usual.
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A great post, thank you very much. Nice and clear! I like the fact that Pope Benedict seems to have posted here as well. :wink:

Dmar, thanks very much, another great post that helps a lot. Especially Bl. John Henry Newman (he’s not a saint yet, is he?) and the timeline you gave are very helpful.

I’m not even a college graduate yet. But one of my passions is the Church Fathers, another is medieval Catholic history, and a third is Catholic social doctrine. When I get to explore the connections between these three, it’s awesome.

Blessed John Henry Newman, sorry. I thought he had been canonized. :shrug:

Who knows, he may very well be. After all, his Beatification is not that long ago yet.

You’re welcome–haha, I thought everyone knew the Pope Emeritus spends his time on CAF these days :wink:

Also, dmar198’s timeline is definitely getting bookmarked by me.

I’m sure we’d have a lot more Catholics in the world if the Pope Emeritus created an account. The number of threads in “Liturgy and Sacraments” would likely decline rapidly. :slight_smile:

We are still praying for his canonization. :gopray2:

When I think about religious liberty, I think about its connection to “faith and morals.”

Our belief is that we are called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. Religious liberty insures our freedom to seek our Creator and cleave to Him–offering ourselves in worship to Him in the public Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
(CCC, 355-357; CCC, 1730-1731))

What you posted is invaluable!

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