Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Religious Liberty - Vatican For or Against?

The Catholic News Service reported comments of Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), one of the most prominent "traditionalist" groups. Fellay seemed to take the position that Vatican II has been widely misunderstood. On the topic of "Religious Liberty," Fellay said that "In our talks with Rome, they clearly said, that to mean that there would be a right to error - or a right to choose each one his religion is false." (link)

On the other hand, compare the Vatican's statements as recently as 2 March 2011:
... there is a fear that respecting the freedom to choose and practice another religion, different from one’s own, is based on a premise that all truth is relative and that one’s religion is no longer absolutely valid. That is a misunderstanding. The right to adopt, and to change, a religion is based on respect for human dignity: the State must allow each person to freely search for the truth.

Or consider these words of Benedict XVI, reported 14 February 2012:
I ask the whole Church, through patient dialogue with Muslims, to seek juridical and practical recognition of religious freedom, so that every citizen in Africa may enjoy not only the right to choose his religion freely and to engage in worship, but also the right to freedom of conscience. Religious freedom is the road to peace

To see why this sort of thing concerns traditionalists, compare to the following from Leo XIII (20 June 1888):
19. To make this more evident, the growth of liberty ascribed to our age must be considered apart in its various details. And, first, let us examine that liberty in individuals which is so opposed to the virtue of religion, namely, the liberty of worship, as it is called. This is based on the principle that every man is free to profess as he may choose any religion or none.

20. But, assuredly, of all the duties which man has to fulfill, that, without doubt, is the chiefest and holiest which commands him to worship God with devotion and piety. This follows of necessity from the truth that we are ever in the power of God, are ever guided by His will and providence, and, having come forth from Him, must return to Him. Add to which, no true virtue can exist without religion, for moral virtue is concerned with those things which lead to God as man's supreme and ultimate good; and therefore religion, which (as St. Thomas says) "performs those actions which are directly and immediately ordained for the divine honor",(7) rules and tempers all virtues. And if it be asked which of the many conflicting religions it is necessary to adopt, reason and the natural law unhesitatingly tell us to practice that one which God enjoins, and which men can easily recognize by certain exterior notes, whereby Divine Providence has willed that it should be distinguished, because, in a matter of such moment, the most terrible loss would be the consequence of error. Wherefore, when a liberty such as We have described is offered to man, the power is given him to pervert or abandon with impunity the most sacred of duties, and to exchange the unchangeable good for evil; which, as We have said, is no liberty, but its degradation, and the abject submission of the soul to sin.

21. This kind of liberty, if considered in relation to the State, clearly implies that there is no reason why the State should offer any homage to God, or should desire any public recognition of Him; that no one form of worship is to be preferred to another, but that all stand on an equal footing, no account being taken of the religion of the people, even if they profess the Catholic faith. But, to justify this, it must needs be taken as true that the State has no duties toward God, or that such duties, if they exist, can be abandoned with impunity, both of which assertions are manifestly false. For it cannot be doubted but that, by the will of God, men are united in civil society; whether its component parts be considered; or its form, which implies authority; or the object of its existence; or the abundance of the vast services which it renders to man. God it is who has made man for society, and has placed him in the company of others like himself, so that what was wanting to his nature, and beyond his attainment if left to his own resources, he might obtain by association with others. Wherefore, civil society must acknowledge God as its Founder and Parent, and must obey and reverence His power and authority. Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless; or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness-namely, to treat the various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges. Since, then, the profession of one religion is necessary in the State, that religion must be professed which alone is true, and which can be recognized without difficulty, especially in Catholic States, because the marks of truth are, as it were, engravers upon it. This religion, therefore, the rulers of the State must preserve and protect, if they would provide - as they should do - with prudence and usefulness for the good of the community. For public authority exists for the welfare of those whom it governs; and, although its proximate end is to lead men to the prosperity found in this life, yet, in so doing, it ought not to diminish, but rather to increase, man's capability of attaining to the supreme good in which his everlasting happiness consists: which never can be attained if religion be disregarded.

22. All this, however, We have explained more fully elsewhere. We now only wish to add the remark that liberty of so false a nature is greatly hurtful to the true liberty of both rulers and their subjects. Religion, of its essence, is wonderfully helpful to the State. For, since it derives the prime origin of all power directly from God Himself, with grave authority it charges rulers to be mindful of their duty, to govern without injustice or severity, to rule their people kindly and with almost paternal charity; it admonishes subjects to be obedient to lawful authority, as to the ministers of God; and it binds them to their rulers, not merely by obedience, but by reverence and affection, forbidding all seditious and venturesome enterprises calculated to disturb public order and tranquillity, and cause greater restrictions to be put upon the liberty of the people. We need not mention how greatly religion conduces to pure morals, and pure morals to liberty. Reason shows, and history confirms the fact, that the higher the morality of States; the greater are the liberty and wealth and power which they enjoy.

Rome's singing a different tune today, because Rome is finding itself without the political power to which it had become accustomed. But what is curious is that the SSPX folks, or at least their superior general, seems to have received the impression that Rome agrees with SSPX that there is no right of religious liberty - no right of men to freely choose their own religion.

- TurretinFan


Gil said...

My understanding is that the SSPX is not part of the Roman Church any longer. Therefore, they have no saying in the RC and their views carry no legitmate weight.

turretinfan said...


Thanks for stopping by. Your understanding is wrong.


Ed Rae said...

To be fair, the Bible and the Reformers would have flatly rejected the idea that there is a "right of religious liberty" or a "right of men to freely choose their own religion." While religious liberty can, of course, be defended on the basis of drawing a sharper distinction between the Old and New Testaments than the Reformers did (e.g. by Mennonites and Arminians) and/or for practical considerations and/or on the basis of following the law of the land, it would be wrong to say that the Bible supports a "right" to religious liberty. With respect to the Bible, numerous places in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) are incompatible with any kind of "right" of religious liberty, as are the actions of Elijah (in slaying the prophets of Baal), and as is the millennialist understanding of Revelation 19:15.

Roman Catholics and Anglicans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were notorious in their opposition to religious toleration, but from the Reformers' side, John Calvin (who urged for the burning of Michael Servetus in Geneva), Theodore Beza, John Knox, the Scottish Confession of Faith, the writings of the Scottish Covenanters (especially George Gillespie and Samuel Rutherford), and the Westminster Confession of Faith, were all opposed to religious toleration (as were many of the seventeenth century New England Congregationalists). John Owen and the English Independents were only in favour of limited religious toleration, and even John Locke rejected toleration for Roman Catholics and atheists. Anyway, the idea of a "right" of religious liberty is something that is both foreign to the Bible and is something that would have appalled both Roman Catholics and the magisterial Reformers alike.

turretinfan said...


Yes. I don't endorse any right of religious liberty. That's not the point.


Ed Rae said...

I didn't think you would endorse a "right" of religious liberty. ... But I wasn't clear on the point you were driving at.

If it was just that the Vatican contradicts itself, I'd almost think that to be self-evident. ... Clearly Pius X and Leo XII disagree with post-Vatican II RCs and one cannot have both a pluralistic state that recognizes religious liberty (like modern America) and a state that regards enforcing uniformity of the true religion as one of its goals (like OT Israel, medieval Europe or Reformation Geneva or Scotland).

On the other hand, depending on one's premises, one could argue (a) that there is no Divine Law right or Natural Law right to religious liberty, but either (b) that there is a man-made Positive Law right to religious liberty in modern pluralistic society, or (c) that in the current state of affairs, the goal of peace is more important than an attempt to enforce anything along the lines of uniformity of religion so that there should be 'juridicial and practical recognition' of a [positive law] right to freedom of conscience and religion.

turretinfan said...

"If it was just that the Vatican contradicts itself, I'd almost think that to be self-evident. "

Yet you might be surprised how many people adamantly deny that very point.