In practical terms, the difference between the new teaching of Dignitatis humanae, and the previous doctrine, is not great; it is so technical that those who can live without fine distinctions can certainly live without considering this fine distinction! Because, in practice, the settled principle of the Church was that states may legislate for religious liberty for everybody and are not obliged always to maintain laws oppressive to non-Catholic minorities. (I was interested to discover, at Avignon in the Papal States, a synagogue built there when the French Kingdom, just across the Rhone, discouraged Jewish worship but the Papacy allowed it; and B Pius IX boasted to Mgr Dupanloup that Rome itself contained a Synagogue and a 'Protestant Temple'). The only disagreement concerns the theological principle upon which this freedom to pass laws guaranteeing religious liberty is based. We are not discussing whether a rigorously Catholic Parliament at Westminster would pass a law to prevent Methodists from expanding their over-packed chapels or whether a devoutly Catholic James IV would feel obliged to Revoke whatever may be the British equivalent of the Edict of Nantes! S Bartholomew's Day need hold no terrors for our Presbyterians!
The 'fine distinction' is this. The Council declared that "the human person has a right to religious freedom". It went on to declare that "the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person". But the earlier Magisterium taught that the State - if it were a Catholic State - should "protect the citizens against the seductions of error, in order to keep the City in the unity of faith, which is the supreme good", and may regulate and moderate the public manifestations of other cults and defend its citizens against the spreading of false doctrines which, in the judgement of the Church, put their eternal salvation at risk". This teaching (I am quoting, incidentally, from the curial draft which was put before the Fathers but discarded) went on, however, to say that, because of Christian charity and prudence, a desire to draw dissidents to the Church by kindness, to avoid scandals or civil wars, to obtain civil cooperation and peaceful coexistence, "a just tolerance, even sanctioned by laws, can, according to the circumstances, be imposed".
In other words, non-Catholics in a Catholic state may and perhaps should for good reasons be granted an immunity from coercion. It is not, as the Council asserts, a natural right founded in the dignity of the human person.
There are clever ways round this problem. A Professor Thomas Pink argued that the earlier Magisterium did not in fact assign to the State the right to limit liberty; it took the view that the Church has her rights over those who through baptism are her subjects, so that, if the State did coerce, it was acting on behalf of the Church. In other words, within the assumptions of the Christendom state, which we considered in my first piece, the boundaries between Church and State are coterminous (except, habitually, for the Jews) and the problem of Religious Liberty arises only as this unity dissolves, gradually in the early modern period and catastrophically in the Age of Revolutions.
Another factor which should not be forgotten is that the Council admitted that Scripture provides no basis for its own novel teaching. Indeed it does not: the entire Old Testament is a consistent assertion of the corporate Judaism state, with nation and cult coterminous. This admission perhaps offers a way ahead. Here we have one of the many respects in which the life of the people of Israel before the Christian era, and belief in the Christendom State, are in close agreement. We have much to learn from our Hebrew inheritance. The integration of Scripture into this dialogue constitutes another piece of unfinished Conciliar business.
Furthermore, the curial draft (which Mgr Lefebvre helpfully provides at the end of his book) itself asserts that "the civil Authority is not permitted in any way to compel consciences to accept the faith revealed by God. Indeed the faith is essentially free and cannot be the object of any constraint." This is not the same as to say that the right to religious freedom has its foundations in the dignity of the human person, but are not the two positions within reach of each other?
What must be accepted is the Right of Christ to rule and the unlawfulness of secular legislation which contradicts his Law. Legislation against the will of God is legislation which the Christian is not simply not bound to obey; it is something which he is obliged to disobey. Christ is King and, as S Paul told the Philippians, our politeuma is from above. It will become all the more important to teach this and to preach it, as the social and legal framework of secular society becomes ever more, year by year, a grotesque and Diabolical inversion and parody of the Civitas Dei. Daily, they uncrown him. Thank God for every archbishop or bishop who has bravely made this point, for every priestly or lay society which has preached Christ as King.
(1) There can be no doubt that the new teaching given in Dignitatis humanae may be taught and upheld in the Catholic Church. It is embodied in a Conciliar document ratified by the Roman Pontiff (and, according to his biographer, signed by Archbishop Lefebvre together with an overwhelming majority of the Fathers). But those who do promote this teaching will be performing a suppressio veri if they fail to state, as the Council did, the abiding authority of the previously established teaching. Because:
(2) The same Council with the same authority reasserted the teaching of the previous Magisterium, without qualification. Thus any suggestion that those, such as Mgr Lefebvre's followers, who continue to lay great emphasis upon the teaching of the previous Magisterium, are opposing the Magisterium of the post-Conciliar Church, would itself be a clear denial of the Council's authority and would seem to me to merit a formal Magisterial correction. And:
(3) The Council itself gave no guidance about how two positions, both asserted but both prima facie in opposition to each other, are to be reconciled. If this is not a simple absurdity, it can only mean that both are to be held within the Church, in creative and courteous tension, until by the Grace of God a consensus is reached.
This is the context within which I commend Mgr Lefebvre's book* (although, to be honest, not all its rhetorical hyperbole) as essential reading in pursuing the tasks which the Council bequeathed to us.
*Angelus Press and Carmel Books.