17 March 2014

"They have uncrowned Him" (5)

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.


Carmel Books said...

'Carmel Books', Father, not 'Carmel Press'.

Thank you for recommending the book.

Michael R. said...

I was under the impression that the purpose of the dialogue between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Society of St. Pius X was to resolve the question of the seeming opposition between the new teaching of Dignitatae Humanae and the previous teachings, which the Council also affirmed. Now that the dialogue has concluded, I wonder why the Congregation has not issued a definitive statement reconciling these teachings.

Sean North said...

It would seem, then, that Hegelianism has replaced the Principle of Non-contradiction as a foundation of Catholic theology.

SAM said...

See Ratizinger's magazine "Communio" for an excellent article by David Schindler on this very topic:

Paul Borealis said...

Food for thought. Father John Courtney Murray, regarding DIGNITATIS HUMANAE, apparently thought important questions remained. For example: "Add to this the difficult historical question, as yet not investigated: Why has humanity had to travel so long a journey on so tortuous a course to reach at last a consciousness of its dignity and to bring to fulfillment in civil society all that that dignity demands?"

Paul Borealis said...

I consulted the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the subject, an interesting treatment worth reading and considering in my opinion. One could perhaps think that Archbishop Lefebvre, had he lived, might have been pleased to see Quas primas, Quod aliquantum and Quanta cura in the references.

Regarding the doctrinal discussion between the SSPX and Rome, I am sorry it appears that concerns could not be resolved. At one point I thought that Bishop Fellay could see that it was not all bad.

I suggest reading CCC 2104-2109, and the references....


"The social duty of religion and the right to religious freedom"

BTW, I am curious why they put this section in the place they did in the CCC.

Figulus said...

Sean North,

It would only seem so if personal religious freedom founded on personal human dignity implied a right to seduce citizens into error and break the unity of faith. So far as I know, the Council never implied that.

Sue Sims said...

Fr Brian Harrison has written very helpfully on this topic in a number of papers: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8775 is useful.

Sean North said...


The Hegelianism comment was referring to #3 in Father's Conclusions.

Sean North said...


One more thing. You make a point about what the Council didn't "imply." Your question belies Father's main point: the lack of clarity from the Council on one of the most crucial issues of Western culture.

The Council was supposedly summoned to provide clarity for the Catholic faithful regarding the Faith in the modern world. In that, by Father's own decisive analysis, it failed miserably (on this point and others).

Chris said...

I accept that vatican II council is a true council of the church. Yet, the purpose of a council is not to invent dogma, but rather to (in general) respond to the heresies of the age and uphold and clarify the apostolic faith. Vatican II did not do so, and thereby failed in its purpose.

For this reason we cannot claim that it enjoyed the positive assistance of the Holy Spirit but only a negative assistance, in preserving the declarations of the Council from formal heresy.

The obscure texts are ambiguous between a non-Catholic sense which is primary, and a Catholic sense which is secondary. In the primary sense they represent a rupture with Tradition and the Faith, whereas in the secondary sense they represent a line of continuity with Tradition and the Faith.

The purpose of a Church Council is to exercise the Church’s munus docendi: to teach the Faith, but the Council in question is obscure. For this reason it cannot be used for teaching the faithful or seminarians, but must be set aside: an unreliable teacher must be dismissed from service.

It has the status of an incoherent body of doctrines, a mixture of Catholic and non-Catholic elements, like the output of some obscure medieval mystic: male sonans and offensivum piis auribus. If the Church desires to draw some benefit out of this body, she must consign it to such experts as are competent to evaluate it, as we have said above.

But this is not the priority. The priority is that faithful and seminarians come to know the Truth, to practice it, and so to save their souls and those of the others entrusted to their care. To this end they must have recourse to a more reliable teacher, namely that incontestable authority to which the Pope submitted the Council texts themselves: the Church’s Tradition.

As for the Council, we may treat it in the way in which it treated Tradition: with silence. And we shall call this silence the ‘Hermeneutic of Forgetfulness’.