Fr Hunwicke on religious freedom and Church teaching

I have found Fr Hunwicke’s series on religious freedom in light of the Second Vatican Council most interesting and helpful. Here’s an excerpt from his conclusion:

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. -snip-

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.

-snip-

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.

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