Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Religious Liberty and the Pope

This is from the section on “Religious Liberty” from The Catechism of the Catholic Church. You need to read slowly and with great care, as the CCC is notorious for slippery language. Very often, what sounds quite good at first blush sounds very different upon analysis. The numbers are paragraph references. I’ve boldfaced some phrases for emphasis.

2108 The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right.

The moral right to be Catholic is presupposed, but there IS no moral right to adhere to error. Therefore, for you to be Lutheran or Presbyterian or Orthodox instead of Catholic is not a moral right but a limited, civil right. The importance of this phrasing is that what you are immune from is constraint by political authorities (nothing yet said about ecclesiastical ones), within just limits. (Keep reading for more on those limits.) The practical effect is to protect only Catholics from infringements upon their religious liberty.

2109 The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a "public order" conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner.

The naturalists and the positivists denied the authority of the Church in public affairs. Thus, what this sentence says is, your right to be non-Catholic is definitely limited, but not by civil authorities apart from the directives of the Church. In other words, only Rome can make these decisions.

The "due limits" which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with "legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order.

Let's consider the above in small chunks now:

The "due limits" which are inherent in it [religious liberty] must be determined for each social situation by political prudence,

Rome "must" determine the limits of religious freedom "for each social situation” on the basis of "political prudence". Political, not spiritual! (Politically prudent for whom? Not for course for the one whose religious liberty is being limited! )

according to the requirements of the common good,

The highest common good – ask any devout Catholic! – is always that everybody should be Catholic or at least live in a Catholic society.

and ratified by the civil authority

The role of the civil authorities in limiting your religious liberty is not to make the decisions about it, but to ratify the decisions made by the ecclesiastical authority, Rome. This they “must” do, the "must" from the beginning of the paragraph being still in effect.

in accordance with "legal principles which are in conformity with the
objective moral order."

The “objective moral order” is what the pope says it is, he being the supreme and infallible teacher of faith and morals. The civil authorities must enact laws whose principles conform to his teaching.

Summary and Bottom Line:

You have no moral right to cling to error; hence, you have no moral right to religious liberty unless you are Catholic. You do have a limited civil right. The pope claims the sole authority (and duty) to be the one who limits your civil right to religious freedom, and to impose his moral ideas upon you, according to what he determines best furthers the common interest and what to him seems politically prudent in any given situation. The civil authorities must ratify the pope’s decisions, using laws they have enacted according to his teaching.

Is that scary or what? God bless the Reformers, who removed so much of the pope’s secular power! They were amazingly courageous men!

The Catholics to whom I pointed this out on one discussion forum were furious and said this was not only a twisting, but a torturing of the text. But really, how can we read it any other way? Go ahead, try; I give it to you again, in whole this time, for your convenience so you don’t even have to scroll back through this post. I’ve even removed my emphases, so you can read it exactly as written:

2108 The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to
adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a
natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity,
within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by
political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged
in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a
civil right.

2109 The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited
nor limited only by a "public order" conceived in a positivist or
naturalist manner. The "due limits" which are inherent in it
must be determined for each social situation by political prudence,
according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by
the civil authority in accordance with "legal principles which are in
conformity with the objective moral order."

(It STILL sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Until you stop to scrutinize it and realize what is really being said.)


Chris Jones said...


This is a fine analysis.

The text is quite remarkable. It has the appearance of clarity, but in fact it is deliberately unclear at key points.

The important point on which it is unclear is, of course, the identity of the person or entity who is to decide the limits to be placed on religious liberty. There can be no doubt that you are right to see that chief actor as the Pope -- or, more broadly, the Church's magisterium.

The text is quite clear in distinguishing between a moral, and therefore an absolute, right and a civil right, construed narrowly as a freedom from constraint and in principle subject to limitation (and therefore not absolute). And until and unless the limits to be placed on that civil right are specified, the civil right remains abstract, amorphous, and uncertain, and so does not concretely exist.

How the right to religious liberty is to be circumscribed is seen in the contrast between "public order" conceived in a positivist or
naturalist manner
on the one hand and the objective moral order on the other. What is "public order conceived in a naturalist manner," but the application of the principles of justice according to natural law? And the civil authorities are quite competent to do that, even if they do not adhere to revealed religion. So by denying "naturalistic" public order as a basis for any limitation of religious liberty, the Catechism is excluding the civil authorities from any role in determining those limits. Their role is not determining what those limits are, but only "ratifying" the decision of someone else.

The Catechism conveniently declines to identify that competent authority explicitly. But it does say that the proper basis for determining those limits is the objective moral order. And the source of our knowledge of the objective moral order is divine revelation, of which (in the Roman Catholic system) the only proper guardian and authority is the Church's magisterium, in which the Pope is supreme.

On the surface, the Catholic objectors are right: the text does not explicitly say that the Pope is in control of what "religious liberty" means in the civil sphere. But the implications of what the text does (and does not) say are inescapable. The Roman Catholic Church is made to appear to be the champion of religious liberty, but in reality is to be the arbiter and judge of that liberty.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Chris wrote: "The Roman Catholic Church is made to appear to be the champion of religious liberty, but in reality is to be the arbiter and judge of that liberty."

Good observation. Thing is, Rome tries to be BOTH: the champion of religious liberty for Catholics, AND the arbier and judge of it for everyone else.

The text, I'd say, is not so much unclear as it is inexplicit (to use your other word). To an informed and attentive reader, the meaning seems quite clear. It just isn't (quite) spelled out.


Anonymous said...

Hi Anastasia,
I read your article. This link might interest you:
I notice that the Greek Government still notes on identity cards if someone is Orthodox (or not). What do you think about that?
Do you think Orthodoxy has a good track record on Religious Liberty? What texts have been produced by Orthodox Churches on these questions? For example, what should I make of Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos?
Thanks for any feedback.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for the link, which I read with fascination. I see it as corroborating what I have written here, and find it chilling.

The Orthodox Church has no "social doctrine" per se, although of course the priciples of love and justice are always to prevail in all relationships. The Church herself, therefore, has no track record on this subject at all.

Various Orthodox rulers and governments do, who, I think, have not conceived of religious liberty as we have known it in America.

I don't remember the details of the controversy surrounding that monastery. I DO know there are two sides to the story, and there was a lot of misleading propaganda. In any case, to think of religious liberty there makes as little sense as it would inside the Vatican.

Anonymous said...

Hello again Anastasias -
I'd be interested to see where we differ in our interpretations - if you have a moment to spend answering....
As I understand it, the article I directed you to is saying this:
Before Vatican II and in response to Enlightenment challenges (most notably Indifferentism) the Magisterium of the Church argued for very limited public expressions of non-Catholic worship inside of nations that were Catholic (by rule/tradition/majority). The syllogistic rendering of the argument for this restriction seems to be the following:
Error does not have Moral Rights to propagate itself in so far as it leads people from the Truth.
Christianity is the Truth. Therefore all that is non-Christian does not have a Moral Right to express itself.

We feel uncomfortable with the governmental consequences of this absolutism after a century of ideological purges and gulags. It seems to fly in the face of a fundamental liberty of expression that is held to be key to respecting the human person:
"Where first they burn books, then next they shall burn people."
All the same, as Western Europe is finding out - there ARE limits to the toleration of the expression of values that negate that tolerance. They can't be accomodated indefinitely because of the social upheavals they cause. And they certainly can't be tolerated indefinitely from a demographic/democratic point of view in so far as when there is a majority vote to do away with Democracy - what happens to the Western Liberal Project? This is not yet the case on a national level in Europe - but it is already the case on a city level in various urban centres across Europe where a large and growing Muslim minority (and in Sheffield, England, and Rotterdam, in Holland a Muslim majority) are influencing local politics.

This poses REAL problems for the Relativist Liberal Culture we live in because either it will have to abandon its Relativism or its Liberalism OR disappear (which is the road that parts of Europe are on already).

Therefore, the pre-Vatican II "absolutism" whilst, in a totally different context, nevertheless retains a certain worrying pertinence: Just how far can we be Tolerant of Intolerance?
Which is our post-Modern, Relativistic way of saying:
To what extent can Truth give rights to Error?

Vatican II to my ears seems to be saying this (as it tries to accomodate what is true in the Enlightenment project):
If we cannot grant error a Moral Right we must allow those who are in error (notice the shift from the theoretical to the personal) the right to follow their conscience, no matter how erroneous it is. With the condition that this does not destablise the Common Good.

THEREFORE - the question that worries non-Catholics is not about religious liberty per se but about who decides what is right and wrong, good and bad, error and truth. And the fear often expressed is that it will be the arbitrary diktat of the "infallible" Pope in Rome (and there we do start on the slippery slope down to Esphigmenou Monastery for whom, like the Seventh Day Aventists, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Westminster Baptists and many Evangelicals, Rome is the Great Harlot and the Pope is the Antichrist just biding his time before exterminating the Faithful).

But this Arbitrary Pontifical judgement over these questions does not bear scrutiny: discerning the Moral Good is NOT the same thing as determining it (which, afterall, was part of the Serpent's original temptation) and it is something that is therefore over and above all of us - even a Pope speaking infallibly - as he would be the first to admit.

For sure, there a contingent situations where the prudential political judgement is poorly enlightened (you like the film The Mission - the decision of the Holy Father is a case in point) but it's precisely because, afterwards, we can see the wider moral picture, that proves that this moral discernment is common to all of us.

Just my two bits.
In Jesus and Mary.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I do agree with you about the problems that can arise with religious liberty. Especially the situation in Europe is a powder keg ready to explode.

However, we Orthodox think this is the state's problem, not the Church's. It is up to the state to protect its culture if it cares to (which apparently the Europeans and Americans do not), to set immigration policy, and so forth.

Nor do we feel the Church ought to dictate state policy. Our job is simply to be faithful, letting the chips fall where they may. It is the Holy Spirit's job to guard and protect His Church. Not ours. And in our experience, He faithfully does it.

It is also not our job to avoid martyrdom. The Orthodox Church is rich with martyrs, especially in the 20th Century, more martyrs than any other body can claim. Sometimes it is through martyrdom the Holy Spirit preserves His Church. We need to try to be ready for that.

Also for us, it's not a question of whether error has any moral right. We do not think in such abstract terms, but in personal. (You also noted this distinction.) People have rights.

And those rights they are born with, just in virtue of being humans. These are not rights anybody gives them or can take away. They are God-given and inalienable. The only question for us is what precisely those rights are.

My own, personal opinion (and it's just that, mine, not the Orthodox Church's, and an opinion, not a doctrine) is that Western countries should have been much more circumspect about allowing Muslims to come there in the first place. Now it seems too late to avoid paying a stiff price for that foolishness -- and perhaps exacting a stiff price, as well.

"My kingdom is not of this world."


Anonymous said...

Hello there Anastasias - thanks for your reply - I appreciate this dialogue!
We're touching on a lot of issues here, so you'll forgive me if I over-simplify.
In terms of Church/State relations - I've done my wiki research (!) These are the countries that have the Catholic Church as their state religion:
Argentina Bolivia Costa Rica El Salvador Liechtenstein Malta Monaco Slovakia - which equals some 60 million people.
These are the countries that have the Orthodox Church as their state religion: Russia Greece Moldova Finland Cyprus - which equals some 160 million people.

I have not included those countries where the Catholic or Orthodox Churches enjoy a particular authority - without being a state religion: Italy, for example and Romania.
But, given the fact that the Orthodox Churches number over 300 million baptised and the Catholic Church numbers over 1,000,000,000 it looks as if the Orthodox Churches have been able to keep their position as a State Religion far far more successfully than the Catholic Church: over 50% compared with 6%!

But you are right that the Catholic theological tradition has long pondered these questions - and has often been marked by a kind of Augustinianism that sometimes became the theoretically justified Catholic variant of Orthodoxy's pragmatically established Caesaro-papism.
But as recently as last month Pope Benedict was saying this to the United Nations:
"This reference to human dignity, which is the foundation and goal of the responsibility to protect, leads us to the theme we are specifically focusing upon this year, which marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document was the outcome of a convergence of different religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and the workings of society, and to consider the human person essential for the world of culture, religion and science. Human rights are increasingly being presented as the common language and the ethical substratum of international relations. At the same time, the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights all serve as guarantees safeguarding human dignity. It is evident, though, that the rights recognized and expounded in the Declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative design for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks. This great variety of viewpoints must not be allowed to obscure the fact that not only rights are universal, but so too is the human person, the subject of those rights."

This last sentence must particularly resonate with you, no?

But there is more! The Holy Father went on to say this:
"...Experience shows that legality often prevails over justice when the insistence upon rights makes them appear as the exclusive result of legislative enactments or normative decisions taken by the various agencies of those in power. When presented purely in terms of legality, rights risk becoming weak propositions divorced from the ethical and rational dimension which is their foundation and their goal. The Universal Declaration, rather, has reinforced the conviction that respect for human rights is principally rooted in unchanging justice, on which the binding force of international proclamations is also based. This aspect is often overlooked when the attempt is made to deprive rights of their true function in the name of a narrowly utilitarian perspective. Since rights and the resulting duties follow naturally from human interaction, it is easy to forget that they are the fruit of a commonly held sense of justice built primarily upon solidarity among the members of society, and hence valid at all times and for all peoples. This intuition was expressed as early as the fifth century by Augustine of Hippo, one of the masters of our intellectual heritage. He taught that the saying: Do not do to others what you would not want done to you "cannot in any way vary according to the different understandings that have arisen in the world" (De Doctrina Christiana, III, 14). Human rights, then, must be respected as an expression of justice, and not merely because they are enforceable through the will of the legislators."

In other words, the Holy Father is articulating exactly the position I sketched out in an earlier post: it is not by arbitrary diktat, neither from the Pope nor any other body that we determine the right, the just, the good - but precisely BECAUSE these things are objectively inscribed in reality - that we all have a duty to search for them.

The Kingdom of Christ is not of this world - you are quite right.
But God so loved the world, as well, and we do not have the right to do otherwise. Clarifying social and doctrinal questions is part of the Church's duty to witness the truth of Christ to the world. And as you know that is what the word martyr means.

I hope we can continue our discussion. I'll try and be more brief in future!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Well, this is interesting. My problem is that I'm not sure of what you are trying to say, so I don't quite know how to respond. For example, what, for you, is the significance of this?

it looks as if the Orthodox Churches have been able to keep their position as a State Religion far far more successfully than the Catholic Church: over 50% compared with 6%!

To me, this has no meaning. The measure of success is spiritual; the measure of success is how faithfully we follow Christ.

Thank you for the quotes from the Pope. Their resonance with me is tempered by two factores.

One is the realization that he is speaking only of a limited, civil right. That is, he is saying no civil authority has the right to limit religious liberty. The Pope himself, however, claims the exclusive moral right.

The other factor is that popes in the past and indeed into our own day have done such a lamentable job of discerning these things. Terrible track record there.

You wrote:

Clarifying social and doctrinal questions is part of the Church's duty to witness the truth of Christ to the world.

This is where the Orthodox cannot agree. Her sphere is IN the world, to be sure, but not OF the world.

We think Christian people should bear witness to Christ's love of the world, and that includes being active in social and political affairs. Christians should do that; the holy Church, which is spiritual, should not engage in secular affairs. That Rome does so involve herself is one of our chief criticisms of her, and that's before we even evaluate the results of her involvement in worldly things.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anastasias,
sorry about the delay - busy week.
Let me try and clarify: The "success" I am talking about here is not a value judgement per se but a constatation that followed on from your general argument that the Catholic Church tries too hard to be an influence in the political sphere. For example you say this:
"Nor do we feel the Church ought to dictate state policy."
In so far as a State adopting a state religion is a proof of the degree of the influence of that religion I took a look at the statistics for State Religion between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Churches retain that political position far more than the Catholic Church.
Here's something that came up a few years ago which proves what I mean:
"Leaders of minority churches in Greece have expressed support for a government proposal to scrap the obligatory indication of religious affiliation on citizens' identity cards. However, the proposed reform is vigorously opposed by the (Orthodox) Church of Greece and by many politicians and may well prove unpopular with many Greeks. A spokeswoman for the Church of Greece in Athens told ENI that belonging to the Orthodox Church was "part of being Greek." The Church of Greece is about to issue an official statement about the identity card issue.Disagreement over this bureaucratic matter is symbolic of the poor state of ecumenical relations in Greece."
You can find it here:
Be particularly attentive to this:
"...belonging to the Orthodox Church was part of being Greek..."
The same is true in Russia, Romania, Serbia....
The Orthodox Churches knew more martyrs than any other in the 20th century: especially in the first years of the Russian revolution.
But there were periods, notably during WWII under Stalin when there was complicity with the Soviets and that not only dishonours the memory of those who died for their Faith - it was also one of the causes of many millions of non-Orthodox martyrs in the Ukraine: for which, I might add, the Orthodox Church in Russia has shown scant fraternal charity. The Greek Catholic Church was banned from 1946 and en masse its buildings were given to the Russian Orthodox Church. The churlishness of the Russian Orthodox Church since 1991 with its paranoia over the Vatican remains an open wound.
For the record: The major complaint is that the Latin Church has set up dioceses in Russia - that's to say outside the territory of her jurisdiction.
No-one ever seems to point out that Orthodox dioceses have existed in the traditional "territory" of the Roman Catholic Church for far longer.
Should these things pose a problem?
Not unless you conceive of people within a given geographical area as "yours": spiritual serfs, so to speak.
Where amongst Catholics towards Orthodox in this day an age do you see the equivalent of this kind of spite:
In April 2002, Bishop Jerry Mazur of Eastern Siberia was striped of his visa, forcing the appointment of a new bishop for that diocese. In 2002, five foreign Catholic priests were denied visas to return to Russia, construction of a new cathedral was blocked in Pskov, and a church in southern Russia was shot at. On Christmas Day 2005, Russian Orthodox activists planned to picket outside of Moscow's Catholic Cathedral, but the picket was cancelled.
It's just crazy - especially when you look at all the challenges that face us!
It makes you wonder whether we might not be beginning to live the times that Solovyov describes in his Three Dialogues.

I haven't read widely enough on your blog to discover the beliefs you converted from before becoming Orthodox. But in various places the absolutism that you criticise in yourself (your Bridal Spirituality blog) resurfaces when you speak as a neophyte Orthodox.
It doesn't seem to brook any opposition. But I don't want to personalise this discussion - which is very interesting! - nor turn it into a list of historical complaints.
I am interested in the ideas of Religious Liberty. Your misgivings about the Catholic Church (or at least the Vatican) are unfounded, in my view - as I hope the earlier posts that I have made have a least tried to show.
In corde Immaculatae Mariae.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Hi, again, Anonymous,

Okay, so if you think m concerns about Rome and religious liberty are unfounded, I'd be glad to see a summary of why you think that is.

The misgivings I expressed in this post are drawn from a close reading of the subject in the CCC.

There is, of course, a vast difference between influencing state decisions and trying to impose them, or even usurp the decision-making power of the state. I don't object to the Church having influence. Nor do I object to Christians, including bishops and patriarchs, voicing their social and/or political opinions. I do most strenuously object to the Church thinking she has the right to tell the state what it "must" do.

The history of the uniates is, of course, complicated, controversial, and sad. None of that excuses Orthodox Christians from showing love to all parties, to *all* the people involved. Certgain institutions, however, we feel conscience-bound to oppose. We perceive that, too, as loving toward the people involved.

Yes, certain clergy and bishops in Russia did sell out to the KGB. But as to do that was simply personal sin rather than Church doctrine or policy, it doesn't seem to have much relevance to our topic.

So boiled down, and minus the irrelevancies, why is it my misgivings are unfounded?

Anonymous said...
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