29 October 2016

"They have uncrowned Him" (4)

I return now to what I mentioned in the first of my series: Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's views about Christian and non-Christian Societies ... and, in particular, to the question raised in Dignitatis humanae about the 'rights of Error'. It is with regard to this Decree that a very distinguished Catholic theologian wrote, not very long ago, that it "occasions a genuine difficulty for orthodox Catholics". And I begin with an anecdote of the Archbishop's which, I believe, goes to the heart of the problem. "Pope John Paul II made [this point] to me on the occasion of the audience that he granted to me on November 18, 1978: 'You know', he said to me, 'religious liberty has been very useful for us in Poland, against communism'".

It is easy to put simply what the ambiguities are. If one is coming from a culture which has been oppressed for a quarter of a century by atheistic Stalinist Communism (and before that, by National Socialism), an obvious truth will prescribe: Religious Liberty must be upheld, therefore the state must cease to prevent Catholic Truth from being upheld. But, against the background of a Christendom State, as we saw it in my first piece, in which the constitution has upheld either explicitly or implicitly the just privileges of the One True Faith taught by the the One True Church, the same truth will receive the expression: Catholic Truth must be upheld, therefore the state must discourage the growth and even the existence of errors against the Truth upheld by the Catholic Church. It is not surprising that S John Paul II, the doughty and effective warrior against a dominant Marxism, and the battle-hardened French Missionary bishop from a background of cultural opposition to the inheritance of the the French Revolution, failed to see eye to eye. Yet those two outworkings of the same principle, for two different contexts, have the same message: Catholic Truth must be upheld. And I could understand that some people might go further and say that, since there are few, if any, Christendom states left, and an increasing number of states in which Catholic Truth is opposed or even persecuted by a new illiberal Secularism or by Islam, we must forget about the second outworking and, out of prudence, make a great deal of the first.

Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP, about whom Fr Aidan Nichols has written a fine book, made this point in a passage which Mgr Lefebvre quotes with approval: "We can ... make of liberty of worship an argument ad hominem against those who, while proclaiming the liberty of worship, persecute the Church (secular and socialising states) or impede its worship (communist states, Islamic ones, etc.). This argument ad hominem is fair, and the Church does not disdain it, using it to defend effectively the right of its own liberty". So far, fair enough. [Those who do not know the real meaning of the phrase Argumentum ad hominem can read my articles via the search engine attached to this Blog; it does not mean "personal attack".]

But Garrigou-Lagrange goes on "But it does not follow that the freedom of cults, considered in itself, is maintainable for Christians in principle, because it is in itself absurd and impious: indeed, truth and error cannot have the same rights". Bang on, surely. Error cannot have rights. But it is not pedantic to observe that the writer is not so much concerned to deny personal liberties to those who belong to such cults as to deny it 'in principle' to the errors asserted by the cults.

Here is the problem: Archbishop Lefebvre, and writers who agree with him, have no difficulty whatsoever in piling up quotations from Popes who wrote before the Council, to the effect that Error has no rights. And the Conciliar Declaration Dignitatis humanae begins with a section including the statement that "it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and of societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ"*. But ... as the Council goes on to "develop" its teaching, it does get quite difficult to see how the so-called 'development' is not in fact a change. This development/change is said to be rooted in a natural right not to be coerced, which is inferred to exist because of the principle that "Man's response to God in Faith must be free."

To be concluded.
*The Conciliar Acta  make clear the enormous importance of this sentence for the process of achieving Conciliar consensus. On November 19 1965 as many as 249 Fathers had voted non placet on the draft before them. At the final vote, on December 6, the number sank to 70 as the result of pressure put on many of the Fathers. Those who reluctantly changed their vote felt enabled to do so in good conscience because of the addition of this sentence as the result of a personal intervention by Pope Paul VI. It will be remembered that Conciliar decrees are expected to have the authority of a 'moral unanimity'. Dignitatis humanae, considered without the sentence added by the Pope, would be a document that lacked that necessary consensus. There is therefore a sense in which it is the most important statement within this whole Declaration, its clavis aperiendi cetera. It is therefore reasonable to insist that whatever else the document may go on to say, must be understood fully in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of that earlier teaching of the Magisterium.


Michael Leahy said...

Doesn't granting rights to error leave one helpless to oppose such incidents as the recent, thankfully failed, attempt to introduce a 'prayer to satan' in Boston City Council?

Christopher Ainslie said...

A very similar story to the Nota Explicativa Praevia in Lumen Gentium regarding Collegiality, affirming that the college of bishops exercises its authority only with the assent of the pope. That also was inserted at the personal insistence of Paul VI and the non placet vote dropped from 322 to 46.

Mick Jagger gathers no Mosque said...

The defenestration of the principle of non-contradiction has not been useful....




ON NOVEMBER 21, 1964

22. Just as in the Gospel, the Lord so disposing, St. Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together. Indeed, the very ancient practice whereby bishops duly established in all parts of the world were in communion with one another and with the Bishop of Rome in a bond of unity, charity and peace,(23*) and also the councils assembled together,(24*) in which more profound issues were settled in common, (25*) the opinion of the many having been prudently considered,(26*) both of these factors are already an indication of the collegiate character and aspect of the Episcopal order; and the ecumenical councils held in the course of centuries are also manifest proof of that same character. And it is intimated also in the practice, introduced in ancient times, of summoning several bishops to take part in the elevation of the newly elected to the ministry of the high priesthood. Hence, one is constituted a member of the Episcopal body in virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the body.

But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church,

Back in the day, in the Peimonte area of Vermont where Ol' Mick was born, the old timers would have said about the claim that two different subjects both have supreme power- We need this like a frog needs sideburns.

Matthew Kirby said...


Actually, that would only be a contradiction if the two subjects were what mathematicians call "disjoint sets", that is, alternatives with no overlap in membership. They are not. The order of bishops includes the bishop of Rome.

It helps if one recognises that "over the Church" above must be implicitly glossed as "over the rest of the church" as otherwise, given that all bishops are church-members, the Pope, for example, would be "over" himself, which is absurd. And what "the rest of the Church" means changes naturally with the context. If A = Pope, B = other bishops, and C = all others in the Church, then there is no logical problem with saying A has supreme authority over B + C, and A + B has supreme authority over C, if supreme authority means authority with no earthly superior.

And the role of the bishop of Rome is traditionally seen as expressing definitively the pre-existent magisterium of the apostolic collegium (which is not limited to those alive), rather than suppressing or surpassing it. So, it is perfectly reasonable to treat "Peter acting in concert with the rest of the Apostolate" as the subject of highest earthly leadership (here explicitly a corporate subject) while also treating "Peter acting on behalf of the Apostolate as its mouthpiece" as having that same leadership (here an individual subject implicitly acting corporately).

Matthew Kirby said...

However, as for the "Error has no rights" teaching, speaking as one supportive of the Vatican II development in this area, the problem with this particular older teaching is not that it is in any way wrong, but that it is virtually a merely formal truth irrelevant to the real question. That is because its denial, "Error has rights" would be, strictly speaking, a category error. Errors are concepts that happen to be incorrect. Concepts can be right or wrong, but they cannot have "rights", that is moral entitlements to receiving certain benefits or to being protected from certain harms. Persons can have such rights, ideas cannot.

The question that matters is not about the "rights" of mistaken ideas, but the rights of persons who hold some mistaken ideas not to be punished by physical force for being mistaken. Traditionalists might counter-claim that the common sense answer to the question "Do those who sincerely hold erroneous religious opinions have the right not to be subject to oppression or coercion?" is "Yes, but only if no-one else's soul is endangered in the community, otherwise coercion is justified for public welfare, which means it will be plausibly justifiable against any public expression of religious error". The problem with this defence of the mediaeval approach is that, as I understand it, the Church continually and repeatedly denounced the forcible adoption and baptism of Jewish children as contrary to the natural rights of the Jewish parents and intrinsically wrong, despite the fact that this form of coercion manifestly satisfied the condition above given for legitimising coercion. Allowing Jewish parents to raise their children as Jewish allowed the non-Christian portion of the community to grow and made occasional conversions to Judaism more likely, both of which potentially affected the Christian/Catholic part of the community. Thus the Church recognised at least one group accepting, practising and preaching erroneous religious beliefs as having natural human rights protecting a core element of their religious freedom. Taking this with the perpetual acceptance that faith must be free and cannot be forced, we can say there were always elements of later Church teaching that respected the rights of those in religious error to practise their religion.

As for earlier Church teaching, the belief that Christ's Faith was not to be defended or advanced by violence had an obvious Scriptural-Dominical basis (e.g., "My kingdom is not of this world, if it were my servants would fight") and plenty of patristic support. The religious freedom extolled in the "Edict of Milan" is not condemned by the Fathers of the time, the very contrary in some cases, and its imperial co-author, Constantine, is canonised in the East.

Thus Vatical II can be seen as the reclaiming of one element in the Tradition that had never disappeared but been obscured by a different and slowly evolving mediaeval Western tradition that had certain flaws. This flawed tradition was correct to deny error had rights and correct to assert that it was perfectly legitimate for the State to favour the Catholic Church and promote its mission. In other ways, it was just wrong and not fully consistent with prior Tradition and certain contemporary teaching.