Religious Liberty – The Failed Attempts To Defend Vatican II
Dr. Brian Harrison and the attempt to absolve Vatican II of error
Is there a contradiction between Vatican II’s declaration on religious liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) and traditional Catholic doctrine as expressed in numerous encyclicals, and most especially in Pope Pius IX’s Quanta Cura? In recent years some intellectual conservatives have audaciously denied that there is any such contradiction. Before commenting on their attempts, let us remind ourselves of the texts:
Quanta Cura: “…against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that ‘the best condition of civil society is that in which no duty is attributed to the civil power of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except insofar as public peace may require.’
“From which totally false idea of social government they do not fear to foster that erroneous opinion, most fatal to the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls, called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, insanity, viz., that ‘liberty of conscience and worship is the proper right of every man and ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society’.”
Dignitatis Humanae (Vatican II): “This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious liberty. Such liberty consists in this: that all men must be immune to coercion whether on the part of individuals, social bodies or any human power so that in religious matters no one is constrained to act against his conscience or prevented from acting in accordance with his conscience in private and in public, alone or with others, within due limits [these due limits are defined in paragraph 7 as being those of public peace and morality].
“It further declares that the right to religious liberty is truly founded on the very dignity of the human person as known by the revealed word of God and reason itself.
“This right of the human person to religious liberty in the juridical ordering of society is to be recognised so as to become a civil right.”
Now to all appearances these texts are in radical contradiction on three points. Pope Pius IX condemns the following ideas: 1. all men have a right to liberty of conscience and of worship; 2. this right of religious liberty should be made a civil right in every well-ordered society; 3. the best state of society is that in which men’s civil right to religious liberty is limited only by the demands of public peace.
These three points condemned by Pius IX are all three apparently taught by the Vatican II text. Moreover Pope Pius IX is exercising the Extraordinary Magisterium and teaches that these propositions are opposed to Holy Scripture (written divine revelation) while Vatican II declares its opposing doctrine to be founded on the revealed word of God and requires all Catholics to observe its teaching religiously.
Several attempts have made to reconcile these opposing doctrines. Dom Basile Valuet of the monastery of Le Barroux, for instance, has written some three thousand pages on the subject of religious liberty: his thesis is that the Church’s doctrine has changed, but in the context of a changing law of nations and under the impulse of a “living magisterium” whose doctrines must evolve like all living things. Long forgotten, it seems, is Dom Basile’s Anti-Modernist Oath: “I utterly reject the heretical notion that dogmas can evolve, changing from one meaning to another, different from that which the Church previously held.” (Denzinger 2145) Dom Basile also claims that Quanta Cura condemns only the existence of a positive right to hold religious error and not the negative right not to be interfered with in holding such error – a claim quite incompatible with the text and with the known historical background to the text of Pope Pius IX’s solemn condemnation.
The great philosopher Fr. Julio Meinvielle (1905-73) argued that Vatican II sought to give no absolute teaching, but only to establish prudential guidelines to follow in the present unhappy state of society. Alas this view is quite incompatible with the words “it further declares that the right to religious liberty is truly founded on the very dignity of the human person as known by the revealed word of God and reason itself.” We feel sure that Fr. Meinvielle’s declining health must have blunted his acumen at the time he formed this judgment.
At least Fr. Meinvielle’s interpretation, though unfaithful to the text of Vatican II, entailed no departure from sound doctrine. The same may be said of an article by Dominican Fr. Thomas Crean which appeared in Christian Order (October 2004). Crean recognises that Dignitatis Humanae is doctrinal, not merely practical, but for him its right to religious liberty belongs exclusively to those who profess the true religion: he adds that the reference to religions in the plural is explained by the fact that its doctrine would have applied even in the hypothetical case in which God had not made any revelation and had left man in the state of nature. This is a beautiful theory provided one never actually takes down from the bookshelf a copy of the text under discussion. Once one does, it disappears in a puff of smoke. Dignitatis Humanae applies its supposed right to the freedom to join or to leave any “religious community” whatsoever (paragraph 6), in other words it orders the state to authorise apostasy from the Catholic religion and assures us that the state must not punish this apostasy because man possesses a right to pass from any religion into any other – a right that the state must respect. Indeed Dignitatis Humanae formally forbids any discrimination between religions on the part of the state, whether to outlaw Moslem blasphemy, to forbid Protestant propaganda, to excuse priests from military service or to exclude from public office Jews whose “kol nidre” liturgical prayer explicitly authorises them to lie even on oath.
Fr. Bernard Lucien (a former guérardo-sedevacantist) and Frs. André Vincent and de Margerie believe they have found a workable solution to the apparent contradiction: the right to religious liberty taught by Vatican II is conditional on fidelity to one’s conscience whereas traditional doctrine condemns only the extension of religious liberty to all and sundry, even those whose errors are culpable. Or in other terms, Dignitatis Humanae teaches the right to follow one’s conscience whereas the pre-Vatican II popes condemned the right to follow one’s whim. Apart from requiring the civil authorities to sound men’s hearts, and arbitrarily limiting the scope of traditional doctrine, this interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae is once again incompatible with the text. Vatican II clearly states that “the right to religious liberty is not founded on any subjective disposition of the person but on his very nature, for which reason this right to immunity continues even in those who do not fulfil the duty of seeking and adhering to truth, and its exercise may not be impeded so long as just public order is observed.”
Dr. Brian Harrison’s Theory
Perhaps the nearest to being credible of this paltry bunch of reconcilers is the Rev. Dr. Brian Harrison. His work Religious Liberty and Contraception is a scholarly one, despite his admission (Fidelity, May 1993) that he had written it “largely to please men rather than God” and that he had “omitted things which [he] believe[d] should be said” – an admission which has mysteriously disappeared from the on-line text of his article. Harrison’s main argument is that Vatican II allows the state to restrict religious liberty when it conflicts with the requirements of “public order”. Pius IX, on the other hand, condemns the claim that religious liberty should be restricted only for the needs of “public peace”. But in his view Vatican II’s “public order” includes much more than Pius IX’s “public peace” and thus there is no conflict.
Learned writers have already refuted Harrison on the precise sense of the text – see, for instance Le Sel de la Terre, No. 3 and even Michael Davies’s The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty. It is not hard to do. Detailed analysis of the textual criticism offered by Dr. Harrison reveals that the only way to produce the appearance of agreement between the new doctrine and the old is to ignore the obvious meaning of the texts which teach both and invent a distorted meaning instead.
To particularise, Harrison is wrong about public order and public peace: in fact Dignitatis Humanae explicitly equates the two and is undistinguishable on this point from what Pius IX condemns, for the essential issue is whether the state may or may not take account of the supernatural well-being of its citizens in the light of the Catholic Faith recognised by itself as true, divine and obligatory, in the repression of what is harmful to the common good. He is wrong in thinking that Dignitatis Humanae advocates only a right not to be interfered with in erring. It clearly founds the civil right it calls for on a natural right to err – a perfectly abominable notion. He is wrong in thinking that traditional doctrine applied only in states where all citizens were practically unanimous in orthodox belief and in the due practice of Catholicism: the 78th condemned proposition of the Syllabus, taken from Acerbissimum concerning mid-nineteenth century France, should have told him that. And he is wrong in any event that no sufficiently Catholic territories apart from Wallis and Futuna were left at the time of Vatican II: the final religious collapse of many Catholic nations was the effect, not the cause, of Dignitatis Humanae.
Putting the Controversy into Perspective
All praise to those who have followed Harrison into the textual quagmire and refuted him on his own chosen ground. Without spurning the detailed discussion of the texts, the present writer considers it more important to point out that these discussions about the precise meaning of a verbose, and deliberately obscure declaration tend to miss the point and to play into the hands of the enemy by making it look as though some subtle point is at issue. There is in fact nothing subtle whatever about Vatican II’s religious liberty revolution by which Christ the King is dethroned and beheaded as surely as ever was Louis XVI of France or Charles I of England. And burying oneself in the small print is the best way of failing to observe the most important facts of the case.
For it is not only the unintelligent who fall for confidence tricks, nor is it always the most subtle hoaxes that are the most successful. Intelligent men can be hoodwinked into swallowing flagrantly indefensible ideas provided their attention is focussed on detail and not on the whole picture. Hence the genius of a man such as G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) consisted chiefly in restoring perspective and balance, so that prevailing errors, under the spotlight of common sense, were exposed in all their naked absurdity.
Let us take a leaf from Chesterton’s book and give ourselves an overall perspective by stepping back from the text and observing the full context. A few undeniable facts will soon place Dr. Harrison’s claims in their true light:
1. Christian society already existed long before Vatican II. The social reign of Jesus Christ had been established. Caesar had been baptised. There was therefore no need to elaborate new theories about what relations Christ wishes to see between His Church and the state: a thousand years of Christian history will reveal all to anyone who studies them in the belief that Christ remains forever with His Church. Now the ideal society presented by Dignitatis Humanae and worked for by the Conciliar Church is utterly different from the one whose character was formed by the Church herself under the guidance of the divine King of History.
Every Catholic is bound to believe that it is not contrary to the will of the Holy Ghost for the civil power to put heretics to death (Denzinger 773). This Catholic teaching is not a call for the extermination of all baptised non-Catholics: it relates essentially to those who have forsaken the Faith they have once held and who encourage others to follow them in their apostasy. But it would be a radical deformation of sound doctrine to understand it as though the death penalty were due to something other than the example, expression and propagation of heresy. The Holy Inquisition, several of whose officers have been canonised, existed and acted to safeguard the Catholicity of civil society and not by virtue of some natural rule of order equally applicable to all religions such as Dignitatis Humanae offers us.
3. Under the Old Testament, when civil as well as religious law came from God Himself, there was no religious liberty save for the one true religion. There was no moral right or civil right to apostatise from the true religion or to cause others to do so. There was no immunity from interference in the practice of any false religion – on the contrary the penalty for doing so was death and it was often inflicted: Moses inflicted the death penalty on 23,000 Israelites in a single day for worshipping the golden calf. This is with difficulty compatible with any notion of a natural or even merely civil right to choose any religion and express it as one sees fit. Moses was not punishing the idolaters for disturbing public order: he was punishing them for idolatry.
4. The eighteenth century saw the birth of a movement that wanted society to be religiously “neutral” – an idea contrary not only to the nature of every society formed or transformed by the Church, but even rejected by the Protestant reformers. This movement, abetted by Freemasonry, and despite the condemnations of the Holy See, succeeded in provoking a series of revolutions by which many once Catholic nations abandoned their national profession of the Faith and their national submission to the Church in religious matters. The reaction of the Church to these events was vehement condemnation of what she considered acts of national apostasy, calamitous for souls and insulting to Christ and His Church. This is no longer the language of Dignitatis Humanae and Vatican II. Indeed unprejudiced readers cannot distinguish the voice of Vatican II on these topics from that of the “enlightened” revolutionaries of yesteryear who braved the anathemas of Christ’s Vicar.
5. Since the Second Vatican Council the nations which had previously continued to profess in whole or in part the Faith and to be subject to the Church’s spiritual jurisdiction, have remoulded their constitutions in the direction of religious neutrality, often enough at the instigation of the Vatican. What the popes had lamented in the past is in our days encouraged and imposed by those who claim to be their successors. For a once Catholic nation to introduce liberty of (public) worship into its constitution was, as Dom Guéranger wrote to Montalembert (October 1852) “political apostasy…the greatest crime a nation can commit.” Yet this crime has been committed in the wake of Vatican II and in fulfilment of Vatican II, by agreement with those officially charged with putting Vatican II into effect, by Ireland, Spain, Malta, Italy, Colombia (despite Dr. Harrison’s excitement at the fact that Colombia has been only lukewarm in its embracing of Dignitatis Humanae) and other nations which once protected the Catholic faith of their citizens because it is true, for the salvation of their souls and for the glory of God. Moreover Dr. Harrison is forced to admit that even on his own very strained interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae the pre-conciliar constitutions and concordats of various Catholic nations, notably Franco’s Spain, were simply incompatible with what Vatican II declares to be a natural human right made known by divine revelation – though apparently this revelation was quite unknown to the popes who approved these constitutions and concordats.
6. If there has been no doctrinal change, it is hard to see why it was thought necessary to suppress or modify liturgical texts which concern the religious duties of the state, but this is what has taken place. The liturgical revision launched by Vatican II suppressed three highly significant verses of the hymn Te sæculorum principem at Vespers of the feast of Christ the King. All that relates to Christ’s reign over individuals is retained, but all that speaks of his reign over nations has vanished. Those who refuse Christ’s social rule are no longer called a “scelesta turba” (wicked crowd); prayer is no longer made for heads of state to render public homage to Christ, or for education, laws, tribunals, arts and ensigns to be Christian. Similarly bowdlerised have been all other texts where the liturgy mentioned the rights and freedom of the Church, for instance on the feasts of Saint Gregory VII and of Saint Thomas of Canterbury. The drafters of these new texts at least saw no hope of reconciling the new doctrine with the old.
7. It was not enough to teach new doctrine, to suppress Catholic constitutions and to expurgate liturgical texts. The papal tiara itself had also to disappear, so that the example might come from above and so that no relic might remain of a truly Christian society anywhere on earth, not even in the 108 acres of the Vatican City State. The successor of Caesar must renounce the cross and the (apparent) successor of Peter must renounce the crown.
8. Neither were all these violent ruptures with the Christian past enough: what had once been must be not only changed but forgotten. Almost contemporaneously with the promulgation of Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanæ occurred the publication of a new edition of Denzinger’s famous Enchiridion Symbolorum, a very widely used collection of magisterial texts. But whereas many lesser documents continued to be included, the text of a celebrated solemn act of the Extraordinary Magisterium was totally expunged: Pope Pius IX’s Quanta Cura. Was this done because it was thought to contain doctrine now abrogated? Or to prevent comparison of the new doctrine with the old? Whatever the motive, the editors of Denzinger were clearly not inviting anyone to attempt simultaneous acceptance of the old condemnation of religious liberty and its new apotheosis.
9. Every word of Dom Basile’s 3000 page work and every word of Dr. Harrison’s more svelte volume are in fact so many condemnations of the text they are trying to reconcile with the Catholic faith. For the Church’s teaching on religious liberty was already in place and well-known. A series of papal encyclicals, an act of the solemn or extraordinary Magisterium (Quanta Cura), the writings of approved theologians of the calibre of Billot and Ottaviani, various concordats and the lesson of sacred history left no doubt that the Church rejected any conception of religious liberty that placed God’s Church on an equal footing before the state with false religions. If it is necessary to wait twenty years after Vatican II for a new doctor subtilissimus to explain how its teaching is not, after all, the contrary of what was previously held, this is already proof beyond cavil that Vatican II did not safeguard the traditional doctrine in any comprehensible fashion. Instead of teaching the faith, it corrupted it. Instead of nourishing the faithful, it poisoned them. And the corrupters and poisoners who reside in the Vatican have shown no appreciation of Harrison’s belated antidote, unofficially presented and clearly not accepted by the authorities he recognises (Harrison was “ordained” by John-Paul II). The Church does not exist to train us in intellectual acrobatics – she exists to teach us God’s truth and how to serve Him, and the true Church cannot lead her faithful astray on these things.
10. Neither Harrison nor any of the other reconcilers can deny that Dignitatis Humanae caused 99.99% of Catholics, including the entire hierarchy of the Conciliar Church led by its “popes”, to turn their backs on the doctrine of Pius IX and of all the pre-Vatican II popes. Nor can they deny that this was the inevitable and deliberately engineered result of the promulgated text. To announce twenty years afterwards that a small number of fine logicians, not agreed among themselves, have found debatable means of showing that this volte-face was perhaps not unambiguously and explicitly necessary, merely adds insult to injury.
11. The verbal contradiction between Dignitatis Humanae and Quanta Cura is so blatant and so direct that it was clearly intentional. Yet the declaration itself nowhere even pretends to explain, or explain away, this contradiction. The partisans of religious liberty had no wish to risk mishap to their new wine by pouring it into the old wineskins of a factitious compatibility with traditional teaching. If Dr. Harrison tried to apply his self-serving exegetical methods before a court of law charged with the interpretation of a disputed contract or will the judge would surely refuse to take him seriously – he would insist that any document be understood in the sense of the known or knowable intention of its drafters and interpreters.
12. Until Vatican II the Catholic Church had never spoken of religious liberty except to affirm that she alone possessed it by divine right and that no other religion had any similar right, even if regrettable circumstances made it sometimes prudent to tolerate some errors for fear of worse evils. It is at the very least bizarre to choose the ordinary name of a grave error, often solemnly condemned, and use it to designate sound doctrine. Nor is it any less bizarre to adopt the language and tone of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) if one intends to maintain the teaching of Quanta Cura, which every signatory to the Masonic declaration would have repudiated.
13. The Church devoted centuries to making nations as well as individuals Christian. She held it a crime and a calamity for the common good if a nation abandoned its Christianity by adopting neutrality. She called on her children to make public reparation for these crimes. She laboured indefatigably to undo the work of the apostles of revolutionary naturalism by re-establishing throughout the world the social reign of Christ the King. Since Vatican II, no authorised representative of the Conciliar Church has continued so to act or speak; while no step has been omitted to achieve the opposite.
14. Quanta Cura did not stand alone. Dozens of encyclicals and other magisterial documents confirm its teaching. Just as Quanta Cura itself is acknowledged to be protected by the infallibility of the Extraordinary Magisterium, so all these other acts collectively engage the infallibility of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium and give the context and explanation needed to elucidate any doubt as to the meaning of the text of Quanta Cura itself. Similarly, Dignitatis Humanae does not stand alone. A torrent of subsequent conciliar teaching corroborates and explains it, and does so invariably in a sense quite opposed to the ideas of the reconcilers. For instance John-Paul II’s encyclical Redemptor Hominis, which set out the programme he was to follow throughout his “pontificate”, explicitly identifies Vatican II’s religious liberty with that of the United Nations and condemns any attempt to limit it to any specific religious group; In Benin (February 1993) he proclaimed the equal right to religious liberty of devotees of the murderous devil-worshipping Voodoo cult; the December 1993 Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel says: “The Holy See, recalling the Declaration on Religious Freedom of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dignitatis Humanae, affirms the Catholic Church’s commitment to uphold the human right to freedom of religion and conscience, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Decidedly Karol Wojtyla never had the slightest idea of reconciling Dignitatis Humanae with traditional doctrine.
15. The Vatican II declaration on religious liberty was chiefly inspired by the doctrines of Fr. John Courtney Murray S.J. which the Holy Office had ordered him in 1955 to stop teaching because of their blatant heterodoxy. Moreover the Declaration’s own heterodoxy made it so difficult to obtain a respectable vote in its favour at the Council that Paul VI finally summoned his mentor Jacques Maritain to write a memorandum on religious liberty to encourage a favourable vote. Courtney Murray and Maritain are thus far better qualified interpreters of Dignitatis Humanae than Dr. Harrison. When baptising a child too young to speak, the priest confirms the infant’s faith by interrogating his godparents. The godparents of Dignitatis Humanae, Messrs. Murray and Maritain, answer in no uncertain terms that their godchild shares their faith, a faith which they own to be in utter contradiction to traditional doctrine (doctrine which both knew full well as both had held and taught it themselves in happier days). For behind their concept of religious liberty, and behind many of Vatican II’s other errors, lies the notion that the state as such is not competent to recognise the true religion, because divine faith is not, so far as the external forum can judge, better founded than false religious opinions. Modern man cannot suffer to be told that the proofs of Catholicism ought to convince any reasonable person. Yet this truth is also a dogma, taught by the 1870 Vatican Council (Denzinger 1790).
16. Any man in the street would understand the Vatican II text as blatantly opposed to the teaching of the popes from Gregory XVI to Pius XII. That is also how such different characters as Archbishop Lefebvre and John-Paul II understood it. It is also the received judgment of the experts in international law, whether Catholic or not. Dr. Harrison, however, does not want to accept this because he can see that it leads straight to the conclusion that the Church of Vatican II is not the true Church of Christ. However, he fails to see that his alternative textual interpretation does not escape this conclusion – it merely reaches it by a different route. Vatican II requires us to believe in a Church which makes new doctrine different from the old. Instead of that heresy, Fr. Harrison invites us to believe in a Church whose doctrine must be discovered by unauthorised experts, after twenty years of study, to be something that the entire episcopate did not realise it to be and in fact disagree with. His Church is one in which those Catholics who accept true doctrine do so only on the grounds of pre-conciliar teaching, in the belief that Vatican II erred or prevaricated. Hence for Dr. Harrison no Catholic wanting to know the Church’s teaching on religious liberty can safely consult the teaching of the most recent general council on the subject. A Catholic can only remain orthodox on the religious rights and duties of the state by rejecting the proximate rule of Faith as a usable rule. But that is not a description of the Catholic Church either, for as Pope Pius XI taught, “Jesus Christ sent His Apostles into the whole world in order that they might permeate all nations with the Gospel faith, and lest they should err He willed beforehand that they should be taught by the Holy Ghost: has then this doctrine of the Apostles completely vanished away, or sometimes been obscured, in the Church, whose ruler and defence is God Himself? If our Redeemer plainly said that His Gospel was to continue not only during the times of the Apostles, but also till future ages, is it possible that the object of faith should in the process of time become so obscure and uncertain, that it would be necessary to-day to tolerate opinions which are even incompatible one with another…? But the Only-begotten Son of God, when He commanded His representatives to teach all nations, obliged all men to give credence to whatever was made known to them by ‘witnesses preordained by God,’ and also confirmed His command with this sanction: ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned.’ These two commands of Christ, the one to teach and the other to believe, cannot even be understood, unless the Church proposes a complete and easily understood teaching, and is immune when she thus teaches from all danger of erring. In this matter, those also turn aside from the right path, who think that the deposit of truth exists somewhere…but that to discover it requires such laborious trouble, and such lengthy study and discussion that a man’s life would hardly suffice to find and take possession of it.” (Mortalium Animos)
Now in the face of all these evident facts, any claim of doctrinal continuity is seen to be preposterous. Detailed examination of the fine print of the texts is a laudable polemical exercise for specialists, but is in no way necessary, nor even appropriate for most Catholics. The choice between the authentic Catholic faith and the new religion is absolute. Catholics alone have a right to profess their faith, for their faith alone is true. They should exercise this right by the firm rejection of the blatantly erroneous declaration Dignitatis Humanae and by concluding that legitimate Catholic authority could not be responsible for such a gospel of national apostasy. Benedict XVI at least can be relied upon to acknowledge that we are exercising our natural right to religious liberty by doing so.
This article originally appeared in The Four Marks.