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Current Catholic Thought on

Religious Liberty

HE renewal of RomanCatholicismin the modernworld is an astonishing reality that frustrates Catholics who have seldom attempted
to question their faith, raises the suspicions of conservative-minded
Catholics and non-Catholics who are always uneasy when changes threaten
well-engrained attitudes and positions, and compels the admiration of nonCatholics who wish to encourage Catholics to draw upon their rich heritage
and make it relevant to the present day. In point of fact, the renewal of
Catholicism is understandableonly in relation to several current considerations among Catholics: fundamental disagreement, lengthy and critical
dialogue, and careful argumentation. Various differences were dramatized
during the sessions of Vatican Council II, and many new developments in
Catholic thought have appeared.
The notion of freedom is basic to the renewal of Catholicism.' A new
emphasis is being placed on the radical nature of man's freedom in relation
to God's freeing grace, on the "risk" of evolutionary development, on the
creativity of the human act, and on the layman's assumption of responsibility
in the temporal order. Modern Catholicism has been awakened from a deep
slumberby the rediscovery of the Bible, the liturgical revival, new approaches
to moral theology, and revisions in theological methodology.2
The right to religious liberty is one important dimension involved in
Catholicism's new emphasis on freedom.3 Western Catholic scholars are
addressingthemselves to the problem of religious freedom in an unprecedented
THOMAS T. LOVE (B.A., University of Oklahoma; B.D., Southern Methodist
University; M.A., Ph.D., Princeton University) is Associate Professor of Theology and
Christian Ethics at Cornell College. He is the author of John CourtneyMurray: Contemporary
Church-StateTheory (Doubleday). His most recent article in JBR was "Theravada Buddhism:
Ethical Theory and Practice" (October, 1965). This is Mr. Love's initial contribution
as the Journal's Research Editor in Religion and Ethics.

See essays by Catholics from Germany, Belgium, France and the United States in
Freedom and Man, ed. John Courtney Murray, New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1965.
2 See Donald J. Wolf and James V. Schall, eds., Current Trends in
Theology, Garden
City: Doubleday & Company, 1965; Hans Kiing, Freedom Today, trans. Cecily Hastings,
New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966.
8 See John Courtney Murray, ed., Religious Liberty: An End and a Beginning, New
York: The Macmillan Company, 1966.

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manner,exploring the problem in its theological, ethical, political, and juridical

aspects. The document central to contemporary Catholic understanding of
religious liberty is the Declaration on Religious Liberty (DignitatisHumanae)
of Vatican Council II.4 This Declaration, which has capturedthe imagination
of academic as well as non-academic communities, is sometimes referred to
as the "American schema." The reference, of course, is misleading, even
though reasons may be given for it, namely, that the American Jesuit, John
Courtney Murray, was the chief architect of the Declaration andthat American
prelates strongly supported the document. It is also true that the schema's
basic notion of man's civil right to religious liberty reflects the religiously
pluralistic American experience; i. e., religious liberty, together with such
other civil liberties as speech and the press, is constitutionally guaranteed
in the United States. Even though Murray was chief drafter of the schema
on religious freedom, numerousother Catholic scholars either made significant
direct contributions to it or were influential indirectly (e. g., Pavan, Hamer,
Congar, Beniot, Feiner, Medina, Becker, Dondeyne, Leclercq, de Broglie,
Janssens, and Barbaini). Highly provocative Catholic works on religious
liberty are appearing outside the United States - in Italy, France, Belgium,
and Spain.
Louis Janssens of Belgium takes religious liberty to be a special case of
the liberty of conscience.5 His point of departure is what might be called
John XXIII's interpretation of "natural law" as equivalent to the "dignity
of man" or to the contemporary notion of the "person" that has emerged in
Catholic scholarship. Janssens contends that one of the major theological
tasks today is to elaborate fully Leo XIII's view of liberty which was
truncated by the contextual conditions of doctrinal liberalism and rationalism
in the nineteenth century. This Belgian thinker investigates the double tradition of Catholicism (apropos of St. Thomas and apropos of Duns Scotus and
Francisco Suarez) in order to disengage Catholic thought on religious liberty
from the vicissitudes of the nineteenth century and to make it consonant
with the dignity of man as proclaimed by John XXIII.
Janssens' major contribution to the contemporary Catholic dialogue on
religious liberty is his twofold emphasis on man as a moral subject who
must assume personal responsibility for his own free actions and on man as
fundamentally a social being. Man is morally obliged to act in conformity
with the judgment of his conscience, and, since man is a social being, his
moral obligation is illusory unless the social milieu guarantees him the right
4 See The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott, New York: Guild Press,
1966, pp. 672-96; Thomas T. Love, "De Libertate Religiosa: An Interpretive Analysis,"
A Journal of Churchand State, VIII (Winter, 1966), 30-48; John Courtney Murray, "The
Declaration on Religious Freedom: Its Deeper Significance," America, CXIV (April 23,
1966), 592-93.
6 Louis Janssens, Liberti de conscienceet liberti religieuse, Paris: Descl6e de Brouwer,
1964. Janssens' book is now available in English: Freedom of Conscienceand Religious
Freedom, New York: Alba House, 1966.

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to act. Hence, man's liberty of conscience is held to require a guaranteed

freedom to act in the socio-political order. Immediately, however, a dilemma
may be posed: If what is held to be obligatory by the moral subject is in
conflict with what is disallowed by the socio-political order, then man in his
conscience is at odds with himself as a participantin the social order. How is
the conflict to be overcome if both requirements are legitimate? In response
to this very difficult question, Janssens somewhat unrealistically suggests that
education may close the "gap" between personal conscience and the social
dimension. If education fails, then legal restraint may be necessary for the
sake of the socio-political common good. Hence, we are told, one should be
allowed as much liberty as possible, yet liberty may not be permitted to
destroy the common good. The restrictions on religious liberty are, therefore,
the exigencies of the common good, i. e. -

in traditional terms -


public order, and general social well-being, or --as reinterpreted with a

personalistic emphasis on human dignity by Janssens - "coexistence,"
"collaboration," and "coparticipation."The position of the Catholic Church,
declares Janssens, confirms the view that the state should juridically guarantee
the religious liberty of all persons and groups within due limits.6
In Le Droit naturela la libertM
religieuse,the French Jesuit, Guy de Broglie,
argues for man's natural right to religious freedom, a right that he takes to
be a form of the general humanright to liberty of action in a political society.7
Hence, as is now commonly asserted in Catholic thought, it is man's natural
human dignity that is understood to be the basis of his civil religious liberty.
No "supernatural"right is evoked. What Catholics formerly called "natural
law," i. e., man's reasonable nature, is presumed to be the same as what
they now call the human dignity of the person. Out of respect for the dignity
of man, de Broglie argues, a wide range of possible evil acts must be allowed
in order that man may be properly free to choose and perform good acts.
According to de Broglie, the same logic is involved in the choice of, and
adherence to, religious truth, i. e., man must be free to choose to be nonreligious or anti-religious because otherwise he would not be free to choose
the true religion.
A second interesting aspect of de Broglie's work is his rejection of the
notion that the state is radically incompetent in religious matters. Linking
the modern notion of the state's neutrality toward religions to the indifferentism of the nineteenth century and to outmoded fears based on past
abuses such as the Inquisition, de Broglie argues that the notion of the
so-called neutral state is inadequately founded and hence indefensible. He
asserts that Leo XIII certainly believed in confessional states, and he maintains that the notion of the state's absolute incompetence in religious matters
6 See also Albert
Dondeyne, Le Foi ecoutele monde, 2d ed., Paris: E"ditionsUniversitaires,

1964; Jacques Leclercq, La Liberti d'opinion et les catholiques, Paris: Les Editions du
Cerf, 1963.
1 See
Guy de Broglie, Le Droit naturel la liberte'religieuse, Paris: Beauchesne, 1964;
also Problimes chritienssur la liberte religieuse, Paris: Beauchesne, 1965,
especially pp. 129-38.

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is a betrayal of Catholic tradition. Admitting past injustices of "Christian

states," he contends that a confessional state is quite acceptable in the
present day, especially since there has arisen a heightened appreciation of
man's dignity. Despite de Broglie's intriguing argument apropos of "degrees
of neutrality" of states, he needs to make a sharper distinction between the
socio-civil society and the "state" as a power within the society. The issue
of the state's (not the society's) neutrality could then be analyzed more
adequately without confusion with nineteenth-century absolutistic views.
In an article in America,John Courtney Murray states that the first two

draftsof DignitatisHumanae
"followeda line of argument
It has been the dominant view in progressive Catholic thought, especially

in Frenchand Belgiansources.' But religiousliberty is no longer formally

conceived as an ethical and theological notion and then extended by inference
(based on man's being-with-others) to the juridicalorder. A different approach
and argument were developed in the third and subsequent drafts of the
Declaration, which, in Murray's words, "addresses the problem where it

concretelyexists- in the legal and politicalorder."Religiousfreedom,

therefore, is considered in the first instance to be a juridical notion, the civil

right of man in society. This latter approach and the supporting arguments,
as Murray says, are "more common among English- and Italian-speaking
One of the most remarkable books on the problem of religious liberty
is Libertd religiosa e pubblici poteri by an Italian theorist, Pietro Pavan.'o
This author documents the truth that the civil right to religious freedom is
recognized in the constitutions of more than one hundred contemporary
political entities. He meticulously analyzes what may be called the "signs
of the times," the growth in an awareness of human dignity in diverse
societies, including Communist regimes, African and Asiatic countries, the
Americas, and Europe. He demonstrates through citations and commentary
that the right of persons to liberty in religious matters is supported by a
correlative fact: the declarationby various societies (laicist, lay, confessional)
that the public power is incompetent in religious matters. On the basis of a
profound analysis of the teachings of Leo XIII, Pius XII, John XXIII, and
Paul VI, Pavan argues that there has been a progressive doctrinal clarification in the awareness of human dignity. Papal teaching, according to Pavan,
unambiguouslydeclares that full religious freedom in the temporal order is a
fundamental right of persons and that the public power is completely incompetent in religious matters.

John Courtney Murray, "This Matter of Religious Freedom," America, CXIII

(January 9, 1965), 40-43.
9 See A. F. Carrillo de Albornoz, Roman Catholicism and Religious Liberty, Geneva:
World Council of Churches, 1959.
10 Pietro Pavan, Libert? religiosa e pubblici poteri, Milano: Editrice Ancora, 1965.

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Pavan insists that religious liberty is neither deduced from an abstract

notion of an individual's adherence to truth nor extrapolated from a notion
of one's freedom of conscience. The person is always concrete, is always
socio-juridical in his essentially intersubjective nature as a member of a
socio-political order. To arguefrom man's inner act of freedom of conscience
to man's civil right to religious liberty is illicit. Man is social before any
presumed internal act of conscience arises. The truth or untruth of one's
inner convictions is politically and juridically irrelevant. Abstract notions
of truth, of rights, and of freedom of conscience are not immediately relevant
to the concrete civil right to religious liberty. From this perspective, such
conceptualistic approachesas those of Janssens and de Broglie fail to establish
the civil right to religious liberty. Janssens' and de Broglie's arguments are
not useless when one wishes to maintain that a person may not be coerced
by the state to believe what he does not believe; however, the argument
from conscience, for example, does not establish any juridicalconclusion with
regard to the restraintof one's action in relation to others in a civil society.
Pavan and Murray begin with a more complex notion at the outset: the
human person is always a member of a concrete political society, which
juridically recognizes the immunity of persons from coercion in religious
matters and allows actions in religious matters that do not disrupt the public
order."1It seems that the "conclusion" of Belgian, French, Italian, and
American theorists is identical; the arguments for the case, however, are
different in the initial insight, in approach, and in elaboration. Whereas
Janssens and de Broglie begin with a simple and rather abstract insight (for
Janssens, one's freedom of conscience; for de Broglie, man's natural right to
liberty of action) and attempt to establish juridical conclusions, Pavan and
Murray begin with a complex and concrete insight (man's religious freedom
constitutionally guaranteed, or the constitutional recognition of man's religious freedom in a society wherein the public power of the society also
recognizes its juridical incompetence, and hence its radical neutrality, in
religious matters). The differences of approach reflect the two kinds of
initial insight.
Rafael Lopez Jordan of Argentina has collected an important set of essays
that further illustrate the vitality of contemporary Catholic thought on the
problem of religious freedom. The collection is available in Italian and,
supplementedby five further essays, in Spanish."1The subtitle of the Spanish
edition -- "a solution for everyone" -- accurately indicates the diversity of
views among Catholics from Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, France, Africa,
South America, and the United States.

See John Courtney Murray, The Problem of Religious Freedom, Westminster, Mary1'
land: The Newman Press, 1965.
12 Rafael Lopez Jordan, ed., Problematicadella libertd religiosa, Milano: Editrice Xncora,
1964; Libertad religiosa, una solucion para todos, Madrid: Ediciones Stvdivm, 1964.

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The views of the Italian theorists included in Jordan's volume are similar
to the view shared by Pavan and Murray. These authors emphasize the
person's concrete right to freedom from coercion in religious matters in
modern juridical societies. Furthermore, persons are not to be restrained
from actions rooted in their religious convictions, to the extent that such
actions are in accord with the public ordering of society. The civil government has no competence with regard to the truth or lack of truth of religion;
it has competence only in matters of justice and order among its citizens.
Particular conflicts that may arise - e. g., blood transfusions for a Jehovah's
Witness, polygamy for a Mormon, education for the Amish in the United
States - must be considered in terms of jurisprudence.These conflicts are
not resolved on grounds of abstract ideals or a priori judgments.1"
Essays by Spanish Catholics in Jordan's volume reflect awareness of new
international conditions that require a reconsideration of the problem of
religious liberty in Spain. Despite his obvious nationalistic feelings, Archbishop Cantero of Zaragoza believes that the Catholic Church in Spain must
become aware of the world situation and international affairs. The modern
world is pluralistic, and the problem of coexistence between Catholic and
non-Catholic communities within the international community is a practical
one. In the face of the "lamentable sociological phenomenon of religious
pluralism," which Catholics must recognize in the present day, it is necessary,
says Cantero, for Catholics to adopt a practical attitude of justice, love, and
liberty toward all persons for the sake of the "internationalcommon good."
To defend religious liberty is not to accept non-Catholic religions as true;
it is simply to recognize that every citizen has socio-juridical rights despite
his religious claims. Interestingly, Cantero declares that one must think not
only of the rights that truth should have over error but also of the rights of
persons to think and act as their consciences direct them. Nevertheless, the
Archbishop defends the privileged juridical position of Catholicism in Spain
as properly reflecting analogically the individual and social character of the
people. Cantero's essay illustrates one kind of Catholic position that will
continue to be put forth in Spain for many years.
A challenge to Cantero's position is found in an essay by Eduardo
Garcia de Enteria of the Law Faculty, Madrid. According to Garcia, John
XXIII's Pacem in terris with its section on man's private and public
right to religious liberty was in fact interpretedin such a way as to necessitate
no change in the Spanish tradition. Garcia believes, however, that the events
of Vatican II have caused Spanish Catholics to become aware of an actual
alteration in the attitude of the Catholic Church. Hence, he asserts, Spanish
Catholics can no longer justify any special position for the Church in Spain
on the grounds of the nation's so-called religious unity. The Catholic Church
cannot properly have two positions on religious liberty, one favoring and


See also P. Barbaini, La libert religiosa, Roma: Studium, 1964.

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one not favoring the Spanish arrangement. In point of fact, Garcia argues,
the position on religious unity long esteemed by Spanish Catholics is passe.
Spain has many non-Catholics. Furthermore, the juridical status of the
Catholic Church in Spain has produced many "marginal" Catholics, i. e.,
Catholics who display the outward signs of Catholicism but are not faithful
believers. The old medieval notion of a religious state is incongruous with
the properly secular world and political societies of today. Garcia asserts
that those who deny the application of the new principles of religious liberty
to Spain not only reject an essential Christian teaching of our time, but also
manifest a lack of confidence in the apostolic mission of the Catholic Church.
Current works on religious liberty by Roman Catholics clearly exhibit
a genuine renewal in Catholic thought. This renewal is further encouraged
by Protestant studies that critically analyze aspects of modern Catholic
thought.14 One may hope that the renewal of thought will find authentic
expression in attitudes and practices.

14See, for example, G. C. Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism, trans. Lewis B. Smedes, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1965; Thomas T.
Love, John CourtneyMurray: ContemporaryChurch-StateTheory, Garden City: Doubleday &
Company, 1965.

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