Little catechism of the Second Vatican Council (Part Ten) – The Three Declarations (first of three: Dignitatis Humanæ: on religious liberty)

Little catechism of the Second Vatican Council

by Fr. Pierre-Marie, O.P.

Dominican in Avrillé


From Le Sel de la terre 93, Summer 2015

(continued, number 10)


The three Declarations


1. Dignitatis Humanæ (DH) : religious liberty

What is the significance of Dignitatis humanæ (DH) on religious liberty?

Although DH is only a Declaration, thus in principle a minor text, it has a very great importance1. Cardinal Bea, following his secret visit with the secretary general of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, prepared a schema on this theme, which provoked a serious incident during the last session of the central preparatory commission: Msgr. Lefebvre often spoke of the confrontation between Cardinal Bea and Cardinal Ottaviani, because it can be seen as a prelude of the confrontation between the “two Romes”2.

By adopting the “essential principle of the modern State”3, the Council accepted one of the fundamental claims of Freemasonry: “Christians should not forget that all routes [i.e., all religions] lead to God and sustain this courageous notion of liberty of thought that—and one can truly speak in this regard of a revolution coming out of our Masonic lodges—is marvelously spread over the dome of St. Peter’s4.

What is the fundamental teaching of DH?

DH (§ 2) teaches that “the human person has a right to religious freedom.  This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”  This right “has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person“; it “is to be recognized in the constitutional law…and thus it is to become a civil right“; and it “continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.”

Is this teaching opposed to the traditional teaching of the Church?6

Yes, this teaching is opposed to numerous magisterial texts, e.g.,

— to Mirari vos (15 August 1832)5 by Gregory XVI :

This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. ‘But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error,’ as Augustine was wont to say.”

— to Quanta Cura (8 December 1864) by Pius IX :

And, against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that ‘that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require.’ From which totally false idea of social government they do not fear to foster that erroneous opinion, most fatal in its effects on the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls, called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, an insanity, viz., that ‘liberty of conscience and worship is each man’s personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society…’ But, while they rashly affirm this, they do not think and consider that they are preaching liberty of perdition”.

— and above all to the condemnation of the propositions of the Syllabus of Pius IX (8 December 1864):

77. « In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship. »

Allocution “Nemo Vestrum,”July 26, 1855.

78. « Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship. »

Allocution “Acerbissimum,” Sept. 27, 1852.

79. « Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions whatsoever and thoughts, conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people, and to propagate the pest of indifferentism. »

Allocution “Nunquam Fore,” Dec. 15, 1856.

Is this teaching opposed to the traditional practice of the Church?6

Indeed, from Constantine to Vatican II, the Church has always asked Christian princes to prohibit false cults, “except for real necessity of tolerance7.  It has never considered that “not disturbing the public order” is a necessary motive of tolerance, except to give this expression a meaning different from that of Vatican II.

But, as St. Thomas Aquinas said: “The custom of the Church has very great authority and ought to be jealously observed in all things…  Hence we ought to abide by the authority of the Church rather than by that of an Augustine or a Jerome or of any doctor whatever.” (II-II, q. 10, a. 12).

It is thus certain that the declaration DH gives a false teaching.

Does the Conciliar Church not realize the contradiction?

The Conciliar Church does realize the difficulty in reconciling the teachings.  It has authoritatively affirmed that the reconciliation is possible (because, to them, Vatican II cannot be mistaken) and it has spawned many studies to try to reconcile the two teachings, but without success, each study developing a new argument for how the previous one does not suffice8.  Finally, during the doctrinal discussions, the Conciliar Church invited the Society of St. Pius X to “enter into the Church” to help it find a solution!

In fact, the simplest and most honest solution is that of the future Benedict XVI who admitted: « there are magisterial decisions which cannot be the final word on a given matter as such but, despite the permanent value of their principles, are chiefly also a signal for pastoral prudence, a sort of provisional policy.  Their kernel remains valid, but the particulars determined by circumstances can stand in need of correction.  In this connection, one will probably call to mind […] the pontifical statements of the last century regarding freedom of religion »9.

Is DH based on a false philosophy?

Yes, DH is based on a personalist philosophy in considering that the common good “chiefly consists in the protection of the rights, and in the performance of the duties, of the human person” (§ 6).

Without speaking of the Masonic origin of the doctrine of the Rights of Man, it is at least paradoxical to define the common good as the protection of the rights of particular persons. The particular good is ordered to the common good, not vice versa.  Personalist philosophy, placing the person above society, is the source of a spirit of protest, egoism, and subversion.

(To be continued)