Among the theological points taught by Vatican II that depart from Tradition, perhaps the one most clearly in opposition with Catholic doctrine is the teaching on religious liberty.
The duty to be a good Catholic
The Catholic Faith is simple: Our Lord Jesus Christ is the one Mediator, “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” and “no one goes to the Father except by Him” (Jn. 14:6), for “there was not given under heaven another name by which we must be saved but the name of Jesus. Neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12). Our Lord is the Savior; He is powerful enough to save all men; He came for that purpose (I Tim. 2:4); hence all men have the duty to receive Him, and “to them that received Him, He gave power to become sons of God” (Jn. 1:12).
To receive Our Lord implies embracing the truths He has taught and has entrusted to His Church, to whom He said: “Go, teach all nations” (Mt. 28:19). To become adoptive sons of God by grace can only be in the Son, as members of the Mystical Body of the Son of God, which mystical body is the Church, the Catholic Church, the one Church He has founded and is recognizable by its four notes of unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity.
Thus the Catholic Church is very intimately linked with the very purpose of life: the salvation of our souls. “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Mt. 16:26). To save men from the greatest danger, everlasting punishment in hell; to deliver them from the greatest evil (sin), source of all human ills; to give to men the greatest of all goods, union with God Himself in eternal life and a beginning of it here below through “the bond of perfection, charity” (Col. 3:14)—this is the inestimable benefit which Our Lord Jesus Christ offers to men in His Church, the Catholic Church!
Yet, this goal of life is not optional: it is the duty of everyone to “work out [one’s] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). And that is done within the Catholic Church, and cannot be achieved outside of her: we can live of the life of Christ (Phil. 1:21) only in “the Body of Christ, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24). “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (St. Cyprian, Ep. 73, 21). Hence the Church is not optional, as salvation is not optional.
That this was the teaching of the Church from the beginning (St. Cyprian is of the 3rd century, witness of the Faith of the early Church) all the way to 1962 is manifest by the fact that the very schema on the Church prepared under Pope John XXIII for the Second Vatican Council says: “it is a dogma of the faith that no man can be saved outside the Church” (Section vii, in The Church: Documents on the Church published by Solesmes, appendix, p. 814).
True and false freedom
Against this dogma, modern man rebels in the name of freedom.
God has created man free, but many people misunderstand this freedom. They want to be “free from God”; they repeat the cry of rebellion of Satan: “I shall not serve!” (Jer. 2:20). To this rebellion is opposed the Fiat of the Blessed Virgin, the obedience of Mary: “Be it done to me according to Thy Word” (Lk. 1:38). Hence mankind is divided in two camps, the “seed of the Woman” and the “seed of the Serpent” (Gen. 3:15).
To understand that true freedom is on the side of the Blessed Virgin Mary and false freedom on the side of Satan, it is useful to consider the following. God created all things, visible and invisible; now all the material universe perfectly follows the laws that God has set to it, laws of gravitation, of electromagnetism, of chemistry, of life, etc.; from the smallest particles to the greatest galaxies everything obeys God perfectly. You might say, they have no merit, they obey out of necessity.
True, and this is the reason why God created spiritual beings, angels and men, and endowed them with freedom: so that they may obey His Laws out of love and not out of necessity. Understand well, dear reader, the purpose of freedom is to obey God’s laws out of love, not to disobey His laws! And don’t fool yourself: you cannot escape God’s laws. Either you do what God commands, and you will be rewarded according to God’s laws; or you do not what God commands, and you will be punished, still according to God’s laws. What do you prefer? The choice is indeed yours. The ability to choose is not an ability to escape the Creator.
Thus it is clear that true freedom is the ability to choose that which is good, not a right to choose that which is evil. Hence the Church always taught, with Pope Pius XII: “That which does not conform to truth and moral law has objectively no right to being, to propagation, nor to action” (Discourse to the Italian jurists Ci riese on the Dec. 6, 1953). In one word, freedom is for good, not for evil. That principle has no restriction.
Note also this other principle: truth is the good of the intelligence; error and falsehood, the evil of the intelligence. Error is not always a sin, but it is always evil, and very damaging for souls. Hence it ought to be corrected, and has no right to be “immune” from correction.
Patience and Tolerance
When some hear that there is no right for evil, they immediately fear persecutions and violence. Yet there is nothing more remote from the teaching, practice and spirit of the Church, founded by “the Son of man [who] came not to destroy souls, but to save” (Lk. 9:56). He taught: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that calumniate you” (Lk. 6:27-28). And He gave the supreme example of this when He prayed for His enemies on the Cross, thereby teaching us “not to render evil for evil…but to overcome evil by good” (Rom. 12:17, 21).
But to love those who hate us does not give them a right to hate us, not even a right to immunity for hating us; to bless those who curse us does not give them a right to curse us, not even a right to immunity for cursing us; to pray for those who calumniate us does not give them a right to calumniate us, not even a right to immunity for calumniating us. Because hate, cursing, calumnies are evil, and evil has no right, not even a right to immunity.
St. Augustine not only teaches such patience and tolerance, but he even pleads for clemency in favor…of heretics in his letter 153 to Macedonius, the imperial vicar for Africa, who was applying the imperial laws against heresy. This Macedonius, the most powerful man in Africa, standing in the very place of the emperor, was a very good Catholic with a great esteem for St. Augustine. This one asked that penalty of death be not applied to the heretics, in the hope that this clemency would help them to convert, for this is the main desire of the Church. Here are some of his beautiful words:
Malis parce, vir bone; quanto melior, tanto esto mitior; quanto fis celsior potestate, tanto humilior fiere pietate!—Spare the wicked, thou good man; the better you are, the meeker you ought to be; the higher you are by your power, the more humble you ought to be by piety!” (Ep. 153, 4,11—PL 33, 408—BAC XIa Cartas, p. 414).
And Macedonius granted the clemency asked by St. Augustine. Thus far from persecuting the wicked, the Church intercedes for them!
Yet St. Augustine does not acknowledge a right to immunity for them. Indeed, he writes a little further:
“Now it is true, as morals go in our days, that men want both to be exempt from penalty for their crimes, and yet to possess that for which they admitted the crime [i.e., to continue in their sins]. This is the worst kind of men…” (Ep. 153, 6, 20—PL 33, 419—BAC, ibid. p. 423).
In other words, those who want to continue in their sins with impunity, those who want “immunity from coercion” in their sins, are the worst kind of men. Thus St. Augustine is far from acknowledging such a “right for immunity from coercion.”
The Christian service proper to kings
“And now, O ye kings, understand: receive instruction, you that judge the earth. Serve ye the Lord with fear: and rejoice unto him with trembling” (Ps. 2:10-11). And St. Augustine comments:
How shall the kings serve the Lord with fear except by forbidding with a religious severity that which is done against the commands of the Lord? Other is the manner of service as a man, other as a king: as a man, he serves [God] by living faithfully; yet because he is also a king, he serves by commanding that which is just and forbidding the opposite.…In this therefore the kings serve the Lord, in as much as they are kings, by doing in the service of the Lord that which kings alone can do [i.e., just laws]”
(Letter 185, V, 19, to Boniface, Count of Africa, in charge of implementing the imperial laws against the Donatists).
Pius IX and the Syllabus
After such clear teaching, put in practice (more or less well) in the centuries of Christendom, it is no surprise that Pope Pius IX solemnly condemns those who say:
“The best condition of society is that where one does not recognize to civil authority the duty to repress by legal penalties the violators of the Catholic religion, except where public peace requires it” (Quanta Cura, Denzinger, 1689).
Now, since every false religion by its refusal to honor Our Lord Jesus Christ and to enter the Church He has founded “violates” the commandments of God (at least the first, and often also the others, such as by their permission of divorce and remarriage) and therefore violates the Catholic Religion, if everyone would have “a right to immunity from coercion” (Dignitatis Humanae, 2) in religious matters, then clearly to repress such “right” could not be the best condition of society. Therefore one cannot hold such “right to immunity” without falling under the condemnation of Pope Pius IX.
A new foundation
In an effort to get this novel right accepted, Vatican II changes the approach from an objective approach (i.e., looking at the object of the right: a right to something) to a subjective approach (i.e., looking at the subject of the right, the human person).
Now in good logic, one can prove the same proposition with different approaches (thus Our Lord could learn through His human intelligence by what He suffered what obedience is, though He already knew it by His Divine Intelligence), yet one can never rightly prove two contrary propositions: since they cannot be true together, they cannot be both proved rightly. Two different paths can reach the same conclusion; they can never reach contrary conclusions: in such case, one of the reasoning is flawed. Since the age-old teaching of the Church is certain—“what the Catholic Church has always held” is guaranteed by Christ—then we know that the novelty is flawed.
The idea behind Dignitatis Humanae is that the dignity of man—of which the Church would have taken a greater awareness recently!—requires that no coercion be exercised at all in religious matters by any authority on earth: that man, being free, may be able to exercise freely whatever his religious convictions are. The underlying error here is that any coercion is always against the dignity of man. If man were supreme, thus his own rule, then any coercion would indeed be opposed to his dignity. God is supreme: He is Goodness itself, thus God is His own rule, and any coercion on Him is simply impossible. But because man received his being from God, he also receives his goodness from God, and therefore the rule of his action is also from God. God gives this rule in two ways: exteriorly by His law and interiorly by His grace; His law tells us what we ought to do to be good, and His grace moves us to do it. We need both! Far from rejecting the law of God, the grace of God moves us to do what the law commands, and thus to rejoice in His law: “Therefore have I loved thy commandments above gold and the topaz” (Ps. 118:166).
God did not create man as a loner, but as a social being that needs the help of his neighbor. One help, instituted by God in human society, is authority: “Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1). As intended by God, authority is a help to do good. The authority of parents over children is a good example: though parents do not always do that which is right, yet they rarely command their children to do wrong. And their authority is a great help for the children to learn right from wrong—and today’s lack of proper exercise of parental authority leads many children to ignore right from wrong. St. Paul says: “For he is God’s minister to thee, for good.” Now that ministry not only rewards that which is good, but also protects from evil by exercising a certain coercion: “But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil” (Rom. 13:4).
This protection and help is so much the more necessary after the fall of Adam, since our wounded nature is inclined to evil: it needs that support. Where the authority is good, it helps many to be good; where the authority is evil, many fall into evil ways. Thus there can be a good coercion (reasonable and moderate), far from opposed to human dignity, it protects it from falling into error and sin. Indeed as the possibility of having an accident is not part of the value of a car, neither is the possibility of falling part of the dignity of human freedom, neither is the ability of erring part of the dignity of human intelligence!
Thus the refusal of coercion under the guise of human dignity is in fact a refusal of divinely instituted authority, at least in religious matters. Contrary to Holy Scripture and the whole Tradition of the Church, it pretends that kings and heads of state have no duty as such, i.e., as heads of state, to support the practice of the law of God, including the first commandment.
They pretend it is beyond their competence. It is beyond their competence to be judges in religious matters (such competence belongs to the Church’s authority), but it is not beyond their competence to receive the judgments of the Church and support them. This is what the imperials laws were doing at the time of St. Augustine, and he gives testimony to the benefits for the people who, thanks to these laws, were able to get out of the social pressures exercised by the violence of the circumcellions (Donatist gangsters), and were very grateful once converted to have discovered the true Church. This is what all the holy kings have done in the Middle Ages: think of St. Stephen of Hungary who converted his country. This is what good Catholic governments were doing even in the 20th century, such as in Spain and Portugal.
And at a lower level, the exercise of parental authority to guide the children in the way of God is good, necessary and blessed by God.
Let us keep the unchangeable Catholic Faith in the one true religion founded by the Son of God, which every man has a duty to embrace and practice. Let us be patient and tolerant with those who are still outside of it, praying that by the grace of God they may be converted. And let everyone endowed with authority use it the best way possible to help others fulfill their duties towards God and neighbor. May Our Lady, Mother of the Church, help the Church’s authority to return to this Catholic teaching of all times!
Fr. Francois Laisney
1 Heb. 5:8.
2 St. Augustine, Ep. 186, ix, 33. There would be very many other quotes possible, especially in magisterial documents. This is just the last one I encountered in my readings.