More on the authority of religious coercion

Opus Publicum links to an essay by Dr. John Lamont critiquing the Pink thesis and laying out his own understanding of Dignitatis Humanae and its compatibility with Tradition.  According to Lamont, traditional Catholic teaching holds that the state did have its own authority of religious coercion (plus attendant duty to recognize the true faith and accept the Church’s rulings on matters of orthodoxy), rather than only having such when delegated by the Church.  His arguments don’t seem to me to be decisive (e.g. the fact that the temporal but not spiritual power could execute heretics; it seems possible that the Church might have an authority that it would be unfitting to exercise directly).  He shows that the futility of attempting to coerce an interior act of faith is part of the Tradition.  He also amasses evidence that Christian rulers were held to have a duty to defend the Faith precisely as rulers rather than as private believers.  I think the case for this is conclusive, but I hadn’t realized Pink was arguing the opposite.  Nor does he agree that Dignitatis Humanae revoked the state’s religious duties, as seen in its exceptions to religious freedom in the name of public order, which in the canon law of the time included the spiritual common good.

What, then, did Dignitatis Humanae actually do?  According to Lamont, it drew a new limit to the state’s legitimate rationale in regulating religion.  Whereas the Church may employ at least mild coercion on the faithful for the good of their own souls, the state’s coercion may only be employed to defend the spiritual common good.

Along the way, Lamont argues that the condemnation of religious freedom in Quanta Cura is an infallible ex cathedra statement.

How, though, could the Council Fathers have ended up approving a document which seems to be saying something so different from what it actually says?  Lamont tells a similar story to Pink/Waldstein.  The theologians believed in religious freedom, but couldn’t agree on the theological rationale.  Murray and Maritain were working from a very crude idea of the separation of man’s natural and supernatural ends to endorse public secularism.  De Lubac also promoted public secularism even though the natural consequence of his abolition of pure nature would have been the opposite:  an extreme Guelph position.  One can’t help coming away with the impression that the main actors in this drama weren’t very bright, that they made up ad hoc theological justifications in the service of political partisanship.  (It’s quite scandalous how much feelings regarding Action Francaise seem to have driven the debate.)

By the way, some choice quotes on the Council:

The second peculiar circumstance was that the Second Vatican Council was run on a ‘bishop’s conference’ model. Previous ecumenical councils had considered itessential to thoroughly debate the questions they were addressing. At the Council of Trent, for example, there were two sets of debates; first, questions were debated by theologians who argued against each other while the bishops listened, and then the bishops themselves debated the theological questions prior to voting on them. At theSecond Vatican Council, however, thorough and objective theological debate was notthe main way in which decisions were arrived at. The predominant factors were bureaucratic manoeuvring, public relations, and parliamentary manipulation – thestandard methods by which bishops’ conferences are run – on the part of the mostinfluential figures at the Council and their supporters.
This element was notably present in the production of Dignitatis Humanae.  The decisive stage at the council was the drafting of the texts presented to the council to be voted upon, rather than the theological debate over the issues discussed by these documents; and the drafting of these texts was determined by the control of the committees that produced them. The text of Dignitatis Humanae began as a document composed by two bishops and two theologians in Fribourg in 1960. The preparatory commissions for the Council had produced a text on religious freedom in ch. 9 of its document De Ecclesia, a text that agreed with A) to F) above [statements of the traditional position]. All the preparatory documents for the Council were however rejected without any proper debate on their contents. Through the initiative of the Secretariat for Christian Unity under Cardinal Bea, the Fribourg text, which agreed with the Liberal Catholic position, was adopted as the basis for a document on religious freedom…
Another reason is the character of the process that produced Dignitatis Humanae. This process included the suppression of views contrary to those of the drafters of the document, the misrepresentation of previous magisterial teaching, and the avoidance of debate on crucial issues. It was a squalid episode that reflects the greatest discredit on Bishop de Smedt and his allies. This attempt at hoodwinking the Council Fathers nonetheless had considerable success.

9 Responses

  1. “Murray and Maritain were working from a very crude idea of the separation of man’s natural and supernatural ends to endorse public secularism.”

    That is actually the reverse of Maritain’s position, who spent his life protesting against natura pura.

    “Integral political science . . . is superior in kind to philosophy; to be truly complete it must have a reference to the domain of theology, and it is precisely as a theologian that St. Thomas wrote De regimine principum . . . the knowledge of human actions and of the good conduct of the human State in particular can exist as an integral science, as a complete body of doctrine, only if related to the ultimate end of the human being. . . the rule of conduct governing individual and social life cannot therefore leave the supernatural order out of account” (The Things that are not Caesar’s, p. 128, [Primauté du spirituel, Pourquoi Rome a parlé (1927)] Jacques Maritain).

    “Man is not in a state of pure nature, he is fallen and redeemed. Consequently, ethics, in the widest sense of the word, that is, in so far as it bears on all practical matters of human action, politics and economics, practical psychology, collective psychology, sociology, as well as individual morality,—ethics in so far as it takes man in his concrete state, in his existential being, is not a purely philosophic discipline. Of itself it has to do with theology, either to become integrated with or at least subalternated to theology. . . . Here is a philosophy which must of necessity be a superelevated philosophy, a philosophy subalternated to theology, if it is not to misrepresent and scientifically distort its object” (An Essay on Christian Philosophy, Jacques Maritain).

  2. Maritain’s position on coercion was a simple one (and shared by De Lubac)

    “If it were true that whoever knows or claims to know truth or justice cannot admit the possibility of a view different from his own, and is bound to impose his true view on other people by violence, the rational animal would be the most dangerous of beasts. In reality it is through rational means, that is, thorugh persuasion, not through coercion, that the rational animal is bound by his very nature to try to induce his fellow man to share in what it knows or claims to know as true or just. And the metaphysician, because he trusts human reason; and the believer, because he trusts divine grace, and knows that “a forced faith is a hypocrisy hateful to God and man”, as Cardinal Manning put it, do not use holy war to make their “eternal truth” accessible to other people, they appeal to the inner freedom of other people by offering them either their demonstrations or the testimony of their love. And we do not call upon the people to decide because we are aware of our ignorance of what is the good, but because we know this truth, and this good, that the people have a right to self-government.”

  3. I didn’t realize that only those parts of Dignatas Humanae which were phrased as a declaration were magisterially binding. One thing I noticed that was not mentioned in the article, was that these parts of the document dealt only with whether the state can compel people to act against their beliefs, and not whether it could prohibit them from acting in accord with their beliefs.

  4. The section on Maritain is amusing:

    Maritain originally defended [Action Francaise] against its liberal critics with arguments along the lines of Descoqs’. However, when in 1926 Pius XI decided tosuppress Action Française he appealed personally to Maritain for support. With more loyalty than logic, Maritain immediately rejected his former views and supported the papal move. To replace his allegiance to Action Française and Maurras, he developeda new political approach, which was chiefly elaborated in his book Humanisme intégral (1936). In this approach, he preserved the distinction between temporal and supernatural ends that he had used to justify collaboration with Maurras, but used itinstead to argue for the legitimacy of cooperating in the temporal sphere with modernsecular states. Not only did he argue for its legitimacy, he claimed that such cooperation was morally required, and that the goal of securing recognition of theChurch by the state had to be abandoned. The rationale for this claim was theargument that a secular, non-confessional state was required to respect the dignity and autonomy of the human person.

  5. “he developed a new political approach, which was chiefly elaborated in his book Humanisme intégral (1936)”

    No, the decisive work is Primauté du spirituel, Pourquoi Rome a parlé (1927), from which I have already quoted and which asserts Lucien Laberthonnière’s denial that “the state could be self-sufficient in the sense that it could be properly independent of any specifically Christian sense of justice.”

    Of course, Laberthonnière agreed with Blondel and De Lubac that the Church should be conceived, not as the institutional “Spiritual Power” alongside the “Temporal Power” of the State, but rather in terms of an evangelical presence, a “leaven,” that nurtures efforts in society ordered to the coming of God’s Kingdom and they sought “a cure of contemporary society by way of education, of penetration, and of methodic reconstitution.”

    For Blondel, this required Catholics to be open to secular movements for justice. These movements were evidence of “silent causes [at] work on the world in its depths” in search of “equity.” Efforts “from below” to establish a just society would lead persons of good will to respect Christianity and “to find only in the spirit of the gospel the supreme and decisive guarantee of justice and of the moral conditions of peace, stability, and social prosperity.” (Catholicisme Social et Monophorisme: Controverses sur les Méthodes et les Doctrines (1910))

    This was the position adopted by Maritain, when he wrote, “Thus it is that men possessing quite different, even opposite metaphysical or religious outlooks, can converge, not by virtue of any identity of doctrine, but by virtue of an analogical similitude in practical principles, toward the same practical conclusions.”

  6. MPS, thank you for more great quotes.

    Maritain’s first and last quote highlight the basic contradiction in his thought: the desire to affirm both pluralism and a spiritual common good, even though these are contrary things.

    It’s amusing that Blondel thought atheists would be impressed by Catholic “me too”ism. After all, if a “justice” movement originates outside the Church, that proves that the gospel is not indispensible for it. In the century since he wrote that, we’ve seen time and again that Christians latching onto secular movements (democracy, socialism, racial integration, environmentalism) tends to raise Christians’ esteem for unbelievers but not vice versa. That’s not to say that one should never join a movement that’s not explicitly Christian, just that doing so won’t win any brownie points for the Church.

  7. […] some groundwork for the question of Nature, grace, and the coercive authority of the Church, with seconds; musings upon whether the United States are ready for monarchy; and some deep thoughts on the […]

  8. Here’s why Canon Gregory Hesse, a hero of mine, denies that Vatican II is an ecumenical council.

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