Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Freedom and Law: Pope Leo XIII's Libertas praestantissimum, Part 7

ANOTHER SHIBBOLETH OF MODERN LIBERALISM is the notion of the right to free speech, which includes, in Leo XIII's view, collateral liberties of the press and of teaching. While Leo XIII recognizes liberty of speech and of the press, he also recognizes that such liberty is not absolute, but is one that must be "used in moderation," and is subject to limits, the same "bounds and end of all true liberty." LP, 23. "Right," Leo XIII reminds us, is a "moral power," a facultas moralis, that is not indifferent to "truth and falsehood," to "justice and injustice." LP, 23. Here is the right to free speech recognized by Leo XIII:
Men have a right freely and prudently to propagate throughout the State what things soever are true and honorable, so that as many as possible may possess them. . . . In regard . . . to all matter of opinion which God leaves to man's free discussion, full liberty of thought and of speech is naturally within the right of everyone; for such liberty never leads men to suppress the truth, but often to discover it and make it known.
LP, 23. The liberty of speech, however, does not cover "lying opinions," opinionum mendacia, nor "vices which corrupt the heart and moral life," vitia quae animum moresque corrumpunt. LP, 23.

Here we confront what to moderns and liberals is repulsive, but which is at the heart of modern society's revolution against the reign of God and natural and divine law. It is the notion that our intellectual inquiry is not lawless, but, like all things human, is governed by law, by the natural moral law and by divine law. Lawless thoughts and lawless words are not allowed us, and we are morally responsible for thoughts, ideas, concepts, teachings, speech, and words that violate the natural moral law or divine law. We are doubly answerable for promulgating those errors among our fellows. The natural moral law governs the propagation of such ideas through speech and writing since such pernicious ideas can deeply affect the common good:
The excesses of an unbridled intellect, which unfailingly end in the oppression of the untutored multitude, are no less rightly controlled by the authority of the law than are the injuries inflicted by violence upon the weak. And this all the more surely, because by far the greater part of the community is either absolutely unable, or able only with great difficulty, to escape from illusions and deceitful subtleties, especially such as flatter the passions.
LP, 23. What we say, and what we write, falls under the natural moral law and its prescriptions. We are not simply morally free to say and publish what we want.
If unbridled license of speech and of writing be granted to all, nothing will remain sacred and inviolate; even the highest and truest mandates of natures, justly held to be the common and noblest heritage of the human race, will not be spared.
LP, 23.

We have, of course, heard of the alleged statement of Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It is one of those hackneyed phrases on everyone's lips which is really stupid and banal. It is, of course, wrongly ascribed to Voltaire.* Be that as it may, it is an absurdity. One would be a fool or a scoundrel indeed if one would defend to death the right of a Larry Flint to peddle his Hustler or of Tony Alamo to peddle his false anti-Catholic leaflets. This sort of "right" to publish error or promote vice is what Leo XIII will not entertain as existing.

It is another thing entirely, however, to have defended to death the right of the Christian priest Perfectus, who, according to the Memoriale sanctorum of Eulogius, was asked by some Muslims in the 8th century in Cordoba, Spain, then under Islamic rule, what he thought of Jesus and Muhammad. Prudently, Perfectus responded that he thought Christ divine, but did not dare say what he thought of Muhammad for fear of angering his questioners. Upon their assurance that he had nothing to fear, Perfectus stated that he thought Muhammad was one of the false Christs and false prophets predicted by the Gospel, and that he thought him and his law lascivious. Ultimately, it led to his death for blasphemy. Perfectus had a right to free speech that was denied him, and the Islamic qadis or judges did him wrong and violated both the natural law and divine law in putting him to death for speaking truth. (Whether they did so in ignorance is another question.)

We have no moral obligation to give air space or publication rights to error, in particular error as it relates to things relating to the natural and divine law. Since the end of communication is to advance the true and the good, it follows that any person who engages in communication that advances error or evil has, from a strictly moral standpoint, no rights to do so; rather, such propagation should be counted as vicious.

The same sort of reasoning follows from what liberals called "liberty of teaching," docendi libertatem. Since the whole purpose of education is to remove ignorance and to imbue men's minds with truth, the teacher has the duty "to banish error from the mind, and by sure safeguards to close the entry to all false convictions." LP, 24. There is no right of teaching whatever one pleases, and such a claim of right is "greatly opposed to reason, and tends absolutely to pervert men's minds." LP, 24. There is, to be sure, a liberty of teaching, but such liberty of teaching is linked to the duty to teach truth. The liberty of teaching goes to two areas of truth: natural and supernatural. Leo XIII explains:
Now, truth, which should be the only subject matter of those who teach, is of two kinds: natural and supernatural. Of natural truths, such as the principles of nature and whatever is derived from them immediately by our reason, there is a kind of common patrimony in the human race. On this, as on a firm basis, morality, justice, religion, and the very bonds of human society rest: and to allow people to go unharmed who violate or destroy it would be most impious, most foolish, and most inhuman.

Veri autem, in quo unice versari praecipientium doctrina debet, unum est naturale genus, supernaturale alterum. Ex veritatibus naturalibus, cuiusmodi sunt principia naturae, et ea quae ex illis proxime ratione ducuntur, existit humani generis velut commune patrimonium: in quo, tamquam fundamento firmissimo, cum mores et iustitia et religio, atque ipsa coniunctio societatis humanae nitatur, nihil tam impium esset tamque stolide inhumanum, quam illud violari ac diripi impune sinere.
LP, 25. It follows that no one has the right to teach others matters that contradict the natural moral law. For example, homosexuals do not have a moral right, and they shall never have a moral right, to insist that school children be taught that homosexuality is a legitimate life option. No one can insist on a moral right to advance an activity that is repugnant to the natural moral law.

The same may be said for the divinely revealed truths, including those relating to the Incarnation and Christ's founding of the Church. The Church herself has a role in teaching. She is both Mater and Magistra, Mother and Teacher:
In faith and in the teaching of morality, God Himself made the Church a partaker of His divine authority, and through His heavenly gift she cannot be deceived. She is therefore the greatest and most reliable teacher of mankind, and in her swells an inviolable right to teach them. Sustained by the truth received from her divine Founder, the Church has ever sought to fulfill holily the mission entrusted to her by God; unconquered by the difficulties on all sides surrounding her, she has never ceased to assert her liberty of teaching, and in this way the wretched superstition of paganism being dispelled, the wide world was renewed unto Christian wisdom. Now, reason itself clearly teaches that the truths of divine revelation and those of nature cannot really be opposed to one another, and that whatever is at variance with them must necessarily be false. Therefore, the divine teaching of the Church, so far from being an obstacle to the pursuit of learning and the progress of science, or in any way retarding the advance of civilization, in reality brings to them the sure guidance of shining light. And for the same reason it is of no small advantage for the perfecting of human liberty, since our Saviour Jesus Christ has said that by truth is man made free: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32)
LP, 27.

Neither science nor advocates of civil rights ought to be "indignant" or "feel aggrieved" at the thought that law, in particular the natural moral law, should provide just and necessary restraints on speech and teaching. It is not a violation of human liberty, but a great boon to human liberty, to insist that human knowledge, human communication, and human teaching should be consonant with the moral law and with revealed truth. LP, 27. Historically, the Church has been a promoter and patron of human learning. "For learning is in itself good, and praiseworthy, and desirable." And the constraints of morality and of truth are not confining from a practical perspective since, "we must not forget that a vast field lies freely open to man's industry and genius, containing all those things which have no necessary connection with Christian faith and morals, or as to which the Church, exercising no authority, leaves the judgment of the learned free and unconstrained." LP, 28.

In concluding the section on liberty of speech, the press, and teaching, Leo XIII notes that the liberals have a double standard: one the one hand, they maintain a virtually unconstrained right to promote their liberalism, but on the other hand, they are quick to deny such ample rights to the Church, which they call intolerant:
From all this may be understood the nature and character of that liberty which the followers of liberalism so eagerly advocate and proclaim. On the one hand, they demand for themselves and for the State a license which opens the way to every perversity of opinion; and on the other, they hamper the Church in divers ways, restricting her liberty within narrowest limits, although from her teaching not only is there nothing to be feared, but in every respect very much to be gained.
LP, 29.

Leo XIII next turns to the liberty of conscience, to which we will also turn in our next blog posting.


*The quotation represents a synopsis of Voltaire's doctrine on free speech and his attitude toward Helvetius, and is found in the book
Friends of Voltaire (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1906), 199, a book published by Evelyn Beatrice Hall under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre.


  1. Do you notice that you have two articles labelled "6"?

    I really think you need to take an hiatus to research the natural law of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Right now, I'm doing research in this period. I know for a fact now that the term 'republic' was changed. Machiavelli advocated it. Also have come to the revelation that the term 'philosophy' was also changed during this time. Much of the technical language of Aristotle and Plato were changed to fit Epicurean and Democritus's views of atomism and materialism. This was the movement in the Renaissance. Epicureanism and Democritus's movement was cojoined to Hebraic politica, the Law of Moses, and the Kabbalah. All the movers and shakers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were onto this. Many were atheists. Right now, I'm running into where the "natural Law" comes from the Hebrews and Moses, not from Plato or the Doric Greeks. It doesn't come from 'nature' at all.

    I really do counsel that you take an hiatus and read Jonathan Israel's Radical Enlightenment and Enlightenment Contested, Eric Nelson's The Hebrew Republic and Paul A. Rahe's Against Throne and Altar. Things are NOT what they seem and much of the terminology is defective! The Enlightenment was NOT about Europe or the West, but about transformation, of supplanting, of destroying Western/European culture and institutions and putting something else in its place. Shakespeare said, in a sense, "Trust no one". It would be wise if you do the same. Just like philosophy was redefined into meaning materialism, I am running into circumstances that the Natural law was also redefined in this period. I think you need to do some serious research before accepting Renaissance/Enlightenment Church material. In Christ.

  2. I agree with you that the Enlightenment was probably rather the opposite of Enlightenment. To a lesser extent, the same may be said for aspects of the Renaissance. I personally am fascinated by this topic. I see the huge turning point (in religion) as Protestantism and (in philosophy) as the so-called "epistemological turn" of Descartes. The problem, in my mind, seems to have been a rejection of Aristotelian/Thomistic moderate realism and, progressively, the rejection of any sort of metaphysical thought. I agree that "nature" and "reason" and "natural law" mean different things to someone bred in Enlightenment thought versus someone who is Thomistic/Aristotelian in philosophical outlook. Very generally, post-Enlightenment natural law thought IS NOT the same as the natural law thought prior to the Enlightenment (I say generally because there are exceptions and there are thought was not monolithic either before or after the Enlightenment and the suppositions of the Enlightenment took a while to develop, as it subsisted on inherited intellectual capital.) By and large I believe the Catholic Church, especially in its initial reaction, preserved the pre-Enlightenment natural law (though modernly, among some of her theologians, especially post Vatican II there seems to be some confusion and sloppy language and perhaps and overemphasis on "rights" without regard to "duty" and an acceptance or at least greater tolerance of liberal ideas), while the post-Enlightenment natural law has pretty much dissipated or degenerated into Liberalism. I have a hard time believing that Pius IX and Leo XIII were affected by the Enlightenment thought, except as reacting against it. Especially the latter was Thomist through and through. (And this does not even address the papal doctrine of infallibility which would preserve them from any error in faith and morals in ex cathedra teaching.)

    I'll look at the texts you mentioned. Israel's work looks intriguing. I have long-term plans on addressing Michiavelli and the natural law. I googled all three of your suggested texts and they seem fascinating reading.

    Thanks for your reading suggestions, and thanks for pointing out the error in numeration.

    Yours in Christ,