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.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Religious Freedom and Freedom of Conscience

IN EXPLORING THE ISSUE OF RELIGIOUS freedom, we may conveniently divide the issue into two. The first, the issue of religious freedom as a fundamental human right. The second, the relationship between that fundamental human freedom and the Catholic Church. In this blog posting we shall deal with the first issue. In the next blog posting, we shall deal with the second.

For the first matter, we must turn to human nature which, indeed, is the source and foundation of the natural moral law, and hence also the source of human right. Man has a natural inclination, an intellectual and felt need, to seek the truth and to worship God. He has this inclination to seek the truth and to worship God irrespective of, one might say "before" coming upon, God's own revelation of Himself as Truth, and God's revelation to man as to the means of worship.

In short, there is in man a religious impulse. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: "The desire for God is written in the human heart," and this desire is satisfied only with the God that reason only outlines in the most vague way. This religious impulse, of course, is what explains the world's religions, since these represent cultural expressions of man-seeking-God, of homo quaerens Deum. We find it so beautifully displayed--albeit with admixture of error--in, for example, the writings of Plato, in Cicero, and in some of the sacred and philosophical texts of Hinduism.* In dealing with the issue of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, we are not yet dealing the God of revelation, the Deus revelatus. We are not yet dealing with the Deus quaerens hominem, the God seeking man of the Old Testament, much less the Deus quaerens in homine hominem, as St. Augustine so beautifully put it in one of his sermons, the God seeking man in man of the New Testament. (375/C)

This religious impulse or natural inclination is of the natural law, and the natural law is therefore the source of those rights, specifically, the right to religious freedom. Man, alone and with others of his kind, must be free to exercise this religious impulse, to search for the truth and for God in freedom, to find that balm of Gilead for his restless heart. It is this natural inclination that is ordered to truth and to God that the Church seeks to protect when she proclaimed in the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae the right of the person and of communities to social and civil freedom in religious matters. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church elaborates:

In order that this freedom, willed by God and inscribed in human nature, may be exercised, no obstacle should be placed in its way, since "the truth cannot be imposed except by virtue of its own truth." The dignity of the person and the very nature of the quest for God require that all men and women should be free from every constraint in the area of religion. Society and the State must not force a person to act against his conscience or prevent him from acting in conformity with it.

Freedom of conscience and religion 'concerns man both individually and socially." The right to religious freedom must be recognized in the judicial order and sanctioned as a civil right . . . . .

(Compendium, No. 421) (quoting DH, 1; citing DH, 2, 3; CCC 2106, 2108)

Inextricably intertwined with religious freedom is the freedom of conscience, since conscience, though not infallible, is nothing less than man's internal window to God, a "window through which one can see outward to that common truth which founds and sustains us all." It is the aperture of the soul wherein man finds an "openness to the ground of his being, the power of perception for what is highest and most essential." It is the soul's route by which "the way to the redemptive road to truth," into "a 'co-knowing' with the truth" that is God, is gained. This is the conscience which Cardinal Ratzinger once described as "an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine."**

The right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience is therefore one ordered to truth and to God. It is for this reason, that the the Church distinguishes between "religious freedom" and "freedom of conscience," and what might be called "religious license" or moral libertinism. "Religious freedom is not a moral license to adhere to error," nor should it be viewed as "an implicit right to error." (Compendium, No. 421) (citing CCC 2108) It is ordered to the truth and to good, ultimately God who is the source of both truth and good.

Properly understood, therefore, freedom of conscience and of religion "is not of itself an unlimited right." (Compendium, No. 422)

What, then, are the just limits of this freedom?
The just limits of the exercise of religious freedom must be determined in each social situation with political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority through legal norms consistent with the objective moral order.
(Compendium, No. 422)

The "objective moral order" is a reference to the natural law. Therefore, there is no religious freedom or freedom of conscience that would justify a right to breach the natural moral law. Consequently, the just limits of religious freedom or freedom of conscience may include prohibitions of practices against, or offensive to, the natural moral law. For example, it would not be a violation of religious freedom or freedom of conscience to prohibit polygamy or family intermarriage, human or animal sacrifice, or religions that practiced offensive sexual religious rituals or which advocated assassination, violence, or disobedience to positive laws that were in accord with natural law.

The reason behind imposing just limits on freedom of religion and of conscience relates to the public order and the common good:

Such norms are required by "the need for the effective safeguarding of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also by the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally by the need for a proper guardianship of public morality."

(Compendium, No. 422) (quoting DH, 7).

Since the natural moral law binds all men regardless of confession, and since religious freedom and freedom of conscience find their source in the natural moral law itself, it is reasonable to impose upon all men limits based upon that natural moral law. In other words, religious freedom and freedom of conscience (which are founded on the natural moral law) do not provide freedom or license for beliefs or acts that are contrary to that very same natural moral law.

Finally, the Church recognizes the intrinsic historical and cultural ties that a religious tradition may have with a people, and recognizes that the common good might allow for "special recognition" of that reality. Thus, the Church might recognize that the natural moral law would not be violated if special recognition were given to Islam in Saudi Arabia, Hinduism in India, Catholicism in Malta, or a more vague Christianity in the United States. These would be justified because of those particular religions' ties to those countries. But even so, religious freedom and freedom of conscience survive such "special recognition."
Such norms are required by "the need for the effective safeguarding of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also by the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally by the need for a proper guardianship of public morality."
(Compendium, No. 423) (quoting JPII, Message for the 1999 World Day of Peace, 5)

*I have in mind in particular the Katha Upanishad VI.12:
Not by speech, not by mind,
Not by sight can He be apprehended.
How can He be comprehended
Otherwise than by one's saying "He is"? . . .
I also have in mind the Shvetashvatara Upanishad III.7, 9:
Higher than this is Brahman. The Supreme, the Great,
Hidden in all things, body by body,
The One embracer of the universe--
By knowing Him as Lord, men become immortal.
. . . .
Than whom there is naught else higher,
Than whom there is naught smaller, naught greater.
Quotes from Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, eds., A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 1957). I find the former eerily similar to the revelation of God to Moses, and the latter reminiscent of St. Anselm's ontological proof of God. Hinduism is, of course, an eclectic hodgepodge of a religion, and includes sects within it which are crassly materialistic as well as some which reach very near the heights of monotheism, and all sorts in between.
**Joseph Ratzinger, On Conscience (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), passim. One cannot understand the Church's teaching on religious freedom without understanding what she means by "conscience." This is not a word by which one can excuse all manner of beliefs and activities, one's wishes, desires, tastes, or society's conventions. As the Puritan Thomas Brooks captured the concept it in his epistle "The Privy Key of Heaven": "Conscience is God's deputy, God's spy, God's notary, God's viceroy." Thomas Brooks, The Complete Words of Thomas Brooks, "The Privy Key of Heaven"(London: James Nisbet & Co., 1866), Vol. 2, p. 150.

It is also valuable to reflect on conscience along the lines of the Platonic anamnesis, which Ratzinger in his reflection does, or as a dim memory of Eden or an implanted proto-monotheism or urmonotheismus, as did the linguist, anthropologist, and ethnologist Fr. Wilhelm Schmidt, S.V.D.

In the words of Orestes Brownson:
The soul appears to every nice observer to retain traces of a lost grandeur, and to be filled with an undying regret for what once was, but is no longer, hers. She appears to be tortured by her reminiscences. Even before illumined by faith, she regards herself as expelled from her early home, as an exile from her native country, and a sojourn-er in a strange land. She bears with her the secret memory of a lost paradise, for which she sighs, and with her recollections of which, dim and fading though they be, she contrasts whatever she finds in the land of her exile. What is the poetry of all nations but the low wail or wild lament of the soul over her lost Eden, the music in which she expresses the wearisomeness of her banishment, and her longing to return and dwell again in the sweet bowers of her early youth, of her childhood's home?
Orestest Brownson, "Admonitions to Protestants No. 3," Brownson's Quarterly Review (July 1848). Pascal referred to this as the feeling of unsettledness, unhappiness even, coming from the fact that we have fallen from a better nature that was once us, we are, as it were, fallen royalty. This is the "greatness" and yet the "wretchedness" of man. But it is what spurs him on, his hound of heaven:
In order to make man happy, it must prove to him that there is a God; that we ought to love Him; that our true happiness is to be in Him, and our sole evil to be separated from Him; it must recognize that we are full of darkness which hinders us from knowing and loving Him; and that thus, as our duties compel us to love God, and our lusts turn us away from Him, we are full of unrighteousness. It must give us an explanation of our opposition to God and to our own good. It must teach us the remedies for these infirmities, and the means of obtaining these remedies. Let us therefore examine all the religions of the world, and see if there be any other than the Christian which is sufficient for this purpose.
Pensées, No. 430. To preserve and allow for this Pascalian search for happiness, which first leads to the God of the philosophers and then quickly progresses further to the God of Christianity, is the reason for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. This uniquely human quest, this yearning for the Other, for the First Cause, for the One, the Good, the Beautiful, for the I am Who am, ultimately for the Triune God and communion with Him by Grace, is the most valuable human endeavor, greater far than any earthly good. It is therefore, the right of rights.

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