Concerning the Unbaptized
We regard St. Thomas, as certainly the most reliable exponent of Catholic teachings, and he lived in the very times (d. 1274) when it is maintained nowadays, albeit wrongly, that the Catholic Church exercised limitless power. He answered the questions: whether the unbeliever may be forced to accept the true religion as follows:
The non-believers who, like the pagans and the Jews, have never accepted the true Faith may in no way -- nullo modo -- be forced to accept it, since Faith is a matter of free consent by the will. (ST. ii-ii., 10)
The noted and learned Jesuit Suarez addressed himself to the same question 400 years later when he was discussing the power of the Catholic Church and Christian rulers. He said: "It is the universal opinion of theologians that non-believers, whether they are one's subjects or not, may not be forced to accept the Faith even if they have attained sufficient knowledge of it." (Suarez, Tract. de Fide Disp. 18 Sect. III, n. 4.) [Ed: To know the Gospel merely in its exterior form is not sufficient, in itself, to beget conviction or bind in conscience: “The Indians are not held to believe as soon as they have heard the preaching of the Christian faith, so that they would sin mortally against the faith from the sole fact that it is announced to them and that they are assured that the Christian religion is true…They would be held to believe only if the Christian faith had been proposed to them with worthy witnesses to persuade them. Yet I do not hear that miracles have been performed among them or that they have been shown extraordinary examples of sanctity; on the contrary, they have been given a spectacle of scandals, horrible crimes, and innumerous impieties.” (Cf. Francisco de Vitoria, De Indis, 1532; See also, Charles Cardinal Journet, Theology of the Church, Ignatius, 2004, pp. 299-300)] He then enumerated a long list of the most reputable theologians who supported this position and came to the conclusion that: "This opinion is therefore completely true and certain." To make it the more conclusive, he added: "We regard it, first of all as intrinsically evil -- intrinsice malum -- to wish to force non-believers who are not one's subjects to accept the Faith, because such force, to be applied, presupposes the existence of legitimate authority, as must be obvious. The Church, however, does not possess legitimate authority over such persons." (ibid. n. 4) He continues: "Secondly, the Church cannot compel even non-believers who are subject to her temporal authority to accept the Faith. That is because the direct use of force presupposes full authority and jurisdiction, and it is clear from what has been said that the Church has not gotten such full power over her temporal subjects by any specific commission from Christ." (ibid. n. 7)
Until now we have only spoken of non-believers as individuals. St. Thomas went further now and asked whether the religious practices of non-believers must also be tolerated. In other words, we are face to face with the issues...integral to religious freedom. St. Thomas first mentioned the possible objections to his position in his accustomed manner: "It appears as though the religious practices of unbelievers must not be tolerated inasmuch as it is obvious that by their observance of these practices they are sinning; and we must conclude that he who does not prevent such a sin when he is able, himself shares in its guilt." The Saint answered:
"Temporal government has its origin in divine government, and it must, therefore to the extent that it can, imitate it. God, however, though He is almighty and infinite, permits certain evils to occur on earth, even though He could prevent them from occurring. He does this because, first of all, by preventing evil in this manner He would deprive man of greater benefits and secondly, because therefore greater evils would result." (ST. ii-ii, 10, 11)
The greater benefits which St. Thomas had in mind here are not hard to determine. God would have to deprive a man of his liberty which is the highest endowment that man has, if He were to deny a man every possibility of abusing that liberty. [Ed: Here we come back to the concept of self-determination or natural liberty as the basis for moral freedom discussed in Part I. We can recognize the “principle of double-effect” at work where God wills to tolerate evil effects for the sake of some “greater good” directly willed. In other words, natural liberty is directly willed by God and is a good, in itself, insofar as it is what makes man distinctly human and capable of freely choosing the good and the true. Yet, such liberty involves the possibility of abuse. One is not permitted to directly will the abuse -- yet one must will to tolerate the abuse insofar as God Himself wills to tolerate it – and only for the sake of the "greater good" directly willed. In this sense St. Thomas says: “God therefore neither wills evil to be done, nor wills it not to be done, but wills to permit evil to be done; and this is a good.” (ST. I, 19, 9)] Applying that principle to temporal governments, St. Thomas concluded that they too must tolerate certain evils, and he stated finally: "Even though the non-believers sin because of their religious practices, these must nevertheless be tolerated, either because of the good that they still have in them, or because of the greater evil that would result." Among such evils, he listed the scandal and discord which might result from forceful interference or, even more important, the hindrance that such interference could prove to be to the true conversion of the unbelievers.
We see here with what great circumspection the great teachers of the Catholic Church opposed that much abused viewpoint according to which anyone who holds authority is obliged to promote as much good as lies within his power. To avoid evil by the use of force involves a whole lot more than simply the possession of physical force, but also legitimate authority. [Ed: Pope Pius XII, in his 1953 Address to Catholic Jurists, affirms this principle as follows: "Could God, although it would be possible and easy for Him to repress error and moral deviation, in some cases choose the "non impedire" without contradicting His infinite perfection? Could it be that in certain circumstances He would not give men any mandate, would not impose any duty, and would not even communicate the right to impede or to repress what is erroneous and false? A look at things as they are gives an affirmative answer…Moreover, God has not given even to human authority such an absolute and universal command in matters of faith and morality. Such a command is unknown to the common convictions of mankind, to Christian conscience, to the sources of Revelation and to the practice of the Church."] Secondly, it involves the employment of means which do not promote more evil in the process of avoiding evil. It is madness to deprive a neighbor of both of his eyes in an effort to save a hand which may be endangered. Thus every authority -- where the liberty and self-determination of the human being is involved -- must pause to analyze not only the scope of its legitimate authority, but also the correctness of the means which it wishes to employ.
Since this question has such overriding importance, we shall also see what Suarez, the great interpreter of St. Thomas, had to say about it. Suarez not only confirmed St. Thomas' opinion regarding the toleration of the religious practices of unbelievers, he went further and sets the precise limits to which such toleration can go. His determination is of the greatest practical significance in dealing with the question of how far the limits of religious freedom can extend in our own time and remain in conformity with the Church's principles. In his commentary on St. Thomas, Suarez begins much in the style of the latter:
"It appears as though the religious practices of the unbelievers, notably all of the unbaptized as, e.g., pagans and Mohammedans, may not be tolerated in Christian nations since they involve superstition and injury to the honor that is owed to the true God, whose honor Christian rulers have an obligation to uphold. [Ed: In other words, Suarez is essentially dealing with the question whether the toleration of non-Christian religious practices, in itself, contradicts or violates the “traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.” (Cf. DH, 1)] St. Thomas, however, rightly distinguishes two kinds of religious practices: there are those which go against reason and against God insofar as he can be recognized through nature and through the natural powers of the soul, e.g., the worship of idols, etc. Others are contrary to the Christian religion and to its commands not because they are evil in themselves or contrary to reason as, for example, the practices of Jews and even many of the customs of Mohammedans and such unbelievers who believe in one true God. [Ed: Such "unbelievers", while not in possession of the Christian Faith, conform to the natural moral law insofar as they "believe in one true God", and with the assistance of Divine grace can attain supernatural Faith, properly speaking: "But without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that cometh to God must believe that he is: and is a rewarder to them that seek him." (Cf. Heb. 11: 6; ST. ii-ii, 2, 5)]
Regarding the first, the Church may not tolerate them on the part of her own unbelieving subjects. But that is merely the general principle. It may happen often that Christian rulers cannot prevent even such practices without causing greater harm to the nation and to the Christian inhabitants. In that case, the ruler may tolerate such evil with a clear conscience on the basis of what Christ said to the servant who asked the master whether they should remove the weeds from the field. He replied, 'No, or perhaps while you are gathering the tares you will root up the wheat with them.' (idid. sect. IV, n. 9)
As regards the other religious practices of unbelievers which go contrary to Christian beliefs but not counter to natural reason, there is no doubt but that the unbelievers, even though they are subjects, may not be forced to abandon them. Rather the Church has to tolerate them. [Ed: In other words, while both groups have the same right to inner self-determination or natural liberty, the second group has the moral freedom to act without constraint insofar as their actions conform to the objective moral order as expressed by the natural law that is inscribed on the hearts of all men and insofar as God confers the corresponding right to fulfill one’s moral obligations. Such obedience to the honest dictates of conscience is true ‘liberty of conscience’ as described by Pope Leo XIII in Libertas: "...every man in the State may follow the will of God and, from a consciousness of duty and free from every obstacle, obey His commands."] St. Gregory addressed himself clearly to this problem regarding Jews, and he forbade anyone to deprive them of their synagogues or to prevent them from observing their religious practices therein. (Lib. I Epistol. 34) Elsewhere he reaffirmed that no one should prevent Jews from participating in their religious observances. (Lib. II. Ep. 15) The reason is that such observances do not in themselves violate the natural law, and therefore, the temporal power of even a Christian ruler does not confer a right to forbid them. Such action would be based on the fact that what is being done goes contrary to the Christian Faith, but that is not enough to compel those who are not subject to the spiritual authority of the Church. This opinion is also supported by the fact that such a ban would involve, to some extent, forcing people to accept the Faith; and that is never permitted. (ibid. n. 10)
From all of what these authorities have said, we are able to derive certain important principles regarding how the Catholic Church and Christian rulers must conduct themselves in the matter of religious freedom of the unbaptized:
1. The acceptance of the Christian Faith, which is before God the greatest obligation facing any human being, must be an act of the free will and free self-determination of each individual, and no one may in any way -- nullo modo -- as St. Thomas said -- be compelled to do so by the use of external force. [Ed: Ketteler describles the concept of "self-determination" as follows: "The essence of liberty, whatever the context, lies in free self-determination stemming from inner conviction rather than from external force. Such free self-determination and free choice are the necessary prerequisites for social and political freedom. What it all means is that a man, in his personal, social, and political life, to the extent that he is able to take care of his own needs without violating the rights of others, enjoys the widest possible latitude in managing his own affairs. This liberty is therefore aptly designated as self-determination or individual autonomy." (Ketteler, op. cit., pp. 135-136)]
2. The spiritual authority of the Church, like that of any temporal authority, is limited. Those who exercise that authority may not do all that they would be capable of doing, or what they regard as useful, nor may they use any force at their disposal to accomplish such ends. The application of external force can only be justified to the extent that the nature of authority indicates. Thus, every absolutism is unthinkable, and the implications contained here are of the greatest significance. It is a basic fallacy of our times, and many of the best and well-intentioned fall prey to it -- a fallacy, incidentally, which we have grown accustomed to because of absolutism -- to look for remedies by the use of external force especially as applied by some great and powerful ruler. Far be it from us to deny the great blessing that a true Christian ruler would be, but such a ruler would be the more blessed, the more he operated within the bounds of what he could legitimately do. When a ruler, with the best of intentions, goes beyond his authority to do good, such good turn out to be spurious, and he can end up doing grave harm to both Church and state...All power has its limits, and whenever those limits are transgressed, no matter how good the intentions may be, God's will is opposed; and what was intended as a blessing ends up being a curse. [Ed: The pagan state-absolutism that had eventually given way to the Christian concept of freedom that prevailed during the medieval era slowly began to reemerge during the Renaissance only to be fueled by Protestantism and given support by the Catholic House of Bourbon: “We can see how rapidly this pagan absolutism progressed when we recognize how suddenly the principle, ‘cujus regio, ejus religio,’ gained widespread acceptance. This meant that subjects had to take on the same religion as their prince. Christianity had toppled pagan absolutism through the force of conscience. The martyrs had appeared before the Roman emperors and told them: ‘We cannot do what you command because our consciences, which are attuned to God’s will, do not permit it.’ With that kind of action, began the restoration of human dignity. The neo-pagan absolutism attacked this conscience, which had once been its downfall and declared, in effect, that subjects are not entitled to a conscience. They must believe what their prince believes. It happened, therefore, that the subjects in certain Protestant principalities were forced to change their religion several times in short order…Even the ancient Roman emperors, who insisted that the wish of the emperor was the law of the empire, did not attempt to dominate the consciences of their subjects in so crass a manner…As a Catholic, Louis XIV could not accept the “cujus regio, ejus religio” principle of the Protestant princes. Instead, he said, “L’Etat c’est moi.” (I am the state.) And he applied the principle with such thoroughness that even in France no trace of the ancient Frankish-Germanic liberty remained. The absolutism of Louis XIV became the pattern for all who exercised state authority from that time on. The absolutism of state authority became incarnate throughout Europe – with England excepted, albeit only partially – and it thoroughly poisoned the entire political system.” (Von Ketteler, op. cit., pp. 162-163)]
3. The spiritual authority of the Church which was conferred upon it by Christ extends only over her members, and even then only to the extent that Christ has given her authority. The unbaptized and the non-Christians are not subject to the Church's authority. (Ecclesia in neminem judicium exercet, qui prius per baptismum non fuerit ingressus. Conc. Trid. Sess. IV. c. 2.) Thus, she has only the right to preach the gospel to all men and to urge them for the salvation of their souls to join the Church. She does not have proper authority to use external force directly or indirectly to compel anyone to become a member of the Church, or to order anyone else to use such force. [Ed: While not subject to the law of the spiritual authority of the Church, the unbaptized must conform their actions to the objective moral order insofar as they are subject to the natural moral law: "For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these, having not the law, are a law to themselves. Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them: and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another..." (Rom. 2: 14-15)]
4. The temporal power exercised in the state, whether by Christian rulers or by others, concerns itself only with a part of the temporal well-being of the subjects, not with the supernatural truths of revelation. The scope of temporal power and the authority which is proper to it and not conferred upon it by others derives from the natural order of things and the unchangeable laws which God has implanted in that order. [Ed: The respective scope of authority for the spiritual and temporal powers was later summed up by Pope Leo XIII in Immortale Dei as follows: "The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right."] The scope of that authority can be extended if the Church chooses to confer more powers, as the Church did grant additional rights to the ancient Christian rulers -- powers which they then exercised in the name of the Church. Likewise, certain historical situations may develop which add to the state's power. Yet, the basic limitation of its authority derives from laws of God who, in laying down His plan for order in the universe, also included a proper sphere for the temporal community. No one, either the Church or the people, has a right to transgress these limits. Christ acknowledged the natural order and sanctified it. In doing so, He imparted to those who were vested with temporal authority as well as to their subjects a purity and nobility of purpose, as well as a loyal devotion to duty which the world had not known hitherto. The temporal order was blessed and ennobled by Him, but He did not enlarge the scope of temporal authority. The new powers which He brought to humanity were conferred upon His Apostles and their successors. [Ed: Cardinal Ratzinger, in contrasting Eastern and Western traditions, quotes Pope Gelasius I who explains why Christ had not consolidated and delegated all authority, both spiritual and temporal, to a single human power: "In Byzantium, the empire and the Church were virtually identified with each other, and the emperor was also the head of the Church. He understood himself as the vicar of Christ and bore the official title "king and priest" from the sixth century onward, following the example of Melchizedek, who was both king and priest (Gen, 14:18). After Constantine left Rome and the emperors no longer resided in the earlier imperial capital, it was possible for the autonomous position of the bishop of Rome as successor of Peter and head of the Church to develop there, and the doctrine of the dual authority was taught in Rome from the beginning of the Constantinian epoch. The emperor and the pope each had an authority of his own, and neither of them possessed the totality of power. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) formulated the Western view in his famous letter to Emperor Anastasius, and even more clearly in his fourth treatise, in which he responds to the Byzantine use of the typology of Melchizedek by emphasizing that it is only in Christ that the two authorities are united: 'It is Christ himself, because of human weakness (superbia!), who separated the two offices for the subsequent ages, so that no one might exalt himself' (chap. 11). The Christian emperors require the priests (pontifices) for things pertaining to eternal life. In turn, the priests adhere to the ordinances promulgated by the emperor for the temporal course of affairs. In secular matters the priests must follow the laws of the emperor, who is installed in office by God's decree, but in divine matters the emperor must submit to the priests. This introduced a separation and distinction of powers that was to be immensely important for the subsequent development of Europe, laying the foundation of that which is typically Western. Since such demarcations did not suppress the desire on both sides to possess the totality of power or the yearning to subordinate the other side to its own authority, this principle of separation was also the source of unending suffering." (Cf. Cardinal Ratzinger, Address to the Italian Senate in Rome, May, 2004)] Temporal rulers, therefore, do not have the authority to compel non-Christians to convert to the Christian Faith, since that is a purely supernatural concern; nor can the Church grant that authority to temporal rulers, because the Church itself does not have it.
5. On the other hand, religious freedom has its own natural limits as dictated by reason, by natural morality, and by the natural order of things. No reasonable moral freedom can go so far as to destroy moral order to which everyone has a right. [Ed: The limits to Religious Freedom were later set forth in the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom (Cf. DH, 7)] Therefore, Christians as well as non-Christian rulers and those who hold temporal authority are obliged to oppose religious teachings and practices which are in latent violation of the laws of reason and morality. For this reason, Christian rulers may not tolerate, for example, the worship of idols by their subjects, if they are able to prevent it. As Suarez said, "Reason and the natural law demand of human society that it worships the true God. Therefore it must possess the power to require people to honor the true God and to prevent the honoring of false gods. Aside from this, it is the goal of temporal authority to preserve peace and justice in society, but it cannot accomplish this without requiring virtuous conduct among its subjects. But the latter cannot live according to natural morality and virtue unless they have religion and serve the one, true God. Thus, temporal authority is justified and obligated to tolerated only the worship of the true God and to suppress the worship of false gods as unreasonable and immoral." (Suarez, op. cit. 18 s. IV. n. 7)
The same rule applies for all other religious practices which transgress against the natural moral law, but only so far as one's own subjects are concerned. (ibid. n. 3)
On the basis of these principles, the Church fully protects the religious freedom of unbelievers in the sense the Guizot required. [Ed: In a previous section the author had outlined the requirements of Religious Freedom proposed by Guizot as an example of what is commonly understood by the term] We have purposely taken pains to discuss this matter at length to show that we are not dealing with a casual opinion, but a matter which has been subject to painful scrutiny and one which rests on important principles. The Church places so high a value on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion that she rejects as immoral and illegitimate any use of external force against those who are not her members. [Ed: See, for example, Pius XI (Mit Brennender Sorge, 1937) in his forceful defense of man's right -- rooted in the natural law -- to profess his Faith: "...man as a person possesses rights he holds from God, and which any collectivity must protect against denial, suppression or neglect...The believer has an absolute right to profess his Faith and live according to its dictates. Laws which impede this profession and practice of Faith are against natural law. Parents who are earnest and conscious of their educative duties, have a primary right to the education of the children God has given them in the spirit of their Faith, and according to its prescriptions. Laws and measures which in school questions fail to respect this freedom of the parents go against natural law, and are immoral."] At the same time, she recognizes definite limits beyond which religious freedom would constitute a wrong that would jeopardize the moral well-being of society. Even in the area of morality, freedom reaches its limits when it constitutes a wrong which poses a threat to society. Therefore, religious freedom too must have its limits, not only where it is a threat to the state, but also if it threatens the rights of others to the higher moral benefits of society. That becomes the case, when, as at present, sects are founded which under the guise of religion add up to a denial of Almighty God, foster crass materialism, and thereby lay the groundwork for destroying the entire moral foundations of human society. Such religious liberty is in fact immoral and unreasonable abomination which God is bound to curse; and states which tolerate it are doomed. [Ed: Such false notions of "religious freedom" condemned, for example, in "Quanta Cura" and "Libertas"]
Table of Contents:
Religious Freedom (Part I)
Religious Freedom (Part III)
Religious Freedom (Part IV)