August 2002 Print

Book Review: Religious Liberty Questioned

Book Review

Religious Liberty Questioned 

TITLE: Religious Liberty Questioned
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
Angelus Press
Dr. Peter Chojnowski
SUMMARY: "For the first time, the English-speaking world is being presented with a text which summarizes, in a definitive manner, the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on the question of religious liberty, along with a thoroughly documented challenge to the innovative and contradictory teaching of Vatican II on the subject."

The best condition of human society is that wherein no duty is recognized by the government of correcting, by enacted penalties, the violators of the Catholic Religion, except when the maintenance of the public peace requires it.

This statement, which would be taken as a truism by almost all of our contemporaries, is actually a condemned proposition, declared to be erroneous by Blessed Pope Pius IX in his encyclical letter Quanta Cura in 1864. Quanta Cura served as the preface for the Syllabus of Errors, which listed, in such proposition form, the errors that had their origins in the ideology of the Enlightenment and which were in complete opposition to the traditional doctrinal, theological, and philosophical tradition of the Catholic Church. This condemned proposition is a litmus test to discern the religious and ideological make-up of any single one of our contemporaries. If the reaction is one of initial disbelief and encroaching horror that such a "self-evident" proposition would be the object of condemnation, this individual would demonstrate to us that his mental "fiber" has been spun by the Liberal System's history-creating outlets of opinion formation. To this type of mind–spun like cotton candy, light, soft, and sugary–such a condemnation would be an example of "theological terrorism." To the liberal Churchman–comfortable, safe, insured, and gregarious–it would be the condemnation which would be condemned! Keep as much as you like of "smells and bells," but you must not think of asserting what Pius IX and all of his predecessors and successors up until the 1960's regularly and authoritatively asserted, that there is a connection between religion and coercion.

That this would be the reaction of the typical man, lay or clerical, formed in this totalitarian Liberal age, is not to be wondered at. The absolutism, militancy, and self-confidence of the Catholic past has been portrayed to them as a "darkness" that is being progressively overcome by democracy, the "free-market," cable-television, and "youth days."

What must concern us is not this expected reaction from those who are outside of Tradition. What concerns us is the reaction to the above condemnation by those who place themselves within Catholic Tradition. Do we subtly cringe when we read Pius IX's teaching that a Liberal State, which does not act legally and punitively to eradicate challenges to the Catholic Religion, is not to be considered the best form of political order? Archbishop Lefebvre himself admits to cringing, at one point in his early training, that the union of Church and State is the normal and preferable constitutional order. The fact, recognized by both Archbishop Lefebvre and the Liberal innovators, was that the question of religious liberty was the most decisive of Vatican II and the one with the most far-reaching effect upon the life of Catholic men and nations. Describing his own intellectual development on this question in Against the Heresies (Angelus Press), he states:

When I entered the French Seminary at Rome (in 1923), had I been asked about the question of the separation of Church and State, I would have answered: Yes, there should be separation, Church and State have different goals; everything in its place....Well, it took the Fathers of the French Seminary to introduce me to the encyclicals, especially those of Leo XIII and St. Pius X, to deliver me from this error. No, the Church should not be separated from the State. At least in principle, for in reality one is often obliged to tolerate a situation which one cannot change. But in principle, Church and State should be united and work together for the salvation of souls. The State was created by God, it is of divine origin and thus cannot remain indifferent on the question of religion.

For the first time, the English-speaking world is being presented with a text which summarizes, in a definitive manner, the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on the question of religious liberty, along with a thoroughly documented challenge to the innovative and contradictory teaching of Vatican II on the subject. That the new teaching of the Council did contradict the perennial teaching of the Magisterium on the subject, as this teaching was voiced by the popes of the post-revolutionary 19th and 20th centuries, is the central thesis of the text. The work itself was prepared and written in 1984 and 1985 by Archbishop Lefebvre, assisted by the then Fr. Tissier de Mallerais [since consecrated a bishop of the Society of Saint Pius X in 1988–Ed.]. In October of 1985, this text was presented to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of which Cardinal Ratzinger is Prefect, and later published by the Econe Seminary under the title: Dubia About the Conciliar Declaration on Religious Liberty. Dubia, or "doubts," is a technical term used for the presentation of objections or questions to the Congregation of the Faith. The Dubia, as it came to be called, was never published in English. After being out of print for several years, a revised French edition of the original was recently published. Angelus Press has translated it into English and made this critical text available to the public for the first time. This new edition has been made more readable without substantially altering the text.

The questions addressed in this text are several. First, was there, prior to Vatican II, any teaching of the Magisterium on the question of religious liberty? Second, is that pre-Conciliar teaching in accord with the teaching of Vatican II? Third, was that pre-Conciliar teaching presented with compelling force? Since the third question deals with issues only definitively resolvable within the science of ecclesiology, it is the first two questions which will gain the most attention, while the last question is dealt with in a basic yet completely satisfactory and informative way.

The book is divided into three sections, moving from the philosophical and abstract to the specifics of ecclesiastical history. In the first section of the book, the Archbishop considers three different types of liberty and their implications for the whole discussion of whether or not an individual man, or a whole society of men, can have a positive natural right, based upon their own inherent dignity as humans, to practice within a public context any religion which they choose irrespective of the rights of God over man, the privileges of the Catholic Church, or the true common good of the State. Do man's rights (which he has because he is human) trump God's right to be worshipped in the way in which He has ordained? Does an individual have a negative right not to be coerced by the State in the practice of the "religion" on account of the fact that the State has no competency to come to a judgment as to which "religion" is the true religion? The critical philosophical and logical distinctions which the Archbishop makes in order to untangle these problems are those between psychological liberty (or what we would call man's free will), his moral liberty (which only confers dignity and right if it is in conformity with God's will) and the right as this is determined by the Natural and Divine Positive Law, and finally, the liberty of action (which would be a liberty from coercion by the State).

The distinction which Archbishop Lefebvre makes between these various types of liberty allows him to target the core of the Liberal position concerning why a Catholic State (in which the true religion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is recognized and fostered by the State) is "unthinkable" and "against the natural order of things," according to Jacques Maritain, Cardinal Bea, Fr. John Courtney Murray, et al. If human dignity is the reason why Christendom can no longer exist and why Christendom, according to the Liberals, should never have existed, what exactly do we mean when we speak of "human dignity"? In reply, Archbishop Lefebvre makes a distinction between two types of human dignity. The first is the ontological dignity of man that consists in the intellectuality of his nature, i.e., the nobility of a nature endowed with intelligence and free will. Here is as far as the Liberals go. This follows from the fact that man has powers above those of the causally-determined beasts. What the Liberals fail to consider is that man was made "to love, honor, and serve God." Furthermore, man is capable of the beatific vision, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, by first being capable of elevation to a supernatural state through sanctifying grace. It can be said that this ontological dignity of man consists primarily in a transcendental orientation to God, and is thus a "divine call" which is the foundation in man of the duty to search for the True God and the True Religion to which, once found, man has the absolute moral obligation to adhere. So unless you accept the rationalistic Liberal's position that nothing follows from man's possession of an intellect (oriented to truth) and a free will (oriented to the good), you must see that the created and determined orientation of these two powers obliges man to seek after God and the truth which He has revealed. To do otherwise would be a violation of the Natural and the Divine Positive Law, hence within the rightful purview of the rightly-constituted State. Moreover, man's operative dignity, i.e., the dignity of man as a result of the exercise of his faculties (rather than the dignity he has by the mere possession of these faculties), is totally dependent upon his right use of these faculties. That a man who is evil, morally indifferent, or stubbornly erroneous, has lost his moral or operative dignity is denied by a doctrinaire Liberal. [Take, for instance, the Clinton scandal: "What matters is the President's public service, not his private life!"–Ed.]

When looking at the second section of this book dealing with the traditional position of the Catholic Church on the question of the union of Church and State and religious liberty, we are impressed with the volume of documentation provided by the Archbishop, taken primarily from the statements of the popes for the last 200 years, to substantiate his position that the Church has always asserted the dogma of the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ and that the Vatican II rejection of the very possibility of that Kingship, in its document Dignitatis Humanae, was a fundamental departure from the perennial teaching. One wonders how the Liberals could counter such overwhelming evidence, especially when we find one pope after another not only teaching the same doctrine, but teaching it in the very same way, even using the very same words! The problem is that the Liberals and Modernists do have a response which Religious Liberty Questioned answers. Their response is that the popes, since the time of the French Revolution until Pius XII, were themselves departing from a much longer tradition, rooted in the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, and the thought and writings of the great saints of the past. Vatican II, accordingly, reattached the Church's Magisterium to this less "reactionary" and more "ancient" teaching. A representative of this Liberal response is cited in the book:

For Archbishop Lefebvre and those close to him, the fundamental references, and the basis for Catholic fidelity, were expressed between 1850 and 1950 by a few popes and selected from a few of their writings.... [What the document Dignitatis Humanae tries to do is to] reconnect with a vast past, with the biblical Revelation, with the Church of the Apostles and the Fathers, the united Church of the first centuries, together with the spirituality of the great saints, founders of religious orders. Only this Tradition deserves to be heard and followed.

This groundless distortion of the actual magisterial history of the religious liberty doctrine is treated and refuted by Archbishop Lefebvre, not only in his emphasis upon the obvious intent of the popes of the 19th and early 20th centuries to bind the minds of the faithful concerning the issues of religious liberty and the union of Church and State, but also by employing a theological principle which is not often mentioned. The Church cannot substantially err while teaching a very important doctrine regarding faith or morals, while presenting it during centuries, or even during only one century, with constancy and insistence, as a grave obligation for our eternal salvation.

The Liberals are forced to employ ideas tinged with historical relativism (i.e., the philosophical position which understands all truths and values as having no binding and objective reality for people living in another period of time), because the Traditional teaching on religious liberty championed by Archbishop Lefebvre and Cardinal Ottaviani and the Conciliar teaching found in Dignitatis Humanae are in contradiction to each other. To affirm both simultaneously is to affirm both A and not-A. This is demonstrated, in the third section of Religious Liberty Questioned in which 35 dubia are placed immediately after a text from Dignitatis Humanae. The dubia normally cite a proposition contained in the ordinary papal Magisterium. For example, Dignitatis Humanae (§2) states: "In consequence, the right to this immunity [from civil coercion in religious matters] continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it." In Dubia No.4, the Archbishop asks how this can be reconciled with the statement of Pope Pius XII announcing, "that which does not correspond to truth, or to the norm of morality objectively has no right to exist, or to be activated."

It is hard for the average English-speaking traditional Catholic to believe the controversy over religious liberty was the most far-reaching and ultimate controversy of Vatican II. The triumph of the Liberal position required the dismantling of whole constitutional systems built to bolster the Faith in the hearts of the people and to give due honor and glory to God. This triumph ensured that within decades the Church would cease to be a significant factor in the society of nations.

What is worse is the enervating effect that the rejection of the Social Kingship of Christ and the Primacy of His Church had on the vitals of Catholic manhood. The militancy of Islam has shown us that an ideology or religion that does not "want it all" will soon cease to be a serious motivator in the lives of men and nations. In Religious Liberty Questioned, Archbishop Lefebvre reveals to us the proper psychology of Catholic manhood; it is the mindset of those who "want it all." For a Catholic to "want it all," he must spend every moment of his life with only one thought in mind: "How do I work, fight, and pray so that everything I encounter–my own soul, my family, my friends, my nation, and my human world–can, finally and ultimately, become a footstool of the Divine King who was born in royal David's city?" None of us expects this to happen tomorrow, but we are the men of tomorrow's tomorrow and we must know what we want before we can get it.


Dr. Peter E. Chojnowski has an undergraduate degree in Political Science and another in Philosophy from Christendom College. He also received his master's degree and doctorate in Philosophy from Fordham University. He and his wife, Kathleen, are the parents of five children. He teaches for the Society of Saint Pius X at Immaculate Conception Academy, Post Falls, ID.