Commentary on Dignitatis Humanae
Part II: The Magisterium’s Understanding of Religious Freedom
By Jeremy Hausotter
July 7, 2020
Table of Contents
In part one of this commentary on Dignitatis Humanae I had conducted a careful textual analysis. The task now is to understand what did the Magisterium teach about religious freedom. One of the major objections is that Vatican II’s teachings on religious freedom contradict the teachings of the pre-conciliar popes. To address this question one must look into the history of what the Magisterium taught. Part two is broken up into three chapters corresponding to three time periods, before the Council, during Vatican II, and afterwards. I then offer a concluding analysis of this objection.
Chapter 1: The Meaning of Religious Freedom Before the Council
One of the major questions surrounding Dignitatis Humanae is the question what does this document of Vatican II mean by the term “religious freedom”? By the time of Vatican II religious freedom had already been a subject of discussion for 100 years. What was this conversation? How did the Popes understand this principle? What was the debate about since the 19th century papacy repeatedly condemned “religious freedom”?
The pre-Vatican II Magisterium was worried about the rise of indifferentism and relativism, two basic worldviews with claims about truth and the ability to know truth, views about truth that liberal thinkers at the time proposed as the meaning of religious freedom. The charge of heresy against Dignitatis Humanae is leveled by some because there appears to be a contradiction between what the Council taught versus previous papal teachings with the many papal denouncements of indifferentism. Those who accuse Vatican II would like us to believe that the state of affairs here is clear, black and white, that Dignitatis Humanae fails to be in continuity with the Tradition and it is this historical-theological exegesis of religious freedom we hereby put on trial.
(a) Leo XII
We begin first with Leo XII, who first defines what is indifferentism. Indifferentism, according to Leo XII, teaches that in civil and religious affairs man has the freedom “to embrace and adopt without danger to his salvation whatever sect or opinion appeals to him on the basis of his private judgment.” Indifferentism hence encompasses a both relativism and religious pluralism. Truth is relativized to the subjective whims of the person and his or her own preferences such that truth has no relevance to his or her life or afterlife. It is interesting to note that the Pope traces this view back to Apelles in the 2nd century AD.
(b) Gregory XVI
Gregory XVI is the next Pope in line to condemn indifferentism. He defined it in Mirari Vos as the claim that “it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained.” This definition is a rejection of religious pluralism, the view that one can be saved through any religion irregardless of the contents of that faith. Those who embrace religious pluralism claim that one can equally be saved through Catholicism, Islam or Buddhism for example. Each is equally salvifically capable. There is hence a kind of indifference as to what one believes for everyone can be saved irregardless of any religion’s truth claims. This is clearly what is rejected given the numerous quotes in the same paragraph by Gregory XVI about the necessity of the Catholic Church and faith for one’s salvation. A very related question concerns Lumen Gentium and how its teachings on the relationship between the Church and those outside the Church in respect to salvation since no one can be saved outside the Church.
Gregory XVI next condemns the idea that a liberty of conscience “must be maintained for everyone.” This liberty of conscience is grounded in indifferentism. If all religions are salvific in of themselves, then each person has a right to follow his or her own religion regardless of that faith’s truth claims. Indifferentism presupposes a relativistic worldview. Each religion’s truth claims are irrelevant for one’s salvation since each religion is equally salvific, and so anyone who claims such must reject any absolute validity of the demands of truth has upon the person. This notion of religious freedom hence has its foundation in the doctrine of relativism and the Pope rightly rejected it.
It is understandable then as to why Gregory XVI vigorously rejected indifferentism across his papacy. The Catholic faith was threatened by a worldview that would place the true revealed teachings of God on an equal footing with the many erroneous propositions of the other religions. Such a theory requires a definitive repudiation.
(c) Pius IX
The condemnation of indifferentism continued into the next papacy of Pius IX. In the first year of his pontificate he issued Qui Pluribus which again condemned indifferentism. Indifferentism is defined in the same manner as Gregory the XVI who grounded it in metaphysical relativism.
Pius IX later in his pontificate condemns two meanings of indifferentism in Singulari quidem. One meaning given here is the one previously rejected. The other can be described as an existential indifferentism. Pius IX describes this indifference as a cause in forgetting one’s duties to God, and “slacken” one’s concern for holiness, religion, law, justice, and virtue. Both kinds of indifference must be rejected.
In Quanta Cura Pius IX develops the notion of indifference further. The relativistic worldview presupposed in indifferentism is grounded in the notion of naturalism. Naturalism holds that
the best constitution of public society and (also) civil progress altogether require that human society be conducted and governed without regard being had to religion any more than if it did not exist; or, at least, without any distinction being made between the true religion and false ones.
In other words, the naturalistic worldview requires a neutralism towards religion (which Dignitatis Humanae rejected). The state is to ignore religion. The state has no duties towards religion in general or the true faith in particular. Out of this neutralism is grounded the right and liberty of conscience and worship. Religious freedom in this context is a civil right that citizens enjoy with absoluteness. This right cannot be infringed upon by Church or state.
Rights in this context are located in the will of the people. If the rights of man are located in the will of the people, then religion is isolated from any truth claims and the rights of man, and particularly rights in the domain of religion, are regulated by the will of the people, from which the state is to derive its civil power according to this model.
The consequences of this view are manifold. Religious freedom in this context originates out of a relativism that again has no relationship to objective truth. Truth is extrinsic to this right. The civil right itself is grounded in a constitutional principle of indifference towards religion. Not only is religion deemed unimportant, but whatever truth claims a religion makes is de facto declared irrelevant to a justly ordered society. Religion is thus delegated to the subjective opinions of man. Such a conception of religious freedom is correctly rejected.
Elsewhere in Pius IX’s corpus indifferentism is rejected, especially in the Syllabus of Errors. Taken in of themselves the Syllabus appears to be a vehement rejection of religious freedom. We read for example that the following proposition is to be rejected: “Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.” The allocution Maxima quidem is cited as support or reference for this teaching. This seemingly explicit rejection must be considered in its context. Here we follow the hermeneutic principle of Cardinal Newman:
In order to see the nature and extent of the blame cast on any proposition of the Syllabus, it is absolutely necessary to turn out the passage of the Allocution, Encyclical, or other document, in which the error is noted; for the wording of the errors which the Syllabus contains is to be interpreted by its references.
In the allocution Pius IX rejects the rationalistic view that elevates human reason above religious truths such that the truths of religion are derived from reason. It is this interpretation of religious freedom that Pius IX rejects here.
The Syllabus of Errors again rejects religious pluralism, citing Qui pluribus. A particular version of this error which equates all of the Christian denominations is also rejected. The Syllabus also rejects the views that the rights of the Church originate from the state and that the state is the source of all rights (which would be consistent with what was rejected earlier in Quanta Cura 3-4).
The last four propositions to be rejected in the Syllabus represent a microrupture with Vatican II. Here are the first three:
In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.
Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.
Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions whatsoever and thoughts, conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people, and to propagate the pest of indifferentism.
To understand the first two condemnations we must first refer to the referenced allocutions. Newman explained in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk that the allocutions here were addressed to specific countries in protest to particular civil acts that violated concordat agreements with the Vatican. The referenced allocutions do not contain condemnations of any formal propositions. The last proposition can be understood in light of the previous teachings of Pius IX of rejecting religious liberty as understood under the condemned meanings.
A microrupture arises because these propositions can be interpreted as a defense of political Christendom and the notion that error has no rights, such that false religions should not enjoy public worship in a state where Catholicism is the established religion, views which Dignitatis Humanae either rejected outright or distanced itself from quietly.
Here it must be pointed out that Dignitatis Humanae claimed to leave in tact traditional Catholic teachings. This means that the Council through public declaration is giving an authoritative interpretation of this tradition to be consistent with the text of Dignitatis Humanae. Exegesis of the Syllabus must be done within this context in order to understand what it authentically teaches and does not teach. Interpretations emphasizing a discontinuity between the Syllabus and Vatican II are thereby rejecting the Church’s own public teaching on the matter.
The last proposition to be rejected in the Syllabus is the following: “The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.” Newman noted in his Letter that this proposition does not show up at all in the referenced allocution. The contents of the allocution was an argument against the idea that Pope ought to conform itself to the disastrous ideological movements of the 19th century which were broadly generalized as progress, liberalism, and modern civilization. This is not an ought right rejection in its entirety of these three things, only as conceived in the erroneous schools of thought of the 19th century.
It must be noted that Pius IX also used the term “religious freedom” in a positive sense, one however restricted exclusively to Catholics which is consistent with papal teachings on the divine rights of the Catholic Church.
We can see that Pius IX has several meanings to “religious freedom”. He rejected the interpretations that grounded religious freedom in metaphysical relativism, existential indifference, naturalism, rationalism, religious pluralism, and the arbitrary will of the people. All of these interpretations in common sever man’s relationship to objective truth. Religious freedom however is also given a positive meaning but strictly in reference to members of the Catholic Church.
(d) Leo XIII
In Diuturnum Leo XIII contrasts two liberties, one of which is grounded in the will of the people, and the other which is based on natural law originating from God. The encyclical condemns the first and defends the second meaning. This notion of the will of the people is further developed in Immortale Dei. Leo XIII begins by noting the equality of all man and their equal autonomy. Each man is his own master not under the authority of another with the freedom to think howsoever he chooses on any subject. In this view no man has “any right to rule over other men.” The state on this model is reduced to the will of the people and governs in the name of this will.
The next article explains the theological consequences of this view. God is ignored as if He does not exist. Society is conducted as if it owed God nothing and the power of the state obtains its authority not from God but the multitude. The state hence has no duties towards God from which the conclusion is drawn that the state has no duties to any particular religion. Therefore every religion is given equal rights so that the public order is not disturbed.
Religious belief in this system is relegated to one’s private opinion. One is independent in determining these matters. Religion is based on preference and judged in light of a conscience “independent of all law.” It is this worldview which Leo XIII rejects, this system of indifference which is equivalent to atheism. If religious freedom is based upon such views, the Catholic is right to object due to its radical relativism void of any reference to God, the eternal law and objective truth. Leo XIII cites Gregory XVI’s Mirari Vos in his rejection of religious liberty in which religious liberty was interpreted to be grounded in a conscience independent of natural law. It is furthermore considered unlawful “to place the various forms of divine worship on the same footing as the true religion…” False religions while containing some truths cannot be equal to the fullness of truth revealed by Christ through Catholic Christianity. Other religions can be allowed for the sake of “securing some great good or hindering some great evil…” but they are not to be accepted in any manner which results in religious pluralism.
Leo XIII next moves into a dialectic between false and true liberty. The false liberty described previously leads to an enslavement of man, a “liberty of self ruin”. In contrast the Pope explicates the fruits of true liberty. Leo XIII’s dialectic between these two liberties is one is premised on erroneous philosophical views while the other is consistent with the Catholic faith and can be authentically developed philosophically. The critical point is this: “the best parent and guardian of liberty amongst men is truth. ‘The truth shall make you free.” It is truth which determines true liberty from false liberty, determining whether one is being led towards enslavement or to freedom. True liberty grounded in objective truth will be consistent with natural law.
Three years after Immortale Dei Leo XIII wrote Libertas, an entire encyclical dedicated to the theme of liberty. In the opening sentence Leo XIII defines liberty as “the highest of natural endowments, being the portion only of intellectual or rational natures, conferences on man this dignity - that he is ‘in the hand of his counsel’ and has power over his actions.” Here we learn that liberty is rooted in man’s rational nature and in particular his free will.
In the next article Leo XIII again makes a distinction between false and true liberty, that whatever consists as true liberty will be “as ancient as truth itself” and which the Church highly approves of. The Pope then proceeds to discuss the metaphysics of liberty.
Leo XIII distinguishes between moral and natural liberty. Natural liberty is the free will faculty grounded in the rational soul which is simple, spiritual, and immortal. Hence only persons have natural liberty. Liberty can hence be defined as “the faculty of choosing means fitted for the end proposed, for he is master of his actions who can choose one thing out of many.”
In order to choose the good, the good must be known by the intellect. An object must be judged good by the intellect since choice is subsequent to the act of judgment. In other words the volitional object of the will must be determined by the intellect to be good and that it is true that is good. The object in its truth as good must be presented as an object that should or can be chosen. The end of liberty then is “that good which is in conformity with reason.”
The next article elaborates the metaphysical foundation of false liberty. False liberty on the other hand is against reason. It arises due to the imperfection of man’s faculties. The objects of false liberty have the appearance of the good but are not actually good. These false objects of the will are analogous with error and perversions of the intellect. Those who choose false liberty hence become slaves of sin.
Since man’s faculties are imperfect such that man can be led away from his true good he needs law to direct him towards what is good and to avoid evil. Freedom requires law. This law is natural law which is the eternal law implanted in rational creatures directing them towards their proper end. The laws of communities must also follow the eternal law. “The eternal law of God is the sole standard and rule of human liberty, not only in each individual man, but also in the community and civil society which men constitute when united.”
The false notion of liberty Leo XIII begins to criticize is premised on naturalism and rationalism, making man the measure of truth such that all laws are grounded in the will of the people and not eternal law. This directly implies relativism and indifference towards religion. The state furthermore would have no duty towards God except as determined by the will of the people.
It is within this context of naturalism, rationalism, and relativism that religious freedom is defined and premised on the principle “that every man is free to profess as he may choose any religion or none”, meaning that religious freedom in this context is regulated to one’s private opinion unhinged from eternal law and objective truth, equivocating the truth status of each religion and even atheism.
Leo XIII later defines liberty of conscience. In one meaning of the phrase it is nothing more than this false notion of religious freedom already condemned. In a second meaning however it means that “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.” This second meaning is true liberty and that which the Church has claimed since the Apostles. It is this true meaning of liberty of conscience the Council Fathers of Vatican II cites in Dignitatis Humanae in support of the teaching on religious freedom.
This informs us that it is of the mind of the Council to see from this text of Leo XIII early support for what will be developed into the teaching on religious freedom. Vatican II is hence giving an authoritative interpretation of the true meaning of liberty found here in Libertas. This is crucial for understanding how the Magisterium interprets these texts in light of the debate between Catholics and traditionalists who reject Dignitatis Humanae in favor of the 19th century papal teachings. Vatican II here uses a hermeneutic of continuity with past teachings whereas the traditionalists embraced one of discontinuity and in doing so misunderstand how to interpret the Tradition.
The false liberty the Pope condemns has its roots in disobedience, revolution, and the enthronement of opinion unguided by eternal law. It is unhinged from objective truth. This liberalism proclaims for itself an unrestricted freedom from eternal law. True liberty, on the other hand, is grounded in obedience and submission to authority, namely God and eternal law first, then civil authority.
Leo XIII also has a positive view of religious freedom but in the same context as Pius IX that it is interpreted according to the divine rights of the Catholic Church. Hence Leo XIII has at least two positive meanings to religious liberty: one understood as the divine rights of the Catholic Church and the other as the authentic meaning of liberty of conscience in obeying and following God.
We see here that Leo XIII continued many of the same themes as Pius IX on religious freedom. The false notion established upon naturalism, relativism, indifferentism, and the will of the people are condemned again. Leo XIII investigates more fundamentally or more primordially than Pius IX however in that he analyzes the existential core content of liberty in his encyclicals. False liberty begins with a rebellion and divorce from objective truth. It is fundamentally a prideful act of disobedience against truth and God’s Providence. True liberty on the other hand humbly obeys and embraces truth, accepts and follows the eternal law, all of which is teleologically ordered to God.
(e) Pius X
The notion of religious liberty considered thus far has been viewed as an indifferentism according to Leo XII and Gregory XVI which Pius IX and Leo XIII later grounded in naturalism and rationalism. Pius X gives a new interpretation of religious liberty.
In his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis Pius X outlines what modernism is. It begins with an agnosticism grounded in a radical empiricism that eliminates natural theology. Once this is the accepted worldview, then man cannot look outside himself for religious truths, but must now look within himself. Religion must be explained and grounded within the life of man, becoming a religious immanence. This immanence hence teaches that religion is a sentiment or a need of the subconsciousness. Faith itself becomes nothing more than a sentiment, an emotion. Revelation likewise becomes a product of emotion. In this view religious consciousness and revelation are given equal authority. If one embraces this, then the logical outcome is religious pluralism.
It is within this context that religious freedom is claimed. Religions and religious communities are nothing more than manifestations of individual and collective consciousnesses and their emotions. As such manifestations each is equally true with equal rights. This form of religious freedom is an emotionalism.
(f) Pius XI
Pius XI follows Leo XIII’s distinction between the two meanings of liberty of conscience in Non Abbiamo Bisogno. The true interpretation is based on the right of the Church to fulfill her Divine Commission and for her members to evangelize. In contrast the false view means an absolute independence of conscience.
In Mortalium Animos Pius XI repeats the condemnation on religious pluralism. Later in the same encyclical indifferentism is again condemned, citing its doctrine of relativism which if accepted would requires the rejection of the immutability of revelation.
Up to this point the Popes have condemned religious freedom because of its relativism and divorce from natural law and objective truth. These are all negative condemnations. Pius XI introduces a new meaning of religious freedom, a positive meaning in his encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge.
Article 30 teaches that the moral content of positive law must be grounded in natural law. Since man is a person he possesses rights which have their origin from God. The state hence has a duty to protect these rights. Man’s nature measures the common good. The state and society must therefore balance personal rights and social obligations with these divinely endowed rights, man’s nature, and the end of society (which is for “the full development of individual possibilities”).
Immediately after this in the next article Pius XI teaches that “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.” There are no qualifications about who this believer is regarding his creed in the immediate context. Earlier in the encyclical the term “religious freedom” is used in the context of Catholicism. The question arises how to interpret “believer”. Does this refer strictly to Catholics or is it a general pronouncement? Vatican II interpreted it as a general pronouncement and cited it in support of its declaration of religious freedom.
The historical context also defends a broader interpretation of the text. This encyclical was originally written in German for Nazi Germany at the eve of WWII, at a time when the religious freedom of Catholics and Jews was being suppressed by the state. The encyclical is Pius XI’s condemnation of the German state, which amongst their crimes was the violation of religious freedom.
The condemnation of religious liberty as described by Leo XII, Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X does not apply to this new understanding for now a meaning of religious freedom is interpreted to be grounded in natural law, which is directly antithetical of the condemned view since it rejected natural law. Pius XI claims here that there is a true meaning of religious freedom not described in the last 100 years of condemnations.
If one were to take Pius XI’s statement to its conclusion based on the teachings of the previous paragraph, then we can formulate the following argument:
Rights based in natural law have their origin from God (article 30).
Religious freedom is one such right grounded in natural law (article 31).
Therefore religious freedom has its origin from God.
(g) Pius XII
Pope Pius XII also acknowledges an authentic freedom of religion. One of the great evils of modern society according to him is the prohibitive restrictions of exercising this right. Pius XII’s radio message of Dec 24, 1942 also states that amongst the fundamental rights of man includes the right to worship God publicly and privately.
(h) John XXIII
In Pacem in terris John XXIII states that man has the right to worship God according to his conscience and profess his religion publicly and privately. This right to religious freedom is grounded in the fact that man is a person, and as a person is a bearer of rights and duties flowing from human nature. Hence the rights of man are universal, inviolable, and inalienable.
In this encyclical the Pope makes a crucial distinction later on between “error as such” and the person in error. The man in error does not lose his dignity. This man may believe in false propositions on religion but he still possesses his religious liberty. Such individuals are hence a call for Catholics to enter into ecumenical dialogue with them.
The Popes have taught two basic meanings of religious freedom, a false view ultimately rooted in some variation of relativism and a true view grounded in the dignity of the human person that preserves the relationship between freedom, truth, and natural law. Catholic social teaching took a new turn with Leo XIII’s distinction between true and false liberty for this planted the seed for an authentically positive meaning of religious freedom to be recognized. The last 20 years preceding Vatican II the papacy discovered a general right to religious freedom for all men from Pius XI to John XXIII. A rejection of this right therefore is an act of disobedience not only to the Council and postconciliar Church, but even the preconciliar Magisterium under the papacies of Pius XI and Pius XII. The question before us now is the debate during the Council on the meaning of religious freedom.
 Ubi Primum 12.
 Ibid, 13.
 Mirari Vos 13.
 Cf. LG 14-16.
 Mirari Vos 14.
 Gregory XVI also condemns indifferentism in Singulari Nos 3, Commissum Divinitus 9 and Inter Praecipuas 9.
 “Also perverse is the shocking theory that it makes no difference to which religion one belongs, a theory which is greatly at variance even with reason. By means of this theory, those crafty men remove all distinction between virtue and vice, truth and error, honorable and vile action. They pretend that men can gain eternal salvation by the practice of any religion, as if there could ever be any sharing between justice and iniquity, any collaboration between light and darkness, or any agreement between Christ and Belial.” Qui Pluribus 15.
 Singulari quidem 3.
 Quanta Cura 3.
 Ibid, 4.
 Apostolicae Nostrae Caritatis 1, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore 3, and Exultavit Cor Nostrum 2.
 Syllabus of Errors 15.
 St. John Henry Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, vol 2, section 7, p. 283-284.
 “They rashly assert that human reason, without any reference to God, is the only judge of truth and falsehood, good and evil, and that human reason is a law unto itself, and suffices by its own natural power for the care of the good of persons and peoples. But since they perversely dare to derive all truths of religion from the inborn force of human reason, they assign to man a certain basic right, from which he can think and speak about religion as he likes, and give such honor and worship to God as he finds more agreeable to himself.” Maxima quidem.
 “Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation.” Syllabus of Errors 16.
 “Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church.” Syllabus of Errors 18.
 “The Church is not a true and perfect society, entirely free- nor is she endowed with proper and perpetual rights of her own, conferred upon her by her Divine Founder; but it appertains to the civil power to define what are the rights of the Church, and the limits within which she may exercise those rights.” Syllabus of Errors 19. “The State, as being the origin and source of all rights, is endowed with a certain right not circumscribed by any limits.” Syllabus of Errors 39.
 Syllabus of Errors 77.
 Ibid, 78.
 Ibid, 79.
 Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, vol 2, section 7, p. 285, 287-288.
 I here want to credit the basic form of this argument to Fr. William Most in his article Vatican II vs Pius IX? A Study in Lefebvrism.
 Syllabus of Errors 80.
 Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, vol 2, section 7, p. 286.
 Graves Ac Diuturnae, 1.
 Diuturnum 4, 5.
 The Church is “never opposed to honest liberty…” ibid, 26.
 Immortale Dei 24.
 Ibid, 24.
 Ibid, 25.
 Ibid, 26.
 Ibid, 31.
 Ibid, 34.
 Ibid, 36.
 Ibid, 36.
 Ibid, 37.
 Ibid, 37-38.
 Ibid, 39-40.
 Ibid, 40.
 Ibid, 47.
 Libertas 1.
 Leo XIII explicitly identifies liberty with free will later: “freedom of choice is a property of the will, or, rather, is identical with the will in so far as it has in its action the faculty of choice.” Ibid, 5.
 Ibid, 2.
 Ibid, 3-4.
 Ibid, 5.
 Ibid, 5.
 Ibid, 6.
 Ibid, 7.
 Ibid, 8.
 Ibid, 9.
 Ibid, 10.
 Ibid, 15.
 Ibid, 16.
 Ibid, 19.
 Ibid, 30.
 DH 2.1n2.
 Officio Sanctissimo, 12.
 Pascendi Dominici Gregis, 6.
 Ibid, 7.
 Ibid, 8.
 Ibid, 14.
 Ibid, 23.
 Non Abbiamo Bisogno, 41.
 Ibid, 40, 42.
 Ibid, 41.
 Mortalium Animos, 6.
 Ibid, 9.
 Mit Brennender Sorge, 31. Article 36 in the German edition.
 Ibid, 6.
 DH 2.1n2.
 “Millions of men are not allowed the free exercise of their basic rights, particularly as regards religious freedom which is hindered by communism-and racial equality.” Pius XII, Guiding Principles Of The Lay Apostolate, 17.
 One can also cite his Radio message, Dec 24, 1944 as well.
 “Also among man's rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public.” Pacem in terris, 14.
 “Any well-regulated and productive association of men in society demands the acceptance of one fundamental principle: that each individual man is truly a person. His is a nature, that is, endowed with intelligence and free will. As such he has rights and duties, which together flow as a direct consequence from his nature. These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and therefore altogether inalienable.” Ibid, 9.
 “It is always perfectly justifiable to distinguish between error as such and the person who falls into error—even in the case of men who err regarding the truth or are led astray as a result of their inadequate knowledge, in matters either of religion or of the highest ethical standards. A man who has fallen into error does not cease to be a man. He never forfeits his personal dignity; and that is something that must always be taken into account. Besides, there exists in man's very nature an undying capacity to break through the barriers of error and seek the road to truth. God, in His great providence, is ever present with His aid. Today, maybe, a man lacks faith and turns aside into error; tomorrow, perhaps, illumined by God's light, he may indeed embrace the truth.” Ibid, 158.
 “Catholics who, in order to achieve some external good, collaborate with unbelievers or with those who through error lack the fullness of faith in Christ, may possibly provide the occasion or even the incentive for their conversion to the truth.” Ibid, 158.
Chapter 2: The Meaning of Religious Freedom During the Council
The last three pontificates from Pius XI to John XXIII left a vacuum in their teachings on religious freedom, namely what was the philosophical-theological foundation for this claim. This was never worked out in detail, only that this right has a foundation in natural law. This became one of the central problems of Vatican II and Dignitatis Humanae.
Opponents to Dignitatis Humanae during Council offered up many charges that a teaching of religious freedom would entail, including indifferentism, laicism, doctrinal relativism, syncretism, irenicism, skepticism, naturalism, and religious pluralism, false notions of religious liberty already condemned. The Council fathers hence needed to demonstrate that this sought for philosophical-theological foundation required for a right to religious freedom likewise avoided these errors.
The first work on religious freedom was conducted by the Theological Commission before the Council under R. Gagnebet. The text was a restatement of the classical view: that the Church has the duty to supervene in the temporal order when man’s supernatural end is at stake; the state must support religion, not be indifferent towards it; the state and its citizens have religious obligations such that the state was bound to recognize the one true Church of God as the way God wants to be worshipped; and so the Church has complete independence and freedom from civil authority.
From this followed a thesis-hypothesis dyad. The thesis is that the state has the obligation to only support the Catholic Church and prohibit all others, forming a Catholic state. When this was not possible, then the hypothesis stated that religious toleration must be the norm when Catholicism is a minority. The principle basis for the thesis is the proposition that truth alone has a right to freedom while only tolerance can be allowed for error in order to avoid greater errors.
The attitude of this text and the others prepared for the opening of the Council were described as an “antimodernistic neurosis” by Joseph Ratzinger. The first session of the Council ultimately had to decide between continuing an antimodernistic sentiment in the tone of Trent and Vatican I, or whether it would forge a new path that was “pastoral” and “ecumenical”. The Council vote on Nov 20, 1962 and the Pope’s intervention the day after was a declaration that the Council would undergo a tonal shift from previous Councils in favor of the pastoral-ecumenical positive approach. A major effect of this vote was that it required a basic overhaul of the Theological Commission’s work on the preparatory texts for the Council.
The basic view of the Theological Commission will be defended by those opposed to religious freedom such as Lefebvre, Ottoviani, and Ruffini. Those who wanted the Council to affirm a right for religious freedom had different reasons. Some wanted a new positive direction from the “antimodernistic neurosis” out of ecumenical desire, others observed the direction modern societies went and realized that the thesis-hypothesis view appeared to be incongruent with the times; and others realized that the thesis-hypothesis view was a double standard: “the Church is intolerant where it enjoys a majority, but demands tolerance and religious freedom where it is in the minority.” A particular problem however arises in how to interpret this new right against the background of pre-conciliar teachings which seemed to condemn religious liberty. Some thinkers at the time believed that continuity between the two to be forced. Part of the debate here also was the immutability of doctrine.
Ruffini objected to religious freedom because he claimed it would ignore that the Catholic Church is the sole depository of truth and feared that acknowledging this right would lead to religious pluralism. This argument is based on the fact that God alone is the supreme truth and that there is one true religion. Only truth has rights, error has no rights. Another common objection was that granting a right to religious freedom would imply a right to promote both religious truth and religious error.
What is interesting in the vast sea of objections raised a sort of “paranoia” had set in amongst the objectors. John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in terris for example was disputed and his authority questioned even though it supported a right to religious liberty. The opponents to religious liberty began to see a will to subversion and infiltration within the Council against their understanding of the orthodox teachings.
Amongst the supporters of religious liberty there were two basic camps: those who wanted a theological presentation of the right (in particular the French bishops), and those who favored a more constitutional explanation (such as John Courtney Murray and Pietro Pavan). This tension between the two camps would play out to the end.
Those who wished to defend religious liberty against the classical view of the minority began with a twofold realization: first, namely that the notion that error has no rights is the voice of the antimodernistic neurosis and scholasticism the Council wished to overcome; second, the realization of the personalist principle that truth and error both do not have rights, only persons have rights. Only a person can be a bearer of rights and not an abstraction. “It seems absurd to say that error in itself (or truth in itself) has rights. For rights have their place in persons alone and never in things.”
There were also political problems intertwined in the debate on religious freedom. The classical theory is interconnected with the concordant system between the Church and individual governments. Part of the debate hence centered on the consequences religious freedom would have on some countries such as Spain and Italy which had concordats favorable to the Church. Congar noted that the debate on religious freedom required the realization of the need to “extricate” the Church from the concordant system.
Colombo’s intervention “closed the debate” for the third session and gave the direction the emendation the text would take to prepare for the fourth and final session of Vatican II. To avoid the dangers listed by the minority he developed a view where the person is thematic. He listed out five basic principles: first, every human person has the right to seek truth which cannot be impeded and such a right further entails a right to free communication of that truth once found; second, every human person has the right to follow the dictates of his or her conscience which includes in the area of religion; third, the authenticity of faith is measured by how free and personal the assent to God and the Church is; four, the right to seek the truth likewise entails the responsibility to seek the truth via appropriate means; five, revealed truth is an essential element to the common good of the state.
This approach stressed the importance of the person in relationship to truth and his or hers assent to truth in his or her freedom. Out of this freedom for truth entails the duty towards truth in freedom. In stressing the importance of the person-truth-freedom relationship the Council has now found a way to avoid the dangers of religious pluralism, subjectivism, relativism, indifferentism, and so on, in this personalist approach.
At the beginning of the fourth session the problem was given further clarification. The schema on religious freedom was specifically discussing civic freedom which was distinguished from moral freedom and freedom of conscience. Many objections from the minority confused civic freedom with other types, and in particular moral freedom.
For Wojtyła, religious freedom was not simply a principle of religious tolerance. Tolerance is certainly an aspect of this right but the central core is truth and freedom. Man has an obligation to follow his conscience when he is sure of it, but it is a “sure and true conscience” that should be followed. Man’s choices in his freedom are not for “any good whatsoever, but in the choice of the true good.”
Man has a natural right to know the truth, upon which religious freedom is grounded. Truth and freedom are inseparable: “On the one hand, freedom exists for the sake of the truth; on the other hand, without truth, freedom cannot achieve its own perfection.” The right to religious freedom hence has its foundation in “the rationality of human nature” over human dignity. This right hence entails a personal responsibility to seek truth. The search for truth leads one to religious truths, and ultimately it is the truths of Christianity that makes man free. If sin enslaves man, then it is through the Son that man becomes free. Religious freedom hence has an ultimate teleological orientation towards God and the Catholic Church since it is the True Church.
Ancel’s oral intervention is one of the definitive moments in the debates on religious freedom and the schema was amended based on his speech. The crucial proposition is this: “the obligation to seek the truth is itself the ontological foundation of religious freedom…” All human persons are endowed with reason and free will, so all human persons are bound or have the duty to seek objective truth. This is rooted in the nature of man, not in his subjective dispositions, and hence has universal validity. This duty to seek the truth is not opposed to religious freedom nor vice versa, for “religious freedom has its foundation in this obligation itself, and the obligation to seek the truth in turn requires religious freedom.”
We can easily discern how the personalist perspective developed into the promulgated text (especially since Ancel’s points were included in it). There are two key personalist insights in the debate on religious freedom. The first was recognizing that truth and error do not have rights, only persons are rights bearers. Secondly, man has a right to religious freedom because of his capacity for truth and duty towards truth as a rational creature.
I left out any discussion of John Courtney Murray’s contribution to the text itself. This was partially done in part one of my commentary. The debate surrounding Murray’s interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae versus the more personalist view given by Ancel’s and Wojtyła’s interventions would be best served as a separate investigation.
 Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 1, 296-297.
 Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 2, 282.
 Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 4, 97-98.
 Ratzinger, Theological Highlights of Vatican II, 11.
 See Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 2, 249-266 for the history of this vote.
 Ratzinger, Theological Highlights of Vatican II, 27.
 De Smedt, quoted from Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 4, 99. Many bishops objected along these lines to the thesis-hypothesis theory. See ibid, 126.
 Grootaers, cf. Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 4, 99,99n16.
 His five objections are outlined in Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 4, 109-110.
 Ibid, 112.
 Ibid, 109-115 outlines most of the different objections.
 Ibid, 115.
 Ibid, 116-117. I mention this since interestingly this same sentiment has continued to our times in those who still oppose Dignitatis Humanae and Vatican II, such as the SSPX and Taylor Marshall.
 See Leo Lemay’s speech in Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 4, 124-125.
 “To say that error has no rights is to speak of an abstraction. Only persons possess ‘rights’” Oesterreicher, from Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 4, 125n114.
 Cardinal Heenan, quoted from Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 5, 68.
 Nov 24, 1964 entry of Congar’s Journal.
 Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 4, 130.
 Ibid, 131-133.
 Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol 5, 64-65.
 Cf AS III/2, 530-532, from Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity, 437.
 AS III/3, 766-768, from Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity, 427.
 Ibid, 429.
 AS III/2, 530-532, from Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity, 435.
 AS Appendix, 606-607, from Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity, 441.
 Cf AS IV/2, 11-13, from Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity, 449.
 AS III/3, 766-768, from Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity, 431.
 AS IV/2, 16-18, from Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity, 461.
 Ibid, 463.
Chapter 3: The Meaning of Religious Freedom Post-Vatican II
(a) Paul VI
Paul VI’s first encyclical Ecclesiam Suam was published during the Second Vatican Council. The purpose of the encyclical is the meeting of the world and the Church. In the discussion concerning non-Christian religions the Pope states that “we desire to join with them in promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare, and civic order.”
In his address to the UN in 1965, Paul VI included religious liberty as one of the basic rights of man. Five years later to the Secretary General of the UN Paul VI recall’s John XXIII’s teaching that religious liberty is one of the fundamental rights of man whose “complete value was fully affirmed” by the Second Vatican Council. This right is the “most sacred of all rights”. Elsewhere in Evangelii Nuntiandi Paul VI states that “religious freedom occupies a place of primary importance” amongst man’s fundamental rights. In another speech Paul VI makes it clear that the teachings on religious freedom are not grounded on religious pluralism or relativism but the dignity of the human person.
While the amount of post-Vatican II material by Paul VI on our theme is rather limited in comparison to John Paul II and Benedict XVI we must remember two facts: 1) his pontificate became embroiled in controversies such as teaching on the immorality of contraception in Humanae Vitae, and 2) that he played a significant role in Vatican II supporting the drafting of the document against the political machinations of the minority who opposed religious freedom and making suggestions for emendations.
(b) John Paul II
If one were to perform a search on the Vatican’s website for “religious freedom”, he or she would find that about half of the results had Pope John Paul II as their author. John Paul II is the Pope of religious freedom. I refer the reader to George Weigel’s biography Witness to Hope to understand how he lived out religious freedom his whole life from the Nazi and communist occupations to the leader of the Catholic Church. These life experiences of his can be felt in his discussions of religious liberty and its importance, a presence felt around the world from the drafting of Dignitatis Humanae during Vatican II to the fall of the USSR, and beyond.
We know that the question of religious freedom itself is important in dialogue with dissenting opinions of Vatican II and questions concerning the legitimacy of the Council’s teaching authority. The question likewise is important in the context of ecumenism and countries with state sponsored suppression of religion. The first question however should be whether it is important in and of itself. Religious freedom can be important for pragmatic reasons but is it itself something of high importance?
John Paul II certainly believed so. He described religious freedom as fundamental, “the very heart of human rights”,  “the cornerstone of all freedoms”, “the cornerstone of the entire structure of human rights”, the root of other rights, integral to democracy, indispensable for building a new Europe and the peaceful coexistence of nations, the foundation of ecumenism, “not a privilege but a requirement of human dignity”. Elsewhere he states that “the future of a country largely rests on respect for the people, and for their freedom of conscience which includes the free choice of religion.” In particular about the United States he said “it is vitally necessary, for the very survival of the American experience, to transmit to the next generation the precious legacy of religious freedom and the convictions which sustain it.” This is not something limited to the American experience, for he states that religious freedom is “an indispensable condition for building a nation…” Elsewhere “the Holy See cannot state strongly enough that the right to religious freedom, and the corresponding juridically guaranteed respect for this right, are the source and foundation of truly peaceful coexistence.”
Why would John Paul II write these things or that “Religious freedom... remains the premise and guarantee of all the freedoms that ensure the common good of individuals and peoples”? To understand this claim we must first understand what freedom is. Freedom John Paul II defines as the capacity “to seek what is true by using his intelligence and to embrace without reserve the good to which he naturally aspires, without being subjected to undue pressures, constraints or violence of any kind.” Freedom is freedom for the truth, to seek and embrace the truth, especially truths about the objective good. Freedom is also a gift of God endowed upon man as part of his human nature.
Man in his freedom is hence called to search for truth and to live by truth. This search is likewise a yearning rooted in his human nature. Man from his nature desires truth and to possess it, truths about himself, the world, and religion. The freedom of religion protects this search
For it is a matter of respecting the individual's most jealously guarded autonomy, thus making it possible to act according to the dictates of conscience both in private choices and in social life.
Without religious freedom man’s dignity is violated because he cannot out of his freedom conduct this search for truth. Religious freedom makes possible the inquiry into truth and its acceptance. This is why the state does not possess authority over religious convictions.
Religious freedom is the protection of the truth-seeking dialogue between man and God. John Paul II examines Psalm 27 with this in mind. God in verse 8 “whispers” the invitation to “Seek my face”. Man’s response is the next verse: “Your face, O Lord, do I seek. Hide not your face.” This dialogue arises from the depths of our being and it is this dialogue between the human heart and mind and God that religious freedom protects and defends.
Since religious freedom is the right to live in the truth according to one’s conscience and religious beliefs in conformity with man’s dignity, it has as its ontological foundation freedom in and for objective truth in the quest for truth and man’s nature as a person endowed with freedom. This is why religious freedom is the source for all other rights.
Following the collapse of Communist totalitarianism and of many other totalitarian and "national security" regimes, today we are witnessing a predominance, not without signs of opposition, of the democratic ideal, together with lively attention to and concern for human rights. But for this very reason it is necessary for peoples in the process of reforming their systems to give democracy an authentic and solid foundation through the explicit recognition of those rights. Among the most important of these rights, mention must be made of the right to life, an integral part of which is the right of the child to develop in the mother's womb from the moment of conception; the right to live in a united family and in a moral environment conducive to the growth of the child's personality; the right to develop one's intelligence and freedom in seeking and knowing the truth; the right to share in the work which makes wise use of the earth's material resources, and to derive from that work the means to support oneself and one's dependents; and the right freely to establish a family, to have and to rear children through the responsible exercise of one's sexuality. In a certain sense, the source and synthesis of these rights is religious freedom, understood as the right to live in the truth of one's faith and in conformity with one's transcendent dignity as a person.
We can hence understand why John Paul II would state that the Church “attaches great importance” to teachings of Dignitatis Humanae. Religious freedom defends man’s dignity and vocation as a person for it is the mission of persons to seek truth and embrace it. Religious freedom is “an essential requirement” for the dignity of each and every human person. Attacking religious freedom is hence an assault on man's dignity.
This grounding of the principle of religious freedom in man’s freedom and quest for truth means that religious freedom cannot be authentically interpreted as a promotion of relativism towards objective truth, i.e. the false notion of religious freedom that the pre-Vatican II papacies condemned repeatedly. “It is quite clear that freedom of conscience and of religion does not mean a relativization of the objective truth which every human being is morally obliged to seek.”
As an additional side note in Centesimus Annus John Paul II traces one historical source for religious freedom back to Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. In it Leo XIII argued that workers have a right to time for religious duties. John Paul II states that this right is a “springboard” for religious freedom.
(c) Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI likewise attaches the same degree of importance to religious liberty. Religious freedom “is a fundamental, irrepressible, inalienable and inviolable right rooted in the dignity of every human being…” and a “fundamental expression of human liberty…” Elsewhere and equally strong Benedict XVI argues that religious freedom is not merely one among many rights but the bedrock of all rights.
Indeed, religious freedom is not merely one right among the many, nor is it a privilege demanded by the Catholic Church. It is the rock on which human rights are firmly founded, since this freedom reveals in a particular way the transcendent dimension of the human person and the absolute inviolability of his dignity. Religious freedom therefore belongs to the essence of every person, of every people and nation.
Religious liberty however is not only a “primordial right” of the human person but is also a necessary condition for the progress of society, materially and spiritually, and a source for society’s cohesion and harmony. Hence religious freedom is “one of the most serious duties of every community that truly wishes to ensure the good of the individual and society.” and is a permanent imperative.
The reason why religious freedom is so important the Pope gives the same reasons as John Paul II, namely the content of what religious freedom is. “Religious liberty corresponds to the human person’s innate openness to God.” Religious freedom finds its origin in moral freedom and man’s openness to objective truth, the absolute good, and God, all of which is rooted in man’s nature. Furthermore, like John Paul II Benedict XVI teaches that religious freedom is a condition for peace: “peace is rooted in respect for religious freedom, which is a fundamental and primordial aspect of the freedom of conscience of individuals and of the freedom of peoples.” Benedict XVI’s speech for the 44th World Day of Peace in 2011, called Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace, is an extended argument for precisely why religious freedom is desperately needed today for global peace.
Importantly, this right to religious freedom is not merely a negative freedom from coercion as some thinkers such as John Courtney Murray believed. While religious freedom has this component of immunity from coercion, it is not merely this for it is “even more fundamentally an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with the truth.” Benedict XVI has elsewhere stated that religious liberty is not only a freedom from coercion but also a freedom for the public witness to one’s religion and various public activities like education and charities. Religious members of society hence have a real role and duty in building up the social order. Religious liberty also implies the right to conscientious objection.
On the question of Dignitatis Humanae’s status in regards to the tradition of the Catholic Church Benedict XVI sees it in continuity for these teachings of Vatican II reaffirm the doctrine that the human person as a spiritual creature can discover and know the truth and hence has the duty and right to search for it.
In case one were still in doubt as to the status of Dignitatis Humanae, Benedict XVI states that its teachings are authoritative: “As the Second Vatican Council authoritatively taught with regard to the right to religious freedom, no one can be forced ‘to act against his conscience’, nor must he be ‘prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters’.” Furthermore, Benedict XVI was also clear that religious freedom has nothing to do with relativism since religious freedom is the claim that man has the capacity to know truths about God and has a duty to these truths.
In the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis reaffirms the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental right of the human person. Some of the cultural challenges to religious freedom Francis identifies includes “widespread indifference and relativism” which makes sense since religious freedom is intrinsically ordered to objective truth in man’s search for his own meaning and that of the universe. Relativism and indifference are two pessimistic responses to this quest for truth. Pope Francis has also stressed the importance of religious freedom in his addresses and placed relativism as a dialectical antithesis to religious freedom.
(e) The Post Vatican II Magisterium
Lastly, after covering the teachings of the popes from Leo XII to Francis we will now consider what the Magisterium has spoken on the matter through its various bodies and actions beginning with the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) which is entrusted with doctrinal orthodoxy.
As early as July 1966, seven months after Vatican II closed problems were arising considering the teachings of the Council and its authority. The CDF issued its first letter on the topic of Vatican II. In it the prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ottaviani, affirmed several basic propositions concerning the Council itself in the first paragraph, namely that the Council in fact did issue doctrine, that all the people of God are bound by grave duty to follow the teachings of the Council, that this Council was influenced by the Holy Spirit, and that these teachings of the Council were solemnly proposed or decreed under the influence of the Spirit by the universal assembly of bishops with the Pope presiding over.
On the topic of religious freedom the CDF has also not been silent. In the Doctrinal Note on some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life the CDF has explicitly stated that the teachings on religious freedom in Dignitatis Humanae does not fall under the condemnation of previous papal teachings on indifferentism and relativism because the ontological foundation for this right is the dignity of the human person. It is worth quoting this passage at length:
In this regard, it is helpful to recall a truth which today is often not perceived or formulated correctly in public opinion: the right to freedom of conscience and, in a special way, to religious freedom, taught in the Declaration Dignitatis humanae of the Second Vatican Council, is based on the ontological dignity of the human person and not on a non-existent equality among religions or cultural systems of human creation. Reflecting on this question, Paul VI taught that “in no way does the Council base this right to religious freedom on the fact that all religions and all teachings, including those that are erroneous, would have more or less equal value; it is based rather on the dignity of the human person, which demands that he not be subjected to external limitations which tend to constrain the conscience in its search for the true religion or in adhering to it”. The teaching on freedom of conscience and on religious freedom does not therefore contradict the condemnation of indifferentism and religious relativism by Catholic doctrine; on the contrary, it is fully in accord with it.
Note that this document was signed by Joseph Ratzinger as prefect of the CDF at the time. The CDF later reaffirms again the teachings of this document. Elsewhere the CDF in its Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization again reaffirms religious freedom and condemns a relativistic interpretation of this principle.
In an interview between the National Catholic Register and The Catholic Herald with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller (who at this time was the prefect of the CDF) the interviewer asked the archbishop on the problem of interpreting Dignitatis Humanae in light of the papal condemnations of religious freedom prior to the Council. Archbishop Müller answered that it is a false historical interpretation to argue that the pre-Vatican II teachings and Dignitatis Humanae are in discontinuity. Rather we must recall that the notion of religious freedom condemned by the Popes in the 19th century was understood as a freedom to reject God-given truths, a condemnation that Dignitatis Humanae repeats since man has the duty to seek truth, embrace it, and live it out. The traditionalists who claim that Dignitatis Humanae cannot be reconciled with previous teachings base their disagreements with Dignitatis Humanae on the ambiguity of terminology since the same term “religious freedom” refers to different concepts in the Magisterium’s teachings.
Elsewhere within the Magisterium religious freedom is defended and promoted. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has also affirmed the importance of religious freedom stating that it is one of man’s fundamental rights rooted in the dignity of the human person. In a joint declaration the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee reaffirms the necessity of religious freedom restating Catholic teaching and repeated this affirmation seven years later. Representatives of the Vatican to the United Nations and the Human Rights Council have made nearly countless speeches on behalf of religious freedom, to defend and promote it across the globe. Religious freedom has also been a part of official state agreements between countries and the Vatican. The Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops in propositions 24 and 27 likewise affirm the necessity and need for religious freedom.
The International Theological Commission argues that the development of religious freedom from the Syllabus of Errors to Dignitatis Humanae is an example of authentic sensus fidelium. The Commission has also recently released a document in line with the views of the post Vatican II papacy on religious freedom.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CSDC) likewise presents the teachings of Dignitatis Humanae and the importance of religious freedom. The CSDC also reaffirms John Paul II’s stressing of the importance of this right in how it is in a certain sense the “source and synthesis” of all other rights. Religious freedom is a responsibility of every citizen as a duty towards the common good. Religious freedom is so important that:
The effective recognition of the right to freedom of conscience and religious freedom is one of the highest goods and one of the most serious duties of every people that truly wishes to ensure the good of the individual and of society.
Furthermore, the CSDC clearly states that religious liberty does not give one a right to error or adhere in error.
The CSDC follows the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) which repeats the teachings of Dignitatis Humanae, dedicating a section to the theme of religious liberty in which the Church again rejects the interpretation that religious liberty gives moral license to adhere in error or gives a right to error. Religious liberty is an inalienable right of man and his dignity as a person.
 Cf. Ecclesiam Suam, 3-5.
 Ibid, 108.
 Address to the United Nations, Oct. 4, 1965.
 Message to H.E. U Thant, Secretary General of the UN, Oct. 4, 1970.
 Evangelii Nuntiandi 39.
 Address to the Sacred College and to the Roman Prelature: in Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, 14 (1976), 1088–1089.
 I refer the reader to Alberigo’s History of Vatican II which traces these political maneuvers across the entirety of the Council.
 Address to H.E. Mr Mohamad Jaham Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, Ambassador of Qatar, Dec. 12, 2003.
 Address to the New Ambassador of Kuwait to the Holy See, May 25, 2000. Cf. Address to the Members of the Committee of Information and Initiatives for Peace, Mar 5, 1999. Address to the new Ambassador of Bulgaria to the Holy See, Dec 21, 1998. Address to H.E. Mr. Bae Yang-Il, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Holy See, Mar. 27, 1999.
 Address for the Opening of the Sixth World Assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, Nov. 3, 1994. Cf. Address to H.E. Mr. Moses Musonda New Ambassador of the Republic of Zambia to the Holy See, May 28, 1998.
 Address to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan on their Ad Limina Visit, Oct. 21, 1994.
 Address to the Bishops of Cameroon on their Ad Limina Visit, June 1, 1999.
 John Paul II spoke here in reference to India, Address to the Bishops of India on their Ad Limina Visit, June 3, 2003.
 Address to H.E. Mr. Martin Stropnicky New Ambassador of the Czech Republic Accredited to the Holy See, Feb. 28, 1999.
 Address to the Bishops of the Philippines on their Ad Limina Visit, Nov. 30, 1990.
 Address to the Bishops of Guinea on their Ad Limina Visit, Feb. 15, 2003.
 Address at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Oct. 8, 1995.
 Letter to Bishop of Valence Didier-Léon Marchand.
 Address to H.E. Mr. Mohamed Husein Said Elsadr, New Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Holy See, Oct. 4, 1996.
 Redemptoris Missio, 39.
 Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 1988.
 Address to the Participants in the Congress on Secularism and Religious Freedom Marking the Thirtieth Anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, Dec. 7, 1995.
 Centesimus Annus 47.
 Redemptor Hominis, 12.
 Christifideles Laici 39.
 “Certainly the curtailment of the religious freedom of individuals and communities is not only a painful experience but it is above all an attack on man's very dignity, independently of the religion professed or of the concept of the world which these individuals and communities have.” Redemptor Hominis, 17.
 Religious Freedom: Condition for Peace, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, Jan 1, 1988.
 “Justice demands that, in dealing with the working man, religion and the good of his soul must be kept in mind. Hence, the employer is bound to see that the worker has time for his religious duties...” Rerum Novarum 20.
 Centesimus Annus 9.
 Address to the Participants in the Conference of the Executive Committee of Centrist Democratic International, Sept. 21, 2007. “Since respect for conscience and religious freedom are the cornerstone of the whole structure of human rights, the sure guarantee of those rights must be seen as an essential condition for the building of a truly just, free and fraternal society.” Address to H.E. Mr. Isaac Chikwekwere Lamba New Ambassador of the Republic of Malawi to the Holy See, Dec. 18, 2008. “Among the universal rights, religious freedom and freedom of conscience play a fundamental role, because they constitute the basis of the other freedoms.” Address to H.E. Mr. Ali Akbar Naseri Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Holy See, Oct. 29, 2009. “The Second Vatican Council, in the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, as well as my predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, forcefully referred to the right to life and the right to freedom of conscience and religion as being at the centre of those rights that spring from human nature itself.” Address to the Participants in the Fifteenth Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, May 4, 2009.
 Address, Meeting with the Diplomatic Corps to the Republic of Turkey, Nov. 28, 2006. “We are speaking of the first of human rights [religious freedom], for it expresses the most fundamental reality of the person.” Address of His Holiness to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, Jan. 9, 2012.
 Address to His Excellency Mr. Héctor Federico Ling Altamirano, New Ambassador of Mexico to the Holy See, July 10, 2009.
 Address to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See for the Traditional Exchange of New Year Greetings, Jan. 8, 2007. Cf. Deus Caritas Est, 28a.
 Address to H.E. Mr. Barry Desker New Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore to the Holy See, Dec. 13, 2007.
 “Past experience teaches us that, unfortunately, relations between Christians and Muslims have not always been marked by mutual respect and understanding. How many pages of history record battles and wars that have been waged, with both sides invoking the Name of God, as if fighting and killing, the enemy could be pleasing to him. The recollection of these sad events should fill us with shame, for we know only too well what atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.
The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other's identity. The defence of religious freedom, in this sense, is a permanent imperative, and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization.” Address, Meeting with Representatives of Some Muslim Communities, Apostolic Journey to Cologne on the Occasion of the XX World Youth Day, Aug. 20, 2005.
 Address to the Participants in the Conference of the Executive Committee of Centrist Democratic International, Sept. 21, 2007.
 Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2011.
 Address to Five New Ambassadors to the Holy See on the Occasion of the Presentation of Their Letters of Credence, May 18, 2006.
 “One of the fundamental human rights, also with reference to international peace, is the right of individuals and communities to religious freedom. At this stage in history, it is becoming increasingly important to promote this right not only from the negative point of view, as freedom from – for example, obligations or limitations involving the freedom to choose one’s religion – but also from the positive point of view, in its various expressions, as freedom for – for example, bearing witness to one’s religion, making its teachings known, engaging in activities in the educational, benevolent and charitable fields which permit the practice of religious precepts, and existing and acting as social bodies structured in accordance with the proper doctrinal principles and institutional ends of each.” Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2013.
 “The full guarantee of religious liberty cannot be limited to the free exercise of worship, but has to give due consideration to the public dimension of religion, and hence to the possibility of believers playing their part in building the social order.” Address, Meeting with the Members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, Apr. 18, 2008.
“The task of upholding religious freedom is never completed. New situations and challenges invite citizens and leaders to reflect on how their decisions respect this basic human right. Protecting religious freedom within the rule of law does not guarantee that peoples – particularly minorities – will be spared from unjust forms of discrimination and prejudice. This requires constant effort on the part of all members of society to ensure that citizens are afforded the opportunity to worship peaceably and to pass on their religious heritage to their children.
The transmission of religious traditions to succeeding generations not only helps to preserve a heritage; it also sustains and nourishes the surrounding culture in the present day...” Address, Meeting with Representatives of Other Religions, Apostolic Journey to the United States, Apr. 17, 2008.
 “In order effectively to safeguard the exercise of religious liberty it is essential to respect the right of conscientious objection.” Address to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, Jan 7, 2013.
 Angulus, Dec. 4, 2005.
 Address, Official Visit of H.E. Mr. Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Republic of Italy, Nov. 20, 2006.
 “…if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge. It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction” Address to the Roman Curia offering Christmas Greetings, Dec. 22, 2005.
 Evangelii Gaudium 255.
 Ibid, 61.
 Address, Meeting for Religious Liberty with the Hispanic Community and Other Immigrants, Sept. 26, 2015. Address, Meeting with the President, Prime Minister and Civil Authorities of Turkey, Nov. 28, 2014.
 Address, Meeting with the Leaders of Other Religions and Other Christian Denominations, Sept. 21, 2014.
 “Since the recent successful conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, many wise Documents have been promulgated, both in doctrinal and disciplinary matters, in order to efficaciously promote the life of the Church. All of the people of God are bound by the grave duty to strive with all diligence to put into effect all that has been solemnly proposed or decreed, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, by the universal assembly of the bishops presided over by the Supreme Pontiff.” Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences regarding some sentences and errors arising from the interpretation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council.
 Doctrinal Note on some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life 8.
 Importance and current validity of the document Doctrinal Note on some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life.
 Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization 10, cf. fn32. The press conference for the presentation of this document likewise defends religious freedom. Cf. Dominus Iesus 22.
 “[Question]: Many of the traditionalists have trouble reconciling the fact that we’ve had Popes in the past who’ve categorically stated teachings that then appeared to be refuted by the Council, religious freedom being one example. What do you say in response to this concern?
[Answer] That is not true – it’s a false interpretation of history. In the 19th century, the free masons or liberals interpreted religious freedom as the freedom to reject the truth given by God. It was this false notion of religious freedom that the Popes of the 19th century rejected, and the Second Vatican Council repeats that we are not free to reject the truth. It is on another level, on the level of human rights, that everyone has to be true to him or herself and act according to his or her own conscience. Furthermore, the Church cannot, on the doctrinal level, contradict herself – that is impossible. Any perceived contradiction is caused by false interpretation. We cannot say today: Jesus is the Son of God, he has a divine nature. And then tomorrow accept what the Arians said [that Christ was distinctly separate from God the Father]. That would be a real contradiction. What they [SSPX] are proposing is, in essence, a tension arising from the use of terminology, but the Church never contradicted herself. If you study the texts of different centuries, of different contexts, of different languages, you must do so on the basis of established Catholic doctrine.” Interview with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller by the National Catholic Register and The Catholic Herald, Sept 13, 2012.
 Message for the Feast of Deepavali 2011, 3. Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct, 7.
 Protecting Religious Freedom and Holy Sites, A Declaration of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, May 4, 2001.
 Joint Declaration of the 20th International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee Meeting, Nov. 9-12, 2008.
 Such as those with Israel and Lithuania. Fundamental Agreement Between the Holy See and the State of Israel, Article 1. Agreement Between the Holy See and the Republic of Lithuania on the Co-operation in Education and Culture, Article 1..
 Unofficial English version supplied by the Vatican website.
 Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church 73, International Theological Commission, 2014.
 Religious Freedom for the Good of All, International Theological Commission, 2019.
 CSDC 97, 421-423.
 CSDC 155, citing Centesimus Annus 47.
 CSDC 166, cf. 424.
 CSDC 553, cf. Christifideles Laici 39.
 CSDC 421.
 CCC 2104-2109.
 CCC 2108.
 CCC 1738, 1747.
Chapter 4: Conclusion
When religious freedom was first introduced into Catholic thought, it was under the auspices of indifferentism, relativism, naturalism, religious pluralism, rationalism, emotionalism, and the product of the will of the people and their private opinions. This was what the 19th century papacy faced and denounced. With Leo XIII a distinction was introduced between false and true liberty based on each’s relationship to objective truth. All of the false variants of religious freedom severed man’s link to truth and made man the measure of truth. True liberty requires the humble obedience and submission to the truth whereas these false understandings always require an act of rebellion and disobedience to truth.
This distinction with true liberty rooted in man’s dignity and natural law set the stage whereby a meaning of religious freedom could be entertained. Pius XI, Pius XII, and John XXIII began teaching a principle of religious freedom within this interpretation. Dignitatis Humanae provided the philosophical-theological basis upon which a positive teaching on religious liberty is to be understood. The Magisterium post Vatican II has consistently affirmed this positive interpretation of religious freedom and has made it clear that the teachings of Dignitatis Humanae are authoritative and do not fall under the condemnations of the 19th century papacy.
It is therefore a grave theological error to interpret these teachings of Vatican II as a promotion of any of the condemned meanings ascribed to religious liberty. Those who do so place themselves and others in moral danger for such a position entails the questioning of the Magisterium’s authority in a matter that the Vicar of Christ, the Universal Church, and the Holy Spirit have spoken. At worst those who follow this pathway to the end declare that there has not been a Pope since Pius XII, ultimately rejecting the papacy’s authority from John XXIII forward and the legitimacy of Vatican II, and everything thereafter. It is a tragedy that so much damage can be done based on the usage of a single term for a wide variety of concepts as the Popes have demonstrated.
Links to Some Works Cited
Agreement Between the Holy See and the Republic of Lithuania on the Co-operation in Education and Culture. Link:
Pope Benedict XVI
Address, Meeting with Representatives of Some Muslim Communities, Apostolic Journey to Cologne on the Occasion of the XX World Youth Day, Aug. 20, 2005. Link:
Angulus, Dec. 4, 2005. Link:
Address to the Roman Curia offering Christmas Greetings, Dec. 22, 2005. Link:
Address, Official Visit of H.E. Mr. Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Republic of Italy, Nov. 20, 2006. Link:
Address to Five New Ambassadors to the Holy See on the Occasion of the Presentation of Their Letters of Credence, May 18, 2006. Link:
Address, Meeting with the Diplomatic Corps to the Republic of Turkey, Nov. 28, 2006. Link:
Address to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See for the Traditional Exchange of New Year Greetings, Jan. 8, 2007. Link:
Address to the Participants in the Conference of the Executive Committee of Centrist Democratic International, Sept. 21, 2007. Link:
Address to H.E. Mr. Barry Desker New Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore to the Holy See, Dec. 13, 2007. Link:
Address, Meeting with the Members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, Apr. 18, 2008. Link:
Address, Meeting with Representatives of Other Religions, Apostolic Journey to the United States, Apr. 17, 2008. Link:
Address to H.E. Mr. Isaac Chikwekwere Lamba New Ambassador of the Republic of Malawi to the Holy See, Dec. 18, 2008. Link:
Address to the Participants in the Fifteenth Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, May 4, 2009. Link:
Address to His Excellency Mr. Héctor Federico Ling Altamirano, New Ambassador of Mexico to the Holy See, July 10, 2009. Link:
Address to H.E. Mr. Ali Akbar Naseri Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Holy See, Oct. 29, 2009. Link:
Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2011. Link: .
Address of His Holiness to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, Jan. 9, 2012. Link:
Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2013. Link: .
Address to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, Jan 7, 2013. Link:
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Link:
Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith
Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences regarding some sentences and errors arising from the interpretation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council. Link:
Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization. Link:
Doctrinal Note on some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. Link:
Importance and current validity of the document Doctrinal Note on some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. Link: .
Interview with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller by the National Catholic Register and The Catholic Herald, Sept 13, 2012. Link:
Press Conference for Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization. Link:
Fundamental Agreement Between the Holy See and the State of Israel. Link:
Address, Meeting with the Leaders of Other Religions and Other Christian Denominations, Sept. 21, 2014. Link:
Address, Meeting with the President, Prime Minister and Civil Authorities of Turkey, Nov. 28, 2014. Link:
Address, Meeting for Religious Liberty with the Hispanic Community and Other Immigrants, Sept. 26, 2015. Link:
International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee
Protecting Religious Freedom and Holy Sites, A Declaration of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, May 4, 2001. Link:
Joint Declaration of the 20th International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee Meeting, Nov. 9-12, 2008. Link:
International Theological Commission
Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church, 2014. Link:
Religious Freedom for the Good of All, 2019. Link:
St. Pope John Paul II
Religious Freedom: Condition for Peace, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 1988. Link:
Address to the Bishops of the Philippines on their Ad Limina Visit, Nov. 30, 1990. Link:
Address to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan on their Ad Limina Visit, Oct. 21, 1994. Link:
Address for the Opening of the Sixth World Assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, Nov. 3, 1994. Link:
Address at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Oct. 8, 1995. Link:
Address to the Participants in the Congress on Secularism and Religious Freedom Marking the Thirtieth Anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, Dec. 7, 1995. Link:
Address to H.E. Mr. Mohamed Husein Said Elsadr, New Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Holy See, Oct. 4, 1996. Link:
Address to H.E. Mr. Moses Musonda New Ambassador of the Republic of Zambia to the Holy See, May 28, 1998. Link:
Address to the new Ambassador of Bulgaria to the Holy See, Dec 21, 1998. Link: http://
Address to H.E. Mr. Martin Stropnicky New Ambassador of the Czech Republic Accredited to the Holy See, Feb. 28, 1999. Link:
Address to the Members of the Committee of Information and Initiatives for Peace, Mar 5, 1999. Link:
Address to H.E. Mr. Bae Yang-Il, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Holy See, Mar. 27, 1999. Link:
Address to the Bishops of Cameroon on their Ad Limina Visit, June 1, 1999. Link:
Letter to Bishop of Valence Didier-Léon Marchand. Link:
Address to the New Ambassador of Kuwait to the Holy See, May 25, 2000. Link:
Address to the Bishops of Guinea on their Ad Limina Visit, Feb. 15, 2003. Link:
Address to the Bishops of India on their Ad Limina Visit, June 3, 2003. Link: .
Address to H.E. Mr Mohamad Jaham Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, Ambassador of Qatar, Dec. 12, 2003. Link:
Fr. William Most, Vatican II vs Pius IX? A Study in Lefebvrism. Link:
St. John Henry Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, vol 2. Link:
Address to the United Nations, Oct. 4, 1965. Link:
Message to H.E. U Thant, Secretary General of the UN, Oct. 4, 1970. Link:
Qui Pluribus. Link:
Syllabus of Errors. Link:
Maxima quidem. Link:
Pius XII, Guiding Principles Of The Lay Apostolate. Link:
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
Message for the Feast of Deepavali 2011. Link:
Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct. Link:
Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. Link:
Disputation of the Holy Sacrament by Raphael