ORGAN OF THE ROMAN THEOLOGICAL FORUM
|Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.||Distributed several times a year to interested members.|
|Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.||Not to be republished without permission.|
|Please address all correspondence to:||www.rtforum.org e-mail: email@example.com|
Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA
|No. 33||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||January 1991|
by Brian W. Harrison
The Church does not make, as a matter of right or of divine law, the claim that she should be established as the "religion of the state." Her claim is freedom, nothing more.7The first sentence here is probably too ambiguous, as it stands, to be evaluated formally in terms of its orthodoxy. The expression "religion of the state," especially in view of the quotation marks used by Murray himself, might in itself be taken to mean nothing more than one particular historically-conditioned form of civic or state recognition of Catholicism's unique truth: that is to say, the kind of concordat which has been a feature of relations between the Holy See and various predominantly Catholic nations during the last two centuries. It is only relatively recently that the exact phrase "religion of the state" has been commonly used. And it would of course be correct to deny that divine law requires a particular type of legal document with certain set phraseology.8 However, Murray's second sentence quoted above makes it clear that he is not making a relatively trivial observation of this sort. What he wants to deny is that divine law requires states or governments to acknowledge any kind of special legal status for Catholicism by virtue of its unique truth; all that the Church can demand from the State as a right given by God, according to Murray, is "freedom, nothing more."
The fact of the religious unity of a particular people in the Catholic faith does not make obligatory the legal institution of establishment, as if a situation of legal privilege were a Catholic constitutional ideal.15Moreover, Murray now affirms that if, in a mainly Catholic culture, there is any constitutional privilege for the Catholic Church, it must not be more than merely nominal. It may not impact legally on the lives of citizens; and the State, in acknowledging such a purely titular "privilege," may not claim to be discerning or recognizing the religious truth of Catholicism, only the sociological fact of its local predominance. Thus, for all practical purposes, such a regime would be virtually indistinguishable from the American model. This is clear from the following passage:
Furthermore, out of respect for historical custom, where it exists, it is not inappropriate or contrary to religious freedom that the people of a particular nation should declare their common allegiance to the Catholic Church in some sort of constitutional document. This declaration has no juridical consequences; it has the value of a statement of fact.16This rejection of any kind of Catholic "establishment" which would have "juridical consequences" is an implication of another closely related thesis which Murray enunciates succinctly in his remarks on Dignitatis Humanae in the Abbott edition. Commenting on article 6 of the Declaration, Murray assures us that, according to Vatican II,
government is forbidden to assume the care of religious truth as such ... or the task of judging the truth or value of religious propaganda. Otherwise it would exceed its competence, which is confined to affairs of the temporal and terrestrial order.17Once again, the first sentence here is perhaps too ambiguous in itself to be given any formal 'theological note.' It would be quite correct to deny civil authority the right to "judge" the truth of religious affirmations, or to assume the "care of religious truth," if by that we simply mean that lay officials or politicians may not usurp the magisterial role of the Pope and Bishops by presuming to decide authoritatively what is or is not compatible with Catholic faith or morals. However, Murray wants to include here a denial of the age-old Catholic thesis that those who hold political authority (either the juridically sovereign citizen body in a democracy, or the juridically sovereign monarch in an autocracy) are in principle not only able (like all rational human beings) to discern the unique truth of Catholicism, but are obliged in principle, by virtue of man's social nature, to reflect this discernment in appropriate ways, in the exercise of their official functions.18
no public official is empowered, by virtue of his public office, to inquire into the theological credentials of any religious body, and to decide whether it exists iure divino, whether its doctrine and polity are in conformity with divine revelation ... The Erastian doctrine that the public powers are the arbiter of religious truth ... is not only contrary to Christian doctrine but also contrary to political principle.19This passage makes clear Murray's failure to make the distinction, explained above, between the kind of religious judgment which is the special competence of the Church's leaders and that which pertains in principle to the human race as such. The first sentence in the above quotation certainly excludes the idea that the Catholic Church as such can and should be recognized by public authorities as existing "iure divino." But the second sentence shows that Murray confuses this idea (which is straightforward traditional Catholic doctrine) with "Erastian doctrine" (which, as he says, is unorthodox, insofar as it usurps the rights of the Pope and Bishops and sees government as a generalized "arbiter" of all religious truth). By rejecting as "Erastianism" both types of religious discernment on the part of public authority, Murray throws out the baby with the bathwater.
The public powers are not competent to make theological judgments. Nor may their action be instrumental in the public enforcement of theological judgments made by the Church.20So far we have been concerned simply to expound two controversial theses of Fr. Murray, which are almost like two sides of the one coin: that the Catholic Church, by divine right, can demand only freedom, not recognition of her unique truth, from political authorities; and that these authorities in turn are not competent to recognize this unique truth, much less to allow any legal or juridical effects to flow from such recognition. In the course of our exposition we have stated that these theses are not in harmony with traditional Catholic doctrine. It will now be appropriate to justify this criticism by reference to pertinent pronouncements of the Church's Magisterium.
that salutary influence which the Catholic Church, by the institution and command of her Divine Author, ought to exercise even to the consummation of the world, not only over individual men, but nations, peoples, and sovereigns.23Leo XIII is scarcely less emphatic. He affirms in the Encyclical Immortale Dei that "it is not lawful for the State, any more than for the individual, ... to hold in equal favour different kinds of religion."24 Indeed,
it is a sin in the State ... (to adopt) out of many forms of religion ... that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in the way which He has shown to be His will.25To make it crystal-clear that he is talking about divine law here, Pope Leo asserts at the beginning of Immortale Dei that the principles expounded therein represent
the necessary growth of the teachings of the Gospel. We deem it, therefore, of the highest moment, and a strict duty of Our Apostolic office, to contrast with the lessons taught by Christ the novel theories now advanced touching the State ... so that one and all may see clearly the imperious law of life which they are bound to follow and obey.26More recently Pope Pius XI, in instituting the Feast of Christ the King with the Encyclical Quas Primas, expressed his hope that, through this new enrichment of the Church's liturgy,
Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honour and obedience to Christ. It will call to their minds the thought of the last judgment, wherein Christ, Who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected, and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for His kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.27How did John Courtney Murray interpret these declarations of the Magisterium, which were often adduced against him by his critics prior to and during Vatican II? At the general hermeneutical level he called attention to profound philosophical differences between his school of thought and that of such critics - differences which he said made attempts at dialogue "abortive." The two contrasting views, he said,
do not confront each other as affirmation confronts negation. Their differences are at a deeper level - indeed, at a level so deep that it would be difficult to go deeper. They represent the contemporary clash between classicism and historical consciousness.28In evaluating the earlier pontifical declarations, says Murray, the scholar who possesses this "historical consciousness"
asks the question ... is not the historical context of the document and its doctrinal, polemic, and pastoral intentions to be considered, with the result that particular assertions may be regarded as historically conditioned and therefore subject to further development in what concerns their manner of conception and statement, under altered circumstances and with the rise of new questions which affect the perspectives in which the truth is viewed.29In contrast to this "historical consciousness," the "classicist" mentality which Murray rejects (he claims that both its "archaism" and its "anachronism" are "now forbidden" in the light of Pope John's "fuller acceptance" of this century's "altered historical context"30 ) is a misguided attempt (we are told) "to adhere or return to the synthesis or systematization of a prior age, which is judged to be simple and more pure."31 This "classicism" admits that Leo XIII, for instance, "did indeed speak within a historical context"; however it thinks "that his utterances transcended the context" and insists (mistakenly, it would seem, in Murray's view) that
What matters is what he said - the propositions that he put down on paper. These propositions stand forever, true, certain, and immutable.32One is tempted to reply to Murray's polemic - the various pejorative "isms" with which he labels his opponents - with other labels. The kind of "historical consciousness" which seems to cast doubt on whether some propositions can transcend their historical context seems perilously akin to historicism or relativism. And if the view that "What matters is what (Pope Leo) said - the propositions that he put down on paper" is to be stigmatized by Murray as a regrettable "classicism," this seems to suggest that the real object of his regret may in fact be none other than the perennial philosophy - the basic principles, insights and procedures of human reason itself. Pius IX, as we saw, "put down on paper" the absolute assertion that unique recognition of the Catholic Church by the political community is an obligation flowing from the "command of her Divine Author," valid "even to the consummation of the world." The perennial philosophy (along with ordinary common sense) would conclude from this that if Fr. Murray affirms (a hundred years later, but still well before "the consummation of the world") that in fact there is no such perpetual, divinely-imposed obligation, then the 19th-century Pope and the 20th-century theologian cannot both be right. Their respective affirmations stand in clear and ineluctable contradiction, from which it follows that Murray should admit that his thesis really constitutes dissent from this and parallel affirmations of the 19th-century Magisterium, and is not just a "further development in what concerns their manner of conception and statement."33
The Second View (i.e. the view of Murray and his sympathizers) may urge the issue, citing the assertion of Pius XII that Boniface VIII's doctrine of the sun and the moon and the two swords was historically conditioned and is today archaistic. In reply, the First View (i.e. that of the "classicists") changes the subject, raising the issue of the doctrinal authority of papal encyclicals, with appropriate citations. This issue is important, but it would seem to suppose an answer to the prior question. Again the parties fail to join in dialogue.34Perhaps we can revive the dialogue on this point here and now. In the 1955 allocution to which Murray refers, Pius XII did not in fact say that Pope Boniface's statement was "today archaistic," but he did say that "This mediaeval conception was conditioned by its era."35 Pius XII was commenting on the affirmation of Boniface VIII in 1303 that:
just as the moon has no light except that which it receives from the sun, so also no earthly power has anything which it does not receive from the ecclesiastical power. ... all powers ... are from Christ, and from Us as the Vicar of Jesus Christ.36Pope Boniface made this statement not as supreme pastor and teacher of all Christians, but only to the envoys of the German king, Albert of Habsburg; so even the most ultramontane Catholic should have little difficulty in granting that a papal utterance of that category might simply be erroneous.
the nature of man is a historical nature, whose rational exigences manifest themselves progressively, under the impact of the continually changing social-political context, and in response to the growing personal and political consciousness.37On the basis of this premise, and taking note of the "signs of the times," Murray tells us that the view of Church-State relations accepted by himself and many other modern Catholics
presents itself as the contemporary stage in the growing understanding of the tradition. This understanding cannot be found in ecclesiastical documents of the nineteenth century. It was brought into being by a dynamism proper to the twentieth century, the growth of the personal and political consciousness, first noted by Pius XII and more fully developed in its implications by John XXIII.38The concept of "growth" - in this context a metaphor taken from biology - means, of course, change, and more specifically, change towards maturity or perfection - change for the better. But whether the widespread twentieth-century understanding of Church and State really is superior to that of the nineteenth-century Popes is precisely the point a issue. This superiority needs to be demonstrated, not merely asserted or insinuated. Of course, on the basis of a certain philosophy of history - belief in the inevitable progress of mankind - twentieth-century ideas are by definition superior to those of a century earlier, just as a fifteen-year old boy is by definition, or by the exigencies of nature, more mature than a five-year-old. Murray's assertions often seem to presuppose some such philosophy of history; but at other times he admits that "history" can carry mankind downwards as well as upwards, in terms of the quality of political life. He maintains, for instance, that "the medieval conception of kingship" embodied a basically sound constitutional tradition of limited government, and laments the fact that by the 19th century, "the tradition had been obscured by history - by the decadence of the constitutional tradition after the quattrocento," leading to the rise of absolute monarchies.39 But if that is true, then it cannot simply be assumed that the 20th century's change in "consciousness" represents "growth," rather than "decadence," in relation to the teaching of the 19th-century Popes.
The exact formula is that the state, under today's conditions of growth in the personal and political consciousness, is competent to do only one thing in respect of religion, that is, to recognize, guarantee, protect, and promote the religious freedom of people. This is the full extent of the competence of the contemporary constitutional state.40However, shorn of its rhetorical appeal to "growth" (a word which carries question-begging overtones of inevitable progress or improvement) and of its implied statistical appeal to a non-existent consensus amongst "contemporary man,"41 Murray's argument amounts to little more than the claim that the universal Church should endorse his view of the State's very limited religious role mainly because at present this also happens to be the view of a great many other people - especially in the liberal, secularized societies of Western Europe and North America. But that kind of claim, of course, does not sound nearly so imposing and irresistible42 as a demand which is said to arise inexorably from something as august as a "growth in consciousness of contemporary man."
after full assent has been given to the traditional papal condemnation of separation of Church and State as a matter of Catholic duty, there is still room for an unprejudiced examination of the American concept of separation, because this latter concept is different in point of political principle from the concept condemned. ... the American "state" is not the Continental "state"; this is the root of the difference.43The "Continental State," Murray explains, was a European product of the Renaissance and Reformation era, and was essentially paternalistic, deciding which world-view was most suitable for the illiterate masses who formed the great bulk of those whom it governed. We are told that, at heart, Leo XIII was (like Murray himself) basically only concerned to uphold the freedom of the Church from State interference. That was his "central notion."44 However, given the prevailing "Continental"" notion of what the State is - a notion he himself took for granted - the Pope felt bound to insist on 'establishment,' that is, privilege, for the Church as the norm, because that seemed to be the only practical means for assuring her freedom. The only alternative, under contemporary European conditions, was the kind of "separation" between Church and State which tried to impose some rival ideology, and thus amounted to harassment or even persecution of Catholics.45 Murray then completes his case by arguing that the limited American 'state' is so different from this authoritarian Continental model that it can safely be "separated" from the Church without endangering her freedom.46 Therefore, he concludes, constitutions based on the American model of "separation" do not really conflict with Leo XIII's deepest intentions, only with the superficial reality of what he actually said.
One could begin to appreciate its centrality by counting the number of times that the phrase, or an equivalent of it, appears in his writings (some eighty-one times in sixty documents). ... Freedom is the first property of the Church; and freedom is the first claim that the Church makes in the face of society and state: "This freedom is so much the property of the Church, as a perfect and divine work, that those who act against this freedom likewise act against God and against their duty."47Murray then goes on to cite a number of Leonine texts which do indeed condemn very forcefully all forms of State interference with the Church's free activity,48 telling us that "(the) decisive proof" of his own thesis "results from an understanding of the structure of Leo XIII's controversy with Continental sectarian Liberalism...."49 But the most that these texts could possibly "prove decisively" is that attacks on the Church's freedom were the most immediate and most urgent problem that Leo had to face in his confrontation with hostile regimes. In none of them is there the slightest hint that state establishment of Catholicism is to be valued only, or even mainly, insofar as it is a safeguard against such attacks.50 To argue that, since the freedom of the Church from oppression was Pope Leo's "central concern," his insistence on state recognition of Catholicism's truth as the norm was only "historically conditioned," and not permanently binding, is quite simply a non sequitur. It is no more logical than arguing that, since the defeat of Japan and Germany was the "central concern" of the American government in the early 1940s, its simultaneous efforts to promote (say) public health and improved agricultural methods were merely "historically conditioned" interests which arose as part of the war effort, and need not be pursued by subsequent governments - as if high standards of health and agriculture were valuable to a nation only to the extent of their (real or imagined) efficacy in helping to defeat armed foreign aggression.
For the Church amongst you, unopposed by the Constitution and government of your nation ... is free to live and act without hindrance. Yet, though all this be true, it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced. The fact that Catholicity with you is in good condition ... is by all means to be attributed to the fecundity with which God has endowed His Church ... but she would bring forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she enjoyed the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority.51It is important to note here that Pope Leo mentions lawfulness as well as expediency as a criterion for evaluating different models of Church-State relationship. Too often it is assumed that the Church's traditional quest for unique recognition on the part of the State has been motivated exclusively by the real or imagined benefits for the Church and her members which are thought to flow from such recognition. On this assumption the case for 'establishment,' even in predominantly Catholic countries, would be convincingly refuted if it could be shown (and perhaps it can be shown) that judging by the practical experience of many centuries, the Church herself usually tends to enjoy better health, both spiritual and temporal, in constitutional situations like that of the U.S.A., where she is not established as the 'state religion' and simply enjoys freedom of operation, unhampered by tiresome links to the temporal powers.
The State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness ... bind also the civil community by a like law. For men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, not less than individuals, owes gratitude to God. ... Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its teaching and practice - not such religion as we may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only true religion - it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So too it is a sin in the State ... to adopt out of many forms of religion ... that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will.53It is clear from this and other key affirmations of the Church's magisterium that, according to her doctrine - not just a historically conditioned policy - the civic community's recognition of Catholic truth is primarily a duty which it owes to God, not just to the Church: a duty which therefore obtains quite independently of whatever benefits or burdens for the latter might in practice result from its fulfilment.