A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving and Christ the King

During this time of year it seems fitting to reflect on the meaning of the American Thanksgiving Holiday.  What should Catholics think of Thanksgiving and is it compatible with the doctrine on the social Kingship of Christ?  Can we recognize Christ's reign in a country that deliberately has no established state Church?  Does the “secular” character of our nation imply irreligion and state atheism?  Is legislation in America supposed to proceed by way of positivistic convention without any objective criterion or reference to the laws of God?  Pope Pius XI affirmed that if the "rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ."1  Indeed, during his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI gives answer to these questions by recalling an important aspect of our national heritage:     

From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. (Pope Benedict XVI, Address at the White House, Washington, D.C., April 16, 2008)

Thanksgiving Proclamation
To get a better sense of this it seems helpful to turn to the first Thanksgiving Proclamation decreed by George Washington during his first year as President.  The formal institution of the national Thanksgiving holiday was intended as a means for America to fulfill the "duty of all nations" towards the "Lord and Ruler of Nations"2 in a public manner that  promotes the "knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue".  This Proclamation was given by Washington "in the year of our Lord", 1789.3  

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend4 and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue,5 and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

President Lincoln renewed this same spirit by his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 wherein he decreed: "It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the LORD6…It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people".
The season of Thanksgiving provides a very good opportunity for all Americans of good will to participate in rendering worship to God in a public and civic context.7  Americans who participate in Thanksgiving according to the spirit indicated by Washington and Lincoln (in truth, solemnly, reverently, and with grateful hearts) can help to fulfill the social and civic duty towards Christ the King as the Lord and Ruler of Nations.8  Finally, the Thanksgiving holiday serves as a good reminder for all Americans to answer the "universal call to love" in order that "love may reign supreme".9         

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; Amen. (Prayer taken from the Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1940 decreed by Franklin D. Roosevelt)     


1 Quas Primas, 18

2 Christians explicitly recognize Christ as the Lord and Ruler of Nations.  At the same time, others who by grace of faith implicitly recognize Christ as Lord and Ruler of Nations can also contribute towards the building up of the reign of God's love: "The coming-together of such men to co-operate for the good of human society is not based on equivocation. It is based upon "analogical" likeness as between the practical principles, motions, and progressions implied in their common acceptance of the law of love and corresponding to the primary inclinations of human nature. And why should I, a Christian, according to whose faith a single Name has been given to men through whom they can be saved, even in the temporal order, why should I disguise the fact that this community of analogy itself supposes a primum analogatum purely and simply true; and that implicitly and ultimately everything which is authentic love, working in the world for the reconciliation of men and the common good of their life here below, tends, under forms more or less perfect, more or less pure, toward Christ, who is known to some, un- known to others?" (Cf. Maritain, The Journal of Religion, University of Chicago Press, Vol. 21, No. 4, October, 1941)

3 The custom to close official documents explicitly "in the year of our Lord" is another reference to Christ as the "Lord and Ruler of Nations". 

4 The national holiday is given in such a manner that promotes and supports true religion and objective morality.  The political authority, however, does not go beyond his competence by using means of coercion in religious matters.  Rather, the citizens are expected to fulfill the civic duties of religion to the "Lord and Ruler of Nations" in the spirit of their faith and according to its particular prescriptions.  Such particular prescriptions of religion are subject to the authority of the spiritual power and beyond the scope and competence of the temporal power, as such.  This distinction of office and competence is sometimes indicated by the phrase of the "separation of Church and State" where the proper scope (and limits) of each power was often emphasised by American colonialists who sought to escape absolutist rulers operating under the guise of the so-called "divine right of kings" with its principle of "cuis regio, eius religio".

5 Note that the "secular" form of state does not imply the errors of "secularism".  Even without an established state religion there was no concept of "separation of Church and State" in the sense of religious indifferentism.  On the contrary, we find in the Thanksgiving Proclamations a positive support for (true) religion and objective norms of morality.  Such a care for truth in religion and objective morality is far removed from relativistic and positivistic conceptions.  The so-called "separation" of Church and state in the United States can only be understood in the sense that would seek to safeguard citizens from absolutism and unjust coercion by the state in religious matters. 

6 Lincoln states that the "duty of nations" involves recognizing the truth of God's reign given by divine revelation and proven by historical facts.

7 Pope Pius XII had given the following encouragement to American Catholics for their participation in the national holiday: "This year you have chosen, and chosen well, to amass your resources during a week characterized in your country by the dominant note of thanksgiving to God.  The highest authority of the State has summoned you – and what an ennobling and refreshing summons it is to hear in the world today – to pause in the midst of your varied occupations and to render thanks to Almighty God…" (Pope Pius XII, broadcast to the children of America, November 23, 1947) 

8 President Andrew Johnson includes the following quotation in his Thanskgiving Proclamation of 1866: "In offering these national thanksgivings, praises, and supplications we have the divine assurance that 'the Lord remaineth a king forever; them that are meek shall He guide in judgment and such as are gentle shall He learn His way; the Lord shall give strength to His people, and the Lord shall give to His people the blessing of peace.'

9 Cf. President George W. Bush, Thanksgiving Proclamations, 2005 and 2007.  The Christian themes of charity, brotherly love and the "universal call to love" have often appeared in the Thanksgiving Proclamations.  For example, see President William McKinley, 1897: "On this day of rejoicing and domestic reunion, let our prayers ascend to the Giver of every good and perfect gift, for the continuance of His love and favor to us, that our hearts may be filled with charity and good will, and that we may be ever worthy of His beneficent concern."  Also see Theodore Roosevelt, 1904: "We are thankful for all that has been done for us in the past, and we pray that in the future we may be strengthened in the unending struggle to do our duty fearlessly and honestly, with charity and good will, with respect for ourselves and with love toward our fellow-men."  Also see Lyndon Johnson, 1965: "On that day, let us gather in our homes and in our places of worship to thank God for His generosity. Let us make ourselves worthy of that generosity by pledging to Him our everlasting devotion. And let us pray to Him that the forces of violence, indifference and intolerance may soon vanish from the face of the earth so that peace and understanding and love may reign supreme."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Religious Freedom: Disputed Questions (Part II)

Religious Duties and Rights

An important theme that often arises is the question relative to religious duties and rights considered both from the subjective and objective points of view.  We can gain some important insights into this question by looking at what St. Thomas teaches concerning the natural paternal rights for the religious education of children (S.T., ii-ii, 10, 12).  Within the objective limits of the natural moral law, I maintain that all men have the duty and corresponding natural right to educate their children according to their religious convictions.  Now this point raises some controversy.  For example, Fr. Laisney (SSPX) has criticized this statement and affirms instead that “far from having a right to educate them in a wrong religion, they are in danger of eternal damnation if they deprive their children to the means of salvation!”  The following letter in response to Fr. Laisney attempts to clarify matters.

Letter in Response to Fr. Laisney

Some aspects of Fr. Laisney’s letter in the October 31 issue of The Remnant left me feeling rather perplexed.  To begin with I would like to give further clarity to my statement that “all men have the duty and corresponding natural right to educate their children according to their religious convictions”.  I merely wish to assert here that, in the objective natural order of things, it is the duty of parents to educate their children in "matters relating to God" in accordance with the "parent's reason".  This is something altogether different than a so-called right to teach error.  That is why I followed up with the clarification that the  “right is not founded on error, per se, but can continue to exist in spite of error for the sake of a superior good…for the sake of natural justice.”  St. Thomas gives the following response to an objection (dealing with the religious education of children by non-Catholic parents):

 “...it is the parents' duty to look after the salvation of their children, especially before they come to the use of reason…Hence a child before coming to the use of reason, in the natural order of things, is directed to God by its parents' reason, under whose care it lies by nature: and it is for them to dispose of the child in all matters relating to God” (S.T., ii-ii, 10, 12).   

That is not to imply that such a natural right can be exercised in an unqualified manner.  On the contrary, the “due limits” of the objective moral order always apply and remain in force.  In other words, even though the unbaptized are not subject to the spiritual jurisdiction and coercive authority that the Church legitimately exercises over her members, the natural rights of unbelievers must be exercised in a manner that fully conforms to the objective natural moral law. (Cf. Ketteler who explains this concept in more detail by referencing the teaching of Suarez; Tract. de Fide Disp. 18 Sect. III, n. 4, 7, 9, 10)

According to Fr. Laisney, my problem is rooted in an erroneous notion of moral law and he goes on to say that themoral law does NOT command to obey an erroneous conscience; it rather forbids that which is objectively wrong and forbids to act against one’s conscience”.  The implication here is that the objective moral law itself contains both objective and subjective aspects insofar as it also commands obedience to conscience as the subjective norm of morality.  The subjective aspect is necessarily part of the objective moral order since “man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience” (DH, 3).  Therefore, the moral theologians have always held that one must be obedient to a certain conscience – and this holds true for the invincibly erroneous conscience.            

“Everyone is obliged to follow his conscience whether it commands or forbids some action, not only when it is true but also when it is in invincible error”. (Cf. Prummer, Handbook of Moral Theology, 1957, n. 139)


Archbishop Lefebvre puts it very plainly: “To act against one's honestly erroneous conscience is to sin”. (Cf. Religious Liberty Questioned, Angelus Press, p. 10)  In this context, I am simply asserting the corollary that one has a moral right, within the limits of the objective moral order, to avoid such a sin.  In other words, the moral law confers the moral right to fulfill ones moral obligations.  In this sense, the moral law cannot contradict itself by commanding and forbidding the same thing (principle of non-contradiction).  Cardinal Newman puts it very simply: “conscience has rights because it has duties”. (Cf. Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk)  


Fr. Laisney then goes on to say that an erroneous conscience is simply “perplexed” and that one “must NOT ACT, but rather educate one’s conscience, so as to correct it”.  Aside from the fact that a perplexed conscience is something altogether different than a certain but invincibly erroneous conscience, such a notion presupposes that one always knows what one does not know.  Obviously, this is absurd given the nature of an invincibly erroneous conscience.  Fr. Austin Fagothey makes this point clear:


Hence a certain conscience must be obeyed, not only when it is correct, but even when it is invincibly erroneous.  Conscience is the only guide a man has for the performance of concrete actions here and now.  But an invincibly erroneous conscience cannot be distinguished from a correct conscience.  Therefore if one were not obliged to follow a certain but invincibly erroneous conscience, one would not be obliged to follow a certain and correct conscience.  But one is obliged to follow a certain and correct conscience.  Therefore one is also obliged to follow a certain but invincibly erroneous conscience.1 


Fr. Fagothey continues to explain why the interior will-act can be good (i.e., men of good-will) in spite of one’s objective error.


The basic reason for this conclusion is that the will depends on the intellect to present the good to it.  The will act is good if it tends to the good presented by the intellect, bad if it tends to what the intellect judges evil.  Invincible error in the intellect does not change the goodness or badness of the will-act, in which morality essentially consists. (Cf. Fr. Austin Fagothey, S.J., Right and Reason: Ethics in Theory and Practice, 1953, TAN Reprint, 2000, p. 214)2     


Fr. Laisney concludes that “the right to educate one’s children in religious matters never gives a right to educate in a wrong religion, but only in the true religion”.  Again, we are not talking about a right to teach error, as such.  I think it is important to highlight here that natural rights and the right to fulfill one’s moral obligations persist in spite of one’s honest religious error.  Following St. Thomas, Pope Pius XI teaches that the paternal duty and corresponding right to educate, according to the spirit of one’s Faith, is rooted in the natural law: 


“Parents who are earnest and conscious of their educative duties, have a primary right to the education of the children God has given them in the spirit of their Faith, and according to its prescriptions.  Laws and measures which…fail to respect this freedom of the parents go against natural law, and are immoral.” (Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, 1937)


Therefore, it seems to me dangerous to diminish the subjective aspect to the objective moral order by denying the natural right of non-Catholic parents to educate their children in accordance with their religious convictions, however, within the due limits of the objective moral order.  Again, the right is not founded on error (i.e., error, per se, has no rights) with respect to positive divine law, but continues to exist in spite of it and can be legitimately exercised by non-Catholics within the limits of the objective natural moral law.  In the final analysis, I am simply repeating what Archbishop Lefebvre indicated relative to this question: "To the natural duty of educating their children corresponds the right of the parents to raise their children according to their own religious conviction…You cannot take the children from the Islamic education of their parents against their will without, at the same time, depriving the parents of their natural objective right of educating their children". (Cf. Religious Liberty Questioned, pp. 12, 15)  In other words, this “natural objective right” can only be exercised by man through the mediation of conscience and therefore it is legitimately fulfilled according to the parent’s reason and in the spirit of their Faith, however, within the limits of the objective moral order.  [End of Letter]


Towards Convergence

Archbishop Lefebvre seems to provide some helpful criterion that can help opposing parties move toward convergence on this issue.  For example, in Religious Liberty Questioned, he concedes that “followers of a religion which, without superstitions, renders some sort of natural worship to God as He can be known by the light of natural reason, ignoring without guilt the dogmas of the true religion – such people do benefit from a natural objective right to practice their religion” (op. cit., p. 15).  We can identify three key elements to the criterion outlined by Archbishop Lefebvre for this positive natural objective right to practice one’s religion:


·         Belief in a personal God (without superstition, idolatry or magical beliefs)

·         Worship that conforms to natural reason (natural moral law)

·         Honest error with respect to the supernatural truths of divine revelation (positive divine law)


Therefore, in principle, Archbishop Lefebvre allows for the possibility of objective natural rights that are in conformity with reason and the objective natural moral law while being (honestly and without guilt) contrary -- at least materially if not formally -- to the particular prescriptions of positive divine law.3  While Archbishop Lefebvre considered this in the hypothetical, we can recognize the fundamental consistency between his criteria and the teaching of St. Thomas, Suarez and Ketteler. 
Suarez, following the teaching of St. Thomas divides the unbaptized into two classes:

"It appears as though the religious practices of the unbelievers, notably all of the unbaptized as, e.g., pagans and Mohammedans, may not be tolerated in Christian nations since they involve superstition and injury to the honor that is owed to the true God, whose honor Christian rulers have an obligation to uphold.  St. Thomas, however, rightly distinguishes two kinds of religious practices: there are those which go against reason and against God insofar as he can be recognized through nature and through the natural powers of the soul, e.g., the worship of idols, etc. Others are contrary to the Christian religion and to its commands not because they are evil in themselves or contrary to reason as, for example, the practices of Jews and even many of the customs of Mohammedans and such unbelievers who believe in one true God”.

The religious practices of the first class of unbeliever should generally not be tolerated unless greater evils would ensue.

Regarding the first, the Church may not tolerate them on the part of her own unbelieving subjects. But that is merely the general principle. It may happen often that Christian rulers cannot prevent even such practices without causing greater harm to the nation and to the Christian inhabitants. In that case, the ruler may tolerate such evil with a clear conscience on the basis of what Christ said to the servant who asked the master whether they should remove the weeds from the field. He replied, 'No, or perhaps while you are gathering the tares you will root up the wheat with them.'

The religious practices of the second class, however, must be tolerated insofar as they conform to the natural moral law.  This type of unbeliever, according to Archbishop Lefebvre’s criterion, enjoys the natural objective right to practice their religion.

As regards the other religious practices of unbelievers which go contrary to Christian beliefs but not counter to natural reason, there is no doubt but that the unbelievers, even though they are subjects, may not be forced to abandon them. Rather the Church has to tolerate them.  St. Gregory addressed himself clearly to this problem regarding Jews, and he forbade anyone to deprive them of their synagogues or to prevent them from observing their religious practices therein. (Lib. I Epistol. 34) Elsewhere he reaffirmed that no one should prevent Jews from participating in their religious observances. (Lib. II. Ep. 15) The reason is that such observances do not in themselves violate the natural law, and therefore, the temporal power of even a Christian ruler does not confer a right to forbid them.  Such action would be based on the fact that what is being done goes contrary to the Christian Faith, but that is not enough to compel those who are not subject to the spiritual authority of the Church. This opinion is also supported by the fact that such a ban would involve, to some extent, forcing people to accept the Faith; and that is never permitted. (Suarez, op.cit.)

Some Key Observations 
Based on all of this we are able to derive some important conclusions.  Within the objective moral order we find an essential relationship and necessary interplay between the objective and subjective orders whereby objective norms of morality (e.g., precepts of the natural law, positive divine law, positive human law) give rise to subjective duties and their corresponding rights.  We can also derive an important conclusion with respect to the status of Catholics, non-Catholic Christians and the unbaptized within the objective moral order.  While all men are subject to the natural moral law, in responding to the universal call to Faith, one formally becomes subject to the particular prescriptions of positive divine law by way of passage through the door of baptism upon making a free act of supernatural Faith.4  Additionally, the Church has spiritual jurisdiction over the baptized and exercises legitimate coercive authority over her visible members by way of ecclesiastical law.

Back to Part I            Forward to Part III


1 Fr. Higgins puts it this way: "If a man is not obliged to follow an invincibly erroneous conscience; then he is not obliged to follow a correct conscience. Precisely because the error is invincible a man has no means of detecting it. Hence he cannot distinguish between a correct conscience and an invincibly erroneous conscience. Both are the same to him. Hence if he must obey in one case, he must obey in the other". (Higgins, Man as Man, The Science and Art of Ethics, 1958, TAN Reprint 1992, p. 135) 

2 Therefore, one can perform a morally good action (i.e., a good interior will act) by doing something objectively evil or based on objective error.  This does not make the "object" good in itself from the objective point of view.  What is good in this sense is the morality of the interior will act.  Fr. Higgins makes the same point as follows: "The same conclusion follows from a consideration of the will act.  The will act becomes good or bad inasmuch as it embraces an object, not as the object is in itself, but as the object is presented by the intellect as good or bad".  (Higgins, Man as Man, The Science and Art of Ethics, 1958, TAN Reprint 1992, p. 135)

3 Cf. S.T. i-ii, q.19, art.10; This is something of a paradox since there can be no contradiction in the laws of God.  At the same time, however, we can recognize that man's participation in the eternal law by way of natural law is often analogical and proportional to the limitations of his natural reason.  While faith and supernatural truth is above unaided natural reason they are related by an analogical connection - and it is in this sense that faith and reason are never opposed (Cf. DZ, 1796).

4 St. Thomas indicates that the divine positive law of the New Testament is a "law of faith written on the hearts of believers".  While the natural law is written into the heart of all men according to their nature, the New Law is instilled in man and added to his nature by the gift of grace.  (Cf. S.T. i-ii, 106, 1)  In this sense, the unbaptized must conform their actions to the objective moral order insofar as they are subject to the natural moral law: "For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these, having not the law, are a law to themselves. Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them: and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another..." (Rom. 2: 14-15)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Religious Freedom: Disputed Questions (Part I)


There have appeared in recent months a number of disputed questions within the context of Religious Freedom in the pages of The Remnant.  With a view towards making a positive contribution to the ongoing discussion, and in the spirit of full continuity with Tradition, I would like to formulate some responses to the themes that seem to arise time and again.  Many of these disputed questions have arisen in response to Bishop Ketteler’s “Religious Freedom and the Catholic Church” that I submitted to The Remnant over one year ago (September 2008). 
First off, I think all can agree that The Remnant has provided a valuable service by facilitating such an “important discussion” that was provoked by presenting the comprehensive treatment on the matter of Religious Freedom from a respected 19th century Catholic Bishop.  Furthermore, I think all sides can agree on the fundamental consistency and “continuity” between von Ketteler’s teaching (1862) and the teaching later reflected in Dignitatis Humanae (“Declaration on Religious Freedom”, 1965).   One consequence of such continuity seems to imply that any thesis of “rupture” relative to DH now must extend to von Ketteler.  An obvious problem for the thesis of “rupture”, however, is that Ketteler’s teaching has never been called into question by the Magisterium.  On the contrary, the corpus of Ketteler’s social teaching (broadly including such fundamental principles regarding the nature of man, the nature of civil society and its essential relationship to the Church, reciprocal duties and rights between institutions and members of society, the range of human freedom, socio-economic and socio-political matters, etc.) has been widely praised and adopted by the Magisterium of the Popes.   Before proceeding to discuss the key disputed questions, however, I would like to attempt to address an ambiguity.

An Ambiguity

It has become apparent that many approach the question of Religious Freedom with a presupposition that involves the context of a Catholic state with a (predominately) Catholic population.  Unfortunately, some commentators have wrongly assumed that von Ketteler makes the same presupposition.  In fact, it is because von Ketteler was primarily addressing changed circumstances within the context of a mixed population (19th century Germany) that he sought to clearly outline the truly universal principles governing religious freedom.  In other words, he outlines the essential immutable principles that ought to apply in any given context (confessional or mixed).  What this means is that the juridical norms within the context of a Catholic confessional state will not necessarily equate to the juridical norms called for in those social contexts involving mixed populations. 

Two Types of Civil Society: Sacral and Secular

The unity or plurality of religious belief among a people gives rise to different social and political forms.  The confessional or sacral state is freely constituted on the basis of unity in faith.  On the other hand, the secular state is freely constituted on the basis of affinities of nature.  Yet it would be incorrect to assert that the Church demands that the former be established universally and regardless of circumstances.  It also would be incorrect to assert that the later is an intrinsic evil to be rejected in every circumstance.  In other words, depending upon the circumstances and the nature of a given society, each of these two basic forms can have its place in view of the common good and the good of individual citizens. 
Cardinal Journet defines these two basic types of political regime: the consecrational (sacral or confessional) and the secular. 

“Under the influence of the kingdom of grace, that is to say, in a Christian climate, we can envisage the flowering of two general types of political regime.  Those of the first type—which are not to be dreamed of save in a region populated exclusively or mainly by Christians, indeed by visible members of the Church of Christ—seek to form a political unity of Christians alone, or visible members of the Church alone; granting civic rights to no others.  Those of the second type would try to weld into a political unity all the inhabitants of a region, granting citizenship to all no matter what their religion, but directing them to temporal and political ends which Christianity would regard as legitimate and would not disavow.  In the first case, Christian values permeate the whole political order; the notion of Christianity, of visible membership of the Church, enters into the very definition of the citizen. That is the Christian consecrational conception of the temporal regime. In the second case, Christian values affect the political order from without, to sustain, enlighten and sublimate it; the notion of Christianity, of visible membership of the Church, remains outside the definition of the citizen; it designates only a perfect way of being a citizen, distinguishing a spiritual family of citizens. That is the Christian secular conception of the temporal regime.  We may use the word "Christendom" in a limited and recent sense, not directly of the Church nor yet of her successive stages of development and internal organization, but directly of a certain temporal regime of peoples who welcome her, a certain cultural complex which she maintains and inspires, a Christian civilization, a Christian world.  In this sense there are two possible realizations—not univocal, but proportional and analogical—of the idea of Christendom, two specifically distinct types of Christendom: the consecrational and the secular.” (Cf. Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, Sheed and Ward, 1955, pp. 214-215)

Fixed Universal Principles with Variable Application

Therefore, the application of principles will vary according to the social context.  One cannot hope to understand Ketteler or DH without a basic grasp of this fundamental concept: The principles are universal whereas the variable component lies within the application that must be prudentially determined according to circumstances within a given context (Cf. DH 7; CCC 2109). 
This is also how Pope Benedict identifies the key to the “hermeneutic of continuity” with Tradition.

It is clear that in all these sectors, which all together form a single problem, some kind of discontinuity might emerge. Indeed, a discontinuity had been revealed but in which, after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned. It is easy to miss this fact at a first glance.  It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church's decisions on contingent matters…precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within.  On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change. Basic decisions, therefore, continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change. (Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2005)

We can see this clearly in the case of the “due limits” to religious freedom that will legitimately vary according to the social context.  The active use or exercise of rights (even natural rights) is not unlimited and unqualified.1  Therefore, the “due limits” inherent in religious freedom must also be applied analogically and proportionately according to the just requirements of a given social context (CCC #2109).  What this means is that the “due limits” will be applied differently in the context of a confessional state than in the context of a “secular” state that is lacking true religious unity among the body politic.  The sacral state, for example, will not permit the spread of heresy insofar as it militates against public order and the common good in a social context that is constituted on the very basis of unity in faith.  The secular state, on the other hand, being constituted on the basis of affinities of nature, will restrict those religious practices that are in latent violation of the natural moral law.

Another example of the variable application of universal and immutable principles has to do with the particular social form and manifestation of the “traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ” (Cf. DH, 1).  The religious duties of political societies will be fulfilled differently and according to the particular social context.2  In a sacral state the social duties to religion and “civic worship”, as such, will typically be initiated by the political authorities in a formal capacity as head of state (from above).  In a secular form of society, the same social and civic duties will be fulfilled, however, these will be primarily driven by the free-initiative of the body politic itself (from below) and with the necessary support and protection from political authorities3 who have an obligation to respect the religious conviction of its subjects as Ketteler has noted: “The state is not some arbitrary abstraction which floats on clouds but rather a reality determined according to the needs of the people who make it up.  Therefore, to separate it from their highest interests represents delinquency to duty on the part of state authority”.

Unfortunately, without a clear grasp of these concepts some have  been lead to conclude that Ketteler’s teaching amounts to a “liberal” or “liberalizing” attempt to somehow reconcile the Church with anti-Catholic principles.  Therefore, rather than grounding one’s arguments on truly universal and immutable principles that apply (although differently) in any given social context, one ends up basing his rejection of Ketteler on merely “relative” principles that are determined by and relative to a given hypothetical set of facts (i.e., a Catholic state with a Catholic population).  As we shall see, this ambiguity and presupposition has important implications for many of the disputed questions that we shall now turn our attention to.

Forward to Part II


1 The legitimate possibility of capital punishment implies that even the enjoyment of the right to life itself is not without its due limits. (Cf. Dulles, Church and Society, Fordham, 2008, pp. 332-344)

2 The sacral state often presupposed a kind of "paternalistic" character for civil authority while the modern form of the secular state presupposes a democratic and pluralistic context with greater emphasis and reliance upon individual freedom and responsibility.  This is not to imply that the "political authority", as such, can be indifferent to religious truth in a "secular" form of society.  The political authority must fulfill its "traditional" duties toward the true religion, however,  exercized in a manner that is in conformity with the just requirements determined by the social context.  (Cf. De Smet, final relatio, AS IV/6:719; Dulles, Church and Society, Fordham, 2008, pp. 354, 359) 

3 We can consider the American Thanksgiving holiday as an example of civic worship carried out in the context of a secular state.  In this case the political authority proposes and supports this civic duty by way of the Thanksgiving Proclamation.  The civic duty towards the "Lord and ruler of nations" is then carried out and fulfilled by the body politic.