Rorate Caeli

Gravissimo Officii Munere - 100 years later

In August 1906, six months after his first official warning on the incompatibility of the new French Law of Separation with Catholic doctrine (see our previous posts on Vehementer Nos here and here), and after reviewing all legal and canonical possibilities, the Holy Father had no option but to proclaim, in the Encyclical Letter Gravissimo Officii Munere, that the nature of the religious associations (Associations Cultuelles) created by the Law was unacceptable to the Catholic Church. Pope St.Pius X offered a true lesson on the limits of the authority of temporal powers on the liberty of the Church:

Therefore, after having condemned, as was Our duty, this iniquitous law, We have examined with greatest care whether the articles of the said law would leave Us any means of organizing religious life in France in such a way as to safeguard from injury the sacred principles on which Holy Church reposes. ... And now, knowing your views as well as those of several cardinals, and after having maturely reflected and implored by the most fervent prayers the Father of Lights, We see that We ought to confirm fully by Our Apostolic authority the almost unanimous decision of your assembly.

It is for this reason that, with reference to the associations for public worship as the law establishes them, we decree that it is absolutely impossible for them to be formed without a violation of the sacred rights pertaining to the very life of the Church.

... while the law remains what it is, We declare that it is not permissible to try this other kind of association as long as it is not established in a sure and legal manner that the Divine constitution of the Church, the immutable rights of the Roman Pontiff and of the Bishops, as well as their authority over the necessary property of the Church and particularly over the sacred edifices.

With reference to the special charge against the Church of having been more accommodating in a similar case outside France, you should explain that the Church has acted in this way because the situations were quite different, and above all because the Divine attributes of the hierarchy were, in a certain measure, safeguarded. If any State has separated from the Church, while leaving to her the resource of the liberty common to all and the free disposal of her property, that State has without doubt, and on more than one ground, acted unjustly; but nevertheless, it could not be said that it has created for the Church a situation absolutely intolerable. But it is quite otherwise today in France; there the makers of this unjust law wished to make it a law, not of separation, but of oppression.
The legal standing of the Church in France would only be settled with a change in the interpretation of the Law of Separation, which allowed for a common understanding, between the Holy See and the French Republic, of the so-called "Diocesan Associations", accepted by Pius XI in 1924 (Maximam Gravissimamque).


Iosephus said...

I love these encyclical recollections of yours, New Catholic, but I'm especially pleased to see some more about this business of separation between Church and State. Almost exclusively do I draw upon Leo XIII when I want to say something relevant to that point; I hadn't realized that Pius X had some strong words about the less than ideal situation in which the Church has her liberty, like every one else, and the State is separated from her.

You'll see that in Leo's Longinqua oceani spatia that the wording is important. He uses two words when speaking of the situation of Church and State in America, dissociare and distrahere which are telling: that choice of words intimates the fact that the Church and the State are naturally together, naturally in harmony; or, at least, that from a situation of natural harmony, they have been violent rent apart.

Some violence has been done, either to the established order of things or the natural order of things, when the Church and State are as they are in America, not to mention France.

It would be nice if we could have the Latin of the passage you quoted from Pius, to see if there are any nuances there which might hint at the same imagery.

(Which is why, I say again, the Vatican needs to do us all a service and put this stuff online, especially the Latin, as records of great historical merit and importance to Catholics everywhere.)

New Catholic said...

The lack of the original Latin texts of most papal documents available at the .va websites is shameful...

With Peter said...

I believe this particular situation in France marks a dramatic shift in the emphasis of papal teaching, from trying to restore the ideal of medieval Christendom, when the Church-state was marked by intense cooperation, to trying to defend the Church’s right to exist and perform her duties unhindered by civil oppression. In this document you can almost see the transition crystallize in this single sentence: “But it is quite otherwise today in France; there the makers of this unjust law wished to make it a law, not of separation, but of oppression.”

This theme would be reiterated quite frequently in the documents of Pius XI (e.g. Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, Iniquis Afflictisque, Acerbo Animi, Mit Brennender Sorge, etc) and was certainly continued in the documents of Pius XII. Meanwhile, when St. Pius X published this document, the Catholic Church in America—where she was separate from, but not oppressed by the state—had just emerged from a century in which it grew by about 3000 percent.

I offer the suggestion, which is sure to be disputed, that this trend in the Church’s teaching actually lead to the document on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, which was thus not the result of a supposed modernist takeover of Vatican II.

Jordan Potter said...

"I offer the suggestion, which is sure to be disputed, that this trend in the Church’s teaching actually lead to the document on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, which was thus not the result of a supposed modernist takeover of Vatican II."

I know that many would dispute your suggestion, but I'd say you're at the very least on the right track.

Matt said...

My concern about "religious liberty" is not that it can't be reconciled with tradition, but that it doesn't carefully spell out the correct way to interpret it. It was left completely open to interpretation as freedom to choose any religion, which must mean that they are all salvific. This degree of ambiguity can be no accident.

Jordan Potter said...

Yes, it has often been noted that Dignitatis Humanae really needs a clarifying appendix of some sort. I mean, it's great to read what it says about it leaving untouched the Church's prior relevant teachings, but how exactly is one to integrate DH into the prior magisterial declarations? I mean, on the surface at least, it can look like a stark contradiction between, on the one hand, Pope Leo X's Exsurge Domine, which infallibly taught that it is an error to claim that it is against the will of the Holy Spirit to burn heretics, and, on the other hand, DH's statements. My hope and prayer is that further clarificaton from the Holy See will be forthcoming, hopefully while I'm still walking through this vale of tears.

With Peter said...

The second half of DH was titled “Religious Freedom in the Light of Revelation.” I think it does a good job showing the compatibility between the first half of DH and Scripture and some principles of patristic, scholastic and modern papal teaching (especially Pius XII), but it sets aside and refuses to address the most pressing questions raised by the document in light of the rabidly anti-liberal teachings of the previous three hundred years. I would say that document comes close to explicitly acknowledging that it is begging the question: “revelation does not affirm in so many words the right to immunity from coercion in religious matters…” (DH 9).

Jordan, I think that Matt’s favorite speech (12-22-05) represents a moment of progress in the Holy See’s clarifying of the problems raised by DH. In particular, Benedict notes the American Revolution offered a model of the church-state relationship that common features and rhetoric notwithstanding was substantively different from what the popes were condemning in Europe (i.e. “radical tendencies that emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution”).

I’m afraid this topic is more than can be addressed in a forum such as this. But Jordan, I ask you to carefully consider the apparent “stark contradiction” between DH and Exsurge Domine. If DH is read carefully, you will find that it does not deny the possibility that (1) heresy can in a given society constitute a grave violation of the just requirements of public order, and (2) heresy can be punishable with death (if this is the only way of effectively protecting the community). Indeed, from its very first sentence, DH specifically qualifies its statements according to peculiar developments in contemporary times. In other words, as a 100 percent devotee of DH, I can honestly say that I would have supported the burning John Hus at the stake in the fifteenth century. I see no contradiction in this at all, even as I now support the abolition of the death penalty (i.e. because it is no longer the only way of effectively safeguarding the community, cf. Sum. Theol. II-II, 64, 2).

With Peter said...

Matt writes, "It was left completely open to interpretation as freedom to choose any religion, which must mean that they are all salvific."

This is not true. In the very first paragraph of DH, the document spells out the following: "[the Council] leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ."

The document frequently reiterates the intrinsic necessity to seek the truth and to conform to it once it is known. There is never any implication that all religions are equally salvific. This is interpretation is in stark contradiction with the letter of the document, which says just the opposite: "All men and societies have a moral duty to submit to the Catholic Church." People who interpret the Council to say the opposite of this are grotesquely perverting the actual text and its clear unequivocal meaning.

New Catholic said...

No death penalty discussion on this thread, please.

Just as not to cause scandal to other readers, let us remember that Saint Thomas does not speak simply of a "general danger" to the community, tempered by a modern notion of effectiveness..., but of the danger of the sin itself committed (he says, "propter aliquod peccatum"), a sin which by itself has caused social upheaval and which demands just reparation ("laudabiliter et salubriter occiditur").

What bothers me most in this discussion on the "abolition" of the death penalty is the ignorance regarding law enforcement difficulties around the world. Even if one is right or wrong regarding the "necessity" and the "effectiveness" of the death penalty in the United States, it would be wrong to view wide regions of the world, in which capital punishment is necessary and should even be urgently reinstated, through the same light of the reasonably effective American prison system.

I beg other readers, please, to keep the discussion limited to the separation of Church and State and religious liberty.

With Peter said...

New Catholic- My point was less about the death penalty than about how changing conditions can reveal a continuity in Catholic teaching that will not be seen if viewed superficially. Thus the irony of being able to support both medieval doctrines in support of the death penalty and also Evangelium Vitae's prescriptions calling for its progressive abolition (as recently happened in the 70M Catholic Philippines to the joy of our Holy Father).

As I was trying to speak ironically, I didn't feel any need to carefully qualify and explain what circumstances justify use and disuse of capital punishment. Suffice to say that in calling for an abolishing of the death penalty, I don't think the Magisterium is saying that there are no instances where it can be validly applied in the world today. The Magisterium has never explicitly said this anyhow.

If you look at the above citation, you will find that "safeguarding the community" is St. Thomas' reason for not giving more time for repentence (especially, ad. 2). Although there are secondary reasons for justifying the death penalty, I think you will find that traditional Catholic moral doctrine has always placed the onus on this particular aspect of the problem.

With Peter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
With Peter said...

One last comment, New Catholic- The Church has traditionally supported the repression of certain expressions of religious liberty with capital punishment (as Jordan Potter duly noted). The reason for this is that the death of a soul is more grevious than the death of a body.

This means that the death penalty is deeply involved in any intelligent discussion of religious liberty and the proper relationship between Church and state. Whether we attack it or defend it, the post-conciliar Magisterium has taught that (1) religious liberty should be given wide protections in civil law and (2) the death penalty has become obsolete for nearly all intents and purposes. These two propositions are in stark contrast with previous papal teaching. I'm not sure why you desire to suppress honest discussion on this within precisely the context of this great encyclical against the French law of "separation." I cannot think of a more appropriate thread in which to engage the question.

Matt said...

"supported the repression of certain expressions of religious liberty with a penalty of death"

The Church has supported the repression of certain expressions of heresy, the obstinate post-baptismal denial of a truth which must be held with Catholic faith. This does not apply to non-Catholics, nor has it been enforced against someones private beliefs but only those foisted on the faithful to the damnation of their souls. That's not to say that individuals have not gone beyond this at times, but this would have been an error.

Also, you mention expression of religious liberty, I think religious liberty should have a civil right to hold and practice lies within limits (leading to eternal damnation), but I don't think it has a right to spread lies. In a well ordered society, of which there are none that I'm aware of (except perhaps Monaco), spreading of lies against the faith would be illegal.

New Catholic said...

1. I do not wish to "suppress" anything, but only to avoid bitter discussions which I may not be able to control.

2. There is no "post-Conciliar" Magisterium, as if the Deposit of Faith could change at will.
"The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic both before and after the Council, throughout time." (Speech of Dec. 22, 2005). This has been made clear by the Holy Father in the matter of Religious Liberty, which cannot be elevated from a social necessity to a metaphysical level (Speech of Dec. 22, 2005).

3. We enjoy all kinds of comments here, but this is not a free forum or a message board.