Rorate Caeli

On the coercive authority of the Church: a response to Fr. Martin Rhonheimer by Dr. Thomas Pink

A vigorous and extensive discussion on Vatican II, and the plausibility of interpreting its decrees as being in continuity with the teachings of the Magisterium of the pre-Vatican II era, has been carried out since the early part of this year in the pages of Sandro Magister's websites, Chiesa (with English translation) and Settimo Cielo (in Italian only). As Fr. Giovanni Cavalcoli OP put it in the course of the discussion: "The heart of the debate is here. We all agree, in fact, that the doctrines already defined [by the dogmatic magisterium of the former Church] present in the conciliar texts are infallible. What is in discussion is if the doctrinal developments, the innovations of the Council, are also infallible."

The following are the articles in Chiesa that are part of this discussion, listed in chronological order:

1) High Up, Let Down by Pope Benedict. (April 8, 2011) -- Noted by Rorate Caeli. An article describing the disappointment of Roberto de Mattei, Brunero Gherardini and Enrico Maria Radaelli over the approach of Pope Benedict XVI towards Vatican II, and concluding with a defense of the hermeneutic of continuity written by Francesco Arzillo.

2) The Disappointed have Spoken. The Vatican Responds. (April 18, 2011) -- Noted by Rorate Caeli. -- Concerning the defenses of the "hermeneutic of continuity" written by Inos Biffi and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto in response to Gherardini and de Mattei (see the first item in this list of articles).

3) Who's Betraying Tradition. The Grand Dispute (April 28, 2011) -- Mainly concerning Fr. Martin Rhonheimer's essay in "Nova et Vetera" regarding religious liberty and the hermeneutic of reform.

4) The Church is Infallible. But Not Vatican II. (May 5, 2011) -- Containing / referring three articles: the first one by Roberto de Mattei regarding the element of rupture to be found in Vatican II, the second one by David Werling in response to Francesco Arzillo (see the first item in this list of articles), and the last one by Fr. Giovanni Cavalcoli OP in response to Werling.

5) Benedict XVI "The Reformist". - The Prosecution Rests. (May 11, 2011) -- Where Massimo Introvigne responds to Roberto De Mattei and contends that Vatican II indeed represents "renewal in continuity", while Fr. Martin Rhonheimer returns to the fray and elaborates on "hermeneutic of reform."

6) Religious Freedom. Was the Church Also Right When It Condemned It? (May 26, 2011) -- Which publishes Fr. Basile Valuet's critique of Gherardini and de Mattei on one hand, and of Rhonheimer on the other, after reprinting part of the last-mentioned's Nova et Vetera article. Valuet's article is followed by a note about David Werling's response to Cavalcoli (see the fourth item in this list) and a long series of "postscripts" in Italian and French. (In sequence: separate responses to Valuet by Rhonheimer and Cavalcoli, followed by a response of Valuet to Cavalcoli and a second response by Cavalcoli to Valuet, then followed by a long note from Introvigne, and then one response each to Introvigne and Rhonheimer by Valuet.)

7) A "Disappointed Great" Breaks His Silence. With an Appeal to the Pope. (June 16, 2011) -- Noted by Rorate Caeli --Enrico Radaelli's memorable contribution to this discussion, an impassioned appeal to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to "restore the divine 'munus docendi' in its fullness.

8) Bologna Speaks: Tradition is Also Made of "Ruptures". (June 21, 2011). -- Where the historian Enrico Morini interprets Vatican II as a return to "what the Church had lost", in the process making some unexpected nods to Eastern Orthodox criticisms of Catholicism; followed by the responses of Cavalcoli, Rhonheimer and Arzillo to Morini.

Rorate is now posting the following intervention (especially submitted to our blog) in this still-open debate. This particular intervention is in response to Fr. Martin Rhonheimer's essay in Nova et Vetera, part of which can be found in the third item in the list of articles above. More than being a mere response, the following essay throws further light upon the Catholic doctrine and theology of religious liberty and coercion from Trent to Vatican II, especially in relation to the coercion of belief.

The author is Dr. Thomas Pink, Professor of Philosophy in King's College, London and author of various books. To the blogosphere, Dr. Pink is best known for his long introduction (Introduction and Part 1. Part 2.) to the statement of Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller (the Roman Catholic bishop of Regensburg) on the Church's Confession of Christ in Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Part 1, Part 2). The latter statement -- and Dr. Pink's commentary on it -- were called forth by the controversy over the reformulation of the Good Friday Oratio pro conversione Iudæorum in the Missal of 1962.

Rhonheimer on religious liberty
On The 'hermeneutic of reform' and religious liberty in Nova et Vetera

Thomas Pink

Martin Rhonheimer sees doctrinal reform, not doctrinal continuity, in Vatican II's declaration on religious liberty. According to his Nova et Vetera paper, Dignitatis humanae is a genuine revision of earlier doctrine. The pre-conciliar magisterium endorsed religious coercion, calling for state restriction of the public practice of false religions. Now, by asserting religious liberty as not only a natural but a state or civil right, Dignitatis humanae has contradicted previous Church doctrine.

Rhonheimer denies, however, that the Church's previous endorsement of religious coercion was a doctrine of the faith. In particular, in a crucial appendix to his paper, he asserts, regarding various levels of magisterial dogmatic teaching:

"The first case - definition ex cathedra or by an ecumenical council - has clearly nothing to do with the question of religious liberty. In effect, the first and to this day only council to express itself on this subject has been Vatican Council II."

The pre-conciliar teaching was merely social doctrine, about the nature and role of the state. And the endorsement by pre-conciliar popes of religious coercion was based on a mistake. To defend what really is of the faith - the unique truth of Catholicism against other religions - the popes thought they had to assert the state's duty to repress religious error. But they were wrong. Indifferentism is the real enemy, not religious liberty itself. The mistake corrected, Vatican II can still teach the unique truth of the Catholic religion, while finally espousing religious liberty.

The argument is interesting - but faces certain difficulties. For Rhonheimer is wrong to claim that earlier general councils did not address religious liberty. And doctrine of the faith was involved - about the nature of the Church herself and her sacraments. For in Catholic doctrine the true bearer of an authority to coerce, or to forbid coercion, in matters of revealed religion is the Church, not the state.

True: in Dignitatis humanae, as arguably in her current canon law, the Church opposes and forbids various kinds of religious coercion that once she not only permitted, but even made obligatory. Yet Dignitatis humanae does not deny the doctrine of the authority to coerce on which those past coercive policies were based. Policy has changed through the Vatican II declaration, but the underlying doctrine of coercive authority has not. For this doctrine involves teaching about the Church's sacraments that is de fide and irreformable. And there is another reason, too, why Dignitatis humanae does not in any case touch this doctrine, and why the declaration's doctrinal implications are not as great as Rhonheimer supposes. Vatican II's declaration on religious freedom, and this was by design, does not address the coercive authority of the Church.

The full argument for this view is to be found in a paper, What is the Catholic doctrine of religious liberty? (What is liberty? for short) which is the basis for this post, as for various forthcoming scholarly publications. Its topic is the Catholic doctrine and theology of religious liberty and coercion from Trent to Vatican II, especially in relation to the coercion of belief. What follows is a mere outline of some themes. For the full argument and the supporting evidence, download the paper or read it online.

Baptism and the coercive authority of the Church

Like other modern Catholic writers on religious liberty, Rhonheimer thinks of the problem of religious liberty as a problem about the state; and so for past Church teaching he has consulted decrees and encyclicals that were expressly political. Therefore, and in this again like other modern writers, he did not consult any past conciliar decree on baptism. Baptism is a sacrament shared by all Christians. It is also key to the identity of the Church, and the traditional basis of her authority to coerce: that is to direct and authorize the use of force for religious ends. One central such form of ecclesial coercion is to apply real punishments to enforce moral obligations to fidelity in belief and practice that come with baptism - obligations that apply to the baptized independently of their will and consent.

It was Erasmus who stimulated a General Council to declare infallibly about baptism as a basis for coercion. Erasmus disliked the use of coercive penalties to enforce religion. In his famous Paraphrases on Matthew of 1522, he suggested that on reaching adulthood, after being properly catechized, those baptized as children should be asked if they were still willing to meet their baptismal obligations to the Church - including the central obligation to faith. What caused real shock was his follow-up; that if any were unwilling, beyond being excluded from the sacraments, they should not be pressured into fidelity by punishments, but be left uncoerced to their own decision. The outrage, even among the many Catholic theologians who otherwise admired Erasmus, was marked. By the time of Trent opinion had hardened further. As What is liberty? explains, Erasmus's proposal was anathematised as heresy, in canon 14 of Trent's decree on baptism, along with other heresies of Calvin and the Anabaptists. This condemnation is thereafter referred to by theologians as de fide, and as supporting the moral authority to use punishment to pressure the baptized into Christian fidelity, and into fidelity in respect of belief as well as practice.

Rhonheimer mentions that one of Pius IX's advisors, Fr Luigi Bilio, actually thought it heresy to deny that the Church has the right to impose temporal penalties to coerce the faithful. And he treats Bilio's opinion as just an outmoded expression of defunct social teaching. But perhaps in the light of Trent an opinion such as Bilio's seems less surprising. It is pretty obvious from the authority he was discussing, that Bilio was dealing with a doctrine about the Church, not the state. Indeed, Pius IX's Quanta cura defends the Church's right to impose temporal penalties on those who breach her laws, not as part of an assertion of the duties of the state, but in an assertion of the Church's own authority, defending that authority from intrusion by the state. And in the Syllabus Errorum, the condemned opinion that "the Church does not have the power of using force, nor has she any temporal power, direct or indirect", is cited, unsurprisingly, in the section of errors concerning the Church and her rights, and not in the subsequent section on errors about civil society and its relation to the Church. This is very plainly teaching about the Church and her authority, not social teaching about the state.

Moreover Pius IX was defending a doctrine of the Church's authority that the Church still teaches in her legal code. Far from being abandoned as supposedly outmoded social teaching at Vatican II, this doctrine about the Church's coercive power was retained in a code expressly designed to be reflective of Vatican II. The present 1983 code of canon law still teaches what Pius IX and Bilio both believed: that the Church has the general authority to coerce offending christifideles - Christian faithful, defined in the code as the baptized - for supernatural ends, and to apply temporal as well as spiritual punishments to this end. The obligations the Church has the authority to enforce are ones arising from baptism, under divine law, on belief as well as practice, as well as those arising specifically for Catholics under ecclesiastical law. The penalties within the Church's general authority to impose on the baptized are such temporal and spiritual penalties as might serve her supernatural ends; those currently imposed on clerics presently include such as loss of office and restriction of movement (for heresy and other serious breaches of baptismal obligation), as well as simple exclusion from the sacraments. What Trent endorsed - the coercive enforcement of baptismal obligations through punishments for crimes such as heresy and apostasy - is still canonically provided for. And the Church's general authority so to coerce is still explicitly taught.

Something seems wrong with Rhonheimer's theory that the Church's past endorsement of religious coercion was just social doctrine about the state. That past endorsement is turning out to involve not supposedly mutable doctrine about the state, but doctrine about the Church's own authority and nature - doctrine that seems in part de fide, and that the Church has not abandoned.

Church and state

Gregory XVI's Mirari vos, Pius IX's Quanta cura, and Leo XIII's Immortale dei do all make claims about the state and its religious duties.

Some of these duties are to profess the true religion, which is the Catholic faith. Thus Immortale dei says

So, too, it is a crime for the state to act as if there were no God, or not to have a care for religion, as something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of the many forms of religion to adopt whatever one it likes; for states are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which he has shown to be his will.

This teaching about the state's duty to profess the true religion clearly concerns a duty of reason under natural law:

As a consequence, the state, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to fulfil the many 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, because we are under his authority, and because having come from him we must return to him, bind also the civil community by the same law.

Now Dignitatis humanae does not explicitly teach this natural law duty on the state to profess the true religion. But nor does the declaration explicitly deny this teaching either, and seems to leave open the possibility of at least a 'soft' or non-coercive Catholic religious establishment. The declaration directly opposes not establishment, but the state's involvement in religious coercion. So is this opposition to religious coercion by the state really what Rhonheimer asserts it to be - a change in doctrine that is social, about the nature of the state? I shall suggest that it marks not any doctrinal change, but rather a change in the Church's policy - in the use of her own authority.

Certainly the nineteenth century papacy did teach a duty on the state to coerce on behalf of the Catholic faith. Thus in Quanta cura, those people are condemned who assert

that it is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except in so far as public peace may require.

So Pius IX certainly talked of the state as having an officium coercendi or duty to coerce on behalf of the Catholic faith in matters of religion. But where, according to papal teaching, does this duty come from? Does the state have an authority of its own to direct and coerce the religious belief and practice of its subjects, an authority it should exercise on behalf of the true faith? Or does the authority to direct and coerce religion belong to the Church, so that the duty on the state is imposed on it by the Church, and is a duty to help the Church in the exercise of her authority?

Quanta cura does not actually answer this crucial question. That was left to Leo XIII, who explained which coercive power, Church or state, has the authority to direct and legislate for the practice of religion. His doctrine is clear. That authority very clearly attaches to the Church, not to the state. For it is the role of the Church, not the state, to direct humans to supernatural ends, and - as the modern code still proclaims - to authorise coercion for those same ends. In Immortale dei he expressly claims:

In truth Jesus Christ gave his Apostles free authority in matters sacred, together with a true power to legislate and what follows therefrom, the twofold power to judge and to punish...Hence, it is the Church, and not the State, that is to be man's guide to heaven: and it is to the same Church that God has assigned the charge of seeing to, and legislating for, what concerns religion.


The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, the other over human, things…. While one of the two powers has for its immediate and chief object care of the goods of this mortal life, the other provides for goods that are heavenly and everlasting. Whatever, therefore, in things human is in any way of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church.

Nor was Leo XIII's teaching novel. We find it also three centuries before in papally approved teaching coming out of the Roman College. So when Dignitatis humanae says

Furthermore, those private and public acts of religion by which people relate themselves to God from the sincerity of their hearts, of their nature transcend the earthly and temporal levels of reality. So the state, whose peculiar purpose it is to provide for the temporal common good, should certainly recognise and promote the religious life of its citizens. With equal certainty it exceeds the limits of its authority if it takes upon itself to direct or prevent religious activity,

we shall easily find texts of approved Roman theology from the counter-reformation that, regarding the state, say much the same. Thus Suarez, in a papally commissioned text of 1613:

Punishment of crimes only belongs to civil magistrates in so far as those crimes are contrary to political ends, public peace and human justice; but coercion with respect to those deeds which are opposed to religion and to the salvation of the soul, is essentially a function of spiritual power [the power of the Church], so that the authority to make use of temporal penalties for the purposes of such correction must have been allotted in particular to this spiritual power.

The ends natural to this life that were the particular competence of the state simply did not justify coercion on behalf of any revealed religion. So we had a natural right not to be so coerced on the state's authority. Vatican II's statement above of the state's lack of authority in matters of religion, which Rhonheimer cites as if it were a novelty, is not novel at all.

How then was the state ever involved in religious coercion? For everyone knows that Catholic states were once very heavily involved. Heresy could be a crime under state law. And Catholic states were still being encouraged into the nineteenth century, as a matter of duty, to protect their subjects from error by restricting non-Catholic practice and proselytization in the public sphere.

If all this religious coercion was under the authority of the Church, then its basis must lie in what founds that authority - the sacrament of baptism and the moral obligations on the baptized that baptism brings. Traditionally understood, these may include a duty, when so directed, to aid the Church in her rightful use of force, whether to enforce baptismal obligations on the baptized themselves, or to resist and ward off threats to the Church's mission from without, such as by protecting the baptized from exposure to non-Catholic error.

And that is how the state came into the picture: through such obligations on the baptized so to assist the Church. For if the state is Christian, its rulers as baptized can in particular be under an obligation to assist the Church in coercion for religious ends, should such assistance be requested. But the authority behind such religious coercion is, as Leo XIII insisted, that of the Church, not that of the state. This is a coercive authority that exists independently of that of the state, that serves supernatural ends quite distinct from those proper to the state, and that would still exist whether or not the state existed.

To take one example, from what is as much a general Council of the Church as Vatican II: Lateran IV clearly committed itself to the existence of an obligation on baptized rulers to assist the Church in the exercise of her coercive jurisdiction, should that assistance be requested. That Council conveyed the teaching in the most direct way possible: by making the provision of such assistance a condition of rulers' continued communion with the Church. Baptized rulers unwilling to follow Church instructions to remove heresy could be excommunicated, the Council decreed - a penalty that was imposed by a pope after the Reformation on one otherwise faithful Habsburg ruler who dared to tolerate Protestant belief and practice among his subjects.

Dignitatis humanae

So what kind of religious coercion is Dignitatis humanae now opposing as wrong, because a violation of a natural right? It certainly cannot be the Church's use of coercion in matters of religion. For the Church still claims the authority to exercise such coercion, however much or little she chooses to exercise that right in specific cases; and, in particular, Trent's teaching of the legitimacy of the coercive enforcement of baptismal obligations is de fide.

In fact it is clear that the declaration is condemning religious coercion by the state and other civil institutions, not coercion on the authority of the Church. This is shown by the right to liberty protected, which is expressly described as a political or civil right. It is also clear from the internal structure and argumentation of the declaration, which What is Liberty? discusses in great detail, and which clearly and quite deliberately precludes the declaration from addressing the coercive authority of the Church.

Indeed, at Vatican II those involved in the declaration's preparation expressly declared, to worried canonists among the Council fathers, that the document was intended to bypass issues to do with the Church's own coercive authority. Dignitatis humanae was supposed not to address the Church's own right and authority to direct the baptized and to impose sanctions.

Now we can see the full significance of that famous 'tradition-friendly' clause in Dignitatis humanae - a clause of which Rhonheimer is rather too dismissive:

Indeed, since people's demand for religious liberty in carrying out their duty to worship God concerns freedom from compulsion in civil society, it leaves intact the traditional catholic teaching on the moral obligation of individuals and societies towards the true religion and the one Church of Christ.

Rhonheimer makes out that this clause is subordinated to and qualified by the declaration's supposed general condemnation of religious coercion. The traditional teaching protected by the clause, he insists, involves just a duty to give true worship to God and to evangelize.

But Rhonheimer's reading is simply not supported by the structure and argumentation of the declaration, and by what we anyway know of its subject and purpose. For the declaration was intended to bypass the coercive authority of the Church. And what else is included in the 'traditional teaching' that the declaration is supposed to preserve? Clearly included are the moral obligations to the Church of the baptized. These obligations, as traditionally understood, base and constitute the Church's coercive jurisdiction, and include obligations on the baptized to aid the Church in exercising her authority. One effect of the clause is, exactly as required, to ring-fence what was supposed to be ring-fenced - the coercive authority of the Church.

So Dignitatis humanae in no way impugns religious coercion as such. Its subject matter is state and civil coercion under natural law; and it teaches the moral wrongness of the state's involvement in religious coercion. And that wrongness plainly follows given, first, the state's lack of any authority of its own for such coercion - hardly a new idea, but standard counter-reformation teaching; and given, second, the Church's present and evident refusal to license such coercion by states on her authority.

Was the Church wrong in the past to license state involvement in religious coercion, and even demand that Christian states coerce on her behalf and on her authority? Opinions will differ on what is a very complex question. But this is not a question that Dignitatis humanae actually answers. All the declaration states is that, as things stand, and given rights against the state attaching to human nature, state coercion of religion cannot be justified. And that is clearly true.

As What is liberty? makes clear, Dignitatis humanae in no way denies that the Church's past policy, particularly towards those subject to her jurisdiction, the baptized, was highly coercive; nor does the declaration in any way disavow or contradict the Church teaching that consistently endorsed such coercion, when done under her authority. The declaration even cites, without condemnation, canonical authority actually supportive of such coercion. True, the declaration does give an argument from the Church's own past against religious coercion. But this refers to the Church's consistent condemnation of the religious coercion into the faith of the unbaptized - precisely that category of persons who are not subject to the Church's jurisdiction and who lack any moral obligation of fidelity to the Church. And this argument is in support of what is the declaration's real concern - the state's lack of any authority to coerce religion, a lack based on an analogous, and complete, absence of specifically religious obligations on the part of citizens to the state. The whole declaration sidesteps very carefully the issue of the Church's own coercive authority, and of the legitimacy of past religious coercion done under that authority.

The Church's present policy regarding state coercion on her behalf is abundantly clear, and is not likely to change soon. But the complete Catholic doctrine on the issue goes beyond this. It depends on the moral obligations of the baptized, including baptized state officials, towards the Church; and it depends on the nature of those obligations not just under present conditions, but also under conditions such as those that held in the past, when state populations were overwhelmingly made up of the baptized, and Church policy was very different. Beyond expressly undertaking to preserve traditional teaching about such obligations - and cases such as Lateran IV suggest something about the actual content of this teaching - the declaration does not itself tell us what these obligations could involve. The declaration in effect guarantees traditional teaching about the authority of the Church to direct and coerce, without itself telling us what that teaching is.

So Rhonheimer is quite wrong to see in Dignitatis humanae a doctrinal resolution of the Church-state question, which depends not on mere social teaching, but on something Rhonheimer rightly insists Vatican II did not intend to abandon: traditional doctrine concerning the nature of the Church herself, which centrally involves her relation to and authority over her members.


The issue is not the overall morality of the Church's past coercive policies, such as her past choice of sanctions and her choice of targets. Much imprudence and outright cruelty may have been involved, scarcely justified by the supernatural ends the coercion was supposed to serve. The issue is the Church's very authority and right to coerce religious belief and practice. Is her possession of such an authority a matter of Catholic faith? It seems in fact to be so.

The modern Catholic debate about religious liberty has been conducted as a debate about the state and its competence and authority in matters of religion. The focus has been on this: apparent, and considerable, variation over time in the levels of state coercion of religion that the Church has been willing to endorse. To the end of the counter-reformation, the Church often required the state to aid in the coercive conversion back to Catholic fidelity of baptized Protestants - a coercion that, even before Vatican II, she eventually came to forbid. Then, during the 19th century, and to the 1960s, she might encourage the restriction, in Catholic countries at least, of non-Catholic practice in the public sphere. And now, subject to just public order, she forbids the state to coerce religiously at all; and concordats with Catholic countries have been rewritten to reflect this.

The debate about the significance of such apparent variation in permitted state coercion is proving interminable. Indeed, the debate seems impossible to resolve when limited to the history of teaching specifically on the state. And now we see why. For all along the real coercive authority in religion was always the Church, not the state.

So until the debate moves from what is, where religion is concerned, the secondary issue of the authority and competence of the state, and addresses what is fundamental, the authority of the Church over those subject to her, the controversy about religious liberty cannot be resolved. We particularly need what is currently lacking - a theology of the Church that properly acknowledges what is de fide, her own divinely given authority to coerce, and which explains the doctrinal basis of and limits to the Church's power of coercion. This will centrally involve an appropriate theology of baptism and, in particular of the obligations to the Church incurred through baptism. For Erasmus's anti-coercive heresy was about baptism, not about the state. So it is baptism and its juridical and moral significance that will be key to settling the debate about religious liberty.

Thomas Pink
Professor of Philosophy
King's College London

(Image source: Tradicion Revista)


  1. "What is in discussion is if the doctrinal developments, the innovations of the Council, are also infallible."

    The only teachings of Vatican II that are infallible are those dogmas reiterated, or those passages of the Bible quoted.

    Let's let the great Theologian, Msgr. Gherardini weigh in:

    "This [the general guidance of the Holy Spirit at a Council] does not mean that the Holy Spirit may not encounter formal or material resistance from the free-willed men who give life to the counciliar event. It is from this possibility that there arises the great risk which casts itself upon the background of the Council...namely, the possibility that it may even fail in some way. Someone has even gone further and has asked if an Ecumenical Council can fall into error in Faith and Morals. The opinions are at variance..."

    But more than these, let our Pope speak:

    "The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest."

    It's asinine, for instance, to say VII's decree on Social Communication is infallible!

    "The purpose of Vatican II, in fact, sets it apart from any other Council, especially Trent and Vatican I. Its scope was not to give definitions, nor was it dogmatic or linked to dogma; it was pastoral. Thus based on its specific nature it was a pastoral Council."

    "In all truth Modernism hid itself under the cloak of Vatican II's hermeneutic...The new rite of Holy Mass practically silenced the nature of sacrifice making of it an occasion for gathering together the people of God...the eucharistic gathering was given the mere sense of sharing a meal together...After having said all of this about Vatican II, if someone were to ask me if, in the final analysis, the modernist corruption had hidden itself within the Council documents themselves, and if the Fathers themselves were more or less infected, I would have to respond both yes and no...But yes as well, because not a few pages of the conciliar documents reek of the writings and ideas of Modernism--this can be seen above all in GS."

  2. The bigger question is what other truths might dictate different approaches than the leaders of the Church customarily took with regard to this truth. Truths are like threads: you have to consider the whole tapestry.....

  3. Ottaviani10:41 PM

    Sulla libertà religiosa, c'è un grande lavoro in lingua italiana dal cardinale Ottaviani, vedere:

    "DOVERI DELLO STATO CATTOLICO VERSO LA RELIGIONE", secondo il Magistero tradizionale della Chiesa"

  4. I don't understand this need to prove the infallibility of VC II. The council must not be able to be defended as good social teaching, so they'll just get it declared infallible and win that way. Seems sinister to me.

    The Pope of the council, Paul VI, agreed with you, Malta, as did his head theologian, and I can't find anyone else of the council itself that claimed otherwise. So those who keep bringing this up have a credibility issue to address first - why the disaster commencing exactly with the council? - and then they can explain how those involved in the event all answered wrong when directly asked the question about infallibility.

  5. Awesome! Dr. Pink's fascinating assertions are exceptionally fecund. I'm excited to see the reaction this will garner, both from the Cavalcoli-hermeneutic-of-reform group and the traditionalists.

    Have you forwarded the link to Sandro Magister?

  6. M. A.1:47 AM

    Hey! That's the shield I posted on my own blog today!

    Exurge, Domine, iudica causam tuam.

  7. Folks, this essay is NOT A DEFENSE OF THE TORTURE AND EXECUTION OF HERETICS! Try to actually understand what the essay says instead of imagining its contents on the basis of one or two sentences!

  8. Pascal, you are spot on. I think readers need to read this over a few times to understand. This is a defense of DH in continuity with Tradition -- and argues against the notion that DH introduces novelty or corrections to 19th century doctrine. Key points in my view:

    1) The Church (not the State) enjoys coercive power in supernatural matters of Faith
    2) The coercive power of the hierarchy extends over her baptized members (not beyond)
    3) The hierarchy may delegate coercive power to the civil power -- but it can also be withdrawn in view of circumstances (i.e., non-Catholic rulers, mixed populations, etc.).
    4) DH treated the limitation of civil authority in matters of Faith -- but left untouched the traditional doctrine concerning the coercive power of the Church over her own members.

    These are all great points that are found in Bishop Ketteler's work of 1862 concerning religious freedom.

  9. Deo Gratias!
    One factor emerges more emphatically than any other where conciliar issues are concerned - the veil of critical immunity has been torn from the second Vatican Councils. What was deemed untouchable and inviolable 10 to 15 years ago is now laid upon the dissection bench. Eventually, we will find that the liberal modernist position is indefensible and this has been objectively demonstrated in the chief indicators as well as the chaotic liturgical and pastoral condition of the new post-conciliar church. It now resembles a very tired and exhausted institution in much need of restoration. Let us hope that such a restoration will be the true one according to Pope St Pius X.

  10. Anonymous5:45 AM

    Also, Mr. Gurries, see p. 19 of Dr. Pink's entire paper ( for his criticism of Bishop Ketteler's teaching on the coercive power.


  11. Anonymous5:49 AM

    Actually, Mr. Gurries, the criticism only *begins* on p. 19 and continues from there. According to Dr. Pink, Bishop Ketteler was part of an *inaccurate* 19th Century attempt to re-interpret actual Medieval and Counter-Reformation Catholic teaching and practice into something more palatable for modern, liberal, and Protestant ears.


  12. Now, which one of you quickly search for Canon 14 on Baptism from Trent? :)

    I bet, all of you :).

    And I always think that using some kind of coercion to lead someone to the truth is legitimate and unavoidable. After all, we are a fallen race who will spit with disgust at any invitation to truth, were it not for the grace of God.

  13. Brian9:01 AM

    the popes thought they had to assert the state's duty to repress religious error. But they were wrong

    Finally, the beginnings of an honest discussion. The pereti and proponents of Vatican II, including Fr. Ratzinger, believed that the previous popes were too rigid, negativistic, defensive and were "wrong" about this and other issues. They saw, and continue to see, Vatican II as a new beginning and basic over-haul of the out-moded thinking of previous popes.

  14. " seems to me that you two are the ones bringing up execution in the first place."

    My comment was a reaction to other comments (that I have since deleted) alleging that the essay gives carte-blanche for the "flogging and torture" of heretics.

    "I haven't read the entire article, so I may be wrong."

    Ummm, read it then.

    As Dr. Pink points out towards the end, his article is not about "the overall morality of the Church's past coercive policies, such as her past choice of sanctions and her choice of targets. Much imprudence and outright cruelty may have been involved, scarcely justified by the supernatural ends the coercion was supposed to serve." His interest is merely to point out that the Church's right to use coercive measures has not been denied even by Vatican II.

    It is true that the author does not explicitly reject the use of severe corporal or even capital punishment against heretics, but the passage I've just reproduced can scarcely be interpreted in a way compatible with the use of the strappado and the stake.

  15. Suarez10:44 AM

    Dr. Brian Sudlow thinks that this essay is a "game-changer" in the debates on Dignitatis Humanae:

    "The significance of Pink's new essay is that it reframes the problem completely. For the liberal, conservative and traditionalist interpreters, the idea that Dignitatis Humanae is the rupture point in a long line of teaching on this issue goes largely undisputed. For Pink, however, a specialist in Early Modern thought, this understanding evinces near complete ignorance of Church teaching on these issues between Trent and the nineteenth century.

    "Pink thereby drops several bombshells on the various sides of this debate but let me highlight here just two:

    "1. Dignitatis Humanae, which is thought to be a denial of the permissibility of coercion of belief, significantly omits to say anything about the Church's power to coerce its own members (i.e., those who are baptised, even schismatics and heretics). This coercive power is in fact a matter of Catholic faith as taught by the Council of Trent in its treatise on baptism.

    "2. The personalist argument, which traditionalists say Dignitatis Humanae used to dissolve the Church's 19th century Magisterium, is in fact a lot older than they recognise. The idea that I cannot be coerced interiorly in matters of religion is a keystone of theological thinking in this area in nineteenth-century Catholic writers such as Cardinal Manning or Bishop Kettler. But, as Pink shows, this idea would have been very strange to the theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who understood the problem in the light of Trent.

    "It seems, therefore, that the great forgotten link in this chain of argument is this: the Church has only dogmatically asserted its power of coercion over the baptised, and any State which acts as the civil arm to help the Church in this matter does so by delegation of the Church and NOT by its own power.

    "Consequently - and this is Ches-reading-Pink now - it is logical that as we move into a period where the Church is no longer in a position to delegate in that way, the need to remind the State of its true powers is ever clearer. It does not de jure have the power to coerce conscience. The Church never taught that it did. It only ever held it as a delegated power accorded it by the Church for the sake of the baptised (see Leo XIII, Immortale Dei). It might have overstepped this boundary at times, but that is another matter.

    "So why the change in this problematic? I can only suggest a couple of reasons myself. Perhaps coercion is more thematic in the treatment of the issue of religious liberty by the theologians of the earlier period because they instinctively assume that most people are Catholic or baptised. When the theologians of the nineteenth century begin arguing in favour of interior freedom, it seems they are working on a new assumption that Catholicism is now a minority religion in hostile and secular conditions. Both positions depend ultimately not on a shift in doctrine but in contextual circumstances.


    "That at least is how I understand the consequences of Pink's essay. As I say, for me this essay not only reframes the problem; it is a game-changing intervention.

    "In its light, no longer can the liberals pretend that coercion has been done away with by Vatican II.

    "In its light, no longer can the 'personalist' reading of Dignitatis Humanae be used by traditionalists as a stick to beat the Council."

  16. Anonymous11:20 AM

    Aside from the coercing of the baptized, let us not forget another key component of this issue is what has been the Church's right - and the right of Catholic states at the behest of the Church - to repress the public display and propogation of non-Christian belief and worship from the unbaptized.

  17. Anonymous1:02 PM

    Pink's essay is really a must read. It explains this whole topic and the relationship of DH to the past corpus of teaching quite well. As he notes, the coercive power of the Church over the baptized is explicity codified in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

    It also bears noting that the definitive condemnations in Bl. Pius IX's encyclical are condemning quoted errors which specifically assert absolutes whereas much of DH deals with contingencies. It's a subtle, but important distinction.

  18. The issue is not the overall morality of the Church's past coercive policies, such as her past choice of sanctions and her choice of targets. Much imprudence and outright cruelty may have been involved, scarcely justified by the supernatural ends the coercion was supposed to serve

    This made me think of Spain and how the State Law was Canon Law but was not applied to The Jews.

    That is, the Jews engaged in usury etc and that led to some rather sad consequences and so, in that instance, it might have been better had Spain not exempted the Jews for Canon Law vis a vis usury.

    I now this is only a tangential point but I thought it worth addressing to provide a positive balance to the negative paragraph I copied and pasted.

  19. Dear Pascal. This is additional evidence that y'all have THE best Catholic Blog in existence.

    The quality of the content and the interesting commentary are smashing, eye-opening, and, best of all, highly informative

  20. Johnny Domer1:33 PM

    The in-depth discussion of these matters relating to disputed parts of Vatican II is one of the most beneficial fruits of Benedict's papacy. It's a lot more complicated and a lot more nuanced than the shrill internet partisans from both the ultra-traditionalist and neo-conservative camps would like it to be. Thank God for Benedict's papacy, wherein we can actually discuss the Council like rational beings without being immediately accused of schismatic right-wing radicalism or atraditional leftist heresy.

  21. Anonymous2:17 PM

    This is an excellent article and includes many interesting points which I had not considered before.

    I would take issue, however, with the idea that the state has no right or duty to oppose the public practise and spread of error without it being delegated by the Church. Dignitatis Humanae clearly states that religious liberty can and must be limited by the state to keep it "within due limits" and within "the just requirements of public order." Hence it is right and proper that , for example, public nudity is banned. Public nudity is so opposed to the norms or our society that it is outside of "due limits" and is opposed to "the just requirements of public order." In the context of a Catholic society ruled over by a Catholic state is not the public practise of error and proselytism by those in error opposed to "the just requirements of public order"?

    This argument is excellently set forth by Thomas Storck's article on the problem of religious liberty a link to which I attach below.

    Miserere Mei

  22. Anon 14:17

    Dr. Pink explicitly allows for the natural right of the state to suppress religion in cases of grave violations of public order. As does DH, and, I think, most European liberal constitutions of the 19th century.

  23. Folks, please, tone down your words, lest they detract from the main focus of the article. The emphasis of this article is how to view DH in the overall Catholic context.

  24. Anonymous8:11 PM

    If vac II was so wonderful why after almost 50 year we are still trying to define it?

  25. Anonymous8:13 PM

    Allow me to take this opportunity to promote the cause of Father Tomas Tyn, O.P. Fr. Giovanni Cavacoli is the Postulator of his cause.

    Fr. Tyn studied the Vatican II documents extensively "in light of tradition". His writings are mostly in Italian but, hopefully, will soon be available in English as well. Google Tomas Tyn and check him out. You will be pleased...well, some of you anyway; others, there is no pleasing.


  26. OK, Bonifacius, your comments are appreciated, but there are certain words and expressions that could be avoided - remember that a large audience, including many non-Catholics, may read this, so there are strong reasons to rephrase or omit these same words and expressions. Thank you.

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. So is this opposition to religious coercion by the state really what Rhonheimer asserts it to be - a change in doctrine that is social, about the nature of the state? I shall suggest that it marks not any doctrinal change, but rather a change in the Church's policy - in the use of her own authority.

    This--policy, or how doctrine can best be applied in a post-Christian, Modern world--is exactly how VCII was pitched, before and after. Pink has made a wonderful contribution and I hope to read many responses to it.

    Superficially at least, to this non-specialist, Pink's thesis/argument fits right in with two 'camps' of the truly faithful who are currently opposed: Traditionalism and Continuity. I await responses from folks in both groups.

    Also, to the knee-jerk commenters spouting sound-bites: lurk more.

  29. Picard8:36 PM

    Dr. Pink and others do not see the whole problem.

    yes, the coercive power re Catholics is in first instance one of the Church.

    But the problem of religiouse liberty and Dig. Hum. does not only deal with this problem, but also with the duty or right of the state to protect the Catholics against non-Catholic and also non-Christian teaching.

    Non-Christians as non-baptised do not fall under the authority of the Church and Her coercive power.

    So this is really a question of social doctrine and dutys of the state and not of the coercive power of the Church

    And btw, of course also the Church´s social doctrine is - as every doctrine of the Church - infallible. Why should it not be?

    Do not confuse the things: The Church´s social doctrine is not a mere prudentical opinion how to handle social issues but as a real doctrine of the Church as binding as other doctrines.

  30. Anonymous8:36 PM

    Hi, New Catholic, I apologize for that most recent comment, which may come as overkill. I wrote that before I read your last comment. Gotcha, and I do appreciate you saying that.


  31. Anonymous9:20 PM

    Can one of my friends here (I hope I have at least one) help me please? In simple language, what is this Pink man saying?


  32. John Lamont12:31 AM

    Prof. Pink's essay is learned and interesting, as one would expect, but it is open to objection in some respects. I will look at only one, crucial claim of his paper, which is that Catholic tradition prior to the 19th century held that it was legitimate to coerce the baptised into the act of faith, and that nineteenth century popes departed from this position and began to adopt the person-centred view at the basis of Dignitatis Humanae.

    - The objections to the idea of coercing the act of faith do not arise from some kind of metaphysical attribute belonging to the free choice to believe. This attribute would belong to all free actions, and hence would serve as an objection to coercing people into not stealing or murdering. Instead, they arise from the practical impossibility of verifying the existence of the inner act of faith, and the fact that this act requires grace, and hence may not be in the power of the coerced person to perform. Even if it is in the power of the coerced person, the coercion cannot provide the motivation for an act of infused faith; at most, in the case of brainwashing, it can produce acquired faith, which demons possess. The most that coercion can effect is the outward profession of faith. This objection is grasped by Catholic tradition. Suarez does indeed talk about coercing the act of faith itself, but Augustine, to whom he appeals, seems to be simply talking about coercing the outward profession of the faith by making Donatists attend church.

    - The references by the nineteenth century popes to the impossibility of coercing people into Christian faith, and the wrongness of attempting to do so, are not taken from ideas about the dignity of the person, but from the Church Fathers as e.g. Tertullian. These patristic teachings are clear when taken in their context, which was the attempt by the Roman Empire to coerce Christians into practicing the religion of the state. The patristic position was that it was wrong to force anyone to practice a religion they did not believe, but right to force people to not practice a religion - paganism - which was evil; this position was consistent, because there is a third possibility, which is neither practicing the true religion nor practicing any false one. This position was relevant to the 19th century because of the revival of attacks on Christianity as such for the first time since antiquity; these attacks were the occasions for the 19th century encyclicals.

    - The language about human dignity in Dignitatis Humanae and other 20th century magisterial documents has its origins in the personalism espoused by Emmanuel Mounier and Jacques Maritain. It cannot be the basis of the 19th century encyclicals as it did not exist in the 19th century. it does not have any philosophical substance; it is simply a fad that was taken up by a degenerate clerical world and perpetuated by them long after Mounier has been exposed for the tyrant-loving charlatan that he was.

  33. What a wonderful trinity of Thomases: Thomas Pink, Thomas Storck and now Fr. Tomas Tyn. You've got to love it!

    St. Thomas, Apostle, pray for us!
    St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!
    All the other Sts. Thomases, pray for us!

  34. One would hope that the church's coercive authority, used latterly against traditional Catholics, has not been placed at the disposal of the WCC through the infamous Geneva Pact of June 2011 when Cardinal Tauran represented the post-conciliar liberal modernist ecumenist establishment to betray centuries of Roman Catholic missionary work in favour of protestant denominations and schismatic churches of the east.

    Provisions include -
    Christians must forego a sense of boldness in proclaiming the Gospel;
    • Imprudent and inappropriate means of preaching the Gospel must be avoided;
    • Such methods cause tensions, violence and loss of human lives;
    • A new way to proclaim the Christian faith is required;
    • Whoever does not follow these orientations should be denounced;
    • All forms of enticements, including financial incentives and rewards, should be denied them;
    • Those who violate this code should be considered traitors (The Tablet, July 2, 2011, p. 28).

  35. Professor Brian M. McCall5:55 PM

    Dr. Pink presents a very important argument about the source of the power to coerce with respect to religious truth. He is correct, Digitatis Humani fails to address the authority of the Church in this regard. Yet, Dr. Pink fails to analyze this silence in context. One of the tools of the Progressives and Neo-Modernists is to change doctrine by stating half truths. Discussing one aspect of a doctrine while remaining silent about the other. The result at the time is that they defend their statement against reproach by claiming they simply did not address this other side of the topic. As time goes by they then limit analysis and debate to the half in the original statment and through neglect effectively suppress the other half de facto. Thus, even if some of the statements of Digitatis Humani could be reconciled with a Traditional doctrine when made in the context of a discussion about the origin of the power to coerce, they loose that ability when used repeatedly for decades out of that context. When the complete traditional doctrine is relegated to an introductory note claiming "traditional doctrine" remains intact without clearly distinguishing the content of that traditional doctrine from the policy decisions which are being amended the ambiguity allows a license to alter the traditional doctrine covertly due to a lack of clarity regarding its contents. Dr. Pink fails to acknowledge in his otherwise well reasoned account that the forces in the Council who wished to change that Traditional doctrine did not proceed as did heretical leaders in the past by confronting directly and in the open Catholic doctrine. Rather they chose, as Pope Pius X pointed out in his condemnations, to proceed by proclaiming fidelity to doctrine while at the same time changing the meaning of the terms they claimed to accept by ambiguous omission. They were living in the area addressed by Vatican I of "in the same sense." They kept the old doctrines but wanted to understand them in a new sense. As an historical document produced during the Neo-Modernist era (identified as such as recently as during the pontificate of Pius XII in humnai generis) which gave birth to decades of confused and novel thinking on the duties towards theological belief and praxis, the document must be evaluated in this historical context. [Continued in next comment.]

  36. Professor Brian M. McCall5:56 PM

    [Continuation from previous comment due to word limitation.]
    Secondly, I disagree with Dr. Pink on one point about the origin of coercive power and freedom therefrom. He states: "The ends natural to this life that were the particular competence of the state simply did not justify coercion on behalf of any revealed religion." The distinction he draws between natural and supernatural ends is not quite as distinct as he indicates. Immortale Dei clearly argues for the inter-relatedness of these ends. On purely the natural level, civil leaders have obligations in the course of exercising their natural authority with respect to the revealed religion. (As a side note I object to the adjective any as there is only one revealed religion whose contents were revealed from Adam until the death of the last Apostle.) The reason is that civil governors have a Natural Law based obligation to promote the common good which includes promoting the Truth in light of Man's supernatural end. Immorale Dei makes clear that civil leaders although primarily concerned with the natural end cannot ignore the supernatural end since Man, the object of their legislation is an integrated person with both a natural and supernatural end. Thus, even though the subject of civil law is the natural end, its object is Man possessing a supernatural end. A revealed religion by definition as revealed must be true. Since its source is divine revelation it cannot but be true. Therefore, even under the Natural Law the governing authorities have an obligation to acknowledge and legislate in light of the truth made known by revealed religion for the common good. The Church is the authority for certifying as authentic and making known the content of that truth. Yet, once made known the civil authrity has obligations with respect to that truth. This source of authority coming from Natural Law is not therefore delegated by the Church. Even if defining the content of the truth is exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Church.
    This does not mean that the governing authorities must legislate against all belief and practice contrary to the content of the revealed religion (by definition again Catholicism). The common good may require tolerance of some error. As St. Thomas makes clear human law cannot fobid all that the Natural and Divine Law forbid. Yet, the obligation to legislate for the common good which may entail an particular need in prudence to tolerate a false religion for the common good does not translate into an individual "right" not to be coerced. The idea that all obligations give rise to corresponding personal rights is a product of Liberalism. The governing authorities may function within a metric of the common good which would permit or even require the toleration of error without entitling citizens to the right to be tolerated in their error as such. Thus, I disagree with Dr. Pink that traditional Catholic doctrine on the nature of law and government requires that the only authority to legislate against erroneous religious belief and practice comes as a delegation from the Church. I do accept that the Church is free to delegate some of its temporal authority to the civil government. I also agree that the decision to do so is a prudential decision of policy. Yet, again I believe I disagree with Dr. Pink that the only source of civil government's authority is delgation by the Church. A source exists in the Natural Law itself.
    Brian M. McCall
    Associate Professor
    University of Oklahoma College of Law
    P.S. I had the pleasure to study for a Master's Degree from King's College London so I welcome the opportunity to engage in this discussion with Dr. Pink who holds an emminent position at that institution.

  37. Brian, indeed the civil power has coercive authority rooted in natural law. Therefore, the civil power can enforce the general prescriptions of the natural law that all men are subject to by virtue of their humanity (e.g., coercive force against human sacrifice, idolatry, etc.).

    The coercive power of the Church, however, extends beyond the general prescriptions of the natural law to the particular prescriptions of revealed divine law and ecclesiastical law. These laws bind the faithful (by virtue of baptism) -- and the civil power has no special competence or authority to coerce or legislate in this realm - except when delegated by the Church.

  38. Anonymous5:47 PM

    Ah, yes, the coercive authority of the Church! Could that be the demand that loyal Catholics, including priests, bishops and laity who have always accepted what Holy Mother Church has always infallibly held, taught and professed to be true, that they accept the novel propositions advanced by the modernists following Vatican II? That they do so in order to receive the canonical jurisdiction and faculties that are enjoyed by those cooperating with the modernists? I wish someone would have the guts to tell me why this demand is being made. After all, Vatican II was "eminently pastoral" instead of doctrinal we are told.

    Well, with Bishop Fellay being called to Rome next month by Cardinal Levada maybe we'll finally have an answer to my question.


  39. Brian M. McCall9:19 PM

    Dear Mr. Gurries,
    I agree completely with your statement and apologize if my comment was unclear. The Civil Authorities coercive power does come from the Natural Law. It can obtain additional authority from the Church as well. Yet, I read Dr. Pink's argument to be that all coercive authority with respect to religion comes through the Church. The Civil Power has the authority under Natural Law to restrict the practice of false religion.
    Professor Brian M. McCall

  40. Michael Petek7:36 PM

    I read the Tridentine Canon 14 on Baptism differently.

    It establishes as dogmatically certain the proposition that there is no general principle that a baptised person is not to be coerced to a Christian life, and this whether he was baptised in his own act of faith, or as an infant at the instance of sponsors.

    Equally, there is no basis for a proposition that a baptised person must be so coerced, though this proposition is not dogmatically certain.

    Herein lie some problems.

    There is no gainsaying that the Church has jurisdiction over all the baptised. But there are formidable difficulties in proceeding from here to the imprisonment of Protestants.

    The first is that there is no basis in canon law in its present state for any physical penalty to be imposed for apostasy or heresy. The prescribed punishment is excommunication without more.

    The second problem is that a conviction would be impossible to achieve on the merits. The Thomistic basis for coercion is that the baptisand makes promises (or has them made for him) which he can be held to, even by force. But a promise must always be construed in accordance with the intention of the one who makes it. Baptismal promises must be assessed as they were made in fact, not as they might be deemed to have been made in law, and in the case of a person baptised in emergency and without ceremony, no promises will have been made at all.

    Many baptismal formulae used by the first Protestants profess faith in "the holy Christian Church", and when they profess faith in the "holy Catholic Church" they certainly mean something other than anything linked to the Pope and the hierarchy subject to him.

    So it would seem that, for one baptised in Protestant form, there is no factual basis for liability if the fact of baptismal promise is an element of crime.

    Even if a person were to become a Protestant having been baptised as a Catholic, he might be able to rely on a defence of the limitation, written into canon law, of the obligations imposed by a vow or an oath.

    A person who honestly believes that the subject matter of his vow has ceased to be both good and better than its omission is no longer bound by it in conscience. If he honestly believes that the subject matter of an oath is prejudicial to eternal salvation, his conscience is also not bound.

    In either of these cases, he is said to lack the mens rea of crime. In English law and in most civil legal systems he is entitled to be tried on the facts as he honestly believes them to be, and if these facts negative mens rea he is entitled to be acquitted of crime.

    There is a singularly important distinction between the authority of the state and that of the Church.

    It is not open to a reasonable person acting reasonably to not accept that established civil authorities are legitimate authorities and that the laws they promulgate in conformity with right reason bind the conscience. This is built into human nature and is part of its constitution.

    Truths available to reason bind the conscience of themselves, and for this reason the state is entitled to coerce its just laws irrespective without having to take seriously any defence of conscientious objection. Supernatural truths are knowable only if God reveals them, and they can be recognised for what they are only on the authority of God revealing and of him who authentically defines them. This depends on the subjective recognition by the baptised of the legitimacy of the Magisterium on satisfactory credentials. Such recognition is by definition not to be found in Protestants, who have no difficulty in honestly finding that there is no basis for Papal authority in the authorities they do recognise.

    (To be continued)

  41. Michael Petek7:37 PM

    (Continued from previous post)

    Not only do Protestants reject some truths received by the Catholic Church as revealed, they are also convinced in their consciences of the truth of matters reproved by the Catholic Church as heresies. In their case, the application of coercive measures would be liable to induce them to betray their consciences rather than correcting them, for the latter option is possible only in a person subjectively convinced that the Magisterium is indeed a legitimate teaching authority.

    If against the odds a conviction could be obtained on the merits, there are no conditions under which the Church could in practice licitly execute punishment against the body or the goods of the baptised. Every state asserts a monopoly in the use of coercive force within its own territory. It is within its rights to do so, as a monopoly of the sword is compellingly necessary more for the state than for the Church. For this reason, if a foreigner commits a crime in his own country and flees to England, that other country would have to avail itself of English extradition proceedings.

    In any jurisdiction, extradition cannot proceed unless the act of the defendant is crime in both jurisdictions,whether of the same or a different description in either. A baptised person who joined an Islamist terrorist organisation in England would be guilty of apostasy in one jurisdiction and of terrorist offences in the other, and in any event would stand to be punished by the civil authority from beginning to end.


Comment boxes are debate forums for readers and contributors of RORATE CÆLI.

Please, DO NOT assume that RORATE CÆLI contributors or moderators necessarily agree with or otherwise endorse any particular comment just because they let it stand.


(1) This is our living room, in a deeply Catholic house, and you are our guest. Please, behave accordingly. Any comment may be blocked or deleted, at any time, whenever we perceive anything that is not up to our standards, not conducive to a healthy conversation or a healthy Catholic environment, or simply not to our liking.

(2) By clicking on the "publish your comment" button, please remain aware that you are choosing to make your comment public - that is, the comment box is not to be used for private and confidential correspondence with contributors and moderators.

(3) Any name/ pseudonym/ denomination may be freely used simply by choosing the third option, "Name/URL" (the URL box may be left empty), when posting your comment - therefore, there is no reason whatsoever to simply post as "Anonymous", making debate unnecessarily harder to follow. Any comment signed simply as "Anonymous" will be blocked.

Thank you!