Religious Freedom: A Defense of Dignitatis Humanae: Rupture and Continuity

January 24, 2022
Defense of Vatican II
A defense of the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom, with a discussion of rupture and continuity with previous Church teaching.
“Without truth, there is no freedom”
Bishop Karol Wojtyla at Vatican II (1965)
“Without freedom, there is no truth”
Pope Benedict XVI
(Ecclesia in Medio Oriente)
“This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. … It is in accordance with their dignity as persons - - that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility - - that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.”
Dignitatis Humanae 2.  (Access the full document here.)

It is a sad fact of our times that many traditionalist Catholics, beginning with Archbishop Lefebvre after the Council and continuing on even until today, find the above quote from Dignitatis Humanae heretical.  It is often mistakenly assumed by many that the chief complaint of Archbishop Lefebvre that caused him to break with Rome was the change in the liturgy.  And although that was certainly an important issue for him, his deeper complaint was Vatican II’s endorsing of the concept of religious liberty in the conciliar document Dignitatis Humanae (Hereafter referred to as “DH”).  And his followers in the SSPX, even after the Vatican granted greater privileges for the celebration of the old liturgy, continued with their break from Rome and refused to sign off on Vatican II mainly because of this rift over the issue of religious freedom.  This clearly indicates that religious freedom is the neuralgic doctrinal point, the primary bone of contention, between Rome and the SSPX. Furthermore, even within those elements of the traditionalist movement that did not officially break with Rome, there continues to be a steady stream of criticism directed at this document and its teaching on religious freedom.  It is considered by many in that movement as “exhibit A” for the many illegitimate theological innovations introduced by the Council.  Therefore, any discussion of the ongoing significance of Vatican II simply must address this elephant in the living room.  

The primary arguments put forward by the opponents of DH focus on two elements.  First, it is alleged that by endorsing religious freedom DH, despite its many careful caveats to the contrary, throws gasoline on the fire of modern religious relativism and indifferentism.  Several bishops at the Council raised this fear as one of their biggest worries and they argued loudly and persistently that if the Church gave up her traditional insistence that the State should officially recognize the truth of the Catholic faith that she would be giving a boost to the secularizing tendencies of modernity as well as the notion that all religions are essentially equal in the civil sphere.  Second, and far more important, is the claim that the teaching of DH directly contradicts previous Church teaching and is therefore not a true development of doctrine but a dangerous departure from magisterial normativity, which in turn undermines the very credibility of the magisterium as such.  “Why,” they argued, “should anyone listen to anything else we have to say if the principle is established that we could have been so wrong for so long on this issue?”  

Both of these arguments have merit and they must be listened to and addressed with a deep honesty that does not shun the hard questions.  And all of these questions were argued about at great length during the Council’s final session, with votes on the document repeatedly delayed in order to give wide play to all of the various voices. The debates were often so contentious that many Council bishops argued that the whole matter should just be dropped as too divisive.  Nevertheless, the debate continued and there were five drafts put forward after the initial schema was rejected as various revisions were made as a result of the ongoing discussions.  And when the final vote did come, DH passed with a huge majority (2308-70), although the minority dissent was one of the largest for any conciliar document.

Therefore, in the interests of truly understanding DH it is necessary to briefly describe the Church’s traditional teaching, and then to summarize how and why this teaching was, depending on your perspective, modified or simply overturned.  In what follows there is of course no pretense that I am giving the topic its full due since such an endeavor is beyond the scope of a blog post.  But I do hope that I can, in my own small way, add some amount of clarity for my readers so that they can make up their own minds and, if so inclined, to study the matter more deeply.

The Church’s traditional teaching stated that it is the duty of all human beings, endowed as they are by their creator with reason and free will, to seek the truth about God and to embrace it once it is discovered.  Likewise, it is the duty of the State to also seek and acknowledge the truth about God and to enshrine that truth legislatively, with due reference to prudential wisdom and the needs of the common good.  The common good of society includes more than our material needs and also encompasses our spiritual needs as beings made in the image and likeness of God.  Therefore, it is the duty of government to create the minimum social conditions necessary in order for citizens to have the best opportunity to develop their spiritual lives and to purge from the social fabric, to the extent possible, all social factors that are a hindrance to this quest.  It is not right for the faith to be limited to a few spiritual elites who are capable of rising above a negative social tide which militates against belief and so the State must be cognizant of the “average person” who needs the aid of social reinforcement in order to pursue the faith in earnest.  And since Catholicism is the highest and truest expression of the truth about God she is to be accorded a special status by the State as the preferred religion.  This is the classical vision of the “confessional State” which enshrines privileges for Catholicism in law, even as it grants certain “tolerations” to others not in the Catholic fold.  This ideal situation was called the “thesis” which means that in an absolute sense, and all other factors being equal, the Church is to be publicly acknowledged in law as the supreme arbiter of spiritual truth.  The Catholic Church is of divine origin and therefore enjoys an independent and superior authority to that of the State based on the principle that the spiritual is higher than the material, giving the Church, should she deem it necessary, authority even over temporal matters.  Allowances were made for the State to refrain from endorsing Catholicism in cultures where Catholicism is not the majority religion, and/or where Catholicism is simply not a dominant cultural force. This less than ideal situation was called the “hypothesis” which means that a non-denominational State can be “tolerated” by the Church until such time as she does become the dominant cultural force.

In all of this, the notion that “error has no rights” gave to the State the right to punish via the law, explicit public dissenters from the Catholic faith, up to and including the imposition of the death penalty.  Thus we see the spectacle of the Church approving the burning of heretics at the stake, which was admitted as a matter of principle even if it was rarely invoked, and eventually discarded altogether.  The idea was that “Christendom,” viewed as the highest embodiment of the consequences of a Christian civilization, was worthy of judicial and legislative protection from the corrosive acid of heresy and theological dissent. Anything short of that was deemed a dangerous foray into religious relativism and indifferentism.  All cultures are rooted in some “religious vision” of reality and thus it is important for the State to get this right.  The original schema for what became DH was cast in this mold and it is nicely summarized in the following quote from the text:  “The civil authority … has the duty of accepting the revelation proposed by the Church. …the civil authority has the duty to exclude from legislation, government, and public activity everything it would judge to be capable of impeding the Church from attaining its eternal end.”

The ressourcement theologian and Jesuit Jean Daniélou, in an important little book called “Prayer as a Political Problem,” while distancing himself from the harsher juridical approaches of classical Christendom and its confessional Catholic States, nevertheless underscores the deep insight into the dynamics of cultural formation and its relation to Catholicism that the traditional view embodies.  Daniélou points out that if the Church is to be concerned with the “poor,” it simply must not abandon the project of building an overtly Catholic culture, since the poor, here defined as the great masses of “average people,” simply lack the means to rise steeply against cultural currents. Furthermore, as noted above, the Gospel cannot be the provenance of a select few, but must be made realistically available to all. The natural law itself demands this as part of the common good, since the pursuit of spiritual things is a constitutive aspect of what it means to be human.  Thus, any construal of “religious freedom” that ignores these realities and envisions the State as a purely secular affair of regulating merely temporal material goods, and which cordons off the religious domain as a purely subjective and private reality devoid of public purchase, cannot be embraced by the Church.  Thus, the “separationist” model for Church-State relations, if it is so construed, also cannot be embraced by the Church.

Nevertheless, Daniélou is at pains to point out that Christendom is largely dead as a civilizational project in modern times.  The sociological form of Christendom was directly linked to very particular kinds of political and cultural arrangements that are no longer in existence.  And they were forms of political organization within which little room was made for the concept of religious freedom, to say the least. Therefore, Danielou concludes, when modern Catholic critics of the old Constantinian arrangements “speak in this sense of freeing Christianity from a certain sociological burden they are saying something meaningful.” (p. 13)  Furthermore, the pastoral situation that now confronts the Church is that of a political civilization (Liberalism) that has fully embraced the notion of religious freedom as a basic human and civil right. And this civilization increasingly casts a jaundiced eye at Catholicism for espousing a view of religious freedom that saw it as a right that it alone enjoyed and which it would happily take away from any other religion once the Church gained the cultural upper hand.  And whatever the merits of such a characterization of the Church might be, it cannot be denied that this perception of the Church as an opponent of freedom greatly diminished the Church’s ability to present herself as the champion of human dignity, and therefore, greatly diminished the Church’s ability to influence the political structures of society in a direction more favorable to things spiritual.

In other words, the irony is that the very insistence by the Church to be allowed “first place” at the table of political influence tended to have it seated at the kid’s table instead.  The Church’s constant denial of the principle of religious freedom for anyone but herself, had the effect of lessening her own freedom rather than increasing it.  This is why DH states that it is actually in the best interests of the Church’s freedom that she embrace the concept of religious freedom for all since in so doing she helps to establish a stable constitutional order not prone to the vacillations and vagaries of the whim of whoever is in power.  Because what the State “gives” the State can take away. Better then to establish the principle of religious liberty as a basic human right for all which acts then as a hedge against government overreach in a more effective long-term manner than a confessional State ever could.  Therefore, DH states: “In turn, where the principle of religious freedom is not only proclaimed in words or simply incorporated in law but also given sincere and practical application, there the Church succeeds in achieving a stable situation of right as well as of fact and the independence which is necessary for the fulfillment of her divine mission.” (DH 13. Emphasis added)

Therefore, the Council fathers understood that the Church needed to respond to the legitimate modern desire for religious freedom, and that is what DH set out to do.  And right out of the gate it became immediately apparent that any document that merely doubled down on the old “thesis-hypothesis” approach was dead on arrival since it would do nothing to further the Church’s pastoral and theological analysis of the new situation it now faced.  Unwilling to simply reject modernity’s development of religious freedom as nothing more than a gross error, most of the conciliar bishops sought to develop the Church’s doctrine in the direction of a more positive appraisal of religious freedom while still maintaining some semblance of continuity with the Tradition. That was a tall order and threading that needle took years and much acrimony to figure out, but the end result was a sea change in the Church’s thinking that was both a rupture with some elements of the tradition and a new emphasis on other aspects of the tradition that had never been developed in this way before.  And that took both courage and deep wisdom since the stakes were high.

The concrete historical situation that confronted the Council fathers was that of a rising tide of secularism throughout the Catholic world.  Therefore, even if the Church had maintained the traditional “thesis-hypothesis” approach there was little hope that the contemporary situation would allow for a Catholic confessional State in any form to become a reality.  Thus, the Council understood that an “in house” debate over what amounts to a purely theoretical construct having no bearing on the reality of the situation was a waste of time.  Christendom was dead. Now what do we do? Stomp our feet and throw a neo-scholastic snit over how blind everyone else is besides ourselves? Pick up our Monarchist marbles and walk away into some fanciful and romanticized medieval shire eating elf cakes as we await the day of our vindication? The Council fathers understood that now is not the time for reactionary and antiquarian cosplaying at Renaissance and Baroque powdered wig political theatrics.  The concept of “freedom,” in however a degraded form, is the coin of the modern realm, and not without reason.  Any intellectual genealogy of the evolution of modernity from the smoldering ashes of Christendom will include an accounting of just how much of modernity is in fact a reaction against the often violent rejection of the rights of religious freedom among both Protestants and Catholics, as well as the political opportunism of the aristocratic political forces of the age, who utilized a faux concern for “orthodoxy” as a tool of oppression for other purposes. Therefore, the conciliar desire to come to terms with modernity’s embrace of religious freedom was entirely justified, and was in no way simply a craven accommodationism to the spirit of the age.  The ecclesial neo-scholastic Rough Riders like Cardinals Ottaviani and Ruffini could “non placet” themselves all the way to Piazza della Rotunda, but it would not matter.  They were vastly outnumbered by prelates who understood that the restorationist fantasy play time was over and that it was time to take seriously the modern foregrounding of religious freedom as one of those “signs of the times” that cannot - - nay, should not - -  be ignored.

Rather, the Council fathers affirmed that now is the time to address the challenge of modern political Liberalism by beating it at its own game: the arena of freedom. The Church, long viewed by the modern world as the enemy of freedom, would show itself to be the only champion of a truer, deeper, and more existentially honest freedom.  This was the essence of de Lubac’s masterful text, “The Drama of Atheist Humanism,” and many Council fathers, a young Bishop Wojtyla among them, sought to position the Church in that stream of thinking.  But in order to do that the Church needed to set aside the largely sociological understanding of herself as a juxtaposed and superior “power” to that of the State with a monopoly over the means of spiritual coercion in jurisdictions over which her clerics held sway.  There was a deep awareness of the need for a thorough-going grounding of the entire notion of freedom and its relation to truth in a christological theological anthropology.  And in so doing the framers of DH would link its conclusions on the proximate issue of religious freedom to the broader conciliar ressourcement project of a Christocentric reframing of the Church’s doctrinal patrimony.  

Space precludes a lengthy description here of all of the debates that swirled around the various drafts.  (For an excellent summary and analysis of what transpired as well as copies of all of the schemata see: “Freedom, Truth and Human Dignity: The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom,” David L. Schindler and Nicholas Healy Jr.)  Therefore, I will focus on the central debate that was common to all of the drafts and which involved a discussion of the relationship between truth and freedom in the civil sphere in matters religious.  In what follows I am deeply indebted to the magnificent analysis of Dr. Nicholas Healy Jr., in his article, “Religious Freedom and Truth: The Contribution of Pope Benedict XVI” (Communio: Summer-Fall, 2013).

Among the promoters of religious freedom at the Council, two basic schools of thought emerged.  The first was centered around the proposal of the American John Courtney Murray who wanted a more juridical, rather than moral/metaphysical, understanding of religious freedom to prevail.  He eschewed Christological groundings and resisted any attempt to found the doctrine on a view of freedom characterized by the moral imperative for all human beings to seek the truth about God.  He thought such a view was not only unnecessary, but dangerous, since it left open the possibility that once a citizenry collectively settle upon what they think is the truth about God, they might then foreclose all future discussion and curtail religious freedom for everyone else.  After all, if freedom is rooted in a moral imperative to seek the truth, then it becomes a moral imperative to impose it once found.  Thus, he preferred to view the personal autonomy of individuals to choose whatever religious construction best suited their own consciences as the better expression of our deepest dignity as free beings.  For Murray this meant defining religious freedom as the mere absence of coercion in religious matters since such coercion violates my dignity as a free autonomous person.  In other words, religious freedom is a purely negative and juridical right and should not be viewed as a fundamentally moral, metaphysical, or spiritual reality with positive obligations and duties which the State must protect and promote.  

However, as Nicholas Healy observes:

“There is a crucial presupposition in Murray’s argument that needs to be brought to light. Truth is essentially unfree, or at least indifferent to freedom. This is why a Catholic State in possession of the truth (in Murray’s hypothesis) would no longer be concerned with the freedom of its citizens. At the same time, political freedom is conceived in purely formal or instrumental terms. It may be the case that freedom allows one to arrive at the terminus of truth, but in itself freedom has nothing to do with truth. Within the juridical or constitutional order, freedom is simply autonomy, the capacity to act on one’s own initiative.” (Healy, p. 414).

I accept Healy’s analysis of Murray and I think the Murrayites lost the debate at the Council, despite how the American contingent tried to spin it back home after the Council as a victory for American style “separationism.”  It became clear to many conciliar bishops, as we shall see, that Murray’s approach veers too far in the direction of a simple acceptance of modern political Liberalism’s claim that “all it is doing” is establishing a “neutral” and “equal” playing field for all concerned parties.  Murray’s contention that the Liberal ordo is a purely formal and juridical one, devoid of metaphysical commitments, and therefore that the Church could embrace it, was a bridge too far for many, if not most, bishops.  Finally, there is a strange schizophrenia in Murray’s thinking since as a good Catholic theologian he fully embraced the theological idea that freedom is oriented to the truth about God, and yet he held that this cannot be translated into the civil juridical order lest it result in repression, which is a strange notion of both truth and freedom in the civil order for a Catholic to hold.  As Healy notes above, it would seem therefore that Murray harbors the view that the pursuit of truth by the State harbors within itself inherently fascistic dangers, whereas the view of the State as an amoral, ametaphysical, atheological, and ateleological, purely juridical force does not. Setting aside the fact that such a State has never, and can never exist, it is in essence just a strange and naïve view for a Catholic to hold.

The other school of thought at the Council emerged from the French bishops, but with significant allies from other national groups as well, which included Bishop Wojtyla.  This was a far more traditional view that began by emphasizing, as the Church had always taught, that every human being has the moral obligation to use his or her freedom and reason to seek the truth about God.  This, they said, was the deepest truth about human beings, made in the image of God, and created for union with God.  Therefore, all human dignity is rooted in this God-instilled thirst for transcendence at the core of our nature, and the failure, therefore, to seek this transcendence with full moral and spiritual seriousness was a violation of who we most truly are. There is obviously here the not-so-subtle scent of the de Lubacian/ressourcement development of the theology of nature and grace wherein it is asserted that we have a single final natural end and that end is God.  Therefore, they concluded, religious freedom should not only be “tolerated” for prudential reasons, but should be actively and robustly promoted as a fundamental right of all persons rooted in their deepest human dignity as seekers after God.  In other words, this is a far more classical understanding than Murray’s approach insofar as it grounds our “rights” in our antecedent moral “duties.”  It is a concept of freedom oriented around the natural moral and spiritual telos of our nature, and is therefore the very antithesis of Murray’s more formal concept of freedom as personal autonomy and the absence of coercion.  

And contrary to what many American Catholic intellectuals think, it was the position of the French bishops that DH eventually adopts, as is very clear from the text itself.  Tellingly, DH leaves the traditional teaching on confessional States untouched and clearly affirms that the teaching of the Church on such matters remains unchanged: “Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” (DH, 1). Therefore, what DH is stating here is that we must in some sense detach the question of confessional States from the broader(?) question of religious freedom.  DH is essentially carving out for itself therefore a very narrow space and seeks to confine itself to the very specific question of religious freedom and its theological grounding, and not on the broader question of Church-State relations.  One is thoroughly justified in thus seeing in DH a sympathy for any form of constitutional government that actively fosters, as Danielou insists upon, the active and healthy pursuit of things spiritual amongst its citizens.  After all, if as DH insists we all have the right to religious freedom and that this right is located in our moral duty to seek God, then any government truly concerned with the common good has a moral obligation to foster those social conditions necessary for the pursuit of God, but with one caveat: Such a government, no matter how “confessional,” must not engage in punitive forms of coercion on behalf of any single religion at the expense of others, granted that the “other” religions in question are not destructive of the common good (e.g. satanic cults or human sacrifice cults, etc. …).  

But the Council did more than just affirm a generic right to religious freedom.  As I said above, the Council goes out of its way to endorse the approach of the French bishops that any such freedom is grounded in human dignity.  But this dignity is in turn a deeply metaphysical and spiritual dignity that is ultimately Christological in form and teleology. Therefore, Nicolas Healy, following the theological analysis of Pope Benedict, points out the exact “center” of the conciliar “development of doctrine” that is going on here.  And that center is a deepening of our understanding of the Christological nature of “truth” and, therefore, a deepening of our understanding of this truth as inherently relational and constitutively oriented to freedom.  In other words, truth, in order to be truth, must be oriented toward a free and non-coerced reception. And to the extent that a truth is “imposed” via some manner of external coercion it ceases to even really be truth in the full sense. For Pope Benedict, truth is a “person” (Jesus Christ the Lord), and it has a “face.”  Thus, the great theological advance of DH is in deep consonance with the deep theological advance of the Council in general: the recentering of all Church doctrine in a deeper reflection on Christ.  Therefore, the affirmation of religious freedom in DH is no mere “prudential concession” to the reality of our troubled times, but a positive affirmation of the Christological necessity of the Church’s truth being “proposed” and not “imposed.”  Healy states regarding Benedict:  

“The distinguishing feature of his understanding of truth is the idea that truth is an order of love. Truth is a transcendental property of being - - verum  est  ens - - ‘Ultimately,’ writes Benedict, ‘truth is a person.’ As an order of love truth includes freedom as essential to its own fullness. Reciprocally, freedom is not merely an empty form, an ability to do what one wants. In the words of Ratzinger, freedom means ‘full membership, being at home … participation in being itself.’  ‘Freedom,’ he says, ‘is identical with ontological dignity, which of course makes sense only if ontological dignity is really ‘dignified’: the gift of love and being given in love.” (Healy, p. 415).

Therefore, with regard to religious freedom, Healy quotes Benedict at length:

“The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person, whose transcendent nature must not be ignored or overlooked.  … This dignity, understood as a capacity to transcend one’s own materiality and to seek truth, must be acknowledged as a universal good indispensable for the building of a society directed to human fulfillment. Openness to truth and perfect goodness, openness to God, is rooted in human nature; it confers full dignity on each individual and is the guarantee of full mutual respect between persons. Religious freedom should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth.”  (“Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace,” January 1, 2011)

Therefore, given this deeply Christological understanding of freedom, truth, and human dignity, there is no theological legitimacy in Murray’s fear that the approach of the French ressourcement bishops might lead to a coercive understanding of truth.  In point of fact, it is Murray’s purely formal approach that threatens to fall prey to the forces of modern “separationist secularism” which is precisely what happened in Murray’s own United States before and after the Council.  Absent a proper Christological grounding and orientation, Murray’s “freedom” was easily co-opted by the “freedom” of American secular consumerism - - a co-optation that soon took root in the American Church herself, which had adopted Murray’s theoretical stance as its own, and began to treat freedom as the provenance of the sovereign and autonomous “self,” and conscience as a pure construct of that same “self,” with disastrous pastoral consequences.  Murray would have disagreed with that of course, but it if we are talking about “tendencies” within views of freedom, as Murray does with regard to the French approach at the Council, then it is altogether fair to see how his own views came to be skewed in negative ways.

Finally, there is the issue of how the position of DH squares with the previous teaching of the Church.  In short, it does and it does not.  As the theologian Thomas Guarino points out in his excellent book on Vatican II, “The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II,” there is both continuity and discontinuity in the teaching of DH on religious freedom.  However, as he makes clear, one thing is certain: the doctrine it is developing is not the Church’s traditional teaching on religious freedom. Because DH explicitly overturns the view that only the Catholic Church should be granted full religious freedom and that all other religions, being mostly false, can only be tolerated and which can, in many cases, simply be outlawed completely.  Thus, DH is not “developing” this traditional teaching but is rather contradicting and overturning it.  To say otherwise is to engage in a desperate “spin” in order to save the appearances of a very superficial understanding of that great ecclesial conceit: “continuity.”

What DH is developing are the full implications of Christology for our understanding of the relation between truth and freedom.  And this is what I meant by a “superficial” understanding of continuity.  Because these Christological elements and their entailments for human dignity, and the proper relation between truth and freedom, are also part of the Tradition. Indeed, the Council is staking its soul on the notion that it is THE central element of Revelation as such, and that the deeper implications of this Christocentrism had often been eclipsed and ignored in the history of the Church and stand in need of retrieval.  This, therefore, is the only theologically serious notion of “reform” to emerge from the Council.  Indeed, the repristination of the Gospel via a deepened focus on the figure of Christ is the only possible re-form imaginable, since the Church’s form is Christ.  

One cannot escape the conclusion therefore that DH is saying that on the topic of human dignity and religious freedom, the Church has erred in the past - - often with deadly consequences - - and that she has erred precisely because she failed to grasp the deeper implications of her own Christological treasury. Therefore, the traditionalists are correct that DH, and the Council in general, were promoting a profound change of orientation in the Church’s theological methodology. I just think they are wrong to oppose these changes. In truth, I do not know a single one of my traditionalist friends who would deny full religious freedom to his or her non-Catholic friends and neighbors.  They are simply too charitable and too kind for that kind of antediluvian nonsense.  Therefore, the chief sticking point really does seem to be the fact that to embrace DH is to embrace the notion that the Church has erred in the past.  They want to embrace religious freedom, but they feel boxed into a theological corner.  And that is really creating some genuine existential crises in the faith lives of many, many, Catholics these days.  

My next blog post will therefore address this topic of the Church’s “indefectibility” and how it can be reconciled with the notion that the Church has erred in the past.  I will finally address my long promised topic of what I call the “hermeneutics of kenosis.”  Pope Benedict calls it the “hermeneutics of the cross.”  I won’t be squaring any circles, but I do hope that I can at least outline something that might help us all figure this out a bit. Until then…

Dorothy Day, pray for us

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