08 April 2015

Brief Dialogue on Dignitatis Humanae

When it comes to the question of religious liberty, where can we find the clearest expression of principles? 
—The clearest expression is found in the teaching of the whole church.  In documents like these

What makes Dignitatis Humanae such a concern? 
—That it seems to contradict that teaching, because it seems to prioritize the human rights to self-determination and freedom of conscience over the rights of God to be worshipped in truth, and of society to promote true religion. 

Is Dignitatis Humanae clear in its declaration of this novelty, in its grounding the novelty in the apostolic faith, or in its rejection of the prior teaching?
—No. It isn't clear about any of this. 

Then should we assume that Dignitatis Humanae is in agreement with what has always been taught, everywhere, by all? 
—Yes, we should. 

Does the document even expressly say this about itself?
—Yes, it says: "...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."

Does Dignitatis Humanae grant that the common good has priority over religious liberty and freedom of conscience?
—Yes, it conditions the right of religious liberty on the preservation of public order.

Does Dignitatis Humanae state that the foundation for the declaration is the fact that man has a duty to pay homage to God, and that the dignity of human nature requires that this homage be done freely?
—Yes, it does.

In these points is Dignitatis Humanae in agreement with the magisterium of the Church?
—Yes, it is.

Is Dignitatis Humanae useful for elucidating these things? 
—No, it is not. 

Why is it not useful?
—Because the principles and reasoning of the document are scattered and hidden within it, and its main rhetorical features echo the rhetoric of those who have contradicted the consistent magisterium of the Church on these matters for several centuries.

Are there other reasons?
—Yes, beyond its confused structure and bad rhetoric, Dignitatis Humanae leaves its principles so vague that they can be taken in any number of absurd and heretical ways.  Evidence of this is seen in the fact that Dignitatis Humanae is widely understood to be the Church's formal mandate that states should have indifferentist policies toward religion.  The document fails to give sufficient voice to balancing principles which rightly limit religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

By contrast, are the previous expressions of the magisterium on questions of freedom of conscience and religious liberty useful for elucidating these things? 
—Yes, many of them are. 

Then, should we ignore Dignitatis Humanae in favor of the previous statements on this subject? 
—Yes, we should.

Is it wrong to ignore a particular magisterial text in favor of other, clearer and more authoritative magisterial texts?
—No, it cannot be wrong, since this is done constantly, is unavoidable and even prudent.