Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. on Church and State

by Gerardus Maiella

Translated from Garrigou-Lagrange’s manual De revelatione per Ecclesiam Catholicam proposita, vol. II, concl., cap. XV, a. 4.

Article 4.

ON THE DUTY OF THE CIVIL AUTHORITY AND SOCIETY, OF ACCEPTING DIVINE REVELATION SUFFICIENTLY PROPOSED.

I. It is proved from the law of God.

II. It is proved from the end of civil society.

III.In what manner the civil authority ought to fulfull this duty.

IV. The objections are resolved.

Cf. above the article of this chapter on Liberalism and the opposite doctrine of the Church (Denz. 1777-1780).

§I. It is proved from the law of God, author of civil society.

To God, as creator, Lord, benefactor, and uncreated truth, there is owed, by the law of nature, the cult of natural religion and the obedience of faith, if He should manifestly reveal something supernaturally. – But God is no less the creator, Lord, and benefactor of society and civil authority than of any man whatsoever. – Therefore society and civil authority, by the law of nature, owe to God a social cult and obedience of faith, if He should manifestly reveal something supernaturally.

The major has been proved above, art. 2 and 3.

The minor is proved. God is the creator of man, who, by his very nature, is social or lives in society; hence God is the founder of civil society itself, and of the authority without which society does not have unity in being, nor in actuating or furthering the common good. Civil authority, therefore, depends upon God the author of our nature, otherwise it would not be able to oblige men; for no one properly is obliged by himself, nor by his equals. “For there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God;”[1] all authority is from the first Authority, just as all causality is from the first causality. This is the subordination of agents so much in the moral as in the physical order.

Conclusion: Therefore civil authority is not able to reject the authority of God—in fact, it would deny itself. And, if there were not revelation, it would be obliged to recognize, defend, and foster natural religion. Concerning this matter, the consensus of the ancient philosophers is nearly unanimous, as may be seen in Plato (Laws 1.IV, VII, X), Cicero (Orat. pro Flacco), and Valerius Maximus (lib. 1).

And thus, civil authority is not able to reject the authority of God revealing, but is held to accept divine revelation sufficiently proposed to mankind. For if God determines a special form of religion and reveals positive precepts, societies and rulers are held to render obedience to it, just as are individual men. It would be absurd to contend that princes, in making laws, are able to act as if no revelation exists, when in fact it does exist, and are able to enjoin those things which perhaps are prohibited by it. This would be to say: the human legislator is greater than the divine legislator.[2]

Whence Leo XIII says in the encyclical Immortale Dei: “For men, when conjoined by common society, are no less in the power of God than are individuals; nor does society owe a lesser thanks to God than do individuals, by which Author it is established, by whose will it is preserved, and by whose benefice it receives the innumerable abundance of goods with which it abounds.”[3] Hence just before he had said: “The State being constituted in this manner, it is clear that it ought absolutely to satisfy, by the public profession of religion, the manifold and weighty duties which join it to God.”[4]

Likewise, Leo XIII says elsewhere: “Civil society, because it is a society, must recognize God as its parent and author, and must reverence and cherish his power and mastery. Justice therefore forbids, reason forbids not only that society be atheistic, but also that it would lapse into atheism if it were to treat the various religions equally, and indiscriminately lavish the same rights to individuals.”[5] Whence the State owes it to God to accept divine revelation.

§II. It is proved from the end of society and civil authority.

The one who ought to obtain a proximate end which is per se subordinated to a higher end, ought to attend so that in his work this essential subordination is preserved. – But civil authority ought to tend immediately to the temporal good of the citizens, which is per se subordinated to the spiritual and eternal good, namely, to life according to virtue and true religion. Therefore civil authority, in pursuing the temporal good of the citizens, is held to preserve its essential subordination to life according to virtue and true religion; hence it ought not to remove from revealed religion sufficiently proposed, but ought to profess it.

The major is evident. For if the subordination is essential, not to preserve it is to destroy the very essence of the immediate end. Whence St. Thomas says in de Regimine principum,[6] book I, ch. 15: “To whomever it falls upon to execute something which is ordered to another as to an end, he ought to attend to this so that his work may be suitable to the end; just as a smith fashions a sword so that it is fitting for battle, and an architect ought to appoint a house so that it is apt for habitation.” Similarly, a physician intends immediately the health of a man, which is per se subordinated to the moral life; hence the physician in his counsels and precepts carefully ought to have before him the moral laws, e.g. with respect to abortion, or the use of hypnotism.

The minor is shown directly and indirectly:

  1. a) directly, from the consideration of man’s nature, for as the body is per se subordinated to the soul, so the temporal good is subordinated to the spiritual and eternal good, namely, to life according to virtue and true religion.[7]
  2. b) indirectly: but this subordination having been rejected, order and peace in civil society is destroyed, just as from vice there often follows affliction. For there is not able to be society without morality, and there is no true morality without religion, namely without the due subordination to God the author of our nature. Therefore he who impugns religion, overturns the foundation of society. Likewise, without the help of God, society is not able to attain its end, for the second cause is able to do nothing without the concourse of the first cause, and the order of acting corresponds to the order of ends.

Conclusion: Therefore the State owes it, not only to God, but also to its own citizens and to itself, that it recognize the true religion.

This argument drawn from the end of civil society is disclosed thus by St. Thomas in De Regimine principum: “Because, therefore, the end of life, for which in the present we live well, is celestial beatitude, for that reason it pertains to the duty of the king to procure the good life of the multitude, according as it is fitting for acquiring celestial beatitude, namely so that he might order those things which lead to celestial beatitude, and to forbid their contraries so far as it is possible. But that which is the way to true beatitude, and those things which are impediments of it, is known from the divine law, the teaching of which pertains to the office of priests.”[8]

Similarly, St. Augustine said concerning kings, Epist. 185, to Boniface, no. 19: “In one way, he serves God because he is a man, in another way because he is a king…in this, kings serve God insofar as they are kings, when they do those things which none can do but kings.”

The same reason is given by Leo XIII in the encylical Libertas præstantissimum: “For public power is constituted on account of the utility of those who are ruled: and although it looks to this most closely, to lead citizens to the prosperity of this life which is lived on earth, yet it ought not to diminish, but rather to augment man’s means of securing that highest and most external of goods, in which the sempiternal felicity of men consists; which is not able to be obtained, religion being neglected.”[9]

Nor may it be said that the end of society is subordinated not to a supernatural end, but only to the end of natural religion. For the natural law mandates to society itself that it must be obedient to God manifestly imposing positive law. Wherefore the obligation for society of accepting divine revelation is founded on “that necessary cohesion which, by the will of God, intercedes between both orders, the natural and the supernatural” (Alloc. of Pius IX, 9 June 1862).

Confirmation from the true notion of liberty. — Liberty is a faculty indifferent to opposites, but if we wish to express its perfection and exclude its defect, it should be said with St. Thomas: liberty is the faculty that selects means, the order of the end being preserved. And indeed “free will thus is disposed toward choosing those things which are for an end, just as the intellect is disposed toward conclusions. But it is manifest, that it pertains to the power of the intellect that it be able to proceed to diverse conclusions according to given principles; but that it proceeds to some conclusion whilst overlooking the order of the principles, this is from its defect. Whence it is, that free will is able to choose diverse things, the order of the end being preserved, this pertains to the perfection of its liberty; but that it chooses something by diverting from the end, which diversion is sin, this pertains to the defect of liberty.”[10]

So liberty of the will is greater and more perfect in God, Who is not able to sin, than in us, who are able to sin.

And thus true liberty is wondrously reconciled with the authority of God revealing, nay more, it cannot subsist but in this subordination. For insubordination or license leads to the slavery of corruption and to the tyranny of the passions, as Christ shows in the parable of the prodigal son, which is verified not only in individuals but also in those societies which refuse to obey God. This obedience having been rejected, all things are thrown into confusion, goods are toppled by evils, true liberty and dignity perishes; while on the contrary, those who obey God find true liberty, according to the holy increase of the heart, as it is said in the Psalm: “I have run the way of Thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart.”[11]

§III. How ought the civil authority to accept divine revelation? – To this, Leo XIII responds, saying in his encyclical Immortale Dei: “Therefore it is necessary that civil society, having originated for the sake of common utility, in looking to the prosperity of the republic, should so attend to the citizens that, in order to obtain and secure that highest and incommutable good which all willfully desire, it not only might ever bring about nothing disadvantageous, but should offer all the opportunities for this good according to its ability. The chief of which is, that works of religion, the duties of which conjoin man to God, ought to be preserved in a holy and inviolate manner. But he who shall employs prudent and sincere judgment does not see with difficulty what the true religion is…”[12] Immediately before, Leo XIII had said: “For rulers, therefore, it is necessary that the name of God be holy; that favor be extended to religion, to be placed among their chief duties; to uphold it with benevolence, and to protect it by the authority and command of laws; and not at all to institute or ordain that which is contrary to its safety.

Whence the civil authority, or the State, is not able to remove from divine revelation, but ought to support it in three ways. 1° negatively: by enacting nothing against the revealed religion; 2° positively-indirectly: by defending it; 3° positively-directly: by fostering it.

Negatively. – The State ought to establish or do nothing against the revealed religion. – It is not able to further irreligion, to enact laws by which would be impeded the preaching of the true faith, administration of the sacraments, celebration of the divine worship, judgment concerning the morality of human acts, education and instruction of ministers of worship, and conservation of religious communities; likewise, it cannot deny the indissolubility of matrimony, or sanction divorce properly so called in diverse cases, etc… (Cf. Denz. 1739-1753, 1767).

Positively-indirectly.The State ought to defend in the temporal order not only natural religion, but revealed religion. — It is held to forbid that which would be contrary to the natural law and injurious to God. Already Plato said: atheists are to be punished with death, because they overthrow the supreme foundation of all order, and of society itself. St. Louis, king of France, punished blasphemers by burning of the tongue, but Clement IV asked him to mitigate these punishments.

St. Thomas says: “Infidels who have never received the faith, such as Gentiles, and Jews, are in no way to be compelled to the faith in order that they might believe, because to believe is of the will. Yet they are to be compelled by the faithful, if there is ability to do so, in order that they might not impede the faith by means of blasphemies, or evil persuasions, or even open persecutions.[13] — Now regarding the coercion of heresy, cf. the doctrine of the Church, in the Bull Unam sanctam of Boniface VIII (D 469), in the condemnation of the errors of John Hus and Luther (D 640, 773), and those things which are taught by St. Thomas.[14]

Positively and directly.The State ought to foster the revealed religion, not only by favoring the preaching and propagation of the true faith and the building of Churches, and by recognizing the immunity of clerics from secular services such as military service, but also by publicly professing the true faith, e.g. through participation in the true worship, through public veneration of the holy name of God and of Jesus Christ. No indeed, the State is also able to compel the citizens to some religious acts, particularly in these circumstances in which omission would result in the contempt of religion, which sort would be in e.g. the denial of the oath before the tribunal.

Nevertheless, since the State is not infallible, it cannot constitute itself the judge in religious matters, but in these it ought to recognize the direction of the religious authority, whose divine institution is supposed as proven. Thus Constantine the Great wished to be named “bishop for those outside”; and Charlemagne “devoted defender of the holy Church, and her humble assistant.”

A doubt: But what is the Church able to require of a heretic, indifferent, or infidel State?

The Church can require that Catholics, living in a heretic State, be free in the profession of their religion, so that the juridical personality of the ecclesiastic society is recognized. Indeed, such a State, since it does not claim infallibility for itself, cannot reasonably contend that the religion which it professes is the only true one, and that Catholics are not able to believe in good faith.

Now an indifferent State cares no more for one religion than another; hence, according to its very own principles, it ought to consider the Church as a legitimate society, and to enact nothing contrary to her, but to protect her.

An infidel State cannot reasonably deny that the Christian religion at least probably teaches truth. Wherefore, it would act against reason and the law of nature, if it were to impede its preaching and propagation. And often Christian nations have intervened with infidels in order to obtain the liberty for Catholic missionaries and their faithful.

Conclusion: In this question (and there is something similar in all great problems) truth and Christian perfection is at once the just mean and summit between and above the opposed excesses of the liberalism of indifferentists and the fanaticism of the sects. It also transcends the fluctuations of the moderatism of the opportunists, who attempt to set up a kind of intermediate way between true and false, between good and evil.

The human passions frequently fluctuate between two erroneous extremes; sometimes they wish to ascend higher, to find stability and peace. But there is not tranquility of order except in the summit of truth. This summit is attained, not only speculatively but in practice, by the saints especially, who entirely avoid at the same time liberalism and fanaticism, and whose zeal differs completely from the lukewarmness of moderatism.[15]

In this complex practical question, there intervene not only moral virtues, as prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, but also and especially the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. Wherefore, to find the right direction, once must always keep in mind what St. Thomas teaches concerning the mean of the virtues, in IaIIæ, q. 64: The moral virtues, which regulate the passions and operations, consist in a mean between excess and defect, and this mean, as it is rational, stands above the irrational extremes, just as fortitude surpasses not only inordinate fear, but also temerity. But the theological virtues, which are concerned with the ultimate end of our life, per se do not consist in a mean: “Man is not able to love God as much as He ought to be loved; nor can he believe or hope in Him as much as he ought. Whence much less is there able to be excess there; and thus the good of such virtue does not consist in a mean, but to the degree that it is better, so much does it approach the summit. — But there is another rule or measure of theological virtue on our part: because, although we cannot give to God as much as we ought, yet we ought to give to Him, in believing, hoping, and loving, according to the measure of our condition. Wherefore, per accidens, mean and extreme can on our part be considered in theological virtue [thus hope is found between and above desperation and presumption].”[16] Furthermore, in all things, our intellect ought to affirm that which is, no more, no less. Christ says: “But let your speech be yea, yea; no, no.”[17]

These are to be considered attentively in practice, in order to avoid lukewarmness, which is opposed to zeal for God and souls, and which wishes to reduce to a lower mean both the theological and moral virtues. For this reason, we have said: in this question, as in similar ones, Christian perfection and truth is at once a just mean and summit between and above erroneous extremes. True peace, therefore, is not to be sought in some lukewarmness, which would diminish Christian truth and holiness, but on the contrary, it is to be sought, with complete sincerity, in the zenith of truth and virtue, to which tend all legitimate aspirations of our heart.

Thus have true theologians and Christian philosophers always spoken, under the direction of the Church.[18]

According to Catholic doctrine, therefore, not only individual men, but society itself is held to accept revelation sufficiently proposed. It does not suffice to say: this is a thesis, to be preserved in schools of sacred theology as a speculative truth, but in practice one should act in accordance with the hypothesis of the liberty of all cults, in order to obtain all the conveniences of this hypothesis. — In fact, a thesis cannot be considered as a merely speculative idea, to be relinquished in practice, for this thesis declares the very END TO BE ACHIEVED; namely, the true religion is to be embraced by all, not only individually, but also socially. But for the achievement of this end, the circumstances are to be considered; hence in a particular case, or per accidens, prudence dictates that some evil is to be tolerated to avoid a greater evil. But to set aside the thesis as something merely ideal, only to be preserved in schools, would be to avert oneself from the very end which is to be obtained. This would be to fall into opportunism, and to recede more and more from the love of God and of souls; finally, the thesis, declaring a most grave obligation, would be considered as an empty name, and hence nothing.

Thus, because of the abuse of this distinction between thesis and hypothesis, as if the thesis were merely speculative, and the hypothesis the only practical rule, Catholic social action would gradually be destroyed; already many Catholics seem to be ignorant of the obligations of society toward God, and seem to consider the neutrality of the State, the neutrality of the School, and the wholesale liberty of conscience all to be legitimate things. In this way, society becomes radically irreligious and atheistic.

Whence, because of this abuse of the distinction between thesis and hypothesis, many theologians rightly substitute for it the distinction between the end and the means which are here and now opportune for the end, according to the judgment of prudence. Thus there is alone preserved that which is to be preserved most of all, namely the efficacious intention of the end, from proceeds rectitude and efficacy of election, and of execution of means to the end. No indeed, in this way there are also preserved, in due harmony, the authority of God and the liberty of men, as this liberty differs from license, which leads down to the slavery of corruption.

Thus, according to this subordination of ends, the Church always proceeds strongly and sweetly: thus, notwithstanding the greatest difficulties, have the Saints proceeded, for restoring all things in Christ, namely so that the kingdom of God may arrive, not only in the hearts of certain of the greatest faithful, but in human society itself.

Benign charity and the absolute firmness of the Faith are not opposed, but on the contrary mutually strengthen each other, and thus they need to be united in us, so that they cannot be separated, lest the one fail and fall into liberalism, and the other be diminished and decline into sectarianism. Loftily and intimately ought they to be conjoined in the ardor of the same love, which is the zeal of the glory of God and of the salvation of souls. Thus united, they truly are, in the Church as in Christ, the image of the reconciliation of the divine perfections: “Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed,” as Psalm 84 tells us.[19]

§IV. Objections are resolved.

Obj. 1: The one who is not able to judge of revelation is not held to recognize it. But the civil authority is not able to judge of the fact of revelation, nor of the things pertaining to revelation, but only of those things which are ordered to the temporal good. Therefore.

I respond: That the civil authority may be held to accept divine revelation, it is not necessary that it be able to judge authoritatively of the fact of revelation and of those things which pertain to religion; it suffices that it be able to judge of the motives of credibility according to common sense, and of the truths of faith, as the faithful judge. For now, according to common sense, the State admits truths of natural ethics, such as moral obligation, free will, responsibility, and the right of property, although many philosophers deny these truths theoretically.

Obj. 2: The State is unable to command something against the conscience of the subjects. But to impose some religious act is against the conscience of the citizens who reject the existence of God. Therefore the State can never compel citizens to any religious acts, e.g. to the oath before the tribunal.

I respond: The State is unable to command something against a true and certain conscience, I concede; against an erroneous and as it were burned conscience, I deny; for there are those who think to be permissible that which is a most grave crime. Wherefore just as men who do not admit the right of property are able to be coerced to act as if they recognize it, so the State is able to forbid that which is contrary to the natural law and injurious to God, no indeed it can compel the citizens to some acts of religion, the omission of which would result in contempt of religion, e.g. the oath before the tribunal.

Obj. 3: Nevertheless, the authority whose proximate end is the temporal and external good, ought to remove from internal acts. But religious acts are internal. Therefore.

I respond: I distinguish the major: if the temporal good were not essentially subordinated to the spiritual good, I concede; otherwise, I deny. Thus a physician, in his precepts, cannot remove from morality e.g. regarding abortion, craniotomy, etc. — In addition, acts of religion are not merely internal; there ought to be an external cult. Finally, to God, as the author of society, there is owed a social cult, and religion gives much support to temporal society, by directing men not only in spiritual things, but in the use of sensible things.

Indeed, God alone can judge of purely internal acts; but when opinions and religion are manifested by exterior actions, the ecclesiastical authority and the civil authority have the right and duty of forbidding those which are harmful to the social good.

Obj. 4: But the society which intends a good in no way proportionate to the supernatural end is not held to attend to the supernatural end. But the State intends the temporal good, which in no way is proportioned to the supernatural end. Therefore.

I respond: The temporal good is not indeed a means proportionate to the achievement of the supernatural end, but it is subordinate to it, for “by temporal things are we aided to lay hold on beatitude; namely, insofar as corporal life is sustained by them, and insofar as they serve us organically for acts of the virtues,” as St. Thomas says in ST IIaIIæ, q. 83, a. 6. Indeed, this subordination being removed, temporal things are desired above all others, so that we would set the end in them—which happens in an irreligious or atheistic society.

Obj. 5: Yet it seems to suffice that the State bear itself negatively toward the Church, by enacting nothing against her, by remaining neutral. — And indeed, the civil authority is held to attend to the end of the work of society itself, but not to the final end of those working, namely, individuals. But life according to true religion is not the end of the work of society itself, but is the end of those working. Therefore, the civil authority is not held to attend positively toward the Catholic religion and to the supernatural end.[20]

I respond: If the civil authority were not from God, and if the end of the work of civil society itself were not subordinated to the spiritual life, I concede; otherwise, I deny. “For rulers, therefore, it is necessary that the name of God be holy,” as Leo XIII says. — The liberals and semirationalists have erred similarly, saying: “Since the philosopher is one thing, and philosophy another, he has the right and duty of submitting himself to the authority which he shall have esteemed true; but philosophy neither can nor ought to submit itself to any authority.” This proposition is condemned in the Syllabus (D 1710). In addition, natural and supernatural things ought not to be separated, as they are distinguished in speculation; for the speculative intellect abstracts from singulars by considering universals, while on the contrary the practical intellect tends toward doing work in particular; and in concreto we are not able to intend efficaciously the ultimate natural end by abstracting from the supernatural end. For man is held by the law of nature to obey God legitimately commanding; and thus there is not able to be aversion from the ultimate supernatural end, without there being at the same time aversion from the ultimate natural end.

Obj. 6: Then the State would not need to tolerate the cult of infidels and heretics. But from this intolerance there would follow many public quarrels.

I respond: The State ought not to tolerate per se (that is, without just cause) that which is in itself evil and injurious to God; but per accidens the cults of infidels and heretics are to be tolerated, namely, in order to avoid a greater evil. For to tolerate is not to prohibit evil, but evil is per se to be prohibited (cf. IIaIIæ, q. 10, a. 11, on the tolerance of infidels; q. 11, a. 3 ad 2, on the tolerance of heretics). Whence, although the civil authority is able sometimes to tolerate the liberty of cults, yet it can in no wise sanction it by any law. For to sanction the liberty of cults is to sanction impiety, since a false cult is superstition and impiety.

Obj. 7: Nevertheless, that is good from which there follows a good effect. But there follows a good effect from the liberty of cults, namely, the juridical liberty of the true religion. Therefore the liberty of cults is good. (This is the argument of that liberalism which wishes to be called Catholic.)

I respond: I distinguish the major: this is good either per se or per accidens, I concede; it is always good per se, I deny. — Likewise I distinguish the conclusion: the liberty of cults is good per se, I deny, for in itself it is impious; it is good per accidens, I concede, namely by reason of the liberty of the true religion. But this liberty of the true religion is not necessarily founded in the liberty of all cults; no indeed it per se excludes that.

Obj. 8: The principle by which the liberty of the true religion is defended ought to be admitted. But the liberty of the true religion is defended from the principle of the liberty of cults. Therefore.

I respond: I distinguish the major: it ought to be admitted either absolutely, as a thesis, or ad hominem[21] (relatively), as an hypothesis. Let the minor pass. I distinguish the conclusion: as a thesis, I deny; as a hypothesis, I concede.

For we can argue ad hominem from the liberty of cults against those who proclaim the liberty of cults and yet harass the Church, and prohibit her worship directly or indirectly. This argumentation ad hominem is correct, and the Catholic Church does not disdain it, but insists upon it in order to defend the rights of her liberty. But from this, it does not follow that the liberty of cults considered in itself can be defended absolutely by Catholics, because in itself it is absurd and impious. For truth and error are not able to have the same rights. False things are not to be said for the defense of the truth, just as evil things are not to be done in order that good things follow. Whence St. Paul says, Rom 3:7: “For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie, unto his glory, why am I also yet judged as a sinner? And not rather (as we are slandered, and as some affirm that we say) let us do evil, that there may come good? whose damnation is just.”

Obj. 9: In the order of action, that only which is practical is simply true. But the thesis enunciated above is not practical, but a speculative ideal, which is taught in the schools, while on the contrary the hypothesis of the liberty of cults is a practical fact. Therefore this hypothesis is simply true.

I respond: I distinguish the major: that only which is practical as the due end, or as a means which is suitable in itself, I concede; as a means opportune in a particular case, I deny. I contradistinguish the minor similarly. And indeed, as has been said above, the thesis declares the end which is to be obtained, namely, the true religion is to be embraced by all not only individually, but socially. But for the achievement of this end, the circumstances must be considered, hence in a particular case, or per accidens, prudence may dictate that some evil is to be tolerated in order to avoid a greater evil. But we cannot consider the aforesaid thesis as a merely speculative ideal, and one to be set aside in practice, for this would be to turn away from the end which is to be achieved. Whence the aforesaid objection arises from nominalism or empiricism, which reduces universal principles to a particular fact, and morality to success: then it would be true to say: “all duties are for men an empty name, and all human deeds have the force of right” (D 1759), which is the practical consequence of nominalism. — In these things which are often the most difficult, the immutable firmity of the faith, the sweetness of Christian charity, and diligent prudence must all be reconciled, considering suitable means.

Obj. 10: Then there is granted no legitimate liberty of thinking, of speaking, of conscience, and of cults. But this is false, for man is free to embrace what seems true to him, and to choose between free opinions.

I respond: There is granted legitimate liberty of thinking, namely, the right of embracing every true thing, especially the true religion; the right of admitting nothing except what is evidently true and credible; of choosing amongst free opinions. Likewise there is granted legitimate liberty of speaking, so long as things which are true and harmful to none are said.

But there cannot be granted an absolute moral liberty of thinking or of speaking, because there does not exist a right to admitting or teaching error. We can indeed err, and be excused on account of good faith, but objectively speaking, the right to accepting error according to one’s whim is repugnant to action. Likewise there does not exist a right for rejecting truth which is intrinsically or extrinsically manifest, e.g. for rejecting the true religion sufficiently proposed, and embracing another which is more pleasing. For this reason, it is better to speak of the duty, rather than the liberty, of professing true religion.

Obj. 11: The Catholic Church contradicts itself, for it demands liberty, no indeed protection, from the heterodox State, and she herself teaches, that the Catholic State is not able to concede such liberty or protection to the heterodox. If the Church is able to exclude the heterodox, so can the heterodox State exclude the Church.

In this way must the words of L. Veuillot to the adversaries of the Church be admitted: “I demand of you, in the name of your principles, the liberty which I refuse you in the name of mine.”[22]

I respond: There is no contradiction. For the Church claims the right of exclusive protection for the truth, and hence for herself, because she is certain that she possesses the whole truth exclusively. — In fact, if consideration is of a region where liberty is conceded to all sects, she can certainly demand the same privileges which are conceded to error. But in a heterodox State, the Church shows forth the testimonies of her divine mission, so that she might show that tolerance at least is owed to her. And in a Catholic State, she often employs tolerance regarding the heterodox, to avoid greater evil. — Wherefore the Church demands liberty per se, by force of the right of the truth itself, and per accidens relatively, by force of the liberty of conscience which her adversaries proclaim. And she denies per se the liberty of error, because there is no right to error.

Obj. 12: It would be better to concede full liberty to every religion, and to confute error by the sole exposition of truth; then the true religion would be propagated and would bloom by interior persuasion alone, since truth always prevails over error. (Thus Lamennais.)

I respond: It is not better to grant liberty to error, for this liberty leads to perdition; “the greater part of the citizens either are entirely unable, or cannot without the greatest difficulty, avoid dialectical tricks and sophistries, especially those which are ingratiating to the passions.”[23] Not all men are interested in truth and virtue; but it is said in 1 John 2:16: “For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Whence “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” as Psalm 110:10 teaches.

Man needs to be freed from his perverse passions, from his egoism, from his pride, from his errors and doubts. And persecution, which destroys due liberty, does not come forth from truth, but from error and malice; hence St. Paul says, 2 Tim 3:12: “All that wish to live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” — There is hence no true liberty, the image of the liberty of God, except in the truth. And thus we are able to conclude this whole treatise on Revelation with the words of Jesus Christ in John 8:31-32: “If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Thus, as St. Paul says in Rom 8:21, “the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”


[1] Rom 12:1.

[2] Concerning this thesis, cf. Cardinal Pie, Les Instructions synodales. — Msgr. Henry Sauvê, Théologien du Pape au Conc. du Vatican, Questions religieuses et sociales de notre temps; Vérités, erreurs, opinions libres, 2nd ed., Paris 1888, c. III du libéralisme catholique. — Donoso Cortés, Œuvres tr. Fr. T.  II, p. 212ff: Du principe générateur des plus graves erreurs de nos jours (1850, rapport présenté à Pie IX), where it is shown that after liberalism, there comes radicalism, thence socialism and finally materialist and atheistic communism. These profound pages ought to be read attentively.

Dom. P. Benoit, La Cité antecrétienne au XIX siècle, les Erreurs modernes, 1887, tome II: Le Semiliberalisme (ses caractères: faux esprit de conciliation et de moderation, diminution des vérités et affaiblissement du sens catholique, indépendance et présomption d’esprit), pp. 6-31. —

[3] Immortale Dei §6.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Libertas præstantissimum §21.

[6] This work was written by St. Thomas up till ch. 4 of Book II; Prolomæus a Lucca wrote from ch. 5 of Book II to the end of Book IV.

[7] “It is permitted to desire temporal things, not indeed principally, so that we establish the end in them, but as certain supports, by which we are helped to lay hold of beatitude; namely, insofar as corporal life is sustained by them, and insofar as they serve us organically for acts of the virtues, as the Philosopher also says in I Ethicorum, c. 8.” Summa theologiæ IIaIIæ, q. 83, a. 6.

[8] De regimine principum lib. I, c. 15.

[9] Libertas præstantissimum §21.

[10] Summa theologiæ Ia, q. 62, a. 8, ad 3; q. 83, a. 4.

[11] Ps 118:32.

[12] Immortale Dei §7

[13] ST IIaIIæ, q. 10, a. 8.

[14] In ST IIaIIæ, q. 10, a. 8, St. Thomas, speaking of a Catholic State, as it existed in the Middle Ages, speaks not of infidels who have never received the faith, but of apostates; “such are also to be compelled corporally that they might fulfill what they had promised, and might hold what they at one time received.” For it is to be impeded lest the religion be despised exteriorly, unto the detriment of society: “For it is much worse to corrupt faith, which is the life of the soul, than to counterfeit money, by which the temporal life is aided. Whence, if counterfeiters of money, or other malefactors are justly given up at once to death by secular princes, much more are heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, able not only to be excommunicated, but also justly killed. But on the part of the Church, there is mercy for the conversion of the errant. And thus she does not immediately condemn, but after the first and second correction, as the Apostle teaches; but after, if he is yet found to be pertinacious, the Church, no longer hoping for his conversion, provides for the salvation of others, by separating him from the Church through sentence of excommunication; and furthermore she gives him up to secular judgment, to be exterminated from the world through death.” ST IIaIIæ, q. 11, a. 3

Likewise, the will of the delinquent himself is able to be corrected by fear of sensible evil. But in this one ought to counsel prudence and the religious authority, so that it may be seen what is more expedient for the temporal and spiritual good, for often evil ought to be tolerated per accidens in order to avoid a greater evil.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau himself, in his Social Contract, lib. IV, c. VIII, although he advocates for liberty and license of conscience against the Catholic Church, says: “Therefore there ought to be admitted a purely civil profession of faith, the right of which belongs to the Sovereign to determine the articles, not as dogmas of religion, but as they are sentiments of sociability, without which it is impossible that a man be a good citizen and faithful subject. […] And if a man were publicly to admit the aforementioned dogmas, yet led a life as if he did not believe them; let him be punished by death: for he perpetrates the greatest crime, because he has spoken falsely before the law: qu’il soit puni de mort: il a commis le plus grand des crimes, il a menti devant la loi.” And so Rousseau, in rejecting the authority of the Church, admits the omnipotence of the State, and Statolatry.

[15] St. Thomas reconciles this firmness and charity, saying at IIaIIæ, q. 11, a. 3: “Concerning heretics two things are to be considered: on their part there is the sin, through which they have merited not only to be separated from the Church through excommunication, but also to be excluded from the world by death…On the part of the Church there is mercy for the conversion of the errant. And thus she does not immediately condemn…” In a. 4: “Heretics returning to the faith, however many times they shall have relapsed, are received by the Church for penance, through which the way of salvation is opened to them.” In q. 10, a. 5 to a. 12: “But infidels, who have never received the faith, are in no way to be compelled to the faith: their rites are able to be tolerated to avoid some evil; — the children of Jews are not to be baptized when their parents are unwilling.”

A noble Christian soul, who in our time has led many unbelievers to the faith, wrote: “Je suis frapée de ce fait que les incroyants éprouvent plus de sympathie pour les êtres de foi profonde que pour ceux dont les convictions se font souples et utilitaires. Ils vont plus, ces chers incroyants, aux «intransigeants» de la foi qu’à ceux qui à force de compromis et de subtilités, cherchent à leur faire «accepte» le foi. Il faut, cependant, que l’indomptable affirmation soit enveloppée dans la plus intelligente sympathie, la plus vivante et délicate charité.” E. Leseur, Journal et Pensées de chaque jour.

[16] ST IaIIæ, q. 64, a. 4.

[17] Matt 5:37.

[18] But what practically is the zenith of truth above the opposed excesses of liberalism and sectarianism, and also above the lukewarmness of moderatism or opportunism, which zenith oscillates means by loftiness? This is set forth with great indulgence toward those who err by L. Ollé Laprune, Le Prix de la vie, p. 456: “Portant en soi et la nature humaine, et ce qui s’y ajoute, mais qui, en s’y ajoutant, s’y adapte, le chretien ne rejette rien, ne méprise rien, ne hait rien de ce qui est humain comme tel, et par suite, il est à la fois le plus accomodant et le plus intraitable des hommes. Jamais, ayant affaire à un principe, il ne transige; et alors ce n’est pas seulement sa foi chrétienne, c’est, sa raison, c’est sa conscience, c’est son honneur même qui le trouvent inébranlablement résolu à les maintenir envers et contre tous; il a dans ce respect et dans cette fidelité pour tout ce qui est vrai, bon, honnête, juste, sacré, toutes les délicatesses, toutes les jalousies, si je puis dire, et toutes les audaces. Son énergie est indomptable. Mais là où les principes ne sont point un cause, il est facile, et d’ailleurs pour les hommes, il a tous les egards possibles, même toutes les indulgences: n’à-t-il pas de sa faiblesse propre le sentiment le plus profond? Cette humilité intime le rend clairvoyant, just, bon; et, par respet pour la verité par esprit de justice, par charité, il tâche de comprendre les autres, de comprendre jusqu’à leurs erreurs et à leurs fautes, et sachant condamner le faux et le mal, il n’est jamais pour les personnes ni méprisant ni amer.

“Voila ce que nous avons plus que jamais, mieux que jamais à voir et à faire. Le jeunesse contemporaine semble s’essayer à en acquérir l’intelligence et la pratique. Elle aspire aux idées nettes, précises, fortes et elles les veut larges: elle parke de sympathie, de concorde, d’union, et elle veut que les âmes ouvertes en quelque sorte à tout et à tous soient néanmoins vigoureuses. Elle entend qu’on soit ferme sans être fermé. Renoncer aux vues flottantes comme aux étroites: se garder des aigreurs, des colères, comme des molles et des banales complaisances: c’est un beau programme…

“La paix se tera par la lumière et par la franchise…La paix par effacement des idées ou par annihilation des personnes, si c’etait possible, ou du moins par oubli de ce qui separe n’est point une vraie paix. C’est plutôt en allant jusqu’à cime de toutes vois pensées et dans vos rapports avec les personnes, jusqu’au bout et au haut d’autrui et de vous mêmes à force de sincérité et de franchise, que, voulant la paix, vous la ferez, et que, vraiment pacifiques, vous possederez la terre.”

[19] We have written many things concerning these matters in another work, Dieu: Son existence et sa nature, p. 712-757.

[20] Some have proposed a similar objection regarding professional syndicates, as if the syndicate ought to be neutral, and were not held to attend to the supernatural laws of the Christian life. But in fact, collectives of workers of this sort, to avoid the errors of socialism, ought by legitimate means to promote the professional, physical, intellectual, moral, and religious good of the workers. Cf. Tanquerey, Brevior synopsis theologiæ moralis, n. 616.

[21] Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange here makes reference to the proper and traditional signification of the phrase ad hominem in logic, which refers to a particular kind of demonstration. Cardinal Zigliara, in his Logica: Dialectica III, cap. 4, a. II, no. XI, delineating kinds of demonstration, writes:

Absolute demonstration, and relative demonstration or ad hominem. The first is that which proceeds from premises, the truth of which is admitted by us and is assumed for inferring something absolutely: as when we demonstrate the real existence of God from the contingency of creatures, and other things of this sort. A relative or ad hominem demonstration is that which proceeds from principles admitted by an adversary and assumed by us in order to refute him, an abstraction having been made from the truth of those principles; as if someone were to assume principles admitted by materialists or rationalists, in order to convince them of the falsity of their doctrine.”

[22] “J’exige de vous, au nom vos principes, la liberté, que je vous refuse, au nom des miens.”

[23] Libertas præstantissimum §23.

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