Manualist Monday: Garrigou-Lagrange on the compulsion of unbelievers

by Gerardus Maiella

This is a somewhat short text taken from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.’s commentary on the Summa theologiæ of St. Thomas, IIaIIæ, q. 10, a. 8, Whether unbelievers are to be compelled to the faith? Our original interest in this text was occasioned by this very interesting paper by Thomas Pink. We first translated the text from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange as support for Professor Pink’s argument concerning the theological tradition on the jurisdiction of the Church over the baptized—and though we continue to think, as any Catholic ought, that the Church does indeed by right wield jurisdiction over all the baptized, even heretics, schismatics, and apostates, we are not so sure that Professor Pink’s principal thesis of continuity holds water in respect of Dignitatis humanæ. Nevertheless, a very great value lies in reading his article, on account of the fact that he brings to the fore an important and now-forgotten aspect of Catholic sacramental theology and ecclesiology which is much needed in this time of crisis in the Church.

This theme of jurisdiction over the baptized is one to which we plan to return several times in the course of our translations here.


Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., De virtutibus theologicis: Commentarius in Summam theologicam S. Thomae IaIIæ q. 62, 65, 68, et IIaIIæ q. 1-46 (Torino, 1949), pp. 267-9.

Art. VIII. Whether infidels are to be compelled to the faith.

One must distinguish insofar as the infidels have at one time received the faith, or not.

First conclusion: Infidels who have never received the Christian faith, such as pagans and Jews, are in no way to be compelled to the faith, yet they can be compelled, particularly in a Catholic State, in order that they do not impede the faith.

1. It is proved firstly from the authority of the Council of Trent, sess. 14, cap. 2 (Denz 895): “The Church exercises judgment over no one who has not first entered into her through the gateway of baptism.” Thus St. Paul says (1 Cor 5:12): “For what have I to do to judge them that are without? Do not you judge them that are within?” And this is clear also from the manner in which Christ sent the Apostles to preach the faith, not as armed soldiers, but as lambs in the midst of wolves, but if some should refuse to receive the Gospel, Christ does not command that the apostles should employ force, but that they leave and shake the dust from their sandals. And indeed the sons of Zebedee were called “sons of thunder,” because they wished to consume the Samaritan unbelievers with fire from heaven, upon which Christ rebuked these two junior Apostles, saying: “You know not of what spirit you are” (Luke 9:55).

2. It is proved secondly by theological argument: because to believe is of the will, as Augustine says, tract. 26 in Ioannem: “A man is capable of other things when unwilling, but cannot believe unless willing.”

It is confirmed by many declarations of the Church, which prohibit that infidels be compelled by force to the faith.

Nevertheless Constantine laudably destroyed the temples of idols; this was laudable, because to worship many gods is contrary to the law of nature, the custodian and defender of which every prince is for his subjects. But the law of the Christian faith is supernatural, to which the secular power does not extend itself.

But infidels can be compelled so that they do not impede the faith and its preaching by means of blasphemies, bad arguments, or open persecutions. For the Church has the right and the mandate from Christ of preaching the Gospel in the whole world. “And because of this,” St. Thomas says, “the faithful of Christ frequently make war against infidels…lest the infidels impede the faith of Christ.” And infidels cannot assert that probability may be less in favor of Christianity.

Second conclusion: Infidels who at one time RECEIVED the faith, such as HERETICS, and apostates, ARE ABLE even corporally to be compelled so that they might fulfill that which they promised. This considers at least the legitimacy of coercion.

1. It is proved firstly from ancient ecclesiastical law taken from the Fourth Council of Toledo. And also from the Council of Trent, sess. 7, can. 14 (Denz. 870): “If any one saith, that those who have been thus baptized when children, are, when they have grown up, to be asked whether they will ratify what their sponsors promised in their names when they were baptized; and that, in case they answer that they will not, they are to be left to their own will; and are not to be compelled meanwhile to a Christian life by any other penalty, save that they be excluded from the participation of the Eucharist, and of the other sacraments, until they repent; let him be anathema.”

But with respect to the execution of temporal penalties, which according to the ancient law are able legitimately to be inflicted upon heretics, cf. the Code, can. 6, n. 5: “Any punishments of the ancient law whatsoever, of which there occurs no mention in the Code, are abrogated.” With respect to spiritual penalties, such as excommunication, cf. the Code of Canon Law, can. 2314-2316, 2372. Cf. infra, q. XI, a. 3: whether heretics are to be tolerated.

2. The legitimacy of coercion is proved by the authority of St. Augustine cited in the reply to the first objection. He says in Epist. 93: “My opinion at first was that no man ought to be coerced to the unity of the faith, that this should rather be effected by word, that it ought to be contended with disputation, lest we should have false Catholics whom we had known to be open heretics. But this opinion of mine is overcome, not by the words of contradictors, but by demonstrative examples; for at first my city was opposed, which since it was entirely in the party of Donatus, was converted by fear of imperial laws to Catholic unity.”

Likewise the passage cited from Augustine in the replies to the third and fourth objections says (Epist. 185): “For who of ours should wish not only that one of them perish, but even so much as lose something of theirs? But…the house of David did not otherwise merit to have peace, except that Absalon his son, in the war which he was waging against his father, had been slain…Thus the Catholic Church, if She collects all the rest by the perdition of some, heals the dolor of Her maternal heart by the deliverance of so many peoples.”

3. It is proved by theological argument: Subjects are able to be compelled by their superiors so that they might satisfy their obligation. But they who received the faith and have been baptized, have been incorporated to the Church as Her subjects, and have obliged themselves to preserve the faith. Therefore they are able to be compelled by their superiors so that they satisfy their obligation, and this by spiritual, or even temporal penalties by which they pertain to the secular forum, under the direction of the Church. Cf. infra, q. XI, a. 3: whether heretics are to be tolerated. Cf. Ius actuale, Code on penalties and delicts against the faith and the unity of the Church (n. 2314, §1, n. 1, 2, 3; 2315, 2316, 2372). “All apostates from the Christian faith, and all heretics or schismatics, incur ipso facto excommunication…If they should give name to, or adhere to, a non-Catholic sect, they are ipso facto infamous, and without prejudice to can. 188, n. 4, let clerics, the given warning having been made in vain, be degraded. One suspected of heresy, who having been warned has failed to remove the cause of suspicion, should be prohibited by legitimate acts, and furthermore a cleric, the warning having been repeated to no avail, should be suspended a divinis.”

Objection: Infidels who never received the faith are not to be coerced to it, because to believe is of the will; but the same reason serves for heretics. Therefore they are not to be coerced.

St. Thomas responds in the reply to the third objection: “Just as to vow is of the will, but to render is of necessity, so to accept the faith is of the will, but to hold it, having been accepted, is of necessity. And thus heretics are to be compelled so that they might hold to the faith.”

But this is understood: First, in a Catholic state, and secondly as something per se licit, but per accidens sometimes a greater evil would follow, cf. ad 1; thirdly, relative to heretics who personally received the faith, at least receiving baptism in infancy. But the children of heretics after two or three generations often become as infidels who never received the faith.

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