There is a doctrine diametrically opposed to that of the Catholic Church regarding her powers and rights and her relations to the State. It bears falsely the name of Liberalism. (2)
We say falsely, because it is far from teaching and upholding true liberty. It is not easy to give a precise and full definition of liberalism, for the simple reason that it is really a purely negative system, something like Protestantism, and, like this, susceptible of numerous shades. We shall distinguish three classes of liberals, to which others can easily be assigned.
A. RADICALS, OR RADICAL LIBERALS.--They are rightly so called, because by removing every religious restraint they strike at the very roots and foundations of the social order. Of these Pope Leo XIII says, in his famous encyclical on Human Liberty:
"The partisans of naturalism and of rationalism are in philosophy what the abettors of liberalism are in the moral and civil order, since they introduce into morals and practical life the principles laid down by the partisans of naturalism. According to them, in practical life there is no divine power which they are bound to obey, but each one is a law unto himself. This gives rise to that morality called independent and which, under an appearance of liberty, turns the will from the observance of the divine precepts and leads man to unlimited license." (3)CRITIQUE-lst. Between the Catholic Church and radical liberalism, which is really identical with naturalism and free thought, there is evidently positive and complete opposition. We do not need to refute it; we have already done so in demonstrating the existence of a religion revealed by God, and how all men are obliged to embrace the Catholic faith under pain of failing to attain the end for which they were created.
2d. It is not difficult to see the inevitable and disastrous effects of such a doctrine. It is of the greatest possible injury to the individual as well as to society. The Holy Father demonstrates this with great clearness and. convincing logic:
“To desire that there be no tie between man or civil society and God, the Creator and, consequently, the supreme Legislator of all things, is contrary to nature;...to make good and evil dependent upon the judgment of human reason alone, is to suppress the proper distinction between good and evil; there will be no longer any real difference between what is wrong and what is right, save in the opinion and judgment of the individual; whatsoever pleases him becomes lawful. Once we admit such moral doctrine, which is powerless to subdue or appease the disorderly movements of the soul, we open the way to all the corruptions of life....B. There is another kind of Liberals, called by Leo XIII Social or State Liberals. They do not formally deny all dependence of man upon God; they are satisfied to affirm the absolute independence of civil society as a society. According to them, the divine laws must regulate the life and conduct of individuals, but not that of governments or states. They would have it lawful in public things to deviate from the commands of God, and to legislate without any regard to them; the pernicious consequence of this is the Separation of Church and State and the axiom of No Religion in Politics.(4)
"Once we repudiate the power of God over man and over human society, it is natural that society should no longer have any religion, and that everything relating to religion should become to it a matter of complete indifference. Armed with the idea of its sovereignty, the multitude will be easily led into sedition and revolt, and, the curb of duty and of conscience no longer existing, force will be the only resource--force, which is of little avail by itself to restrain the passions of the populace. We have a proof of this in the almost daily warfare waged against socialistic and other seditious sects which have been trying so long to destroy the State to its very foundation. Let, then, impartial minds judge and decide whether such doctrines are conducive to true liberty and are worthy of man, or whether they are not rather the ruin and complete destruction of society." (Encycl. cit.)
This milder Liberalism may be defined as the doctrine which claims for civil society an absolute independence in regard to religion. Or, again, the political school which admits but one sovereign authority, the State, and denies the necessary coexistence, distinction, and harmony of the two powers, temporal and spiritual. It may also be called social rationalism. It declares the people as a nation, and civil powers of all degrees, exempt from every obligation, and every duty toward any religious authority whatever. To them Christian revelation, Jesus Christ its Author, the Church which He established and which represents Him on earth, are as if they did not exist; they do not even know if Jesus Christ is God.
They have not to concern themselves with this question, which belongs, they say, to individuals; the existence of Jesus Christ and of His Church in no way affects the action of the State and its various powers. Thus, for example, when the legislature makes laws, the executive power, and the courts in applying them, have no need to consider whether these laws are or are not conformable to the law of God, to the express will of Jesus Christ, to the rights which He conferred upon His Church. Such liberals allege that though a man as an individual is free to live in private life as a Christian, he is forbidden to act as such in his public life and in the exercise of his functions.
Another consequence of these liberal principles is that where the State undertakes the work of instruction or public education its teaching, called neutral or unsectarian, must be atheistic, godless, without any religion; for all opinions, they say, must be respected. As to ethics or moral teaching, they are wary, it is true, of committing themselves, and to deceive simple minds they talk of independent, lay morality, etc. As if there could be a binding rule of morality without a supreme legislator and adequate sanction. How could it be imposed upon the conscience, deprived as it is of the truths on which it must necessarily rest?
CRITIQUE-lst. State liberalism, though less impious, no doubt, than radical liberalism, is nevertheless the antithesis of the doctrine which we stated in regard to the relations which should, in principle, exist between the two powers. We have refuted it by establishing our thesis with solid proofs.
Hence a faithful child of the Church cannot hesitate upon this point. For it is to be noted that these liberals present their doctrines as absolute truth; according to them it flows from principles of reason, and is consequently applicable to all times and to all places. Here is the judgment formulated by Leo XIII on this subject:
"For such a state of things to exist a civil community must needs have no duty toward God, or be able to disregard it with impunity, which is equally and manifestly false. It is a matter beyond doubt that the union of men in society is the work of the will of God, whether we consider the society in its members, in its form which is authority, in its cause, or in the number and importance of the advantages which it affords man. God made man for society, and to unite him with his fellow beings, in order that the needs of his nature, which his individual efforts could not supply, might find satisfaction in the association.2d. If these State liberals were logical, there would be a fatal outbreak of radicalism, as in fact there has been among those who consistently followed their principles.
"For this reason civil society, as a society, must necessarily recognize God as its Principle and as its Author, and consequently render to His power and to His authority the homage of its worship. Neither in the name of reason nor of justice can the State be atheistic, or adopt a system which would result in atheism, that is, treat all religions alike, and grant them equal rights.
"Hence, as it is necessary to profess a religion in society, it must be the one true religion, readily recognized, at least in Catholic countries, by the striking marks of truth which it bears. This religion the heads of the State, therefore, are bound to preserve and protect if they would fulfill their obligation to provide prudently and profitably for the interest of the community.
"For public power was established for the benefit of the governed; and though its immediate end is to promote the temporal prosperity of citizens, it is the duty of rulers not to diminish but, on the contrary, to increase man's facility for attaining the supreme and sovereign good in which eternal happiness consists, and which is impossible without religion." (Encycl. cit.)
In reality radical liberals alone are logical. If God has no authority over man as a social being, i.e., when associated with his fellows in earthly pursuits, why should He have any authority over man in his private life? Has He, perhaps, created man for society in order that he may thus withdraw in part from the sovereign dominion of his Creator? Has He communicated a part of His power to civil authorities in order that they may turn their subjects from the fulfillment of certain duties toward the Divinity? God is either Master of man, everywhere and always, or He is not Master at all.
The nihilists of Russia and the anarchists of all countries are only carrying out the logical consequences of these liberal principles. It is true, as the Pope causes us to remark, that the partisans of liberalism do not give complete assent to such doctrines. Alarmed by the enormity of their claims, and appreciating perhaps that they are in opposition with truth, they would have reason remain subject to the natural law and to the divine, eternal law; but they do not admit that a man should submit to laws which it might please God to impose upon him in some other way than by means of natural reason. The Pope has no difficulty in demonstrating that on this point liberals contradict themselves.
3d. Of the disastrous effects of this liberalism we shall soon see more in the paragraph on "Modern Liberties." Suffice it to say that the work of this system usually goes much farther than its professions. It is not satisfied with affecting indifference toward religion; it is frequently its avowed and positive enemy, as its words and actions prove.
Look at what has taken place recently and what is still taking place in countries where liberalism rules. It is not difficult to recognize that the famous separation of Church and State is in reality only the absorption of the Church by the State, or the persecution of the Church by the State.
The ideal of liberalism is the old pagan Caesarism. It means the head of the government, whether one or many, wielding both the material and the spiritual sword, and thus monopolizing the control of education, constituting itself the sole teacher of society.
Where the laws and the public conscience do not permit it to realize this ideal it approximates as closely as possible to it by administrative measures as perfidious as they are numerous. There is, however, a difference between the present persecution and that of former times: today it is universal and the selfsame everywhere, its purpose being the complete destruction of the one true Church of Jesus Christ. The reason of this is that the real source of the persecution is none other than Freemasonry, of which liberalism is the willing servant.
C. We must here mention a third kind of liberalism which, under many various forms, has appeared at different periods of the Church's history. It took a more definite and tangible form during the last century and has been called "Catholic Liberalism" or "Liberal Catholicism." (5)
It is hardly to be expected that among Catholics living in an atmosphere saturated with the fatal germs of liberalism there will not be a few here and there contaminated by its teaching. It is not unusual, therefore, to find men who, heartily attached to the Church, and with a laudable desire to further what they consider her true interests, will try to effect an impossible compromise or reconciliation between the doctrines of liberalism and those of the Church; they will indulge in baseless dreams of a future when the spiritual and temporal power will be absolutely independent one of the other.
They will deem it a prudent policy on the part of the Church to pass over in silence Catholic truths opposed to current errors; to refrain from asserting certain rights which conflict with what are called modern ideas. Hence, without denying the teaching and unerring authority of the Church, they would, nevertheless, that the body of doctrines imposed as of faith upon all men be confined within the smallest possible limits, minimized, while free speculation and discussion of religious as well as philosophic questions must be given the widest range; dogmas already proclaimed must be allowed a wider and more liberal interpretation in accordance with the advance and development of modern ideas and science; the decrees of the Roman Congregations, especially the Holy Office and the Index, ought to be few and far between, lest they become so many stumbling-blocks to Catholic philosophers and scientists.
[Catholic Liberals maintain that] Doctrines offensive and distasteful to non-Catholics should not be too loudly preached from the pulpit, lest these people, instead of joining the fold, turn against the Church. Again, admitting the power of the Church "to bind and to loose," liberal Catholics find much to criticise in the present legislation and discipline of the Church restricting individual liberty (religious orders, marriage, rights of the laity, relations with the State, secret societies, communion with the sects, etc.); there is too much "medievalism" and "ultramontanism" in the Church, which, like a dead weight, keeps her "behind the times." (6)
"The principles on which the new opinions we have mentioned are based may be reduced to this: that in order the more easily to bring over to Catholic doctrine those who dissent from it, the Church ought to adapt herself somewhat to our advanced civilization, and, relaxing her ancient rigor, show some indulgence to modern popular theories and methods. Many think that this is to be understood not only with regard to the rule of life, but also to the doctrines in which the deposit of faith is contained. For they contend that it is opportune, in order to work in a more attractive way upon the wills of those who are not in accord with us, to pass over certain heads of doctrine, as if of lesser moment, or to so soften them that they may not have the same meaning which the Church has invariably held.... The followers of these novelties judge that a certain liberty ought to be introduced into the Church, so that, limiting the exercise and vigilance of its powers, each one of the faithful may act more freely in pursuance of his own natural bent and capacity. They affirm, namely, that this is called for in order to imitate that liberty which, though quite recently introduced, is now the law and the foundation of almost every civil community."To the above demands of liberal Catholicism the Pope answers in the same letter as follows:
"Few words are needed to show how reprehensible is the plan that is thus conceived, if we but consider the character and origin of the doctrine which the Church hands down to us. On that point the Vatican Council says:In regard to the laws and discipline of the Church the Pope says:'The doctrine of faith which God has revealed is not proposed like a theory of philosophy which is to be elaborated by the human understanding, but as a divine deposit delivered to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly declared.... That sense of the sacred dogmas is to be faithfully kept which Holy Mother Church has once declared, and is not to be departed from under the specious pretext of a more profound understanding.'"Nor is the suppression to be considered altogether free from blame which designedly omits certain principles of Catholic doctrine and buries them, as it were, in oblivion. For there is the one and the same Author and Master of all the truths that Christian teaching comprises, the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father. That they are adapted to all ages and nations is plainly deduced from the words which Christ addressed to His apostles: Going therefore, teach ye all nations: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. Wherefore the same Vatican Council says:'By the divine and Catholic faith those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God, either written or handed down, and are proposed by the Church, whether in solemn decision or by the ordinary universal magisterium, to be believed as having been divinely revealed.'“Far be it, then, from anyone to diminish or for any reason whatever to pass over anything of this divinely delivered doctrine; whosoever would do so would rather wish to alienate Catholics from the Church than to bring over to the Church those who dissent from it.... If anything is suggested by the infallible teaching of the Church, it is certainly that no one should wish to withdraw from it, nay, that all should strive to be thoroughly imbued with and be guided by its spirit, in order to be the more easily preserved from any private error whatsoever.
"To this we may add that those who argue in that wise quite set aside the wisdom and providence of God; who, when He desired in that very solemn decision to affirm the authority and teaching office of the Apostolic See, desired it especially in order the more efficaciously to guard the minds of Catholics from the dangers of the present times. The license which is commonly confounded with liberty; the passion for saying and reviling everything; the habit of thinking and of expressing everything in print, have cast such deep shadows on men's minds that there is now greater utility and necessity for this office of teaching than ever before, lest men should be drawn away from conscience and duty.
"It is far indeed from our intention to repudiate all that the genius of the time begets; nay, rather, whatever the search for truth attains, or the effort after good achieves, will always be welcome by us, for it increases the patrimony of doctrine and enlarges the limits of public prosperity. But all this, to possess real utility, should thrive without setting aside the authority and wisdom of the Church."
"The rule of life which is laid down for Catholics is not of such a nature as not to admit modifications, according to the diversity of time and place. The Church indeed possesses what her Author has bestowed on her, a kind and merciful disposition; for which reason from the very beginning she willingly showed herself to be what Paul proclaimed in his own regard: I became all things to all men, that I might save all.###
"The history of all past ages is witness that the Apostolic See, to which not only the office of teaching, but also the supreme government of the whole Church, was committed, has constantly adhered to the same doctrine, in the same sense and in the same mind; but it has always been accustomed to so modify the rule of life that, while keeping the divine right inviolate, it has never disregarded the manners and customs of the various nations which it embraces. If required for the salvation of souls, who will doubt that it is ready to do so at the present time?
"But this is not to be determined by the will of private individuals, who are mostly deceived by the appearance of right, but ought to be left to the judgment of the Church. He who would have Christian virtues to be adapted, some to one age and others to another, has forgotten the words of the Apostle: Whom He foreknew He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son. The Master and exemplar of all sanctity is Christ, to whose rule all must conform who wish to attain to the throne of the blessed.
"Now, Christ does not change with the progress of the ages, but is yesterday and today, and the same forever. To the men of all time is addressed the lesson: Learn of Me because I am meek and humble of heart; and at all times Christ shows Himself to us as becoming obedient unto death, and in every age also the word of the Apostle holds: And they that are Christ's have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences. Would that more would cultivate those virtues in our day, after the example of the holy men of the past! Those who by humbleness of spirit, by obedience and abstinence, were powerful in word and work, were powerful aids not only to religion but to the State and society."
To be Continued...
(1) Pius IX., Syllabus of 1864; Leo XIII., Encyclicals on Socialism, etc., 1878, Matrimony, 1880, Civil Government, 1881, Freemasonry, 1884, 1892, Christian States, 1885, Human Liberty, 1888, Christian Citizenship, 1890; Apostolic Letters to the Emperor of Brazil, 1889, to the Bishops of Italy, 1890, of France, 1892, of Hungary, 1893; Pallen, What is Liberalism?; Brownson, Liberalism and the Church; Br. W. vii. 305; D. R. New Ser. xviii. 1,285, xxv. 202, xxvi. 204, 487, III. Ser. xv. 58.
(2) It is important, above all things not to confound Liberalism as it existed for a certain period with the Liberalism of the present day, for one differs essentially from the other. Only the name has been retained, the more easily to deceive unthinking minds.
Formerly Liberalism meant a system, or rather a political tendency, opposed to Centralism or Absolutism, favoring in a great measure the participation of the citizens in the government of the State, and procuring, particularly, a large autonomy of individuals and families, of private associations communities, and provinces in the administration of their own interests. It was, in other terms, a tendency favorable to political and to social liberty. In this acceptation of the term it is evident that Catholics would be excellent Liberals, or rather that they alone, at the present day, would have the right to bear the name. Catholics are in fact wholly favorable to political and civil liberty as we shall describe it elsewhere. They particularly claim for each one, in the reasonable limits of natural law, freedom to dispose of his person, of his acts, to embrace the life or the profession he pleases, to form associations for an honest purpose, to dispose of his fortune during his life and decree by will the disposition to be made of it after his death according to the inspiration of his conscience, and without interference on the part of the civil power. Catholics desire no less the independence of their country, and freedom to govern according to its own laws. If they live under a government which admits modern liberties, they respect the government constituted to meet the present needs of society, and if they complain, it is only when unjust restrictions violate the liberty of citizens and the rights made sacred by the Constitution of their country.-AUTHOR.
Besides this Political Liberalism there is a system of political economy sometimes called Economic Liberalism (see Devas, Polito Economy, p. 552). Both systems arc to a certain extent represented by the famous Liberal Party of England. Our treatise has nothing; to do with either system, being concerned exclusively with Liberalism in Religion.-EDITOR.
(3) Ming, Data of Modern Ethics, ch. 10, 11; Lilly, Right and Wrong.
(4) I. E. R., Sep. 1894; M. S. H., June 1901;. U.. B., Jan-. 1897.
(5) This latter term is used in the celebrated joint Pastoral Letter upon this subject addressed to their flock by the Catholic hierarchy of England, Dec. 29. 1900. It was submitted to the judgment of the Holy Father, who, in turn, sent a most flattering letter to the English bishops, praising them for their "timely and prudent exhortation." For, he says, "too well known is the actual and threatening mischief of that body of fallacious opinions which is commonly designated as 'Liberal Catholicism.'" The Pastoral is found in the M. S. H., Feb. 1901.
(6) This paragraph has been slightly modified by the editor, who has also added the following extracts from the letter of Leo XIII to Cardinal Gibbons, Jan. 22, 1899. See also Rickaby, Oxf. Conf., s. ii.; Tyrrell, Faith of Mill., 1., p. 68; Ward, Geo., Doctr. Auth., Essays 1-4; M. S. H., Feb. 1901; I. E. R., March 1903; M., May 1898.
Adapted from Christian Apologetics: A Defense of the Catholic Faith(©1903)
by Rev W. Devivier, S.J.
Edited by The Rt. Rev. S.G.Messmer, D.D., D.C.L (Bishop of Green Bay)
Imprimatur: John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York