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On Dignitatis Humanae - Part I

Vatican II's Position on Religious Liberty

Frank Rega
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In light of the talks between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X, there have recently been many articles in the traditional Catholic media about religious liberty and Dignitatis Humanae (DH). Critics generally wrestle with the attempt to reconcile DH with traditional Catholicism. While the Church has always maintained that the public manifestation of false religions could be tolerated in exceptional circumstances, DH asserts that people must be granted a positive "civil right" to publicly practice and propagate any and all religions, within due limits. Hence: religious liberty à la Vatican II.

John Courtney Murray

American Jesuit Courtney Murray, one of the inspirers of Dignitatis Humanae
Here are the key phrases in DH taken from the Vatican’s own website: "No one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits." (1) And, "This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right." (2)

The consequences of the doctrine of DH on religious liberty are so grave that there appears to be reluctance by critics to confront the overall picture – they don’t want to see the forest, or refuse to acknowledge it, but focus instead on the trees.

The document’s stand on religious freedom shamefully repudiates the First Commandment of the Old Testament by legalizing the worship of false gods. It also essentially neutralizes the teaching of the New Testament that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone. In addition, DH constitutes a renunciation of any spiritual or moral rights and duties that the Church, by Divine Right, has over the State, since Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. These are not merely discontinuities with tradition, or legitimate developments of doctrine – they are apostasies.

Even the Catholic confessional state is rendered toothless by DH, which states: If, in view of peculiar circumstances obtaining among peoples, special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional order of society, it is at the same time imperative that the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom should be recognized and made effective in practice (3)

This is why, in the wake of the Council, the Concordats between the Vatican and the few nations that still professed Catholicism as their official religion had to be modified to allow equal public rights to other religions and gods. Thus the Council has attempted to roll a permanent stone over the sepulcher of Christendom.

One writer on this issue has stated that the qualification that the public practice of false religions must be "within due limits" is the saving grace of DH. He expresses hope that in the Vatican / SSPX talks the pope will clarify these variable, changeable limits. (4)

But how can any due limits be applied to the public worship of false gods, in terms of a positive right? The true Church could never admit to such a guaranteed civil right to disobey the first and greatest commandment, in order to allow the worship of demons and idols, within "due limits." Again it is a reluctance to see the forest and admit the gravity of what DH proposes.

A drop of poison

Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Satis Cognitum (5) warned of the necessity to guard the integrity of the faith against those who would differ in any point from the true doctrine of the Church. Even if they admit the whole cycle of doctrine, "by one word, as with a drop of poison" they are able to infect the Apostolic Faith.

Napoleon: Equality of worship to all religions

Like Napoleon, above, Vatican II's allows anyone to worship a 'Supreme Being'
DH is a perfect example of what Pope Leo warned about. It pays the required obeisance to the Divine Order, and to the one true religion which is the Catholic Church ... excuse me, which "subsists" in the Catholic Church. It is replete with truisms and platitudes that no one should be coerced into adopting a particular religion.

But we find the poison subtly administered in the very first section of DH: 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. Over and above all this, the council intends to develop the doctrine of recent popes on the inviolable rights of the human person and the constitutional order of society. (6)

Notice that the traditional doctrine is admitted, that men and societies have a moral duty to the true religion and Church. Then we read in the very next line "Over and above all this …"

In other words, above this doctrine, and over this doctrine, and in addition to this doctrine, the Council will "develop" another doctrine – that of the "rights" of man and societies. DH then proceeds to supersede and override the doctrine of the moral duty of states and individuals to the true Catholic Religion and its traditional doctrines, with its newly developed doctrine on religious liberty.

One little drop of poison, just a few words: "Over and above all this…" "Over and above" in the Vatican’s English version is translated from "insuper" in the official Latin DH, which according to the University of Notre Dame’s online Latin dictionary means: "above, overhead; over and above, in addition, besides." (7)
1. Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, December 7, 1965,, Section 2, paragraph 1.
2. Ibid., Section 2, paragraph 2.
3. Ibid., Section 6, paragraph 4.
4. John Salza, J.D.,
5. Leo XIII, Pope, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, June 29, 1896,
6. Dignitatis Humanae, Section 1, paragraphs 4, 5.
7. Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid, University of Notre Dame,

Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted March 29, 2010

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This article was first published in the
March, 2010 issue of Christian Order magazine.
Contact Frank Rega at

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