Works By John Courtney Murray, S.J.
I have been asked to comment on the middle section of Dr. Bates's work; in general, it deals with the theory of religious libertywhat it is, and what are its grounds.
The task of giving fair criticism is difficult. This part of the book is even less well organized than the preceding historical parts, as has been admitted even by critics to whom Protestant modes of thought are more native and congenial than they possibly could be to a Scholastic theologian. Moreover, it is clear that the author moves far more hesitantly in the field of theory than he does in that of historical fact. Finally, in this section he was under special handicaps; for Protestant theories of religious liberty are at best inadequate and ill-defined, and rest on no formed intellectual tradition. It not surprising that Dr. Bates has failed to give these theories that organized form and that undergirding of principle that would enable a critic to cope with them in orderly fashion.
Hence one is at a loss to know how and where to take hold of this exposition. It begins with some superficial general considerations on liberty and conscience, then takes up the relations of Church and State, and moves on to religious liberty in education, in society, and in and between churches as such; at the end of this chapter it is expected that we should know what religious liberty is. The next chapter takes up the grounds of religious liberty; it discusses natural law and natural rights, religious liberty and the interests of the organized community, relevant ethical, philosophical, and theological doctrine; and it concludes with an exposition of the position of the Roman Catholic Church. The pattern of the whole section is not at all evident; for one thing, it is disconcerting to see the essence of religious liberty discussed before its grounds are set forth.
At all events, it should be fair to begin with a question of method, which [always primary in matters of scholarship. Actually, the absence of a
clearly defined methoda major defect of the whole bookshows up most clearly in this section. The method is neither speculative nor historical. The section is not an ordered argument, setting forth the author's own theory of religious liberty, nor is it a systematic, critical summary of other peoples' theories. It is both, and neither.
It was, of course, the author's deliberate intention to let as many people as possible speak through him, while at the same time he himself threaded an argument through the whole. But the net result is highly confusing. At times, analyses are well initiated, only to dissolve in desultory and fragmentary citations of opinions, which destroy whatever consecutiveness of argument there may be. Again, one rarely knows whether, or how far, the author is in agreement with the views he cites, with the result that one continually has to guess at the boundaries and content of his own thought. In brief, this section, like the rest of the book, will be a gold mine for the harried and hurried lecturer or journalist, who will be rapidly able to prove anything (or nothing) from its materials. But the serious scholar will get little help.
The book has, indeed, been called scholarlya qualification that must have surprised its author, who is himself a genuine scholar, and doubtless unhappy over having turned out an unscholarly book. Perhaps "encyclopedic" would be a more accurate qualification. The whole field is covered; nearly everyone who has written around the subject is quoted; a wide range of problems is raised. However, none of the field is covered adequately; the quotations are given at second- and third-hand; and most of the problems are superficially conceived. In saying this, I disavow any reflection on Dr. Bates himself, as a scholar. He undertook an impossible task, and engaged himself to do it in an impossibly short time. What is still more handicapping, he was obliged, in the theoretical section of the book, to move in a field that is not his own. To remove any personal direction from my criticism, I shall hereafter refer, not to the author but to the book (to be cited as "RL").
The initially faulty thing about this theoretical section is the place in which it is found; it begins on page 294. In the preceding pages, all sorts of historical situations have been described and judged, and lists of things have been drawn up that religious liberty demandsall before the book gets to the question of what religious liberty is. Yet this question is, in all logic, the prior one. It is postponed in favor of the customary Protestant empirical approach. No one, of course, denies that historical experience has had great influence in developing and modifying (and killing) various theories of religious liberty. That having been said, it remains true that religious liberty is per prius a theoretical problem, to be answered by an
analysis, not of social situations in their concreteness, but of religious, philosophical, and political concepts in their full abstractness. Secondly, no one has the right of historical judgment in such a complicated field, until he has battled his way through the theories that were the main reasons for the complications, and until he has clearly formulated his own position.
It would, of course, be tolerable if RL's sociologism were purely such; but it is not. The analyses are constantly slanted, and interspersed with judgments of value predicated on a set of assumptions which the reader is left to figure out for himself. Although the method of the book is stated to be "essentially inductive" (p. ix) the conclusions are really in hand before the induction startsan implicit tribute to the primacy of theory. It would have been more scientific if the tribute had been explicitif, that is, the inevitable had been accepted, and a statement first given of a theory of religious liberty, together with its demonstration.
An inversion of right method already appears in the opening sections of the book. It begins with a survey of the contemporary scene, and suggests the general judgment that the cause of religious liberty is rather badly off in it. The scene then shifts backward to history, and the course of history is described, with the implicit thesis that mankind has been slowly ascending toward religious liberty, with a pace notably accelerated after the Protestant Reformation had finally freed the spirit of man. However, at the end of this second section we are left blankly confronting the important question: Why, after all this laborious upward movement, did things in the twentieth century suddenly take a turn for the worse?
Of the historical survey, this is said: "Let it be related to the problems of the contemporary world surveyed in the preceding chapter, where old compulsions and denials of opportunity are viewed beside fresh reversals or interruptions of the difficult effort of man to find freedom of spirit" (p. 293). Let it be related, indeed. But it is the task of the philosopher and historian so to relate it; and RL does not even attempt the task. In particular, there is no willingness to face the highly important problem of how far nineteenth-century Liberalism was responsible, through its own prolongation or through its provocation of reaction, for the creation of that set of conditions in our own world which resulted in those "reversals" and "interruptions" of man's supposedly inevitable progress toward freedom of spirit. There is, too, the allied question of how far this Liberalism was the secular expression of the Protestant spirit, in such wise that this latter must bear some share of responsibility for the checks inflicted on the cause that it claims as its own. Admittedly, these are difficult questions, but they cannot be avoided.
There is a more fundamental problem which RL hardly touches, although
it affects the initial conception of the whole problem of religious liberty. In effect, the book asks one question: How shall religion be made free in society? But this is too simple a Problematik. It does not include the more important question: How shall society itself be made religious? It has been hammered into us of late, by events more powerfully than by words, that genuine freedom is a function of religion, that society will remain free only when it is structured according to the demands of the religious conscience, and that a secularized society is the matrix in which are inevitably formed all kinds of dynamisms that are hostile to human freedom. Hence these two questions taken togetherreligious freedom in society, and religion itself in societygive us the true Problematik.
RL does, indeed, show some limited awareness of this fact. There is revealed some slight insight into the fact that "freedom of religion" as conceived in the thought-world of secularist Liberalism was, in its tendency and in the indifferentist philosophy that inspired it, a contributing factor in the secularization of society that is the source of so many of our contemporary ills, among them certain denials of religious liberty. However, if I may say so without seeming sharp, the book is too Protestant to deal vigorously with this fact. It strongly condemns the enemies of religious liberty (among them, of course, the Catholic Church). But it shows little awareness of the fact that religious liberty has some very false friends, one of whom surely is the religious and social philosophy of Liberalism. In this regard, RL is disappointing.
A word might be said here about RL's general attitude toward the Catholic Church. The book may not be accused of animus; there is a loyal effort to be fair even to what is not well understood. The difficulty is that the whole book labors under the limitations imposed by its own viewpoint, and especially by the position adopted on a fundamental point of religious philosophy. Actually, the book's religious philosophy could be summed up in one tenet, that is constantly reiterated: religion is essentially "voluntary"; its greatest enemy is "compulsion." In its generality, of course, this tenet is a truism, not questioned by anybody. However, the tendency of the whole book is to identify "authority" with "compulsion," in such wise that the essentially "voluntary" character of religion necessarily excludes the existence of any spiritual authority (in Church or State) higher than the individual conscience, external to it, and able to bind it. In other words, authority is innately (and not merely by abuse) destructive of liberty. (Obviously, this thesis, so dear to the Liberals, is never stated so baldly; but it seems to me that I found it in the tendency of the book's whole thought; and in such a book no theses are baldly stated.) The climate of
opinion of the whole book is determined by this antinomy put between liberty (and conscience) and authority. Cognate with it are the oppositions persistently suggested as existing between the free fellowship of individuals and the externally structured religious community, between "religious interests" and "institutional interests," between "spiritual" life and "ecclesiastical" life, between dogma and personal conviction, etc.
Obviously, in the climate of opinion thus established there could be little sympathy for Catholic thought, which is accustomed to indulge in no such dialectic of oppositions. And a mind accustomed to move in such a climate of opinion could not but view the "authoritarian" Church as intrinsically the enemy of "liberty." Actually, in the minds of many, RL will lend much color to the current assumption, based on faulty philosophical thinking and a superficial reading of history, that active persecution is in the very logic of a religion of dogma and authority. That such an assumption could arise (and be sustained by this book) is but another testimony to the continuing failure of Protestant thought to develop any genuine philosophy of authority in its relations to freedom. This failure is bad enough; what is worse is the persistent Protestant habit of viewing authority as it concretely exists in the Catholic Church (wherein it is perfectly reconciled with all that freedom can ask) through the distorting glass of Protestant philosophy (through which authority appears as irreconcilable with freedom.) RL proves again, if it needed to be proved, that the major religious controversies of today are not pitched on the plane of the Christian revelation as such, but on the plane of the philosophy of religion.
RL's very brief discussion of the concept of "liberty" and of "conscience" is too superficial to merit comment; its general quality may fairly be gauged from the apparent approval given to Ruggiero's remarkable dictum: "The eternal glory of Kant is to have demonstrated that obedience to the moral law is freedom" (p. 296).
But the section on Church and State is quite interesting, chiefly by reason of its weakness. As a matter of fact, in the ecclesiology maintained by RL the problem of Church and State does not arise. The book conceives Christianity to have been originally a sort of "spiritual movement," without social form. Only later did it begin to develop "in small voluntary groups" (p. 283), by a process of free association between likeminded men, undertaken for reasons that are not well specified, but which seem to be related to the general necessity of cohesiveness, if Christianity was to be a "power" in the world and against the world. The "churches," therefore, in their institutional form are of purely human origin; they are "gathered" entities, whose social form is of the purely human order. They are somehow vehicles
of "religion"; but the only element of divinity in them is their "religion," not their "institutional" character. This latter has no directly spiritual significance, which is possessed solely by the invisible, free fellowship. In fact, the institution imposes itself on the fellowship not merely as an alien element but as a positive threat. It threatens the voluntary character of the fellowship itself, by its concern for its own cohesiveness, which tends to coerce its members into a dreaded "uniformity." It likewise threatens other voluntary bodies, by seeking to impose itself on them. Actually, church "organization" as such is, directly or indirectly, for purposes of power; and therein lies its intrinsic danger. For power tends to coerce; and therefore the "institution" tends to become the instrument of coercion and the enemy of "religion," which is essentially "voluntary."
This, of course, is the familiar Liberal Protestant concept of Christian origins and of the nature of the Church, in a form whose extremism accentuates its superficiality. My single point is that in this ecclesiology the problem of Church and State does not arise. If the churches in their institutional form and with their institutional "authority" (whatever it may be) are all of purely human origin, formed by a process of voluntary association, they can have no other position within the organized social community than that of corporations of private law. And all such corporations necessarily possess a completely equal juridical status. To ask whether one of them should be juridically privileged above others would be as silly as to ask whether General Motors should be in law more privileged than the Ford Motor Company.
In this ecclesiology, the only conceivable alternative would be the Erastian national church. Its theory supposes (rightly enough, in the framework of Liberal Protestant ecclesiology) that the only external spiritual authority resides in the secular prince, who is therefore charged not only with the good of the temporal community but also with that of the church. He assumes the headship of the church and directly spiritual jurisdiction, thus identifying church and State in his own person. He makes the church but another aspect of the State, and therefore erects it to the status of a corporation of public law, as the State itself is.
Neither of these two arrangements creates any real problem of Church and State. Actually, the real problem exists only in the Catholic hypothesis, that the Church is a society in its own right, existing jure divino, with its own unity, structure, and governmentnone of which elements are of human creation, but are "given," as the Church herself is "given," not "gathered." Then the problem arises of establishing right juridical relationships between these two independent societies, each of which has its own proper
sovereignty, to be exercised in distinct fields, determined by law, natural and revealed. This factthat the problem of Church and State is theological, and at the same time political, in the terms of its statementdoes not, of course, emerge in RL. Or rather, in a sense, it does. In the sense, namely, that RL "solves" the problem in terms of an ecclesiology which abolishes it. The unscientific thing is that this ecclesiology is assumed, not proved; and, that is worse, it operates as a hidden principle of solution.
Characteristically, an empirical approach to the problem is taken, in a chapter entitled, "The Movement of History Critically Viewed." This chapter is, to speak kindly, lamentable. For one thing, it gives no idea at all of the movement of history, or of the five or six eras that may be distinguished in it, or of the theological and political ideas that determined the movement from one phase to another. Secondly, the criticism is faltering (as a consequence, I should say, of the book's fundamental honesty). On the one hand, "separation of Church and State" is favored (without ever being carefully defined; as in most Protestant writing, the phrase serves as a slogan to cover a whole religious and social philosophy). On the other hand, it is frankly admitted that "separation in much concrete experience is the concomitant, almost the equivalent, of the secularization of the community which is the contemporary demon for so many Christian and other religious leaders of our time" (p. 312).
Finally, the whole case falls rather flat when an attempt is made to argue for "separation," not on experiential, but on theoretical, grounds. The whole case is really made in one sentence: "The argument for separation is soundly based in the voluntary and spiritual character of religion, by contrast with the coercive and secular nature of the State, even though contact between the two is both necessary and desirable" (p. 313). This is indeed a remarkable "argument." If it proves anything, it proves that the Church is of the spiritual order and the State of the temporal order. In other words, Church and State are distinct social entities, with distinct characters and ends. As the following sentence rightly, if somewhat superfluously, adds: "The differentiation of function requires differentiation of organization." In effect, therefore, RL is saying that an argument which establishes the distinction of Church and State also proves the case for their "separation."
This, to a Catholic, is wholly unintelligible. Catholic thought starts from the fact that there is a differentiation in organization between Church and State; they are distinct societies. But this fact does not solve the problem of whether there should be "union" or "separation" between them; on the contrary, it creates the problem. We begin where RL apparently leaves off. Actually, the use of this "argument" by RL confirms my impression that
when Protestant thinkers discuss "union" or "separation" of Church and State they are inevitably thinking in Erastian terms. If RL's section on the movement of history critically viewed had been better done, it would have revealed the resolute opposition of the Catholic Church to every form of Erastianism.
However, in its very weakness this section is interesting. As is customary, the Catholic Church is reproached with her supposed unwillingness "to grant the principle of separation" (p. 472). Yet, curiously enough, when an attempt is made to prove the "principle" of separation, the result is failure. Or rather, the proof establishes simply that "separation" can only be a pragmatic principle, a policy, a prudential arrangement designed to secure the best possible ensemble of religious and social values, or, in other words, a legitimate piece of expediency. Which, of course, is exactly the view that the Catholic Church takes of it; the Church has always granted that "separation" is this kind of "principle"a principle of the pragmatic order.
RL favors "separation" on such grounds as these: that "clericalism" gives rise to "anticlericalism," that the Church is better off under a regime of "separation," that "union" means the subservience of the Church and hypocrisy on the part of citizens, that privilege brings resentments and strife, that, in a word, "separation" is "the policy of freedom and internal peace" (p. 314). But these are all arguments from expediency, that tend to favor "separation" as the better ecclesiastical and social policy. None of them establish "separation" as a speculative principle, a dictate rooted in the nature of things and imposed by the intrinsic character of Church and State. Curiously enough, the best possible Protestant case for "separation" is made in a citation from the National Christian Council of India:
What is chiefly curious about this paragraph is that it might well have been written by Leo XIII himself. It is a remarkably exact statement of the Catholic position: "separation" is a pragmatic measure of high practical value in a mixed religious context, as a means of insuring social unity and co-operation toward the common good. That is what "separation," in principle, isnothing else. And in this sense we freely grant "the principle of separation." What we refuse to grantbut what we are usually asked
to grant when this whole question comes upis the historical validity of Liberal Protestant ecclesiology. In other words, we refuse to grant that the Catholic Church developed as a voluntary religious body, formed simply by process of free association, on human impulse, with the result that its juridical status within any organized community can only be that of a corporation of private law, equal in every respect to all other such corporations, and superior to none of them.
I regret being persistently unfavorable in criticism, but I cannot help remarking how unsatisfactory is RL's discussion of the grounds of religious liberty in natural law and natural rights (a discussion which is most unaccountably separated from a section on "Religious Liberty in Terms of Ethics and Philosophy," as if they were not related). Protestant thought today is being drawn to the topic of natural law; but it still handles the concept with considerable uneasiness, caused probably by the strongly intellectualist character of this doctrine. At all events, RL quite misses a most important application of the doctrine in the matter of religious libertyI mean the manner in which this doctrine affords the foundation of a political philosophy wherein the State emerges in fully rational form, with its relative sovereignty and independence of the Church established, and the nature, function, and limitations of political authority exactly defined. The development of this political philosophythe concept of the "natural-law State"was of decisive importance in giving a correct status to the age-old problem of the relations between the spiritual and temporal orders, and dismissing from Catholic tradition the theocratic and curialist elements that had obtained an unwarranted but explicable place. Here and there RL is willing to give some measure of guarded tribute to the services of the Church in resisting the overweening claims of the State. But there is, so far as I can see, nowhere an awareness that this resistance was fundamentally inspired by what the natural law teaches with regard to the limits of political authority. There is, in fact, a faint suggestion that this resistance was simply the product of a conflict of rival authoritarianisms, each pretending to be everywhere absolute. In the same connection it may be said that there is no awareness of the fact that the Church's opposition to Liberalism in its political expression was not an opposition to the "modern liberties" as such, but to the political philosophy on which they were predicated, and especially to the Hegelian concept of the State, wherein the "religious neutrality" of government was simply the consequence of the essentially amoral character of the State itself, as a suprapersonal entity, natively "atheist."
I must also point out a disastrous confusion that appears in the pages
devoted to religious liberty in its relation to the interests of the organized community. The confusion is between two questions which ought to be kept carefully distinct. The first is this: Is religious diversity within the community a good desirable in itself, as a thing divinely willed? The second question is this: Given the fact of religious diversity, is it a better thing for society to assure, by constitutional provisions, full equality for the diverse beliefs and forms of unbelief? These are distinct questions, to be solved by distinct principles. The first question is a matter of religious belief, to be solved by an appeal to the will of God. The second question is a matter of religio-social policy, to be solved by an appeal to the common good, made in the light of ethical principles.
A rather cognate confusion also appears. It is argued that religious unity is no longer conceived as necessary for political unity. This is admittedly true, and is substantiated sufficiently by political experience. But then the argument is prolonged: since religious unity is no longer necessary for political unity, therefore it is no longer necessary at all. Here again there is a confusion between a theological question and a political and cultural one. Finally, there is a third confusion of a similar nature. It is argued that diversification within a culture contributes to, and is necessary for, the vitality of the culture; a "monolithic" culture, as it is called, risks stagnation. Rightly understood, this may be granted. But this argument, too, is prolonged: since cultural diversity is a good thing in itself, and a source of cultural vitality, so also religious diversity is in itself desirable, as a source of vitality in religion; in order to have genuine religion on a high level in a community one must have a lot of contradictory "religions" competing on equal terms in a free field. (This argument is a considerable part of RL's case for the right of free missionary activity.) The theoretical fallacy in the argument is evident; it equates the order of human culture with the order of divine truth, as contained in religion. The practical fallacy is no less obvious from sheer experience; on the theory that "the more religions, the more religion," the United States should be the most religious country on earth; few will be prepared to say that it is.
I mention these issues because they are real issues, and because a sound theory of religious liberty must deal with them firmly, and in their distinctness. I do not see that RL so deals with them.
A major effort of the whole work is to "base religious liberty in religion itself" (too simple a Problematik, again). For the out-and-out religious Liberal, who is at least a relativist, if not a complete skeptic in the field of religious truth, this is quite easy. But for the sincere Protestant who still maintains some conception of the absoluteness of religious conviction and
the objectivity of religious truth, the task is more difficult. He is continually brought up against what Newman long ago pointed out to be the perennial problem of the Liberal: "How shall I so maintain that I am right, is not to imply that you, who contradict me, are wrong?" Or, in a somewhat different statement: "If I am not 'free' to deny the validity of my personal religious convictions, how are you 'free' to deny their validity?" In either statement, of course, the problem is a false one; but the Liberal is nonetheless stuck with it.
The customary answer (represented, with wonted vagueness, in RL) is in terms of what is called "humility." One puts forth one's "truth" as truth, indeed, but with the recognition that the human mind is finite, subject to error, limited in its grasp on truth, and therefore obliged to be, in effect, both categorical and tentative. Not being a Protestant, I quite fail to understand this concept of "humility" (which is the antithesis, of course, of my Roman "pride"). Moreover, fully admitting the notion (classic since Augustine) of the influence of moral dispositions on one's perception the truth, I do not see how the intellectual issue of truth vs. error can be legitimately turned into the moral issue of pride vs. humility. At best, this "solution" is a deus ex machina, summoned to rescue the sorely tried Liberal. And at all events it involves the inadmissible fallacy of playing intelligence off against virtue. When I say, for instance, that there are definitely seven sacraments, and definitely not three, I am either correct or mistaken in my assertion. My moral virtue in making the assertion does not come into question. To ask me to be properly "humble," and to assert that there are seven sacraments only in such a way as to leave the door open to the possibility that someone else may be quite right in asserting that there are only three, is to ask me to prostitute not only my intelligence but his.
I should like to be able to comment at some length on RL's exposition of the position of the Catholic Church on religious liberty; but space forbids. It has been called the fairest exposition of Catholic doctrine ever written by a Protestant. So it probably is. But it is still far from being a good exposition. For one thing, it is not strictly an exposition; for there is continual editorializing and a certain amount of polemic, of the kind that does not meet assertions head-on, but outflanks them by adjectival qualification of the unconscionable authority with which they are made, or of the implications that they supposedly carry. Moreover, the basis of the exposition is narrowMoulart (as mediated by the Information Bulletin of the Federal Council), Vermeersch, and Pohle's article in the Catholic Encyclopedia; thereafter Leo XIII is tackled with much good will but no great insight (papal encyclicals are difficult enough for the ordinary Cathohc; it is not surprising
that Protestants should stumble around in them rather uncomprehendinglyas uncomprehendingly, doubtless, as I myself have stumbled around in RL).
For one not versed in the Scholastic tradition in philosophy and theology it is not easy to write an exposition of the Catholic doctrine on religious liberty. Actually, there is little formal literature on the subject. The Catholic position must be constructed from the immense literature on ethics (the concepts of liberty, conscience, law, etc.), the theology of the Church, the relations between Church and State, and political philosophy. Almost all this literature is in Latin. Given this fact, the shortcomings of RL's exposition may be readily understood.
However, the major difficulty is the one already mentioned: Catholic doctrine viewed through the medium of Protestant philosophy inevitably appears distorted. Take this statement: "The binding authority of the Church over the consciences and the minds of believers tends to make religious liberty a freedom of the Pope and the hierarchy, not of the Catholic layman" (p. 473). Behind this remark seem to lie two assumptions, which, put in their fully clarified form, are the following: first, the authority of the: Church is an arbitrary power, in whose exercise, therefore, Pope and bishops are entirely "free"; secondly, being subject to this authority (i.e., power), the layman is, by that very fact, not "free." Again appears the familiar antinomy between authority and freedom. Actually, the remark cited grossly misrepresents the whole situation. That it should have been sincerely made illustrates once again the contemporary basis of controversynot the authority of Pope or bishops (as of old), but the very nature of; authority itself.
I greatly fear that what the ordinary Protestant reader will take away from this whole exposition of Roman Catholic doctrine will be (1) a general; idea that this doctrine is highly complicated, and (2) the notion that, when all the complications are dismissed, this doctrine is at heart a "crude opportunism: union [between Church and State] when Catholics can gain power, prestige, and financial aid thereby; separation when Catholics are not dominant" (p. 464). The background of this latter notion will be the feeling that, although many Catholic laymen are decent enough fellows of a fairly tolerant spirit, the Catholic Church, in its institutional aspect, is simply a mighty power-organization, whose inner dynamism is toward totalitarian control over the whole temporal order, to the inevitable destruction o religious liberty.
Obviously, RL does not deliberately go out to build up this idea, which forms the current "line" of Protestant propaganda. It is too honest an sincere a book. However, it will contribute to the building up of the idea
because its essential defect is the same crudeness in philosophical thought that is the support of the idea. Perhaps this would be the fairest judgment on the book as a whole: it is very honest, but crude.
New York City
JOHN COURTNEY MURRAY, S.J.
1946d. Review of Religious Liberty: An Inquiry, by M. Searle Bates. Theological Studies 7 (March): 151–63.