"You aim at a devout life, dear Philothea, because as a Christian you know that such devotion is most acceptable to God's Divine Majesty," says St. Francis de Sales in his book "Introduction to the Devout Life".
And we can all be Philotheas, as St. Francis notes: "I have made use of a name suitable to all who seek the devout life, Philothea meaning one who loves God."
There’s lots of talk, of course, about the current issue of
the HHS contraception mandate, and the affront to “religious freedom” in this
country. This is as it should be, I think, and I am very glad that the bishops
are at least using strong language and urging people to take action by
contacting their representatives and senators.
Still, it seems to me that there is an even greater
foundational issue to consider. Spurred on by a couple of comments on my post “War
on Conscience, or War on Truth?” I have spent the last couple of days
thinking and reading about these concepts:
Freedom of religion
Freedom of the Church
These concepts “legislated” and considered in our
Constitution, and if our bishops end up in court over the HHS mandate, the
issue will be resolved (sort of) on a short term legal basis. I hope that’s not the end of it, though; there are
questions here that the Church really must address with the faithful on a
long-term spiritual basis.
First, let’s back to the legal part: what’s the difference
between freedom of religion and freedom of the church?
This is apparently a question that’s been tossed around in constitutional
law circles for a long, long time. (Who knew?!)
Dr. Steven D. Smith has written:
The embarrassments of modern
religion clause jurisprudence are no secret. …[T]he most serious embarrassments
can be traced back to a common misconception: we have supposed that the First
Amendment’s religion clauses are about religion. They are not. They are
about the church. ("Freedom of Religion or Freedom of the Church", August 2011)
In a nutshell, “freedom of the church” means that the
institution of the church, the organization itself, if you will, should be free
of coercion and/or interference from secular governmental forces so that it can
pursue its divine mission of saving souls.
concept has its roots in the struggle in the “Investiture Controversy” of the
11th and 12th centuries, when the Church sought relief
from the control and manipulation of kings and emperors who dictated the
appointment of clerics; and the struggle went on for centuries.
the word used in the Constitution is “religion”, not “church”, so we need to
ask what that meant for the founding fathers. First of all, as far as I know,
the founding fathers were all Protestants, and so I imagine that if you said “the
Church” to them, - you know, Church with a capital C – they’d be thinking, “those
darn Papists!” Protestants don’t have a Church in the same sense Catholics do;
there’s no one source of authoritative doctrine, and that’s why there are so
many Protestant sects. Dr. Smith notes:
Thus, in Protestant thinking,
some of the central functions previously performed by the church were
transferred to the individual conscience. Earlier, the laity had depended on
priests to read the scriptures, teach the Gospel, and perform the sacraments;
in the Protestant “priesthood of all believers,” by contrast, anyone could read
the Bible for himself or herself, and could commune with God directly without
the intercession of priests, saints, or sacraments… ("Freedom of Religion or Freedom of the Church", August 2011)
The “church” then, for Protestants, becomes more “internal”
than “external”, and this leads to the reliance on the term “conscience”. “Conscience”
becomes the voice of God within us, and “conscience” supplies the “authoritative
doctrine” for Protestants that the magisterium of the Church supplies to
Catholics. So, for the founding fathers, it seems likely that “religion” was,
in a sense, another word for “church”, but with a more Protestant connotation.
Even in Church teaching we see muddying of the waters. Dignitatis Humanae, the Vatican II
document on religious freedom, further conflated the concepts of “freedom of
religion” and “freedom of the Church” and “conscience” for our day and age. The
document begins by stating that the Council professes the one true Catholic faith,
and then goes on to discuss “religious freedom” (my emphases):
2. This Vatican Council
declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom
means that…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.
…the right to religious freedom
…continues to exist even in those who do
not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and
the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.
words sound good, but there’s some muddying going on here, especially if one
considers what’s going on in our society today in the name of conscience and
religious freedom! The document insists on “freedom of religion” as a universal
right, even for those who are following a false religion, “within due limits” and “provided
that just public order be observed”; and it also seems to insist on “freedom
of the Church”, since it is the Church which presents us with truth and the
means to define “limits” and “just public order”.
really determines “due limits” and “just
public order” in our society? The Church? Obama and Sebelius? The individual?
Obviously, we are going to have vastly different definitions from each of those
quarters! And of course the notion of “conscience rights” follows from this –
which for most people today simply means “what I think is right”. That is not a
useful construct (and it is not what the Church means by “conscience”)! It can
only lead to anarchy, as individuals with opposing views of right and wrong demand
that they be allowed to follow their own consciences. The law cannot recognize
the myriad differences in individuals’ “morality” and remain effective in any
sense of the word.
that’s why the choice of words is important. Are we talking about freedom of
religion, or freedom of the Church?
recently-decided Supreme Court case of Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran
Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was hailed
as a victory for freedom of religion,
but really it seems more like a victory for freedom of the church – the freedom of the institution to govern itself (hire and
fire teachers and ministers, for example), rather than being forced to comply
with state or federal laws concerning discrimination in employment issues. It seems that it would be very good to make
it about “freedom of the church”; that’s a much more clear-cut distinction. (See
this article: Libertas
Ecclesiae versus Libertas Religionis)
make it all about freedom of religion,
though, we open another can of worms…not that the can isn’t already open. We
open the door to all kinds of “religions” whose adherents then demand certain
rights and recognitions – like homosexual “marriage” and the “right” not to
have to view a Nativity scene on public property during the Christmas season
and the right to abortion and contraception. Again, Dignitatis Humanae does address this problem by calling for
religious freedom “within due limits”,
and “as long as the just requirements of
public order are observed”. But it’s pretty clear that these limits have
gone by the wayside in our society; they are not being observed.
So why is this important for the Church?
important for the Church because one reason why “due limits” are not being
observed in our society today is that the Church is not observing them – or teaching
them. The Church is not speaking up for the truth – and this includes bishops,
priests, and laity. We have succumbed to the “conscience rights” of moral
relativists, and to “tolerance” of morally evil behaviors and actions. We as
Catholics don’t follow our own consciences, and in that failure we are complicit
in the ills of society.
we speak up for the truth? Let me count the ways:
political correctness fostered by “ecumenism”
poor catechesis of the faithful
abandonment of Church teaching on some issues
bad liturgy. Seriously.
what will be the cost of not speaking up for the truth in our current problem
with the HHS contraception mandate? It may mean that, despite their bishops’
exhortations, many Catholics will fail
to take action because they don’t know (or believe) the truth about the evil of
contraception, and the vast majority of Catholics use some sort of
contraception. On this last point, I asked two law professors whether they
thought the court would be influenced by the facts of Catholic contraception
use; both said that many judges probably would be swayed by that fact…even if
the bishops take the case to court on the basis of religious freedom and conscience
rights, it may be that the judge won’t take the bishops’ complaint seriously. After
all, how can the Catholic Church maintain that this is an issue of “conscience”
when Catholics use artificial contraception in the same proportions as the
general population? The conscience of the Church is not reflected in the
individual consciences of Catholics throughout the US, apparently!
the way, aren’t those Catholics who deviate from Church teaching on the use of
contraception just exercising their “freedom of religion”? Aren’t they
following their consciences?
see? The words are important.
most important word, I think, is “truth”. We must teach the truth. We must
argue for the truth. The truth in
this situation is that artificial contraception is sinful, that some
contraceptives have abortifacient effects, and that sterilization is wrong. That’s
why they should not be paid for by insurance companies – regardless of the religious
affiliation of the various employers.
only argue for these truths if we believe them.
your faith. Know your faith. Teach your faith.