“In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church.”

From Dignitatis humanae, the Declaration on the Right of the Person and of Communities to Social and Civil Freedom in Religious Matters (1965):

13. Among the things that concern the good of the Church and indeed the welfare of society here on earth—things therefore that are always and everywhere to be kept secure and defended against all injury—this certainly is preeminent, namely, that the Church should enjoy that full measure of freedom which her care for the salvation of men requires.[1] This is a sacred freedom, because the Only-begotten Son endowed with it the Church which He purchased with His blood. Indeed it is so much the property of the Church that to act against it is to act against the will of God. The freedom of the Church is the fundamental principle in what concerns the relations between the Church and governments and the whole civil order.

In human society and in the face of government the Church claims freedom for herself in her character as a spiritual authority, established by Christ the Lord, upon which there rests, by divine mandate, the duty of going out into the whole world and preaching the Gospel to every creature.[2] The Church also claims freedom for herself in her character as a society of men who have the right to live in society in accordance with the precepts of the Christian faith.[3]

In turn, where the principle of religious freedom is not only proclaimed in words or simply incorporated in law but also given sincere and practical application, there the Church succeeds in achieving a stable situation of right as well as of fact and the independence which is necessary for the fulfillment of her divine mission.

This independence is precisely what the authorities of the Church claim in society.[4] At the same time, the Christian faithful, in common with all other men, possess the civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their consciences. Therefore, a harmony exists between the freedom of the Church and the religious freedom which is to be recognized as the right of all men and communities and sanctioned by constitutional law.

14. In order to be faithful to the divine command, “teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19-20), the Catholic Church must work with all urgency and concern “that the word of God be spread abroad and glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1). Hence the Church earnestly begs of its children that, “first of all, supplications, prayers, petitions, acts of thanksgiving be made for all men. … For this is good and agreeable in the sight of God our Savior, who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4). In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church.[5] For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself. Furthermore, let Christians walk in wisdom in the face of those outside, “in the Holy Spirit, in unaffected love, in the word of truth” (2 Cor. 6:6-7), and let them be about their task of spreading the light of life with all confidence[6] and apostolic courage, even to the shedding of their blood.

The disciple is bound by a grave obligation toward Christ, his Master, ever more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it, never—be it understood—having recourse to means that are incompatible with the spirit of the Gospel. At the same time, the charity of Christ urges him to love and have prudence and patience in his dealings with those who are in error or in ignorance with regard to the faith.[7] All is to be taken into account—the Christian duty to Christ, the life-giving word which must be proclaimed, the rights of the human person, and the measure of grace granted by God through Christ to men who are invited freely to accept and profess the faith.

[1] Cf. Leo XIII, letter Officio Sanctissimo, Dec. 22, 1887: AAS 20 (1887), p. 269; idem, letter Ex Litteris, April 7, 1887: AAS 19 (1886), p. 465.

[2] Cf. Mark 16:15; Matt. 28:18-20, Pius XII, encycl. Summi Pontificatus, Oct. 20, 1939: AAS 31 (1939), pp. 445–46.

[3] Cf. Pius XI, letter Firmissimam Constantiam, March 28, 1937: AAS 29 (1937), p. 196.

[4] Cf. Pius XII, allocution, Ci Riesce, Dec. 6, 1953: AAS 45 (1953), p. 802.

[5] Cf. Pius XII, radio message, March 23, 1952: AAS 44 (1952) pp. 270–78.

[6] Cf. Acts 4:29.

[7] Cf. John XXIII, encycl. Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963: AAS 55 (1963), pp. 299–300.

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4 Responses to “In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church.”

  1. anilwang says:

    I think this “that the Church should enjoy that full measure of freedom which her care for the salvation of men requires” captures the heart of the culture war.

    On one side we have the view of unconditional help. Mother Teresa is a good exemplar. It didn’t matter if you were Catholic or Hindu, she helped. It didn’t matter if you could pay back, she helped. In fact, she only accepted people who were so hopeless that no-one else would help them.

    On the other side we have the view of conditional help. Only help, “if you conform to our social and political policy, and only use the money the way we tell you, and not do anything we don’t want you to do, and you must change your constitution to what we think is best”. Not only that, if you reject our help, “we will use the media in your country to get your people to know that they are suffering because you care more about politics than their well being”.

    The unconditional help world view is simply not comprehensible to anyone with the conditional help world view. They reason, if you truly care, you want them to “get with the program and become as prosperous and enlightened as us…they might not like it now but they will thank us later when they understand”. And they reason, if you are truly wise, you want to “get a return on your investment” and “make sure they don’t spend the money on things that work against your interests”. So people who give unconditional help are either uncaring or fools or pushing their agendas in secret. In any case, people who give unconditional help are “a waste and a burden on society that needs to he conditionally helped until they become enlightened like us”.

    True unconditional help can only come from the hands of God. The extent to which the Church reflects God, is the extent that it will be completely incomprehensible to the world. IMO, oddly enough, if the Church is incomprehensible enough, it will convert the world since the world will be forced to reconsider it’s “not caring/not wise/devious” view of the Church since it will simply not line up with reality.

  2. Ambrose Jnr says:

    Thank you, Fr Z, for publishing parts of Dignitate Humanae. As usual, what the Vat II texts say is much less liberal than what it has been purported to say.

    However, this very doc is the real cause of concern from a traditionist perspective, since it seems to contradict the Magisterium of the Popes of the previous 2 centuries….this document is the hot potato and basis of non-agreement between the SSPX and the current Magisterium…therefore, establishing its authority is vital. Can its article 1.2 be interpreted away in a jesuitical manner so that the Magisterium of the Ages is completely respected also?

  3. Nicole says:

    From Dignitatis Humanae, Second Vatican Council: ‘At the same time, the Christian faithful, in common with all other men, possess the civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their consciences.’

    Does this mean that if my religion included sacrificing infants that I possess the civil right to do so and should not be hindered in doing so…since such action would be in accordance with my conscience?

    and How does that square with earlier teaching?

    From Mirari Vos, # 14: ‘This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. “But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error,” as Augustine was wont to say.[21] When all restraints are removed by which men are kept on the narrow path of truth, their nature, which is already inclined to evil, propels them to ruin. Then truly “the bottomless pit”[22] is open from which John saw smoke ascending which obscured the sun, and out of which locusts flew forth to devastate the earth. Thence comes transformation of minds, corruption of youths, contempt of sacred things and holy laws — in other words, a pestilence more deadly to the state than any other. Experience shows, even from earliest times, that cities renowned for wealth, dominion, and glory perished as a result of this single evil, namely immoderate freedom of opinion, license of free speech, and desire for novelty. ‘

    From Singulari Nos, # 3: ‘We were very much amazed, venerable brothers, when at first We understood the blindness of this wretched author, for in him knowledge does not come from God, but from the elements of the world; this “knowledge” bursts forth. Against the oath solemnly given in his declaration, he cloaked Catholic teaching in enticing verbal artifice, in order ultimately to oppose it and overthrow it. We expressed this in Our letter mentioned above concerning both the dutiful submission toward authorities and the prevention of the fatal contamination of the people by indifferentism. It also concerned measures to use against the spreading license of ideas and speeches. Finally, it concerned that freedom of conscience which should be thoroughly condemned and the repulsive conspiracy of societies enkindling destruction of sacred and state affairs, even from the followers of false religions, as We have made clear by the authority handed down to Us. ‘

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