This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The example of Dignitatis Humanae

When it comes to such convoluted disputes, it is helpful to isolate a single element in the controversy which epitomizes it; and then, by dissecting this error, we are able to reach an understanding of the nature of the problem in its entirety.

In my experience, the most debated item from the council is its Declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae (Latin: “Of the Dignity of the Human Person”). Compared to the controversy it has sparked, it is a remarkably short document, as well as very limited in its scope (which should automatically suggest to us that it ought to be read in a certain way). The source of the contention hinges on whether or not it overturns the previous teachings on religious worship and, in particular, the relationship of the State with the religion. For example, the declaration expressly forbids the State to coerce a citizen into the confession of a particular creed. At the same time it upholds the noble teaching that only the free conscience can make a true profession of faith.[1] Citizens may not be compelled to adopt the faith under any circumstances. At a glance, this appears to be a change in attitude from the position previously held by the Church, which had always insisted on the public profession of Christ’s social kingship—particularly through the voice of Leo XIII.

We will return to the issue of Church and State at the appropriate point in our study, but for now it suffices to quote a section from Dignitatis Humanae which is all too often disregarded, but which points us in the direction of clarity as to the Council’s intent:

“Religious freedom…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.”[2]

Now, taking what we already said above regarding the relationship between Church and State, and if we also admit that Dignitatis Humanae does contain statements which would seem to contradict “traditional Catholic doctrine,” we must choose between three possible ways of handling the situation:

  1. We can ignore the quote above, take the apparent departure from tradition as a real departure from tradition, side with tradition, reject the document, the council, and all post-conciliar popes, and thereby separate ourselves from the Church as it exists today. This option corresponds with the so called “sedevacantists.”
  2. We can ignore the quote above, take the apparent departure from tradition as real departure from tradition, side against tradition, thereby separating ourselves from two-thousand years of Church teachings. This is the position of the liberal or “modernist” elements of the Church.
  3. We can take the quote above into full account, giving the Magisterium the benefit of the doubt which it deserves, assuming that it would not so blatantly contradict itself. We can then set ourselves to the task of reconciling the apparent contradiction between Dignitatis Humanae and the traditional understanding on religious liberty, such as the one taught by Leo XIII in Immortale Dei and Libertas. (Both of Leo XIII’s encyclicals, we might add, are cited in Dignitatis Humanae.) For example, we can assume that a State may be forbidden to coerce belief while at one and the same time being obligated to acknowledge Christ as King.

We will adopt the third approach throughout this study. Any other way of going about things would make this project, and any other of its kind, a waste of effort. How exactly this reconciliation of an apparent contradiction must be handled will become clear in what follows.

[1] DH, 2.

[2] DH, 1.

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