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Christian teaching gave rise to understanding of human rights, says Vatican official

Catholic World News - December 16, 2013

The very notion of human rights “originated in a Christian context,” the Vatican’s top foreign-policy official has stated.

Speaking at a conference held in Rome under the auspices of Georgetown University, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Secretary for Relations with States, observed that a profound appreciation for the value of freedom has always been present in Christian thought, beginning with the teachings of Jesus Christ and continuing with St. Paul’s emphasis on the need for interior freedom.

The archbishop reminded his audience that the world is now observing the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which began a process of establishing recognize human rights, and especially “the recognition of religious freedom as the first of human rights.”

“Freedom cannot be reduced to mere caprice, or understood in a purely negative sense as the absence of constraint,” Archbishop Mamberti cautioned. A proper understanding of human freedom acknowledges the role of both reason and faith, he said, and in this way “provides a bulwark against both relativism and against those forms of religious fundamentalism which, like relativism, see in religious freedom a threat to their own ideological dominance.”

When the Second Vatican Council affirmed the need for religious freedom, the archbishop said, “it was not proposing a new teaching. Rather, it was restating a common human experience,” and an age-old understanding that rational men, exercising their freedom responsibly, are inclined by nature to seek the truth. “And it is precisely in this connection,” he said, “that we discover the authentic dignity of the human person.”

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