Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Blessed John Henry Newman and the Search for Truth in the Post-Relativist University

by Bishop James D. Conley, S.T.L.


On September 16, 2012, Bishop James Conley speaking at Harvard University’s Catholic campus center said that college students are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with relativism and encouraged his listeners to embrace Blessed John Henry Newman’s teaching on conscience rather than its “miserable counterfeit.”

Publisher & Date

Archdiocese of Denver, September 16, 2012

Good afternoon everyone!

Once again, I would like to thank Fr. Michael for his kind and gracious invitation to address you this afternoon. It was a joy to celebrate the special Mass of the Holy Spirit with you this morning as we called upon the Paraclete, the spirit of Truth, to guide us and bless us as we begin this new academic year.

I am blessed and honored to be here at Harvard and, I must admit, a bit intimidated to be in such a famous and historical place of learning and academics. But I am inspired by your university's motto “Veritas,” signifying “truth” – and I look forward to reflecting on the subject of truth in my talk this afternoon.

As I mentioned, this concept of truth, “Veritas,” is the topic of my remarks this afternoon, as I'll be discussing the roots and the consequences of the denial of truth in education. As those consequences become manifest, I hope we may see a renewal of the pursuit of truth in our universities.

This afternoon’s talk is partly about this hope. But it's also about the unspoken hunger for truth, a passion for truth, among young people, which can become a motivating force for that reawakening.

The philosophy of relativism may still dominate large portions of the academic world, but it is my contention that the philosophy of relativism is not intellectually compelling or personally satisfying for some of today's brightest students.

My hope is that this dissatisfaction with relativism will be pursued. If so, we may be able to move toward a better “post-relativist” period in education – one in which the idea of truth is not a taboo, or something to tiptoe around, but a central focus, an exciting romance and adventure.

The title of this talk is: Blessed John Henry Newman and the Search for Truth in the Post-Relativist University. I know it sounds a bit highfaluting but, hey, this is Harvard so I had to come up with an edgy title!

Many figures from the Catholic tradition can guide us in the intellectual renewal of our universities. Among the greatest and perhaps the most pertinent for our time is the 19th-century English convert, priest, and author Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.

A recent biographer of Blessed Newman, Fr. Juan Velez, summed up the Cardinal's life as one driven by a “passion for truth.” 1 The Victorian era abounded with formidable thinkers, but few were as deeply engaged with the question of truth as John Henry Newman.

First as an Anglican, and later as a Catholic, Newman took risks and made sacrifices to pursue the truth. He faced criticism, misunderstanding, and ostracism, particularly in 1845 when he came into full communion with the Church of Rome. He had discovered that only the Catholic Church possessed the fullness of Divine revelation, along with the God-given means to uphold it and proclaim it to the world.

Newman lived from 1801 to 1890, during an age in which religious truth was seen as increasingly irrelevant to public and even private life. During these same years, the multiplicity of Protestant denominations caused the foundations of the Christian faith to be called into question.

One of Newman's deepest concerns throughout his academic career was to uphold Christianity as a religion founded not on human opinions and preferences, but on revealed dogmatic truths.

Newman opposed what he called “religious liberalism” which held that “there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another” since all were supposedly just “matters of opinion.” Newman denounced this manifestation of relativism, which he described as “inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true.” 2

By the end of his life, Newman's intellectual and personal integrity were widely admired even by those who did not share his Catholic faith. 3 Today he remains a model and an inspiration, not just for Catholics and other Christians, but for anyone who recognizes the human person's capacity and need for truth.

Along with his concern for religious truth, Newman was also occupied with related matters such as the formation of conscience and the intellectual life. He saw the university as an environment in which knowledge could be valued and pursued as a good in itself.

In all of these areas, Blessed John Henry Newman spoke prophetically about many errors, which now dominate our cultural institutions – some 150 years later. In particular, he stands out as a herald of truth in the face of relativism which poses a grave threat to both faith and reason today.

Relativism, as I'll explain shortly, ironically contains many of the seeds of its own undoing. This ideology, also known as subjectivism, has certain inherent weaknesses. This is because it goes against the grain of human nature, by denying – or at least ignoring – each person's capacity and need to possess the truth -- to know the truth and to embrace it.

Most of my priestly and episcopal ministry has been spent working with college students both as a chaplain and as a professor – at three different institutions of higher learning (2 Catholic and one public.) And I have found that an increasing number of young people are beginning to discover that relativism or subjectivism is intellectually shallow and socially corrosive. They are tired of seeking self-fulfillment in a wilderness of mirrors. They are frustrated with having profound questions turned back on them as unanswerable.

In short, they want truth. Catholics must initiate a dialogue with these young people, to help them discover the fullness of truth as taught by the Church.

Recently I returned from walking a portion of the Camino to Santiago de Compostela and that ancient pilgrimage route is filled with young “seekers,” – young souls who are searching for meaning and purpose in life.

Blessed John Henry Newman's thought is especially useful in this regard, since Newman was a skilled philosopher and social critic, as well as a teacher of the faith. His thoughts on the question of truth merit consideration by all serious thinkers, particularly in our age of subjectivism and confusion.

I'll have more to say shortly about Newman's insight into the problem of relativism, which can serve as a starting point for dialogue with students who are frustrated by it.

But first, a bit of background is in order regarding the problem of relativism in the university. Where do things stand today, and how did we get there?

Twenty-five years ago, the University of Chicago professor Allan Bloom touched off a controversy over relativism with his book “The Closing of the American Mind.” Bloom's critique began with the assertion that “there is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” 4

These students were otherwise quite diverse in their backgrounds and worldviews. What united them, Bloom said, was their belief in the relativity of truth, and the evil of supposed “intolerance.” Objective moral truths were out; they were replaced by self-determined personal “values.” 5

Bloom's students were not looking to be radical or rebellious. In fact, he thought they were adhering to a principle in which they'd been indoctrinated: the principle that all opinions must be regarded as equally valid, to ensure society's freedom and the equality of individuals. Relativism was supposed to allow for “co-existence” in a pluralistic society, by making everyone's differences unimportant. 6

This philosophy has come to dominate Western culture relatively recently. But its roots stretch back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when philosophers like David Hume and Immanuel Kant sought to prove that religious truth lay beyond the scope of human knowledge, and could not be known with certainty.

That attack on revealed religion soon turned into an assault on moral foundations. Utilitarianism and Marxism denied that man was bound by any transcendent moral law, while Nietzsche called for a radical overturning of Jewish and Christian morality.

Events of the 20th century, including globalization and the world wars, convinced many people that society should be based not on any particular set of moral principles, but on the maximum degree of toleration for all possible values.

So in 1987, when Allan Bloom described relativism as the university's prevailing orthodoxy, he was describing a late stage in a long process. In fact, much of what he described had been foreseen and critiqued by Blessed John Henry Newman during the second half of the 19th century.

One of the strongest critiques of relativism, in fact, is developed in Newman's 1874 “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” a book-length work touching on issues of conscience and freedom, from a Catholic perspective. 7

Today's relativism is largely an extension of what Newman described, in that work, as a false conception of conscience and its rights. By understanding that false idea of conscience, we can pinpoint the problems with the ideology of relativism that arises from it.

For reasons of both principle and convenience, Victorian England had come to accept the notion that individuals should enjoy some degree of “liberty of conscience” 8 – by which was meant, a certain measure of intellectual and personal freedom in public life. It was unclear, however, just how far this freedom should extend, and on what basis it could be limited once it was granted in principle.

Along with these questions, there were larger philosophical issues surrounding the question of personal and intellectual freedom. Assuming such freedom truly existed and was a positive good, what was its higher purpose? Was it an end in itself, or a means to something higher?

There was also the related question as to where those freedoms came from in the first place. What gave the individual conscience its rights? What made them important or even sacred?

These are not easy questions. But Blessed John Henry Newman managed to cut through much of the confusion, in his writings on conscience and freedom. He distinguished between true and false conceptions of conscience and its rights, by posing a fundamental question: Is conscience rooted in some form of transcendent moral law or not?

If it is, then it follows that conscience has sacred rights but also serious responsibilities. And those rights and responsibilities derive from the same source – which ultimately is God, and his law by which he has ordered the world 9. Conscience has its rights precisely because that law must be freely and willingly acknowledged, accepted, and followed by each human person.

Others, however, would attempt to explain conscience quite differently. In particular, they would deny that it has any relation to a transcendent and eternal moral law. Conscience is then seen as responsible only to itself, and each individual becomes the supreme judge of how he uses his personal and intellectual freedom.

Like all of us, such a person still judges somehow between right and wrong; but he does so while rejecting either the existence or the accessibility of a transcendent standard by which to tell the difference. He says either that there is no standard; or it cannot be known with any certainty; or that it does not really matter that he should have a firm grasp of it as long as his intentions seem good to him – that “he meant well.”

In his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Newman drew a sharp distinction between these two accounts of conscience – with one accepting and the other rejecting or ignoring the connection to an objective and transcendent moral law.

In affirming that law as the source of conscience, Newman famously stated that “conscience has rights because it has duties.” We have a right to seek the truth with a certain freedom, precisely because we have a duty to learn that truth and freely obey it. 10

According to Newman, conscience must choose to embrace objective reality, which is not of our own making and is not up for a vote. Conscience has freedom so that it may give sincere assent to what is true. Such freedom is not given for us to embrace and follow whatever is to our liking.

But that, indeed, is the nature of what Newman described as a “miserable counterfeit” which “now goes by the name” of conscience 11, claiming the rights of conscience without any acknowledgment of the corresponding duties. It claims the right “for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases,” without even worrying about whether one's opinions truly correspond to reality. 12 We are familiar with common catch phrases which illustrate this point: “to each his own” or “who’s to say” or “live and let live.”

On this account, freedom of thought involves no obligation to seek and obey the truth, which may or may not exist or be knowable. In fact, many proponents of this view would say that conscience is entitled to freedom precisely because matters of principle are ultimately just matters of opinion and personal preference.

The philosophical argument between these two positions has not advanced significantly since Newman wrote in the 1870s; but the two philosophies have each gained ground in different ways.

Newman's account of conscience, as having “rights because it has duties,” helped to lay the foundation for the Catholic Church's teaching on the civil right to religious liberty and freedom of conscience, in the Vatican II document “Dignitatis Humanae.”

Meanwhile, the “counterfeit” idea of conscience – as having only rights, but no ultimate responsibilities – became the basis for our modern relativism. In continuity with the attitude described by Newman, relativism envisions freedom of conscience simply as the right to think and act as one pleases – without any higher justification for doing so, and without any reference to the obligation to seek the truth.

Given the ascendancy of the subjectivist ideology in recent decades, you may wonder why I would venture to introduce the prospect of a “post-relativist” university climate.

This is, admittedly, a matter of speculation; but when we consider what relativism is, and what it does to individuals and societies, there are reasons to see it as unsustainable. There are reasons to hope that some of our young intellectuals, even those who are not yet religious believers, may come to reject it. Perhaps you or your classmates are beginning to discover this frustration, particularly those who profess no religious belief at all.

It's my hope that these intellectual seekers will discover Newman's teaching, that conscience has rights in order to fulfill its responsibilities, the highest of which is to know God and embrace his revelation.

The strength of Newman's position, and the inherent weakness of relativism, can be seen vividly if we compare the conceptions of tolerance that arise from these respective accounts of conscience. By this comparison, we can see why the intellectual flaws of relativism produce such bad effects in practice.

Some Christians today regard “tolerance” as a bad word. They see it as a compromise of Christian values, a giving in to relativism. But there is a legitimate Catholic concept of tolerance, pioneered by Newman and taught by Vatican II, which holds that it is a duty ordinarily owed by those who know the truth, toward those who are in error. They, too, enjoy a certain freedom of conscience – which exists so that they may freely discover and embrace objective truth. 13

Relativism, meanwhile, tries to establish a similar-sounding notion of tolerance on a completely different basis. It says that freedom of conscience exists because the truth cannot be solidly established; there is simply a myriad of opinions, and one opinion has no right or superiority over another. All is to be tolerated because no one has access to any privileged position from which to judge. Who’s to say?

On the surface, the Catholic concept of tolerance may appear similar to that of relativism. In reality, however, they completely diverge.

The Christian idea of tolerance is based on the human dignity of others, and it promotes a legitimate freedom of conscience as a precondition for helping them seek the truth. The Catholic Church holds that we are obliged to tolerate, within due limits, the thoughts and actions of those in error, so that they may seek the truth without coercion. 14

Christian tolerance is fundamentally an orientation of love toward those in error, borne of an understanding that God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” 15 (Tim 2:3-4). I am called to imitate God's patience and mercy toward those who do not yet know him or accept his revelation.

Relativistic tolerance, on the other hand, states that everything is to be tolerated precisely because truth cannot be ascertained. It says we must tolerate nearly all thoughts and actions simply because we are not in a position to say they are wrong. Again: “who’s to say,” “to each his own,” “live and let live.”

This concept of tolerance replaces the Christian ideal of love with an attitude of indifference. Instead of giving the other person the freedom to seek the truth in a dignified way, it simply leaves him alone to do whatever he likes. His freedom has no higher goal or obligation. Between any two individuals, there is no necessary connection except an “agreement to disagree.”

Here, again, the difference lies in Newman's distinction. Does conscience have certain sacred rights because it also has sacred duties? Do its rights stem from its obligations, to truth and ultimately to God? Or, alternatively, does conscience simply have what Newman called the “right of self-will,” to think and act more or less as it pleases with no higher justification, with no connection with objective truth? 16

Is conscience alone before the truth, and ultimately before God? Or is it simply alone with itself, in pure autonomy?

Here, we reach the heart of the difference between these two conceptions of personal and intellectual freedom; and here, too, we see how relativism becomes a justification for individuals ignoring and disregarding one another. The truly subjectivist conscience can't meaningfully see itself as present before God who knows all things, or before the truth accessible to all. It's simply alone, by itself.

On this account, “freedom” of conscience is freedom from objective reality and shared responsibility. I get to define the meaning of my life; but it has that meaning only to me and not in any objective sense. My choices are sacrosanct only because they are also irrelevant to others; and I am “free” because I am walled-off from them. “Conscience” is no longer a sanctuary, but a bunker.

Where tolerance is exalted as an absolute, an end in itself, each person ends up imprisoned within his self-contained freedom. A sense of solidarity is lost, and the preconditions of meaningful interaction are weakened.

The resulting mental environment is one in which others simply assume that one's most profound convictions are only a subjective preference, not subject to rational investigation or discourse. Truth is devalued, and truth-claims are widely considered automatically invalid.

Finally, in an environment that exalts the freedom to “seek one's own truth,” many people simply default to seeking pleasure, convenience, and advantage for themselves, while adopting ideologies that justify such choices in various areas of life. Even in the face of disastrous consequences, many observers seem unwilling to place any blame on moral subjectivism or a false vision of freedom.

In short, relativism isolates individuals from one another, while impoverishing discourse and undermining the moral foundations of community life. Authentic communities cannot be built upon an ideology that fosters interpersonal isolation, personal immorality, and intellectual shallowness.

What, then, is needed to help the university emerge into a better “post-relativist” situation, rather than moving toward something even worse?

Catholics and other Christians have an important role to play in reorienting the university, and the broader culture, toward the pursuit of truth. Our mission of evangelization, in this regard, is universal.

Within the university, however, there is another subgroup of students whose “passion for truth” has gone largely unrecognized. I want to conclude tonight's talk by describing this type of student, and explaining how Newman's critique of subjectivism can help them discover what they're looking for.

Here at Harvard, and at schools across the country, I believe there are many intellectually serious young people who find the dominant subjectivist viewpoint both intellectually and personally frustrating.

This frustration does not spring from a religious commitment, or any comparable adherence to a particular conception of truth. Quite often, it arises among those who consider themselves agnostics, or profess a lack of interest in religion.

While they are uncertain as to what exactly is true, they sense – on an almost visceral level – that something must be. They are struck by life's beauty, by its significance and its mysterious depths. They feel a sort of awe before the capacity of the human mind and the complexity of the world set before it.

But these individuals are also troubled by the human experience, in a way that no sociopolitical proposal can ever satisfy. They wonder: Why is life so fleeting? Why is it marred by suffering and injustice? And why have such diverse answers historically been proposed to these ultimate questions?

These are not idle curiosities. They are existential dilemmas that do not go away, even when an individual, or an entire culture, chooses to turn their back to them. Even today, there are young people who place more importance on these questions than on worldly success or even personal happiness.

If students care passionately about these questions, they will not be satisfied with the pseudo-answer given by relativism, which says, in effect, that there are no answers, but only an endless array of equally valid options and opinions from which one may choose at will.

Whether or not they realize it, these young people are reacting against the false conception of conscience that gave rise to relativism. On some deep level, they have begun to grasp the difference between the real rights of conscience, and that “miserable counterfeit” that Newman described as claiming merely the “right of self will.”

These students have felt the isolating effects of the idea that each person's supposed “truth” can be just as valid as anyone else's. They feel the damage inflicted on their friendships and relationships by a moral subjectivism that calls all responsibilities and duties into question.

Today's Catholic intellectuals have a particular duty toward these students, who demonstrate such a “passion for truth” in the midst of a relativistic environment. We have the chance to shape the future of our institutions, and the direction of culture, by proposing our faith to them in a serious, respectful dialogue.

The fact is many of today's students do not need to be told that relativism is a lie. Experience has shown them that, and in their hearts they know it. More than this, I think, they need to be confirmed and encouraged in their search for that truth which is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” 17

As Catholics, we know that the Church possesses the fullness of divinely revealed truth. But we also know that authentic faith requires a sincere, complete, and unequivocal assent that comes from deep within the soul.

God uses us to help prepare the souls of others; yet ultimately, one person cannot bring forth the assent of faith in another. We must help and guide students toward the Church; but they must cross its threshold with God alone.

Yet there is a way in which we can help them prepare even for this. Namely, we can encourage our partners in dialogue to acknowledge, and fulfill, the real and serious duties of authentic moral conscience.

We must help our friends to distinguish the true conception of conscience from the false “right of self-will.” In this way, we can help them discover the real purpose of that intellectual and personal freedom which God has granted them. Better still, we will be helping them to hear the voice of God speaking within their souls.

And this, I believe, is what Pope Benedict XVI is calling for in this upcoming special “Year of Faith” and the call of the New Evangelization. And each one of us who have been given the precious and inestimable gift of the Catholic faith has a role to play.

In our dialogue with a rising generation of intellectuals, we must urge them to look inward with great courage, and with the utmost honesty. For these are the preconditions of a moral, intellectual, and spiritual awakening – an awakening not to one's own subjective preferences, but at last, to the truth.

By examining their own consciences in a serious and careful manner, those who seek the truth may come to discover the transcendent law written on every human heart. There, within the sanctuary of the authentic human conscience, they may find not only God's law, but the presence of God himself. 18

Not all students will necessarily possess the maturity to undertake such self-examination at a young age. But those who do may begin to discover the truth – about themselves, about this world, and about the Lord who created and redeemed them.

By awakening to the true meaning of conscience, these students may awaken to the true meaning of life itself – to that fullness of wisdom and knowledge found in Our Lord Jesus Christ. 19

And so, I conclude that the recovery of faith and reason in the “post-relativist” university should begin with a rediscovery of the true meaning of conscience. In this prospect, I find great hope for our universities, and for the Church, in the coming years.

May God, in his mercy, grant it.
Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us.


1. About Passion for Truth, The Life of John Henry Newman – “The biography paints a picture of Newman’s intellectual honesty and courage in the pursuit of religious truth.”

2. Biglietto Speech (1879)
“For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth ... Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.”

3. Newman and Beatification
“At his death in 1890, countless testimonies appeared – even the staunchly Protestant Evangelical Magazine proclaimed that ‘of the multitude of saints in the Roman calendar there are very few that can be considered better entitled to that designation than Cardinal Newman.’”

4. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (Simon and Schuster, 1987), p. 25

5. ibid, pg. 194
“We have come back to the point where we began, where values take the place of good and evil.” (emphasis in original)

6. ibid, pg. 25-26
“Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness – and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings – is the great insight of our time. The true believer is the real danger.”

7. A Letter Addressed to the Duke of Norfolk on Occasion of Mr. Gladstone's Recent Expostulation (“Letter to the Duke of Norfolk”), Ch. 1: Introductory Remarks
“The main question which Mr. Gladstone has started I consider to be this:—Can Catholics be trustworthy subjects of the State? has not a foreign Power a hold over their consciences such, that it may at any time be used to the serious perplexity and injury of the civil government under which they live? Not that Mr. Gladstone confines himself to these questions, for he goes out of his way, I am sorry to say, to taunt us with our loss of mental and moral freedom, a vituperation which is not necessary for his purpose at all. He informs us too that we have 'repudiated ancient history,' and are rejecting modern 'thought,' and that our Church has been 'refurbishing her rusty tools,' and has been lately aggravating, and is likely still more to aggravate, our state of bondage.”

8. On motives for Catholic emancipation in the decades preceding Victoria's reign, cf. William Lily, England (Since the Reformation), in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1909),
“It would be an error to impute the prevalence of a milder spirit towards Catholics at this period to sympathy with their religion. It arose rather from the relaxation of dogmatic belief, the latitudinarianism, the indifferentism which is a notable sign of those times, and which infected Catholics as well as Protestants throughout Europe.”

9. Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Ch. 5: Conscience
“I say, then, that the Supreme Being is of a certain character, which, expressed in human language, we call ethical. He has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy, as eternal characteristics in His nature, the very Law of His being, identical with Himself; and next, when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels … This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called 'conscience;' and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience.”

10. Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Ch. 5 –
“Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations.”

11. ibid.
“But, of course, I have to say again, lest I should be misunderstood, that when I speak of Conscience, I mean conscience truly so called. When it has the right of opposing the supreme, though not infallible Authority of the Pope, it must be something more than that miserable counterfeit which, as I have said above, now goes by the name.”

12. ibid.
“When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman's prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one's leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way.”

13. Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, sect. 1
“This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power. Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, 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.”

14. ibid, sect. 2
“This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise 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 … It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity 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.”

15. 1 Timothy 2:3-4, NAB
“God our savior …wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”

16. Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Ch. 5
“[Conscience] becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.”

17. Hebrews 13:8, RSV
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.”

18. Gaudium et Spes, sect. 16 – quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1778
“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

19. Colossians 2:2-3, RSV
“... to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

© The Archdiocese of Denver

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