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Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Pitfalls of Pluralism

by M.S.C., S.T.D. Leslie Rumble


Fr. Rumble discusses the pluralistic society and the problem it presents for Catholics. He recognizes that we should "enter into 'dialogue' with fellow members of the temporal society to which we all belong but it must be to explain our principles, not to explain them away in any spirit of false liberalism; it must be to maintain the things we know to be right and good and true, not to water them down."

Larger Work

The Homiletic and Pastoral Review



Publisher & Date

Ignatius Press?, September, 1960

There is such a thing as an idolatry of words which, as G. K. Chesterton somewhere remarks, are as likely as not to degenerate into catchwords with those who refuse to see anything against the background of everything. And the danger of becoming obsessed by a single fixed idea, owing to the limitations of the human mind, is a very real one even for those of more than average intelligence.

Such a risk is particularly associated today with the word "pluralism," in the quite special sense it has recently acquired.


The term itself is, of course, an old one, and dictionaries give it many meanings other than the one the present discussion involves. Philosophically, we are told, it may mean the recognition of more than one principle of being as opposed to monism; politically, it may mean a right to vote in more than one constituency, or the acceptance of a relative rather than an absolute majority in a ballot; or, again, ecclesiastically, it may mean the holding of two or more benefices simultaneously.

But none of these meanings is applicable to the word "pluralism" in its new dress, used as it is to describe a theory of national unity despite the existence within the State of a large number of free associations whose interests differ in many ways, or even at times conflict.

Our concern here is with the specific aspect of diversity of religions. From this point of view pluralism holds that where citizens are characterized by a great variety of differing and conflicting beliefs, the State has no reasonable choice save to adopt a religiously neutral attitude, officially endorsing no particular religion, but granting freedom and equality to all religions on the one condition that adherents of them do not disturb the peace and good order of the community.

If citizens do not agree religiously, the pluralist society expects them at least to agree amicably to disagree, respecting each other's consciences while maintaining unity in their national loyalty and in the fulfillment of civic duties.


The problem for Catholics in this matter of the pluralist religiously-neutral State arises not only from the charges of secular liberals that the Catholic Church cannot on her own principles adjust herself to it, but also from the difficulties Catholics themselves experience as to precisely how it can be done.

Secular liberals argue that the type of democracy acceptable to the Catholic Church would not be a free society in their sense of the word; and Catholics are divided as to how far they can make concessions to secular liberal demands.

Some Catholics, a minority group of intellectuals who claim to be progressive, deplore what they term the over conservative attitude of the majority of their fellow-Catholics. They declare that they themselves are "intensely committed to the idea of a free society," and that "pluralism is their orthodoxy.'' They assure secular liberals that there is nothing whatever to fear from Catholic influence in the community. There is no question of restrictions being imposed of which secular liberals may disapprove and against their will. All that is sought is "dialogue," an exchange of views with whatever mutual agreement should happen to result from it.

Disarmingly they even describe themselves as "Catholic liberals"; or as the "new Catholic left" prepared for a give-and-take policy, not in the name of appeasement, but of charity. And they have not the slightest intention of departing from any genuinely Catholic principles. They claim merely to have arrived at a better understanding of those principles than their less-enlightened brethren.

But have they? To attempt an answer to that is the purpose of this present inquiry.


Catholic liberals hold that the Lay State, rendered necessary by religious pluralism, is preferable in itself to the Catholic Confessional State in which the Church is constitutionally acknowledged as that of the nation, with due support and protection.

Now whatever may have to be said of that, it must be at once conceded that official recognition by the State is not essential to the existence and progress of the Catholic Church. The Church was born into a hostile world and during the first three centuries of persecution, until the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, the Church not only survived but expanded throughout the Roman Empire.

After Constantine's conversion, however, the creation of a Western Christendom became possible. Kings and princes were converted to the Faith, bringing their people with them. Nation after nation became Catholic. Civil powers acknowledged the divinely-given authority of the Church, recognized the primacy of the spiritual over the temporal where both spheres were involved, and both fostered and defended the Catholic religion.

For almost a thousand years this principle of union between Church and State was universally accepted, the State supporting and protecting the Church in all aspects of her apostolate and conforming civil legislation to her moral teachings and the provisions of her Canon Law.

In the sixteenth century, however, the Protestant revolt disrupted the hitherto religiously-united Europe. Its new doctrine of the invisibility of Christ's Church, its rejection of hierarchical authority, and its insistence on the right of private judgment led to individualism in religion, an ever-increasing diversity of beliefs, and a demand for equality and total freedom, regardless of what form of Christianity a man might choose to profess.

The Protestant reformers, of course, still wanted a Christian civilization, but it was a Christian civilization with Catholicism dethroned.

The Catholic Church could not but condemn this denial of the visible institution established by Christ for the salvation of souls. She saw clearly that the right of individuals to defy her authority and determine their own beliefs for themselves would mean a rejection of objective truth and lead inevitably to the philosophically and theologically untenable implication that all Churches must be regarded as equal because none possessed the full truth. Such liberalism based on religious indifferentism was quite irreconcilable with Catholic principles.


But worse was yet to come. Radicals on the Continent, taking up with enthusiasm the Reformers' idea of the right of private judgment and of not being told by the Catholic Church what to believe and to do, felt free to declare not only the Catholic Church wrong but the Reformers also.

Aided and abetted largely by anti-clerical Freemasons, they urged a religionless State based on a philosophy of naturalism and materialism, man being regarded as nothing more than a secular citizen. The State should take no cognizance of religion whatsoever. If an individual had a religion, then this would be a personal idiosyncrasy which could at most be tolerated, provided it in no way interfered with his duties to the State.

This meant not only Catholicism dethroned, but Christianity itself, however one might interpret it, the State being based on principles which excluded religious values altogether.

The indifference now was not to the relative claims of different churches, but to anything beyond material interests. Revealed religion, supernatural faith and the life beyond were no longer of any importance to the State; and absolute liberty of the person, of speech and of the press could at last be granted in a spirit of tolerance unrestricted by religious considerations of any kind.

Such was the theory. But the aftermath of the French Revolution (1789) was a so-called democratic Republic actuated not only by secularist, but by positively anti-religious principles. Loudly proclaiming "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality," it adopted a policy of intolerance, oppression and straight-out persecution of the Church.

Again the Catholic Church could not but condemn the liberalism on which this new secular civilization was to be based. Its principles, derived from a positivist and merely materialistic philosophy, regarded the will of the State as the source of all law to the exclusion of any divine law; held the ideal to be the State's complete independence of any spiritual authority claimed by the Church; and, in so far as it advocated any tolerance at all, did so as if it were only a by-product of indifference to religious truth in any shape or form.


More than a decade before the French Revolution, however, and in a very different spirit, the English Colonies in America had, in 1776, declared their independence of the British Crown. They insisted in their Constitution on the complete separation of Church and State, refusing to have any established Church, such as the National Church of the England from which they had withdrawn their political allegiance.

It is essential here to note that the Founding Fathers of the American Republic were confronted from the very outset with a religiously-plural society. They were not succeeding to a religious unity which had collapsed. The vast majority of the Colonists were Christians in some way, but their convictions were distributed among many forms of religion.

It seemed to them, therefore, that the surest way to guarantee personal freedom and due regard for consciences was to have a neutral State, respecting all religions and officially establishing none. Consequently, they adopted an amendment to the First Article of the Constitution declaring that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."1

There was no intention of any positive repudiation of Christianity on the part of the State or of denying the possible truth of any one of the existing religions. The principle of indifferentism, which holds that it does not matter what one believes, did not so much as enter into their heads. Without rejecting belief in objective truth, they were concerned solely with the fact that people differed subjectively in their religious convictions; and they rightly decided that the State was not competent to settle such differences, and certainly had not the right to force religious unity upon its citizens. If religious unity was ever to be attained, it must be by discussion and persuasion on the part of the people themselves, not by political compulsion. In other words, a pluralist society, with all united in their civil allegiance to a religiously-neutral democratic government, was the only feasible choice.

It is surely not difficult to see how very different in spirit the American measures were from those of the anti-religious secularism actuating the revolutionary movements in Europe.


Difficulties arise for Catholics, however, even in regard to this American type of pluralist society. There are sound principles which can be invoked on its behalf; but the problem is to reconcile other equally sound principles of Catholicism with them. This cannot be done unless we keep clearly in mind the distinction between absolute and relative ideals.

Certainly no Catholic can admit as an absolute ideal that there should be pluralism in religion, with multitudes still unconverted to Catholicism, still in a state of schism, heresy, or complete unbelief. Absolutely speaking, there should be but "one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

Again, a neutral State as such cannot be regarded as the absolute ideal, for Catholic principles insist that if God reveals a special religion, imposing positive precepts on mankind, society no less than individuals is obliged to accept that religion and conform to its requirements. The direct concern of the State may indeed be with the temporal welfare of the community; but indirectly it is obliged to promote the observances of true religion and sound morals, thus assisting men to attain their supreme good and final end.

As the Catholic Church is the one true Church directly concerned with man's spiritual welfare, it follows that the absolute ideal in the objective order is a State acknowledging, defending, and promoting the interests of the Catholic religion.

That is why the Church had to condemn the nineteenth-century radicals, with their false liberalism, when they declared that the State should be in complete control of the whole secular field of human activities, untrammeled by the teaching-authority of the Church in moral, legal, and social matters. For to grant their demands would be to surrender the objective rules of a natural and supernatural morality to the subjective and variable opinions of ill-informed and skeptical political leaders.

The absolute Catholic ideal, then, must be that of the Catholic Confessional State.


What does not follow from Catholic principles is that the absolute ideal is relatively the better thing in practice.

Only when the State is the political expression of a religiously unified people can the religion of the people become a public affair. Where the people are not so united, the only basis of their homogeneity is their national allegiance. In the concrete reality, after all, a State is its citizens taken collectively, and it cannot force the dissenting groups in a religiously divided nation to profess a faith they do not accept under the penalty of not being "good citizens."

Catholic principles themselves insist that the faith cannot be forced on anybody; that it is essentially a matter for each person's own will to believe revealed truth; and that every man is obliged at all times to obey his own conscience even though it be an invincibly erroneous one.

Moreover, it would be against the common good to require a violation of consciences, thus inculcating hypocrisy and providing fuel for unending disturbances of peace and public order.

Granted the fact of widespread divergencies in religious convictions, then, Catholics cannot consistently object to a pluralist society's remaining neutral, constitutionally professing no particular form of religion while conceding equality and freedom to all religions.

It needs repeating, however, that while Catholics fully agree that consciences should be respected, they can never be wholly content with the fact that they do differ and that, owing to this pluralism, a Lay State (neutral in its attitude to all religion) is necessary.


Unfortunately there are Catholic liberals today who are not content with the concession that in a pluralist society the separation of Church and State may be the relatively better thing. They prefer to regard it as absolutely the better thing. While admitting the divine institution of the Church, they hold that she should be granted full freedom, but nothing more. For them the Lay State is always and everywhere more desirable that the Catholic Confessional State.

Theoretically, they argue that the "State" is, after all, only an abstraction which has no actual personality, no conscience, no inner life, and which is therefore quite incapable of making an act of faith. How, then, can it have an obligation to "profess the Catholic Faith"?

But while it is true that a State, considered in the abstract, is not capable of either faith or morals, in actual reality it is an organized body of citizens who positively agree with or acquiesce in laws made in the name of all. Constitutionally appointed legislators can certainly give legal expression to the will of the citizens not only as individuals, but collectively, and to the fact that the nation, as a nation, acknowledges itself as a Catholic nation.

Practically, it is argued that in the Lay State, with no political or juridical advantages to be gained by professing the Catholic Faith, the true religion will flourish by persuasion only, not by coercion; that truth can be trusted to prevail over error; and that greater freedom in the profession of belief in it will mean far more confidence in and love of one's religion.

Such contentions, however, depend for their validity on far too optimistic an estimate of human nature. Were there no such thing as Original Sin, were all men desirous of the truth and always able to discern it from error, were they all intent on the practice of virtue and in no way prone to evil, their recognition of the true religion and loyalty to it could perhaps be relied upon, and the Church might have nothing to gain by the State's acknowledgment and protection. But human beings are not so intelligent and immaculate as such arguments assume; and the State, even apart from its obligation to do so, is certainly able to contribute much toward the welfare of the Church and the success of her apostolate.

The Catholic thesis, then, granted a Catholic nation, is that Church and State should be united by ties of mutual recognition, the State supporting the Church and conforming its legislation to her teachings in spiritual and moral matters.

Only on the hypothesis that the nation is not Catholic and that the citizens are religiously divided can a pluralist and neutral Lay State be justified.


Failure to see clearly the validity and necessity of this distinction between thesis and hypothesis undermines the advertence of many Catholic pluralist enthusiasts to the many pitfalls that beset their path.

There is the danger of overlooking the fact that pluralism must never come to mean the same thing to Catholics as it does to non-Catholic religious bodies or to antireligious secularists. Both these latter groups are tainted with the false principle of indifferentism: the one wanting all Churches to be regarded as equally good and true; the other regarding all religions as equally false and fit only to be ignored.

Firmly repudiating any form of indifferentism and insisting still on the unique truth and authority of Catholicism, the Catholic can give only a qualified assent to the idea of a religiously neutral State on the grounds of the common good of its citizens in the temporal sphere.

Again, there is the danger of increasing apathy toward legislation at variance with the laws of God and the principles of sound morality on matters belonging to the twilight zone where politics and religion overlap. The mixed government of the Lay State cannot hope to enact laws in harmony with the requirements of all religions, nor of any religion. It inevitably follows that difficulties will arise for Catholics who cannot conscientiously approve of legislation which non-Catholic majorities think right and which the latter have been influential enough to obtain from political representatives. It is not enough for us as Catholics to be contented with voluntary acceptance of our religious obligations, conforming to the laws of the Church even though such laws are completely disregarded by the State.

We have our minority rights in the democratic community, and the duty of exercising them by doing our legitimate utmost to influence legislation in a right direction. But our powers of both resistance and pressure will be sapped by over-complacency in, or excessive enthusiasm for, the Lay State. "It's right because it is the law" is a formula which cannot meet with our unqualified acceptance.

Such qualifications in no way render Catholic acceptance of the Lay State under pluralist conditions insincere. We agree that a Lay State, abstracting from religion, is a necessary consequence of a widespread diversity of religious beliefs in the community. And we agree, not as a matter of mere expediency, but as a matter of principle. It is simply a case of a different application of Catholic principles to a historical situation which itself differs from that which could possibly warrant a Catholic Confessional State. As a matter of fact, in a pluralist country like the United States of America no Catholic would dream of wanting the Catholic religion to be declared the established religion of the nation; and were a referendum held on such a proposal, Catholics themselves would vote overwhelmingly against it.

On the other hand, such acceptance of constitutional religious neutrality does not nullify the Catholic principle that the ideal is union between Church and State where the whole population is morally one in its belief in the Catholic religion.


Catholic liberals do not like the "thesis-hypothesis" distinction. They are critical of Father Cavalli, S.J., who stated, in Civilta Cattolica, April 3, 1948, that in pluralist countries "the Church never abandons its 'thesis' which still remains the norm, but accommodates itself to a 'hypothesis.' In other words, it puts up with the status quo as the only practicable possibility."

Against this they quote Cardinal Lerearo's statement in his article on "Tolerance and the Christian Tradition" (Etudes, May, 1909) that "we can admit that the distinction we make today between the 'thesis' and the 'hypothesis' tends to leave the modern mind perplexed. In seeming to distinguish between the ideal of tolerance and the concrete situation in which she has found herself, the Church appears to have sanctioned a policy which is based on compromise."

Supporters of this statement may wrongly assume, however, that Cardinal Lercaro intended these words as a repudiation of the "thesis-hypothesis" distinction. His argument is that, granted the "hypothesis" of a pluralist society, another secondary "thesis" then steps in, i.e., that faith can never be imposed on people against their will and that the subjective consciences of all individuals must ever be respected. Not mere expediency, therefore, but the safeguarding of Catholic principles themselves demands religious freedom in plural communities. The fears and prejudices of non-Catholic religious bodies and of the secularist liberals are, therefore, unjustified.

The primary Catholic "thesis" was proclaimed by His Excellency Archbishop Yagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, during his address earlier in this present year at Loyola University, Chicago, when he quoted Pope Leo XIII as saying in his encyclical Libertas:

Civil society must acknowledge God as its Founder and Parent, and must obey and reverence His power and authority. Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless, or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness—namely, to treat the various religions alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges. Since, then, the profession of one religion is necessary to the State, that religion must be professed which alone is true.

The same Pope Leo XIII clearly indicated that in the Catholic estimation the "hypothesis" must be regarded as holding a subordinate position. In his encyclical Longinqua, January 6, 1895, addressed to the United States of America, His Holiness fully admitted the legitimacy of separation of Church and State under the pluralist conditions there. He denied, however, that such separation could be regarded as an absolute ideal of universal application. Gladly admitting that the Catholic Church had prospered in America, thanks to the protection of the Holy Spirit, although merely granted liberty there, he still maintained that if, under other conditions, the Church had been able to enjoy the favor of law and the patronage of the government, still greater fruit could have been expected.


A further pitfall in the path of enthusiastic pluralists is the danger of insufficient advertence to Pope Leo XIII's warning that neutrality in religion on the part of the State means adopting a line of action calculated to end in godlessness.

It is surely safe to say that the Founding Fathers of the United States had no great foresight of this possibility. They certainly had no intention of it. The vast majority of the people were professing Christians, with no other thought than that of maintaining their Christian inheritance. It was merely because of differences in the interpretation of Christianity that they felt the need of dissociating the State from the profession of any particular form of religion. But this meant the restriction of education—in so far as it was under the direct control of the State—to instruction in secular subjects only, any religious formation of children being left to the voluntary efforts of churches and parents.

Unfortunately this provision has proved altogether inadequate; and more and more of each generation of children attending State schools have come from them with a proficiency only in secular subjects and almost a complete ignorance of and indifference to religion. Reviewing one of Blanshard's books in the Michigan Christian Advocate, Roland H. Bainton, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Yale Divinity School, expressed his own Protestant misgivings by saying: "And now all of us who care about religion are confronted with the dilemma that either we must find some better way to get religion into the public school, or else we shall have to establish parochial schools of our own."

Few will deny that among multitudes in our midst the Christian inheritance is being progressively dissolved by ignorance of religion both in theory and practice. Considerable sections of society aggressively reject Christianity, its institutions, its theology, its ethics. More serious, even in those who do not consciously reject it, there has been fashioned a mentality devoid of Christian understanding and contemptuous of Christian behavior. It is a mentality which takes a this-world view only, which never reckons with a reality beyond time, and for which Christian ideals have ceased to have any real meaning.

As a result, efforts of Christians at social betterment are modified or neutralized more and more by non-Christian elements. Politicians elected to govern the country are in increasing numbers agnostic in outlook, their only moral standards in legislating for the common good being restricted to considerations of the social order and general observance of conventions without which stable government and peace in the community would not be possible.


Renan once said: "We have poured out the perfume and are living on the scent from the empty bottle. How long will the scent last?" Of the widespread driftage from Christianity, Dr. E. L. Mascall—in pre-television days—wrote pungently: "For millions the cinema is not just an occasional relaxation. It is the one activity weekly that means something to them. The cinema is their church; the sound-film their sacrament; the film-star their priest; and Hollywood their heaven."

Certain it is that being a Christian becomes more and more socially irrelevant. But this has reactions politically. The tendency is for a political modernism to develop which not only declares questions of faith and morals to be beyond the scope of civil legislation as not being part of the common good, but thinks that the secular world is its own absolute master, free from any restrictions imposed by either the revealed law of God or even by the natural moral law.

True, there is a persisting influence of Christianity still exercising some restraint, but secular humanism increasingly prevails, and slowly we find creeping in a kind of civil religion which dechristianizes marriage, education, and social life generally.

When the Italian bishops recently issued a pastoral letter (April 14, 1960) condemning the trend toward laicism and secularism, L'Osservatore Romano commented: "The State is not above morality and it is not the source of morality. Where God is not recognized by the State, the State becomes god."

A few days later the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, in England, declared that "Keep religion out of it" has become the modern heresy. "Without the supernatural," he said, "the natural slips into the unnatural. Not without reason are we fighting in our day such unnatural trends as euthanasia, contraception, sterilization, and therapeutic abortion. The absence of the supernatural explains them all."

Earlier in this article the difference was stressed between the Laicism which followed upon the French Revolution in Europe and the Lay State which was thought to be the only practicable solution for America in view of its religious pluralism. The former was positively anti-religious; the latter abstracts from religion while undertaking to respect it and grant it full freedom to flourish. Nothing said above is being unsaid here. What is being suggested is that the over-enthusiasm of Catholic liberals for the religiously-neutral pluralist society is misplaced in view of the fact that religion is finding it ever more difficult to maintain its ground. Citizens continuing to be professed Christians tend more and more to become secularized, and the possibility of publicly manifesting the Christian character of the nation even among the ranks of the common people becomes increasingly difficult.

Pope Plus XI, in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, declared that Socialism is to be condemned as long as it remains truly Socialism—even granted that it repudiates the atheism of Communism and tolerates religion—because "its concept of society is utterly foreign to Christian truth." How long will it be before the religiously-neutral State of modern pluralist societies, with legislation based on a purely secular outlook, has drifted to a stage meriting the same condemnation? Is its concept of society one which holds material welfare supreme, becoming more and more "utterly foreign to Christian truth" in so far as it leaves God's design for man's way of life out of account or implicitly rejects it as if no such design existed at all?


All this may sound like the outpourings of an "embittered integralist." The term needs explaining. Writing in The Commonweal (Feb. 26, 1960), John Cogley divides Catholic "intellectuals" into "liberals" and "integralists." The "integralists" he subdivides into "romantic" and "embittered" ones.

According to Cogley, the romantic integralists dream of an unlikely future resembling an idealized medieval past. The embittered integralist, imprisoned in a straitjacket of orthodoxy, hurls anathemas at the brutal present with all its follies. "Outside the household of the Faith he sees nothing of value or truth; all is black and, if anything, the future promises to be even darker; error has no rights."

Neither the romantic nor the embittered integralist, however, "is 'engaged' in the turbulent intellectual life of his own time." That is left to the Catholic liberal who, "while keeping green the memory of the integrated culture of the Catholic ages," feels it his duty "to combat the chaotic forces that have replaced it and to sustain what little of it remains by making specifically 'Catholic' contributions to philosophy, literature, the arts, criticism, pedagogy, etc."

The element of caricature in this description is evident, and the inadequacy of the division. For there are intelligent and thoughtful Catholics who are orthodox without being imprisoned in any straitjacket, who are neither "romantic" nor "embittered," nor yet to be ranked with "Catholic liberals." They agree that the Lay State, religiously neutral officially, is the only practicable thing in pluralist countries; but they refuse to regard it as the absolute rather than the relative ideal, and they are not blind to its dangers. Without declaring it all black, they do not shut their eves to the driftage from Christianity and to what the future is likely to be if that driftage continues. As for the contributions of "Catholic liberals" to "philosophy, literature, the arts, criticism, pedagogy, etc.," they doubt whether these are as specifically "Catholic," as is claimed, or likely to be really efficacious. They advocate a deeper "engagement" in the fray, believing that greater resistance and more constructive efforts rather than concessions to the spirit of the age are becoming increasingly necessary as a means of combatting "the chaotic forces that have replaced . . . the integrated culture of the Catholic ages."


Our Catholicism must remain both integral and reactionary. Integral because all the hard edges to which non-Catholics object cannot be smoothed away without its ceasing to be Catholicism; reactionary, not in the sense of wanting to restore a medieval past, but in the sense of reacting against the forces of disintegration current in our own day.

The Catholic is a citizen of two worlds at once: of the City of God and of the city of men. He is destined for the former, but has to work for his salvation in the latter. He ought not to find any real contradiction between his rights and duties both as a Christian and as a citizen in this life; but he does! However, if his Church is not recognized by law, and if political authorities in the Lay State reject her guidance, she is at least not treated with hostility. Democracy grants her freedom to exist and to influence and direct the lives of the faithful who do voluntarily accept her authority.

The Catholic Church, then, has the right to raise her voice and condemn laws positively opposed to the natural moral law or to divinely revealed law, declaring such legislation to be null and void in the sight of God. If she could not do that much, she would not be a safe interpreter of God's law and a secure leader of her people to eternal life.

The case is different with Catholics as citizens in this world. The religiously-neutral State with a democratic policy of representative government gives them, even though they constitute a minority group in the community, the full right of exercising all the legitimate influence and pressure they can to secure the recognition of their ideas as to what legislation should be; and they have the right to commend to their fellow citizens in every reasonable way the principles laid down by their Church for the rechristianizing of society and of the national life.

Moreover, they are obliged in conscience to use their political liberties to do all in their power for the defense of Christian principles and to see that as far as possible the Gospels rule in the laws and institutions of the State. Such political and social Catholicism is the inevitable result of the fact that Catholics are not free in conscience to be indifferent either to their religion or to their political responsibilities.


In all this, Catholics must be prepared for the fact that there are concessions they cannot make. We want peace in the community, but not the peace of the cemetery in which our religion lies dead and buried.

It may be true that the soft answer turns away wrath; but there will be times when we cannot conscientiously give the soft answer and must endure the wrath with what patience we can. There are bound to be tensions and conflict. There would be something wrong with our Catholicism were it not so.

It is good to assure our fellow citizens who are non-Catholics that we sincerely accept the religiously-neutral State and would not have things otherwise in the prevailing pluralistic conditions; but to the insistent demand as to whether we regard it with unqualified enthusiasm as the absolute ideal, we cannot reply in the affirmative.

To impress on them that we approve of the equality and liberty our country grants to all religions, and that our attitude is dictated not by mere expediency but by the very principles of our religion, we rightly tell them that we hold conscience to be the tribunal of God in every man's soul, and that its freedom must at all times be respected; but we cannot lean over backwards and declare that we will even forego our own freedom of conscience, letting them have it but not claiming it for ourselves, in order to convince them that they may rely on us to make an unconditional surrender to whatever type of society they prefer.

It is not our fault if we cannot placate those who refuse to be appeased unless we unsay what we cannot unsay; nor can we hope to escape all misunderstanding on the part of those who do not share our Faith.

An excellent example of this is to be found in Pastor von Loewenich's recent book (1959), Modern Catholicism. Commenting on the references of Pope Pius XII to tolerance in his address to the International Congress of Catholic Jurists, Dec. 6, 1953, he writes:

In the last resort the primary principle that only truth has a right to exist still stands. The question is, what is meant by truth ... The only truth is what the Church teaches. Toleration, on the other hand, is only a "permissive prescription which can be applied for the sake of higher and more important ends" . . . Hence even this address fails to make toleration the ultimate principle . . . It would be unkind to say that Pope Pius XII regarded toleration merely as a matter of tactics. He clearly wanted to find a way out of what, for him, is a genuine dilemma. We cannot dismiss that dilemma as a false one .. . Even the most tolerant people find there are limits to toleration. When ideologies trample underfoot the commandments of God and the rights of man, toleration is out of place. If that is what Pius XII meant by his first principle, we can all agree. But we cannot help wondering whether the traditional claim of the Church to possess the absolute truth is lurking somewhere in the background.

The inconsistency and misunderstandings in all that are as evident as the effort to be just and charitable. If even the most tolerant people find there are limits to toleration, it must be because the primary principle is that only truth has a right to exist. Again, it is false to say that only the Catholic Church teaches truth. As Pope Pius XI remarked: "Fragments broken from gold-bearing rock themselves bear gold." We do not claim a monopoly of the truth as if no truth at all has been retained by the separated Churches. Yet again, it is misleading to say that Pope Plus XII failed "to make toleration the ultimate principle"; for he declared the common good of the community to be the ultimate principle of social well-being, toleration being an obligation if necessary for that well being. "The duty of repressing error," he said, "cannot be an ultimate norm of action ... God has not given to human authority such an absolute and universal command in matters of faith and morality. It (the duty of repressing error) must be subordinate to higher principles."

But even if these explanations disarmed to some extent Pastor von Loewenich's opposition to Catholicism, his concluding sentence shows on what condition alone we would win his wholehearted approval. We can only reassure (or dismay) him by saying that Pope Pius XII never for a moment lost sight of the traditional claim of the Catholic Church to possess the absolute truth.

Elsewhere in his book (p. 344) Pastor von Loewenich writes: "The Catholic Church still confronts the world with its old absolute claims and its tendentious apologetics . . . The Church is still convinced of the infallibility of its own doctrine. So long as it maintains this attitude, any genuine solidarity between the Church and the world is extraordinarily difficult."


To escape that extraordinary difficulty, we Catholics cannot throw away what others want us to renounce. If people are not going to be placated so long as our religion remains what it is, then we have no choice but to accept such tensions and conflicts as their opposition creates.

In the meantime, if we are not intensely committed to the idea of a religiously-neutral State always and everywhere, whether the nation be pluralist or not, we are intensely committed to the doctrine that life within the Lay State ought to be christianized as far as possible; and, if it ought to be, we know of only one true type of Christianity to which legislation and social standards should be adjusted. We are committed to the promotion of Catholic influence in the community.

The duty confronts us all. "Catholic Action" for the formation of well-instructed and loyal Catholics must necessarily be followed by "action of Catholics" in the sphere of their everyday duties as citizens.

Certainly let us enter into "dialogue" with fellow members of the temporal society to which we all equally belong; but it must be to explain our principles, not to explain them away in any spirit of false liberalism; it must be to maintain the things we know to be right and good and true, not to water them down.

Above all, while doing our utmost to promote the influence of our Catholic principles throughout the nation to which we owe our allegiance in this world, let us fulfill, both in our private and in our public lives, the first and foremost of our obligations by living up to those principles ourselves.


1 It might be of interest here to notice how the Commonwealth of Australia, when adopting a Federal Constitution (1900), drew upon and slightly amplified Article 1 of the United States' Constitution. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution reads: "The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of religion; and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth."

2 Ex. 32, 4.

Father Rumble was a convert, in turn professor of philosophy and of theology, and radio apologist and author in Sydney, Australia.

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