Religious Liberty Hermeneutics

July 13, 2005 § Leave a comment

Personally I have no problem with the possibility that the first amendment as originally conceived or as currently constructed is in error. If it is in error then the natural law trumps it, end of story, just as the natural law would trump an amendment that granted a right to abortion.

I think the religious liberty teachings from Vatican II are mercies from the Mystical Body of Christ, hermeneutical gifts of mercy to the modern world. The Church has always and everywhere dogmatically taught against conversion by the sword. The religious liberty teachings provide a way for modern polities to interpret their positive law on religious liberty in such a way as to make it consonant with natural law, as opposed to interpreting it in the positivist manner that has been explicitly condemned by the Church. (One reason it has been explicitly condemned by the Church is that it is irrational, so attempting to construct an order based on it will result in the emancipation of the unbridled will and ultimately tyranny, evil, and both spiritual and temporal violence).

When faced with positive law claiming a “right to religious liberty” there are two options. If the hermeneutic used to interpret that law results in a contradiction with natural law – that is, if it results in the positive embrace of religious indifferentism – then we have all the chaos, the evil and violence of the triumph of the unfettered will, that result from embracing a contradiction as if it were truth. If a hermeneutic that allows the positive law to remain consonant with natural law is possible, though, then surely it is better to embrace it rather than creating a situation of moral chaos and violence. At least it seems so prudentially to me.


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