Freedom, Rights and Toleration
How often do we hear these words? "Freedom" and "rights"? Usually they are mentioned in connection with controversy, lawsuits, protests and revolutions. Certainly we don't want our freedoms (or liberties) taken away. Certainly we want our rights respected and not violated! Probably a day doesn't go by without hearing those words in the Media, and very often those who complain about their rights being violated are pressing to be allowed to do something sinful. Just think of the abortion issue: over 40 million babies have been killed in U.S. since 1973...and it all involves contention over freedom and rights! We need to get a good solid grasp of these terms.
Let us first consider the hypothetical act of "murder", since everyone would agree that walking up to a perfect stranger and shooting him with a gun is wrong. But it happens. Is the murderer FREE to kill? Yes. We are all free to commit either acts of virtue or acts of sin because the Lord gave us a free will. Sin is the abuse of freedom. The Lord created an objective order of truth which we must believe, and a standard moral order of action which we must follow. Sin is belief or action against that order which was established by God.
Let us consider the honey bee. Because it has no free will, it cannot do anything else but follow the divine order and please God, because it cannot choose to act contrary to its instincts created by God. The bee makes honey in the manner it does, and the birds sing their songs according to the designs of their species.
Man can also design and create things. But let us say that man could design and create a bicycle with free-will. The will of the designer and creator (man) would be to have that bicycle serve him so that he can travel from place to place more quickly and easily. But let's imagine the bicycle "chooses" to keep throwing off its chain so that man cannot propel it. Sometimes the bicycle gives in and allows being fixed, but now and again throws off its chain because it wishes not to submit. Such a bicycle fails to serve its design and purpose of existence, and it would finally be cast into the furnace. This bicycle was free to put off its chain and choose the consequences, or it was free to act according to the intended designs. The bicycle would be said to be free to choose either, but only have a RIGHT to do the will of its creator and act according to its design.
The human is the only creature on earth that has free will. He has an animal nature....but with a spiritual soul. The Church calls man, by definition, "a rational animal". But because of the fall of man through Adam by original sin, the balance between his spiritual and animal nature has been permanently disturbed. His animal nature constantly drags him away from that divine order. His will, with the help of grace, must constantly fight to keep his animal nature in line with God's order, otherwise he sins. Man therefore is free to choose to conform to God's order, or he can choose to act against it. But he only has the RIGHT to act according to it and please God.
As we see from all this, only truth and goodness have rights. Sin and error do not. The human person is free to choose either, but only has a RIGHT to believe what is true, and a RIGHT to perform that which is according to God's moral law.
There is one God of the human race and of the universe, and one system of moral laws & truths which our Creator wishes us to believe and follow by His design. And that is the Church founded by Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church. Jesus was God, and He showed us His will. It is a basic truth of the Catholic Church that Catholicism is the true religion. As we see from these statements:
"...the Catholic religion, which is alone the true religion."
- Pope Leo XIII, 1890 [Sapientiae Christianae]
"The Catholic Church is alone in keeping the true worship."
- Pope Pius XI, 1928 [Mortalium Animos]
This is precisely why it is called "Catholic" which means "universal". If universal, there is room for no other. This means that all other false religions do not have the RIGHT to exist, and those people in them do not have the RIGHT to believe their errors. Does this mean that we can force them against their wills to interiorly "believe" the truth and become Catholic? No. We can TOLERATE certain things against God's order, but we can never say that what is tolerated has a right to exist. A big error in most people's minds today is to confuse this. Many erroneously think that when we tolerate someone's interior false beliefs that it implies that they have a "right" to them. But we can certainly argue against something, condemn it and still TOLERATE its existence. We need a deeper look at toleration...
As you know, with free-will we make choices between good and evil, and we only have a "right" to choose the good. But there are sometimes unusual circumstances in which we are faced with ONLY a choice between two evils and one of them must be chosen. What can be done? We are obliged to avoid the GREATER evil by choosing the LESSER evil. We then don't choose the LESSER evil as a good in itself but act to avoid the GREATER evil and thereby TOLERATE the LESSER evil. For example, were we faced with losing an arm or getting hit by a train we obviously ought to choose to lose our arm.
In the realm of the body of society we can run into other unusual circumstances that involve other people as members, and not just a member (arm) of our own body. God's order demands that society and states be Catholic and cooperate with the Catholic Church. All laws should protect and foster Catholicism. The idea of "separation of Church and state" is a Protestant concept against God's divine order for society. It was anti-Catholic forces that pushed this false principle onto the world, and not just to keep peace among the many Protestant sects, but primarily to weaken and eradicate Catholic influence in society.
When a government is Catholic as it should be, as we see from history, it works in cooperation with the Church. Historically the Church would tolerate internal false beliefs. But what happens when these false beliefs manifest themselves within society? Not only do they not have a right to exist, but now there is the danger of them infecting other members of society. In a situation like that the Church did not have to tolerate it because She had a GOOD option to choose, and that was, stopping and deterring these manifestations with laws and punishments. There are those today who actually try to apologize for the "intolerance" of the Church in history even going so far as to call them "sins". This is wrong, and a terrible blasphemy. That is, intolerance was good and holy because it was according to the Lord's divine order. As St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, wrote, "it would be blasphemy to say that the Church does anything in vain". It wou! ld be more so a blasphemy to suggest the Church does anything sinful! And that includes the instances in history when the Church acted to not tolerate the spreading of false religions.
There were times in history where the Church had no other choice but to tolerate the manifestation of false religion. Such as when certain governments became corrupt and turned against the Church. The Church, for instance, could find Herself in a situation of either choosing an attempt to stop these manifestations of heresy and risk war/persecution, OR tolerating the heresy in order to avoid war/persecution. This "toleration", however, does NOT imply a recognition that the heretics have a "right" to their error, nor the right to publicly practice them. There is no such implication....but the enemies of the Church have succeeding making the world think that toleration is necessary to protect the rights of "freedom of speech or expression"! It is a heresy to say that the human person has a "right to be free" because freedom involves choosing between good and bad....and nobody has the right to choose evil or error. We only have! a right to use our freedom to act according to God's teachings and laws.
There is a big difference between saying that "man" has a right to religious freedom and saying "Catholics" have a right to religious freedom. Only Catholics have that "right" because by saying "Catholic" instead of "man" we are professing that only the truth and goodness of God's teachings and laws have a right in His religion on earth. We must stand up for this truth with confidence. All this is nothing new; read what Pope Pius IX wrote in "Quanta Cura" in 1864:
"They do not hesitate to put forward the view which is not only opposed to the Catholic Church, but very pernicious for the salvation of souls....This is the view that liberty of conscience and worship is the strict right of every man, a right which should be proclaimed and affirmed by law in every properly constituted state.... When they rashly make these statements, they do not realize or recall to mind that they are advocating what St. Augustine calls a 'liberty of perdition'."
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