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Feasting Michael Sattler

May 20, 2012

On this anniversary of the 1527 martyrdom of Swiss Anabaptist leader Michael Sattler, his witness is being commemorated in a new way: not for the heroism or heresy (depending on who you ask) of breaking with the Catholic Church, but for his uncompromised commitment to social justice and nonviolence that now serves as a rich foundation for bridging the Anabaptist Mennonite and Catholic Benedictine traditions.

This commemoration is a milestone in the nascent project of my dear friends and mentors Ivan and Lois Kauffman, who conscientiously brought their Mennonite heritage into the Catholic Church long before it was cool.  Their recent establishment of the Michael Sattler House, intended to provide renewal and connections to people involved in service and social justice, as well as to connect the spiritual resources of the Anabaptist and Benedictine traditions, has additional significance as a contribution to the emerging conversation around ecumenical martyrology.  As Gerald Schlabach, another “Mennonite Catholic,” has written,

The memory of sixteenth-century persecution at the hands of both Catholics and Protestants runs deep in the Mennonite psyche. But a Mennonite witness to the nonviolent love of God—extending even to enemies and reconciling what has been broken by sin—will fall short if it becomes the basis for defining ourselves in opposition to other Christians.

Hence the need to honor the martyrs of our divergent Christian traditions in fresh, ecumenical ways.  And the simple fact that Catholics can now recognize Sattler as a martyr 485 years after his death (including a significant affirmation in this morning’s homily at Mass!) is being heralded by Catholics and Mennonites together as a meaningful breakthrough.

Ivan Kauffman writes in an open letter to Mennonites and Catholics, “We cannot change the past, but we can change our perception of it.”  My own perception of Michael Sattler’s story had been colored by the film The Radicals, a polemical portrayal of the Swiss Anabaptist movement that reinforces the popular Mennonite narrative of a fallen Church.  Because of this, I had some initial discomfort with Sattler’s prominence when his namesake project was being planned.  But I have since found Ivan’s insistent portrayal of Sattler as a witness to peace and justice at any cost, rather than an anti-Catholic polemicist, to be a compelling retrieval of the profound connections between the Benedictine tradition that formed him and the Anabaptist tradition that he helped to form.  I have been struck by summaries of Benedictine values (awareness of God, community living, dignity of work, hospitality, justice, listening, moderation, peace, respect for persons, stability, stewardship), observing that such a list could easily be titled “Mennonite values” without having to change any part of it.  I am grateful for Sattler’s influence in bringing these values into the Anabaptist tradition I inherited, just as I have in some way brought them back with me and tried to draw them out more strongly in the Catholic Church that I am now a part of.

History, of course, is a subjective science, and this ecumenically-oriented telling of it has its own intentions as surely as a more polemical one does.  I do not have the historical expertise to offer an authoritative evaluation of any competing portrayals of Sattler’s life and legacy.  What I can say is that this non-polemical reading of his story, while ecumenically groundbreaking, is not a de novo invention.  An intriguing 1987 article by Abbot Eoin de Bhaldraithe (excerpted here) argues a number of strong connections between Benedictine monasticism and Anabaptism in Sattler’s theology, without glossing over the ruptures that did occur.  Sattler’s markedly irenic approach is certainly evident in his articulate defense at his trial, in which he consistently addresses his accusers as “servants of God” (a far cry from the harsher rhetorical tone of certain other Anabaptist leaders).  In recent decades, events such as Vatican II and various ecumenical dialogues have opened the way for reevaluations, on both sides of the Reformation divide, of what Sattler stood for, as Ivan Kauffman articulates in his open letter:

We have come to believe that Catholics can now understand Michael Sattler as a martyr for beliefs that were adopted as official Catholic doctrine at Vatican II, in the Declaration on Religious Liberty. And that Mennonites and Amish can now view Michael Sattler not only as one of their major founders, but as one who brought with him many of the riches of the pre-Reformation Benedictine tradition in which he was formed, and on which their own traditions are based.

To describe Sattler as an early Mennonite Catholic is not simply an easy capitulation to the false ecumenism that believes our differences don’t really matter. It is a recognition that he exemplified the best in both traditions, and that he combined them into a new ‘lay monasticism’ which has survived for 500 years, producing the first fully nonviolent lay Christian community in the Church’s history….

Michael Sattler was a martyr for things a vast number of Christians now agree on.  The time for mutual accusations of heresy is long past. All Christians now together face a completely new set of erroneous beliefs—that Christian faith is no longer necessary; that we can be Christians without a commitment to costly lay discipleship; that it no longer matters that the Church is divided and in effect at war with itself; that traditional Christian doctrine and morality are now out of date and can be safely ignored.

Judging others, both inside and outside the Church, rarely if ever helps them—or the persons who judge. What does help is listening, as St. Benedict instructed his followers, “Listen with the ear of the heart.” Surely if members of the long-estranged Mennonite and Catholic communities will listen together with the ear of our hearts the wounds of the past can be healed and we can together become truly a peacemaking Church.

Convinced, therefore, of this martyr’s presence among the communion of saints, today we dare to say: Michael Sattler, Benedictine and Anabaptist, pray for us.

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48 Comments
  1. May 20, 2012 8:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Five Minutes to Get Acquainted and commented:
    Julia Smucker, a Mennonite Catholic over at Vox-Nova, has a great reflection on Michael Sattler. Sattler was one of the early Anabaptist leaders and the author of the Schleitheim Articles. He was also a Benedictine Monk, and he brought many of the principles of Benedictine monasticism into the Anabaptist movement. I agree with Julia that a true witness to Sattler’s martyrdom would be for Mennonites to cease defining ourselves in opposition to the Other of Roman Catholicism. Witness to the nonviolent reconciling love of God includes reconciliation with fellow Christians.

  2. May 20, 2012 8:51 pm

    I’m not sure that’s a good thing to dare to do, at the end there.

    Ol’ Sattler seems like he was a nice enough person and all, but at the end of the day we have to acknowledge his position as, at the very least, a schismatic and a teacher of false doctrine concerning baptism. He could have been the nicest man in the world, but by deliberately leading people away from the Apostolic Church, he was working against God, the same way the heresiarchs of the Early Church did. Just as eyebrows would (rightfully!) be raised if I said “St. Calvin, pray for us!” considering the man’s war against the Church.

    Concerning the question of religious liberty (which, contra Kaufmann, is *NOT* a doctrine), maybe the Mennonite position is right for our time! I admit that I am more taken by the idea of a Christian Republic, but that may not be the best course for us to take here and now, and I am willing to admit that! So I’m perfectly fine with taking useful learning from Sattler, such as is there, but we don’t need to induct him into the communion of saints to do so. The more I think about it, the more I feel it skirts the line of scandal — it suggests that someone may war against Christ’s church, deny the efficacy of Baptism, and be unrepentant of it all, and yet still have the reward of the blessed. I’m pretty sure that’s *not* what you want to imply, but that’s the implication of your ending.

    • May 21, 2012 12:45 pm

      A comment and four questions:

      We have no idea what kind of person Michael Sattler was. We do know he gave his life in the cause of social justice.

      If the Declaration on Religious Liberty, adopted at an ecumenical council and promulgated by the pope then in office, isn’t Catholic doctrine, what is it?

      Are you assuming that the Church in 1500 was united and faithful? Do you really believe that conforms to the facts?

      Who were the greater heretics in the 16th century: those who dissented from the legal requirement that all children be baptized at birth, or those who burned them at the stake?

      Isn’t it a bit dismissive to refer to a fellow Christian, even one you disagree deeply with, as “Ol’ Sattler”?

      • May 21, 2012 2:56 pm

        Some replies:

        If “we have no idea what kind of person Michael Sattler was”, then why should we try to read something into that historical void? All we know is that he died an unrepentant schismatic. Maybe in that sliver of time “between the bridge and the water” so to speak he repented, but neither you nor I can make a definitive statement on the state of his soul. I can pray for his soul, and maybe that’s what I should do today! but based on the historical evidence, it doesn’t look good.

        The Declaration on Religious Liberty is a prudential statement, the same as the judgments that sought to end the Western Schism at Constance — important, yes, for they seek to chart a course for the church, but not part of the deposit of faith.

        Aw hell, the Church isn’t united *now*! But the fact that there are schismatic Churches (and Apostolic ones, at that!) does not make schism, as a breaking away from the leadership of the Bishop of Rome, less of a sin against the Body of Christ.

        Did the executioners deny the efficacy of infant Baptism? No? Did the accused? Yes? Well then we kind of have our answer, don’t we? The Anabaptists weren’t just attacking a legal requirement, but the very ability of a sacrament to impart grace. We can disagree with how the South German Catholics decided to combat that belief, but at the very least we have to begin by comprehending why they thought it was important enough that they burned men and drowned women for it.

        I was actually going for something familiar and semi-friendly, to show that even if I disagree with him I don’t hate him, but I guess I failed. WOOPS.

      • Julius Penrose permalink
        May 21, 2012 4:51 pm

        “We have no idea what kind of person Michael Sattler was. We do know he gave his life in the cause of social justice.”

        Isn’t there a bit of a contradiction here?

        If we pretend Michael Sattler and Pius X to be truly members of the same communion of saints, what have we done to the notion? Might we add Gandhi? Mahomet?

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      May 21, 2012 2:08 pm

      I knew that line would run the risk of scandalizing someone. The point was not to canonize Michael Sattler in some quasi-formal way, although the Church does freely admit that its canon is not necessarily exhaustive, and that the full communion of saints may well include some who had been outside of the Church’s visible structures. The point is that he is now being recognized by Catholics as a martyr for the shared Christian principles of social justice and religious freedom, which is a significant step toward unity – and of course the reparation of a schism that none of us chose to inherit must be a bilateral movement.

      Yes, Sattler and other Anabaptists made some mistakes in their views of the sacraments (incidentally, efficacy – the fruitfulness of the sacraments in our lives – is a good theological antidote to both the antisacramentalism of classical Anabaptism AND the magicalism prevalent in Roman Catholicism at that time, both of which ironically had Pelagian overtones), but he did not set out to be at war with the Church. Indeed, the conviction he gave his life for was that the Church should not be at war with anybody.

      I hope the request for his prayers does not distract too much from these points, as it was for their sake that I chose to “sin boldly,” so to speak.

      • May 21, 2012 3:25 pm

        I think you’re right, that we do need to work to repair the break that we’ve been handed. But when I read your post and the material quoted in it, I see a kind of indifferentism(and maybe I’m reading it in!) — that it doesn’t matter that Sattler taught human invention as divine doctrine, it doesn’t matter he set himself up as a separate shepherd, because he held some judgments on religious freedom that are in fashion nowadays. And I’m just throwing it out there, that might not be the best road to take to heal the schism. The Anglican Ordinariates don’t have feast days for St. King Henry VIII, for example!

        • elizabeth00 permalink
          May 22, 2012 2:03 pm

          I can’t imagine any defending Henry VIII’s canonization with a straight face! Your post does, however, make me think of the plaque in St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, commemorating martyrs both Protestant and Catholic, which predates the Ordinariate by several years. It would be interesting to find out from Ordinariate members what meaning it had for them and whether it had any bearing on later decisions.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      May 21, 2012 3:49 pm

      Robert, I agree that indifferentism is no way to heal divisions. It was certainly not my intent, nor that of the conveners of this commemoration of Michael Sattler, to imply that the cause and content of the divisions don’t matter (note Ivan’s disclaimer to that effect, quoted in the post).

      That said, I must add that your willingness to defend the violently coercive enforcement of doctrine is morally repugnant. The Church has long since moved on from there. Can you?

      • May 21, 2012 4:15 pm

        Woah, hold on, you might be reading more into my statement than I said. Religious tolerance and freedom is the fashion of today, yes. That does not make it either the new orthodoxy or the new heresy. The use of state coercive power to enforce doctrinal orthodoxy was the fashion of many centuries. Doesn’t make it a capitulation to Caesar, or standing up for God. Both are vehicles through which the Church sees Her relationship with the temporal authorities, and both can lose sight of what they’re meant to help — the Church.

        But better men than myself felt at the time that coercive power was what was necessary to ensure the unity of the Church. There is not, and cannot be, a single universal paradigm for Church-State relations. All ages, including our own, have to find what works, while being faithful to what has been given us by our forefathers. All I am saying is that the actions of the secular authorities of renaissance Germany (for it was always they who lit the fires) are not necessarily contrary to the teachings of the Church, *nor* is the actions of today’s teachers of religious liberty.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          May 21, 2012 8:04 pm

          There may not be one right way for Church and State to coexist – but there most certainly are wrong ways. Dignitatis Humanae (according to which religious liberty is not merely a “fashion” but a necessary implication of human dignity) explicitly repudiated religious coercion as contrary to the teachings of the Church.

          Although, in the life of the people of God in its pilgrimage, through the vicissitudes of human history, there have at times appeared patterns of behavior which was not in keeping with the spirit of the Gospel and were even opposed to it, it has always remained the teaching of the church that no one is to be coerced into believing.

          One of several restatements of this point throughout the document. Sorry, the stake-lighters are out of bounds. Well, no, I’m not sorry about that. On the contrary: Deo gratias!

        • May 21, 2012 9:58 pm

          “[T]hat absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. “But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error,” as Augustine was wont to say.” — Mirari Vos, Gregory XVI, 1832.

          I’m quoting Greg, because his is a pastoral teaching, just as Dignitatis Humanae is. Neither are part of the deposit of faith. The question of religious freedom has to be understood in light of earlier DOGMATIC declarations such as “There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation” from Lateran IV, which, from the ordinary magisterium, are infallible (i.e. at the very least they do not promote heresy).

          Men have a natural freedom of conscience. Yes! They do! But the bishops of the Church, as shepherds, have a duty to teach the faith, and to correct their flocks should they fall into error. It is *how* that correction ought to be done that can depend on the situation. Honestly, do you think I’m getting sticks together and lighting torches, preparing for the day I can reduce all who disagree with me to cinders? The very image of a burning being done in the U.S! It’s ridiculous! I’d be LAUGHED out of the country, and rightfully so!

          “The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a “public order” conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner. The “due limits” which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with “legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order.”” — Catechism, sec. 2109

          I fear I am repeating myself, but it must be done — this is a prudential question, and we can disagree with how our forefathers handled it, and we can say that some of them were right real *bastards*, that they did not try hard enough to convince their opponents, or they sinned greater than their prisoners! We are perfectly in our right to do such! I think the circumstances surrounding Jan Hus’ execution dishonored the German Emperor and the Councilmen who had promised him safe passage, even if Hus was a manifest and unrepentant heresiarch!

          But [i]God forbid[/i] we look at ourselves and our society, nod sagely at our own respectability, and pat ourselves on the back because we’re wiser and more compassionate, more attuned to the *true* Gospel message, than they were! I will not look at St. Thomas More, and say “I follow Christ better, for I have burned no man”! I will not look at St. Augustine, and say “I know better than him; he was blinded by Caesar’s power”!

          I will say, that in our day, a generous interpretation of the freedom of the conscience works better than a restrictive one.

          So no. At the end of the day, the stake-lighters are still in the Church, along with the prostitutes, murderers, fornicators, hypocrites, weaklings, slanderers, and just plain [i]sinners[/i] that we all are. May the Lord have mercy on all of us.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          May 22, 2012 9:07 am

          Well, Walter Cardinal Brandmuller says that Dignitatis humanae (and Nostra aetate for that matter), “…do not have a binding doctrinal content, so one can dialog about them.” Those documents (among others) are rightly seen as innovations, as not standing in the grand tradition of authentic Catholic teaching on the nature of the Church and its relation to all who were in it and now are not or who were never in it. Of course, as the quote you post illustrates, it really says nothing and condemns nothing. What does it mean to say “at times appeared patterns of behavior which was not in keeping with the spirit of the Gospel…” mean anyway? I’d say the heresiarchs fit that bill.

          “Religious liberty”, as often bantered around today, is an Americanist fabrication. We can certainly argue for it on a practical plain, such that we could make a lot more progress with gaining freedom for our own people if we, practically, work with others for a united front to gain freedom in this regard. However, the idea of religious liberty condemned by Gregory XVI and Pius IX (among others) remains condemned.

          Thus, while certainly not prudent today and arguably not the best course of action back then, I see no real problem with executing heretics and using the power of the State to supress any heresies and other problems.

  3. May 20, 2012 9:41 pm

    Very good to see – Of all the Christians out there, I think we have most to learn from the Mennonites.

  4. Julia Smucker permalink*
    May 22, 2012 10:45 am

    A clarification from DH 2, though I fear it will fall on deaf ears: “the right to religious freedom is based not on subjective attitude but on the very nature of the individual person. For this reason, the right to such immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it.”

    I have often been disturbed by the self-congratulatory tone that sometimes comes into the Anabaptist martyr identity. But today I am deeply, deeply disturbed that some of my fellow Catholics are so narrowly fixated on doctrinal correctness that they see no moral contradiction in enforcing it through violent and coercive means which the Church has now recognized as contrary to the Gospel.

    Lord have mercy.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      May 22, 2012 11:00 am

      Yes Julia, anyone who writes “I see no real problem with executing heretics and using the power of the State to supress any heresies and other problems” will not hear Holy Mother Church on this question.

      Christ have mercy.

      Returning to your original post, I think I am right in summarizing it by saying that in ecumenical dialog, we will understand our differences better when we first explore what we have in common. Those who left took with them great treasures and explored them; those who remained explored them from a different perspective. Even in our disagreements, we are richer for sharing our joint heritage.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      May 22, 2012 12:49 pm

      That assumes that the Church, in reality, has taught that such things are contrary to the Gospel. That is asserted, almost dogmatically, but that isn’t the case. Its a prudential judgement, whether we deal with heretics by executing them or by dialoging with them is left to the prudential realm and is time conditioned. It has been deemed more efficacious to extend practically universal toleration to the practitioners of false religions, and I think this is the most prudent policy to follow at this time. The principle, however, still stands, as annunciated by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica (2nd Part of the 2nd Part, Q. 11, Art. 3).

      This fuzzy magisterialism cannot stand. You cannot hold up something that is prudential as dogmatic. In its proper field, I think much of what DH says is *prudentially* correct, if not terribly clear. However, as Cardinal Brandmuller correctly points out, its not dogmatic. There is no saying, “…the Church has now recognized as contrary to the Gospel” relying on something that is non-dogmatic and ambiguous to boot! In reality, our prudential judgements probably agree-I would not have anyone executed for heresy in today’s society. So many of the people are material heretics and even the formal heretics do not present the same threat they once did. This is not really a good thing, of course, as all it shows is that we’ve become numb to the evil that heresy is. That said, its also the lived in reality.

      There is no charity in disparaging the prudential judgments of our true Fathers in the Faith (i.e. Sts. Thomas More and Pius V) and extolling the supposed virtues of a condemned unrepentant heresiarch. In charity, hopefully he converted before death and is with Thomas More and Pius V, but we cannot know and as such, he cannot be upheld as a role model.

      Worse than that, to dare to come out and say such a person is a “martyr”, is among the communion of the saints (in a pseudo-canonization style) and to honor him with the title of Benedictine (which he renounced when he left his monastery and attempted marriage with a former nun) is simply astounding.

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        May 22, 2012 6:54 pm

        That the Church should not execute people for heresy is not a prudential judgment, it is a moral one. And whether you agree with it or not, it is the position that the Church has rightly taken.

        Speaking of charity: those who have killed for their convictions (or simply under orders) are well within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy, but how dare I call one who died for his convictions a martyr?! At least for consistency’s sake, if you (rightly) want to avoid making assumptions about who the true and pure Church really is, can you extend the same charity to those with dissenting views on baptism that you so readily extend to those who lit the fires under their feet? Again for consistency’s sake, I am prepared to meet you halfway on this point: neither were fully orthodox in word and deed, and yet none of us has the authority to declare any of them to be definitively damned on this basis (to be clear, none of us has gone quite to that point). Isn’t it better for us to assume the mercy of God?

        • dominic1955 permalink
          May 23, 2012 8:57 am

          We have to parse this statement out. The moral judgment is whether it is right to execute anyone guilty of a grave crime. As capital punishment licitly used by the State, its application is prudential. Today we seek to limit its use, but before, the Papal States themselves executed criminals. Saints worked on the gallows to bring hardened criminals to repentence, etc. etc. The prudential judgement in this discussion is whether heresy is a grave crime meriting capital punishment. It has been, for a long time, that heresy does not merit capital punishment. Again, lets not dogmatize what is prudential.

          One can call anyone who died for any thing a “martyr” in the loose sense of the word, but in our lingo it has a very specific connotation. I can “assume” who is in the pure and true Church if the Church says so, those it has excommunicated are not considered in it. If they converted before death, God be praised, but this we will not know until the end and until then, they cannot be considered role models of the Christian life.

          The local bishop and the Imperial government acting (seemingly, at least) according to the prudential practice of that time, in line with what St. Thomas Aquinas taught, what Fourth Lateran decreed and what Pope Leo X condemned in Exsurge domine. Capital punishment is not wrong, executing heretics is not wrong so their is nothing to fault their orthodoxy. One can say they were too violent, but it was all par for the course at the time and that’s a moral judgement on the part of the individual practitioners not the principles we are concerned with here.

          On the other hand, the Schleitheim Confession was objectively heretical. Any good intentions and such aside, that is something that, for all of history to see, was against the faith of the Church.

          As I alluded to, we have saints that sent others to their deaths for heresy (i.e. Pope St. Pius V). On the other hand, we have saints that were heretics in much of their earthly life (i.e. the antipope that coverted in the mines, his name escapes me).

          I am not issuing a decree on the location of Michael Sattler’s soul. Like I said, hopefully he’s in the heavenly homeland or at least purgatory. In this, I certainly am assuming the mercy of God. The men involved in his execution, as far as I’m concerned cannot be faulted for that particular act (the execution of an unrepentant heretic) but who knows what kind of people they were otherwise. I hope they are in heaven or purgatory as well.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          May 23, 2012 1:27 pm

          I can “assume” who is in the pure and true Church if the Church says so…

          Fine, but in taking that position you have lost your claim to the moral high ground of Christian charity.

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        May 22, 2012 8:48 pm

        And let’s not forget that the Church has been known to admit its own mistakes by reinstating, in certain cases even canonizing, those who had previously been condemned. Remember Joan of Arc?

        • dominic1955 permalink
          May 23, 2012 8:59 am

          In the St. Joan of Arc case, was it the Church writ large who condemned Joan or even upheld the local decree? No. The Church at large determined the local ecclesiastical trial a sham that tried her for political reasons and burned her as a “heretic”. However, you cannot find anything from the life of St. Joan of Arc that is heretical or questionable. The same could not be done with Michael Sattler.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          May 23, 2012 1:30 pm

          And Michael Sattler’s execution wasn’t political? One of the main charges against him was political sedition, for refusing to take up arms against the Turks. His reply was that the Turks at least were ignorant of the Christian faith, but that Christians killing other Christians were “Turks according to the spirit” since they of all people ought to know better.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          May 23, 2012 3:40 pm

          Was it political or irregular in the same sense that Joan of Arc’s was? I do not see that it was. As to the Turks, that was the eigth charge and the rest of his defense was clearly in support of heresies against the Catholic Faith. St. Joan did no such thing.

  5. May 22, 2012 6:07 pm

    Robert Lennon has done us a great service by expressing his point of view, which is surely held by many others, with such great clarity.

    As I understand it his position begins with the belief that “The Declaration on Religious Liberty is a prudential statement, the same as the judgments that sought to end the Western Schism at Constance — important, yes, for they seek to chart a course for the church, but not part of the deposit of faith.”
    From this basis he appears to agree with Dominic, who says, “I see no real problem with executing heretics and using the power of the State to supress any heresies and other problems.”

    In the course of his exchanges he cites the following authorities:

    Gregory XVI in 1832: “[T]hat absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. ‘But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error,’ as Augustine was wont to say.”

    4th Lateran Council: “There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation.”

    The Catechism, sec. 2109 (apparently paraphrased): “The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a ‘public order’ conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner. The ‘due limits’ which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with ‘legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order’.”

    Mr. Lennon, have I understood your position correctly? If not please correct me. For many of us this is an important issue and we want to enter into constructive dialogue on it, if you are willing.

    • May 22, 2012 7:38 pm

      I had thought to leave this be, but you ask, so I will answer.

      I agree with Dominic’s quoted statement, to the extent that many saintly forefathers held such positions. What I object to, and vehemently, is the usage of a modern prudential statement to declare those men outside the bounds of Christian belief, when neither their approach *nor* the modern is dogma. Those men did not have the “benefits” of living in 21st Century America, to demand them to adhere to our modern notions of the proper relationship of Church and State is more than silly, it’s temporal parochialism. It is the absolutizing of a particular mode that I object to, not the mode itself.

      The quotation from the Catechism was changed ONLY in the removal of two footnotes. Otherwise it is word-for-word! Do not accuse me of paraphrasing before checking the source, s’il vous plaît.

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        May 23, 2012 2:07 pm

        I just looked up your quotation from the Catechism and found a couple of interesting things.

        1. The second of the footnotes in the paragraph you cite indicates that the final phrase is quoted right out of – you guessed it – Dignitatis Humanae.

        2. This paragraph is a continuation of the disclaimer articulated in 2108, that religious liberty is not meant to be an unqualified carte blanche, in the context of the affirmation of “the social duty of religion and the right to religious freedom,” as this section is headed. Look at the two preceding paragraphs:

        2106 “Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits.” This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order. For this reason it “continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it.”

        2107 “If because of the circumstances of a particular people special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional organization of a state, the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom must be recognized and respected as well.”

        All direct quotes in these paragraphs are from Dignitatis Humanae.

        So apparently you are only taking the Catechism (and, by extension, the Church documents it cites!) as an authoritative representation of the “deposit of faith” when it is convenient to your argument, and dismissing anything you don’t like from the exact same source as merely “prudential.”

        • May 23, 2012 3:32 pm

          Do you think I’m that /stupid/? Do you think I didn’t SEE THAT?
          Want to know what else is quoted there? Quanta Cura! Aw shucks!

          I have been trying to convince you that there can be a legitimate difference of opinion on this topic, such as the Church and Her saints have held since Her earliest days, and you refuse to even countenance the idea; and to boot I have been all but accused of being an apologist for MURDER.

          You have it in your mind that somehow church teaching was ossified at Vatican II, in a way different from what it had been in earlier ages. I expect that kind of stubbornness from sedevacantists, who think the same thing, only they deplore the “change” where you lionize it. And if you will not listen to me anywhere else, fine, but please, listen to me here: that idea is ANTITHETICAL to true development of doctrine.

          I’m done with this topic here.

  6. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    May 23, 2012 1:54 am

    You can assert repeatedly that Dignitatis Humanae is “merely” a prudential statement, but the teaching on religious freedom is grounded in the doctrinal understanding of the human person. From Pope Benedict XVI World Day of Peace message in 2011:

    It could be said that among the fundamental rights and freedoms rooted in the dignity of the person, religious freedom enjoys a special status. When religious freedom is acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and the ethos and institutions of peoples are strengthened. On the other hand, whenever religious freedom is denied, and attempts are made to hinder people from professing their religion or faith and living accordingly, human dignity is offended, with a resulting threat to justice and peace, which are grounded in that right social order established in the light of Supreme Truth and Supreme Goodness.

    This leaves NO ROOM for burning heretics as a prudential judgment.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      May 23, 2012 10:01 am

      And the doctrinal/dogmatic weight of a “World Day of Peace message” is what exactly?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      May 23, 2012 3:57 pm

      At the very least, it provides insight into how the Pope himself views these matters. Binding? no of course not. Not definitive, but important and worth listening to. It is certainly more authoritative than the opinion of an academic theologian.

      • dominic1955 permalink
        May 23, 2012 6:22 pm

        Well, then don’t dogmatize that which is prudential. You say that left “NO ROOM” (caps and all…) and then go on to say its “important and worth listening to”. Please…

        Prudentially, I totally agree with the Pope-but it doesn’t look like he’s even speaking to this (admittedly) ivory tower topic. Capital punishment is not fundamentally or objectively contrary to human dignity and true “freedom” implies the ability to do what is actually right, not license to do whatever one wants.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          May 24, 2012 9:50 am

          True “freedom” implies the ability to do what is actually right, not license to do whatever one wants.

          I agree with this statement on the face of it, but in this context you are ignoring an obvious distinction. Doing whatever one wants is not a basic human right. Not being killed for one’s religious convictions is.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          May 24, 2012 7:12 pm

          That is debatable. The State also has the right to suppress error (which is limited on certain points), as it has the right to administer capital punishment. Error can (and indeed often should) be tolerated. and suppression isn’t an absolute. Something is also not a “basic human right” it is it time contingent or subject to other distinctions.

          Also, a formal heretic and a material heretic (let alone any other practitioner of false religions and sectarians who do not know any better) and very different creatures. It is one thing to punish the formal heretic for abandoning the Barque of Peter and dragging fellow proud as well as unsuspecting or ignorant souls along with them, it is something all together different to try to punish the material heretic into converting to Catholicism.

          I’ve read DH explained this way:

          No one ought to use force to change another’s beliefs (especially his religious beliefs). No human authority may set penalties for non-conversion to Catholicism or for failure to elicit the first assent of supernatural faith.
          God obligates all men to obey the natural Moral Law; and beyond that, God obligates all men to seek and embrace the religious truth which He has revealed. Since God obligates all men to seek and embrace the religious truth which He has revealed, it follows that man has, over against any human government, a right to seek and hold that truth.

          Basically, religious freedom = the ability to seek out Revealed Religion-which is Catholicism alone.

          Plus:

          No one ought to interfere with anyone’s doing those acts which (a) he believes he ought to do on religious grounds and which (b) cannot justly be treated as crimes because they conform to Natural Law norms of intellectual probity and moral innocence.

          Thus, material heretics (among others) need not and should not be suppressed because of their presumed good faith and that they are not harming anyone.

          This completely jives with the past teachings (i.e. Mirari vos, Libertas, Immortale Dei, the Syllabus, etc.).

      • Rat-biter permalink
        May 27, 2012 12:28 am

        It is worthless if it is mere piffle, like so many of JP2’s verbose asinities. The value of a theological statement depends not on the rank of the speaker, nor even in the Church, but on the theological insight of the speaker as exemplified in what he or she says. JP2 was an unmitigated disaster – & not only for a *lot* of forests.

  7. May 23, 2012 9:25 am

    I am always amazed at the theological, doctrinal, and historical work that goes into finding justifications for harming people.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      May 23, 2012 1:41 pm

      Incredible, indeed. I’ve just come across a quote from Lawrence Kushner that speaks to this:

      No one in human history has ever set out to do something evil. Instead they believed what they were doing was right and proper…. Most of the terrible things human beings do to one another, they do by telling themselves they are actually fighting against some external evil. But in truth more often than not they have only taken the evil into themselves and have become its agents.

      To be clear, I do not cite this as a judgment on the state of anyone’s soul, but only on the actions (i.e. orthopraxy, which is just as important as orthodoxy) of those who respond to “threats” in ways foreign to the Gospel.

      • dominic1955 permalink
        May 23, 2012 6:14 pm

        Orthodoxy entails right belief-holding to the right theology if you will. Orthopraxis is right worship-putting that belief into correct practice, primarily liturgical. Either way, what you quote from a Reform Rabbi does not speak to the issue brought up. Rather, it side steps the whole issue.

  8. May 24, 2012 11:21 am

    I find it interesting that, in the midst of this discussion on coercion in the matter of religious belief and practice and the status of Dignitatis Humanae, the USCCB has put out a document for their “Fortnight of Freedom” campaign based entirely on DH (www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/upload/Dignitatis-Humane-Reflections.pdf). A few interesting excerpts:

    Day 1: “The Vatican Synod 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 in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publically, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. The Synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed Word of God and by reason itself.”

    Day 2: “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.”

    Day 7: “In spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices, everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonorable or unworthy, especially
    when dealing with poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one’s own right and a violation of the rights of others.”

    Day 10: “It follows that a wrong is done when government imposes upon its people, by force or fear or other means, the profession or repudiation of any religion, or when it hinders men from joining or leaving a religious body. All the more is it a violation of the will
    of God and of the sacred rights of the person and the family of nations, when force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion, either in the whole of mankind or in a particular country or in a specific community.”

    I understand that it is claimed that DH is to be seen as a prudential statement, and not a part of the deposit of faith. Even more so, a document like this put out by the USCCB would be a prudential statement. Nevertheless, would it not be the case that both would be prudential judgments against the burning of heretics? There is strong language used against coercion and force, even against the error that has no rights. If this is the current position of the USCCB on religious freedom, how does it relate to the exercise of religious freedom in the past?

  9. Jordan permalink
    May 25, 2012 10:15 pm

    An inherent problem of faithful Catholicism (“problem” in the sense of the Latin word problema, “pressing question”) is the reality that the Church often binds upon believers at different points of history teachings of the ordinary magisterium which are often misunderstood and rejected by a number of persons in immediately succeeding generations. As Julia Smucker has noted at PrayTell Blog ["Contours of the Catholic Mind", 21 May 2012], the historical and theological discourse of Catholicism does not take place over decades or generations, but centuries.

    While some Catholics might disagree with the magisterial force of Dignitatis Humanae or Nostra Aetate, there is no doubt that the Second Vatican Council is a dogmatic council. These documents, and all the documents of the Council, are teachings of the ordinary magisterium. I recognize that Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate trouble some traditionalists because they suggest that “error has rights” and that the apostolic Church as the New Israel is void, respectively.

    As Smucker notes earlier in this thread [May 22, 2012 6:54 pm], “[t]hat the Church should not execute people for heresy is not a prudential judgment, it is a moral one. And whether you agree with it or not, it is the position that the Church has rightly taken.” (my addition in brackets) If one defends execution of “heretics” as the only way the Church could maintain ecclesiastical order in previous times and one refutes Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate for the previous reasons mentioned, one must also argue that religious ideological bloodshed is applicable today, that “error” must be suppressed in the public square and politics unless Catholicism fails to achieve the “social reign of Christ” (a confessional state), and that pogroms and even the Shoah are in some way justifiable because “the Jewish people” (as an objectified state rather than a culture and religion of dignified human beings) has eternally rejected the Son of God and his Church through deicide. A rejection of the tolerance formed by the teachings and dogmatic pronouncements of the postmodern Church inevitably leads to violence even if that violence, illustrated in the previous examples, is vainly couched in a illogical and fallacious defense of “orthodoxy”.

    • Rat-biter permalink
      May 27, 2012 12:44 am

      “While some Catholics might disagree with the magisterial force of Dignitatis Humanae or Nostra Aetate, there is no doubt that the Second Vatican Council is a dogmatic council. ”

      ## There is every doubt of this, even in Rome. It is a synod which instead of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s Pentecost, inflicted a “NuPentecost” on the Church, bastardised the Liturgy, eviscerated the missions, spread indifferentism, used carefully-phrased ambiguities (*very* fully exploited thereafter !), spread endless confusion, & and had all the effects one would expect from a work of deliberate sabotage. God is not the author of confusion: the Holy Spirit was not involved – the devil, OTOH…

      It is fit only to be renounced, as other councils have been, like the “Robber Synod” of Ephesus, Hieria (held in 754), etc.

      • Jordan permalink
        May 27, 2012 7:10 pm

        re: Rat-biter [May 27, 2012 12:44 am]

        Will you, for example, be the first to stand up and say that the Church’s nullification of the deicide charge against Jewish persons and the Jewish people is itself void?

        The Latin of Nostra Aetate quite emphatically rejects anti-semitism and the general persecution of individuals and people for their religious convictions.

        Praeterea, Ecclesia, quae omnes persecutiones in quosvis homines reprobat, memor communis cum Iudaeis patrimonii, nec rationibus politicis sed religiosa caritate evangelica impulsa, odia, persecutiones, antisemitismi manifestationes, quovis tempore et a quibusvis in Iudaeos habita, deplorat.” (my bolded text)

        “Meanwhile the Church, which condemns every persecution whomever the people, mindful of a common patrimony with the Jewish people, and not prompted by reasons of politics but an evangelical and religious charity, sorrows over hatreds, persecutions, manifestations of anti-semitism, held against Jewish people in any time or by any person.” (my bolded text, translation)

        Some might reject Nostra Aetate simply because its condemnations were not in couched in the Tridentine formula sit anathema. It is clear to me that the Council fathers’ condemnation is of the same gravity.

        One need not reject the Council’s moral teachings unless he or she wishes to save a reified and wooden notion of “Tridentine liturgy” or “Tridentine theology”. We are one Roman church of two liturgical forms, brothers and sisters of one apostolic and universal faith. There is no need to reject human dignity to save the ancient liturgical traditions of the Roman Rite. Rather the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms must continuously change anew to reflect the expanding charity of Christ. To reject change out of fear of the loss of heritage is not the life of a Christian but rather the advocation of violence.

  10. Rat-biter permalink
    May 27, 2012 12:18 am

    “Michael Sattler was a martyr for things a vast number of Christians now agree on.”

    ## But not for the Catholic Faith. An enemy of the Catholic Faith is as much a martyr as OBL was an US patriot – not at all. To call the enemies of Catholicism martyrs – when only Catholics can be martyrs, properly speaking, given that the word is the Church’s word & is therefore a purely Catholic word – is a perversion of language.

    “[t]hat the Church should not execute people for heresy is not a prudential judgment, it is a moral one. And whether you agree with it or not, it is the position that the Church has rightly taken.””

    ## Only since Vatican II. The Church has canonised and beatified Inquisitors *as Inquisitors* (St. Peter Arbues, Martyr), as well as Saints who were zealous in executing heretics or promoting this or that Inquisition (St Ferdinand III, St. Louis IX). This shows that the Church has no no moral objection to executing heretics. If the Church was wrong, its infallibility is a worthless lie and it is guilty of deceit & mendacity in claiming to be infallible. The binding force of Dignitatis Humanae,a mere declaration, is in any case very doubtful.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      May 27, 2012 2:11 pm

      Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI beg to differ.

      If you can so readily accuse the popes (and an entire council of the world’s bishops) of “perversion” on this matter, what reason can you give us for taking your word over theirs?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      May 27, 2012 3:57 pm

      I concur with Julia: why should we take the word of a proto-schismatic?

  11. June 7, 2012 7:04 am

    I find disheartening the extent of unwillingness to renounce coercion and execution of dissenters for their religious convictions, even erroneous. As a Mennonite, who at least HAD been seeking fuller communion with Rome, some of these responses offer great insight into the libido dominandi and absence of Christ’s charity that led our spiritual ancestors out. Seems that’s a persistent “fashion” among inquisitorial sorts..I see no moral difference between the Middle-Eastern Muslim who will kill his cousin for converting to Christianity, and the Catholic who would condone executing Sattler and his spiritual descendants for leaving the barque of Peter. As Sattler intimated, the latter is even more grievous, because he should know better from the gospel.

    • June 7, 2012 7:27 am

      Sorry — I meant “drove our spiritual ancestors out” in the second sentence. And the “latter” of the last sentence refers to the Catholic vis a vis the Muslim. A little syntactically overwhelmed this early in the morning by this exchange.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      June 7, 2012 12:47 pm

      Spencer, as a fellow Mennonite who has come into full communion with the Catholic Church, I find your response to this discussion rather heartbreaking, all the more so as I can relate from past experience. One factor in how long it took me to come into the Catholic Church was the occasions on which people made it look ugly, even to those like me who were attracted to it, by dogmatizing these dividing lines. At those times it felt as if I had my foot in the door and someone was slamming it on my toes, and thus keeping me out.

      This also illustrates one of the major problems with strictly authoritarian arguments (a subject that has come up on a few recent threads in relation to the CDF): they tend to backfire by alienating anyone who is not already fully convinced, even those who are seeking fuller communion. Seems like a pretty counterproductive way to “evangelize”.

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