under the patronage of St Joseph and St Dominic
By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion;
DIGNITATIS HUMANAE—MICHAEL DAVIES’ STUDY
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In The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty English Catholic Layman, Michael Davies , produced what is perhaps the most intensive, certainly the most readable, study of Dignitatis Humanae, the Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty, and of its passage from the rejection (at the instance of a cadre led by Augustin Cardinal Bea) of the Preparatory Commission’s schema in 1960 though to its promulgation on 7th December 1965.
Subjectivism, the principal evil flowing from Descartes’ denial that we can know reality, has ravaged intellectual life in the modern world. Its chief effect is to prevent the thinker correctly distinguishing the real and the conceptual orders. It is the root cause of the errors in Dignitatis Humanae. It colours the thinking of many of its critics. It affects even a study as well grounded as that of Mr Davies.
We move between words and concepts without thinking about what we are doing. Words are signs of concepts which are signs of things (or realities). If I say the word ‘bridge’, I am signifying a concept (“structure enabling one to cross a void”), which signifies, in turn, a reality—a thing. I can use two different words to indicate the one concept (and, therefore, the one thing) as ‘cheval’, or ‘pferd’ expresses the same reality as ‘horse’. I can use a word like ‘freedom’, or ‘justice’, to indicate a concept which signifies, in turn, something real but immaterial (i.e., not comprised of matter). I can use two different words to refer to the same immaterial reality; as ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ signify the same reality. I can use a word (or phrase) to indicate something which does not exist in reality (as e.g., ‘blindness’, ‘darkness’, ‘hyperspace’; or ‘speed of light’ ).
The second error flowing from Descartes’s defective thinking is materialism, one of whose effects is the inability to look beyond appearances. This, too, manifests itself in Mr Davies’ analysis. It is not enough to judge according to externals. We must penetrate to the realities that underlie them.
Without seeking to engage in an exhaustive criticism of Davies’ admirable study, we address a number of its shortcomings below.
I. At pp. 15 and 16 of his text, Davies says this:
This analysis omits important distinctions. The free is that which is immune from bond (or necessity). Bond can be either external or internal. External bond is a cause acting extrinsically and necessitating, as the force of gravity is an extrinsic agent driving a rock down a mountain side. What is free from external bond is said to be free from coaction, or to enjoy spontaneity, or freedom of execution; and in this way brute animals are free from external bond. This is a freedom of acting rather than of willing.
Internal bond is a bond or necessity arising from the very nature of the agent. Every being is bound by such necessity in regard to its natural operations, for every being is bound to tend to its proper end. So, acid is bound to corrode; the plant to nourish itself; the brute animal to move itself according to the form of sense knowledge; the eye to see; the ear to hear; the intellect to understand first principles; and the will to will its proper formal object, good; and so on. What is immune or exempt from internal bond is said to be free from natural necessity. This is enjoyed only by the will and is called freedom of choice or decision. As a pre-condition to its operations, though, the will must also be free from external bond.
Hence the free is what proceeds from the choice of will apart from its natural determination. It is that whereto will, through deliberation, determines itself. The free exists for the sake of itself: itself is the end of its own operations.
Although, as St Thomas says, free will in its strict sense denotes an act, in the common manner of speaking we call free will that which is the principle of the act, i.e., the power of free will. This is what Pope Leo XIII, following St Thomas, identifies as man’s natural freedom, with which he contrasts the faculty that follows necessarily upon man’s possession of rationality, moral freedom.
II. At p. 46 of his book, Davies says this:
Two things are to be said of these remarks. First, there is a hierarchy among rights just as there is a hierarchy among laws and, where they conflict, precedence is to be given to the higher. No law no matter how stringent, for instance, is superior to the law of charity. Similarly, when rights conflict, the precedence is given to the higher. Thus, the parent’s right in natural justice of authority over his child supervenes over the right of the child to know objective truth till the child reaches the age of reason. Secondly, the parent’s right to teach his child as he thinks fit is not really distinct (i.e., not distinct in reality, only conceptually so) from the right of authority over his child. Therefore there is no right “not to be prevented” from teaching the child error distinct, as Davies argues, from the parent’s right to bring up his child as he sees fit.
III. At page 211 Davies allows a measure of justice to the claim of principle in Dignitatis Humanae:
First, the analysis assumes that the material that follows the claim of principle (Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs etc…) is definitive, i.e., defines (in the sense of ‘sets out the limits to’), this right to religious freedom. But it is merely descriptive of certain of its effects. The principle—the human person has a right to religious freedom—remains unqualified. Secondly, as said above, there is no such thing as a “right not to be prevented”, or a “right not to be restrained”, distinct from the substance of the right to which it pertains. Thirdly, the distinction between the public and the private adherence to an opinion has no relevance when one is dealing with right, only when dealing with tolerance (of error). St Thomas assists us here.
Fourthly, Davies is mistaken in thinking that reference to the common good (rather than to public order) would have redeemed the Council Fathers’ defective statement of principle. No right (i.e., no true right) needs reference to the common good because consistency with the common good is implicit in it. Moreover, had the Council Fathers used that standard rather than that of public order, the truth of what they were essaying would have been manifest—that they were disguising what was a mere matter of tolerance in calling it “a right”.
IV. At pages 212 et seq. of his text, Davies says this:
But because it is based not on a real, but a subjective, interpretation of the document, Fr Murray’s analysis is defective. The very principle (the human person has a right to religious freedom) connotes the freedom of conscience he so rightly disparages. It is not necessary that the phrase “freedom of conscience” should appear in the document. The Declaration lends its authority to the theory for which that phrase stands wherever in the document the principle is reiterated (in nn. 2, 12 et alibi).
Davies is wrong in thinking that the statement of principle in Article 1 demonstrates the document’s adherence to Catholic principle. It does no more than pay it lip service. And while the Declaration may nowhere say “that an individual can have a positive right to profess or spread error”, if that is a corollary of the principle on which it is grounded, as it is, Davies’ conclusion that the Declaration “nowhere suggests [it]” is erroneous.
Davies goes on (at p. 213)—
This argument fails for the reason given above. A claim of right not to be prevented from propagating an error is the same as a claim of right to propagate that error. The two differ only conceptually. Davies cites Fr Brian Harrison’s assertion that the Declaration’s affirmation of a right to be tolerated involves “a genuinely new doctrinal development” , but this assertion is without foundation.
Davies goes on to criticise Fr Yves Congar, the Dominican peritus, on the same page for saying—
V. In Chapter XXI of his text, Davies asserts—
He develops this thesis in his Appendix I.
The word ‘magisterium’ denotes authority. By definition, then, whether exercised in an ordinary or in an extraordinary fashion, the determinations of the magisterium of Christ’s Church are certain. Categorising the degree of certitude of this or that determination is another matter. If the Council Fathers spoke for the Church in Dignitatis Humanae they spoke with certitude. This begs the question whether they had authority from the Church to speak in the first place. We have addressed this issue in an earlier paper. Because the Second Vatican Council lacked an objective reason in causa fidei for its summoning it was never invested with the charism of extraordinary infallibility that characterised each of its predecessors. Hence, simply because the Council Fathers elected to pronounce on some topic, it did not follow eo ipso that they spoke infallibly.
Davies himself shows clearly that the Church had already spoken—taught definitively and infallibly—on the subject the Council Fathers were addressing. There was no scope for them to speak further on the subject: Dignitatis Humanae was otiose. It follows that wherever the Council Fathers sought, in contradiction of what the Church had laid down, to proclaim the novelty of religious freedom they spoke not for the Church, but for themselves.
 The Neumann Press, Long Prairie, Minnesota, 1992
 Michael Davies (13.3.1936—25.9.2004) was a British soldier, later a teacher in Catholic schools for thirty years. He converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in the 1950s. He wrote prolifically on the problems in the Church that followed on the Second Vatican Council. A supporter of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of St Pius X, he yet deprecated the Archbishop’s decision to consecrate four bishops in 1988 without a papal mandate.
 Whereas the thing (e.g., Sydney Harbour bridge) is singular, the concept is not; it is universal and applies to every bridge.
 Light does not have a speed. The speed at which it travels is a property, not of light (which is an accident), but of the material matrix, the substance, in which light travels. Convention dictates the use of the phrase but ignores the lack of reality behind it. This can lead to false assumptions as, e.g., modern science’s opinion that light does not need a material matrix.
 Summa Theologiae I, 83, 2, resp.
 Encyclical Libertas praestantissimum (20. 6. 1888), n. 3
 It is not a matter of denying a lesser law, or a lesser right, but of according each its proper place in the hierarchy, respectively, of laws, of rights.
 Note that no such qualification is shown in the title to the document. It is not entitled a Declaration “of A Limited (or Qualified) Religious Liberty” but “of Religious Liberty”.
 For instance, the assertion by the Council Fathers that all men are to be immune from coercion… in matters religious is not different from their claim of principle the human person has a right to religious freedom. It merely repeats it under a different conception.
 St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, a. 11
 If it was not consistent with the common good, it would not be a right.
 The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty, op. cit., p. 270
 Religious Liberty and Contraception, Melbourne (John XXIII Fellowship Co-op. Ltd.) 1988., p. 117.
 Fr Harrison argues (ibid): “There is no incoherence in speaking of a ‘right to be tolerated’ because… ‘tolerating’ a certain activity does not necessarily imply… a right to suppress it.” But tolerance connotes sufferance and no right is suffered, only a wrong, and there is always a right to suppress a wrong. Hence, there is no such thing as a ‘right to be tolerated’, i.e., not to be prevented from promoting error.
 Dogmatic theology recognises various degrees of certainty ranging from de fide down to opinio tolerata. Cf. Dr Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (transl. from the German by Patrick Lynch), Mercier Press, Cork, 1960, Fourth edition, pp. 9, 10.
 This is not to deny that the bishops retained their ordinary teaching office. But that office required them to conform themselves to the Church’s constant teaching. Cf. The Trouble with Dignitatis Humaae—II. The Dilemma at http://www.superflumina.org/dignitatis_humanae_2.html