Several questions arise in my mind as to how religious freedom should be interpreted in light of Personalism. Thankfully, the Second Vatican Council dealt heavily with this issue in its Declaration Dignitatis humanae, and John Paul II proved to be a crucial contributor. In an article for Communio, David Schindler has written an extensive study of the topic in question, inspired largely by the true intentions of Wojtyla for the Declaration. The topic itself interests me tremendously, because it substantially clears up questions that have been obstacles in my understanding of the relationship between Personalism and Truth.
“Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity” is the comprehensive study written by Schindler to clarify a variety of interpretations of Dignitatis humanae’s approach to religious freedom. He makes reference to John Courtney Murray’s “juridical approach” to Dignitatis humanae, alongside John Paul II’s “ontological approach” in order to explain the process of redaction that the council fathers took to edit the formal documents. Furthermore, Schindler makes the following basic argument, as I understand it, in summary of Wojtyla’s contribution (as recorded in what are called the “interventions” for Vatican II documentation, more specifically Acta Synodalia, abbreviated AS):
The dignity of the human person is dependent on the integrity of freedom and truth lived by him. A person’s right to religious freedom must intrinsically correspond to his understanding of truth, and not as a “negative immunity”from it. To this end, freedom must be understood to stand for truth and not as freedom from truth. Fullness of truth is, ultimately, the Person of Christ. In response to this Truth, a person only has the right to err insofar as he does not recognize the Truth. He who denies the Truth abuses his freedom in the name of his right to religious freedom.
To the best of my ability, I have summarized Schindler’s argument for the “ontological approach” of JPII and the Second Vatican Council on religious freedom. I will then flesh out this argument with explanations given by Schindler, Wojtyla, and others in an attempt to cover the entire scope of Schindler’s study “Freedom, Truth and Human Dignity”. I also intend to show even more how Personalism must follow the same argument of Schindler in order to be in line with the thinking of the Church on human dignity. I am aware that, to a degree, such a clear definition of human dignity can be offensive without the aid of mercy. Indeed, I believe that mercy is also at the heart of the Church’s and Wojtyla’s view of the dignity of the human person in relation to God, that is, God’s merciful grace in helping people to seek the truth and abide by it.
Schindler goes to great lengths to differentiate between the “negative immunity” stance connected with the “juridical approach” to religious freedom, and the “intrinsically positive good” connected with Wojtyla’s “ontological approach” to the same. He further summarizes Wojtyla’s thinking as follows:
Wojtyła objected to the purely ‘negative’ concept of religious freedom as an, ‘immunity from coercion.’ Such a concept, he thought, lacked an adequate sense of the right to religious freedom as an intrinsically positivegood owed to all persons. Emphasizing religious freedom only in the negative terms of immunity leaves this right logically vulnerable to indifference in the matter of truth.
Ironically, Wojtyla is often accused of the very thing he sought to avoid in the Second Vatican Council—indifference to the truth. This is also true of his intentions for Personalism, namely, it is not meant to disregard truth in favor of an overemphasis on the freedom of the human person. I find such a clarification very helpful in my doubts about Personalism, especially in regard to the question of its attitude toward virtue. At the same time, it does not allow for a type of non-denominationalism either, insisting instead on the fullness of truth to subsist entirely in the Catholic Church.
Because of what is at stake in the topic of religious freedom, basically a strict attention to freedom and truth or a cowardly indifference to them, Schindler sides with Wojtyla’s emphasis not only on truth but on responsibility:
Again, Wojtyła insisted that one cannot say ‘I am free’ without saying at the same time that ‘I am responsible’ to God and others. ‘This teaching has its foundation in the Church’s living tradition of confessors and martyrs. Responsibility is, as it were, the culmination and necessary complement of freedom. This must be stressed, so that our Declaration may be seen to be deeply personalistic in the Christian sense, yet not subject to liberalism or indifferentism’
Although the word “Truth” is sufficient as a compliment to freedom, Wojtyla adds an essential qualifier to truth by adding responsibility. And responsibility is not limited to just individuals but entire governments in terms of insuring the religious freedom of individuals. He takes great pains to ward off the abuse of duty to be responsible with freedom by essentially putting freedom at the service of truth. In my opinion, it may be said that freedom is a means to truth. Especially if truth is personal, as in Truth is the Person of Christ, then freedom is a means to the end of Truth. Schindler agrees to this ‘means-end’ dynamic with different wording:
this abstraction of freedom from truth makes truth extrinsic to freedom: truth becomes a simple object of freedom rather than a natural end providing freedom with its original order as freedom.
For this reason of means/end dynamic, Schindler defines the human person’s dignity as an “integrated order of freedom and truth”. In light of this definition, government must take into account the proper understanding of man’s dignity, if it is to uphold a lasting approach to religious freedom. Wojtyla and his fellow Bishops concluded, in the words of Schindler:
Indeed, they were convinced that it is only in the recognition by governmentthat freedom is intrinsically tied to truth that the right to religious freedom can be sustained permanently and as a matter of principle for all human beings—whether they are believers or nonbelievers.
No government to date, especially the American and French constitutional experiments of the last few centuries, has successfully recognized the ontological reality of man’s dignity, as it relates to the juridical. Instead they adopt a relativistic attitude towards truth, and an indifferent attitude towards freedom. In the view of Wojtyla and the Bishops, such attitudes will ultimately erode the very framework of said governments. If they do not alter their attitudes in favor of truth and the freedom of excellence and virtue, they will continue to disintegrate.
Now, it is not my intention to enter into an extended criticism of democracy or government, but it is worth noting that Schindler goes to great lengths to point out governmental inadequacies in his “Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity”. After all, the question of religious freedom is intimately linked with government in a pluralistic society. My intentions are to continue to explore Schindler’s definition of human dignity as it relates to Personalism in Dignitatis humanaeand the Catholic understanding of religious freedom.
According to Schindler, the original drafts of the Vatican II Declaration on religious freedom, “emphasized that truth alone had rights, and that error was at best to be tolerated”, but the final copy of the Declaration was much more Personalistic in scope:
The Council shifted its emphasis away from the formal question of truth to the rights of the human person [...] I argue in this article that the prevalent readings of DH today, while rightly recognizing the Council’s shift of emphasis away from the notion of truth formally considered to the notion of the person, fail for the most part to take note of the profound ways in which the issue of truth emerges once more, precisely from within this new context centered in the person (Ibid--elipses mine).
The human person is, in fact, the appropriate context for religious freedom. But Schindler is quick to warn those who would read Personalism into the Declaration without the integration of truth and freedom. Wojtyla also makes such a clarification by qualifying the type of personalism that he wanted to be read in the Declaration, as I have already quoted, “This must be stressed, so that our Declaration may be seen to be deeply personalistic in the Christian sense, yet not subject to liberalism or indifferentism”. This qualification of Personalism is necessary, in my view, precisely because of the alternatives that Wojtyla points out in the aforementioned quote. Again, much is at stake in the Church’s definition of religious freedom, including the very dignity of the human person as an ‘integration of freedom and truth’.
As previously noted, Wojtyla adds ‘responsibility’ as a qualifier for truth, and in particular, “responsibility to God and others”. The dimension of Biblical shema, that is, love of God and love of neighbor, as inseparable parameters for Christian Personalism brings me tremendous satisfaction. Without such parameters, we have relativism and indifference. Therefore, Schindler clarifies Wojtyla’s “ontological approach” to the Declaration with an implicit “theological approach”:
The merely civil right to religious freedom asserted by Murray had to be tied in principle to an ontological-moral—indeed by implication ultimately theological—right, or, more precisely, had to be tied to some form of an ontology of freedom of excellence as distinct from freedom of indifference.
Furthermore, Schindler narrows down this “theological approach” to the following:
That Jesus Christ is the ultimate and most basic foundation for an integrated view of freedom and truth was repeatedly stressed by Archbishop Wojtyla, as we have seen.
I would merely add, in light of Schindler’s “theological approach” in connection with human dignity, that if man is an integration of freedom and truth---and that freedom is a means to truth—then, truth is ultimately the Person of Christ, the end and goal of all human inquiry. So, the council fathers were right to shift the emphasis of religious freedom from truth to the person, knowing all along that Truth is himself a Person!
In conclusion then, I admit to the truth of Personalism in regard to interpretingDignitatis humanae, so long as Personalism recognizes the supreme truth of the Person of Christ. Likewise, human freedom is a means to truth, so long as coercion is not employed. Since a person’s dignity is based on an integration of freedom and truth, other individuals and institutions are meant to be at the service of such integration and not as an obstacle or domineering impediment to it. Interpreted correctly, thanks to the work of Schindler and others, a society in which religious freedom corresponds properly to personal dignity is attainable, and indeed, is already (but not yet) present in the Catholic Church.
 Schindler: The truth of this argument is in fact verified historically, in that there exists no liberal society today whose legal-constitutional order has not over time evolved in just this direction of relativistic monism, with respect to the anthropological-ontological claims noted above regarding the nature and dignity of the human being.