Religious Liberty and the Common Good

May 9, 2017 by

by Gerard V Bradley, Public Discourse:

To detach religious liberty from truth is to decapitate it.

In this essay, I investigate religious liberty and its relationship to the common good within a specifically Catholic framework. But note well: the cogency of what I say does not depend upon accepting the contents of revelation or actually having religious faith or believing in the authority of the Church. What follows could be taken without remainder as a philosophical reflection that just happens to be suffused with Catholic illustrations.

Our exploration is blessed by a remarkable stability of the key coordinates: even today, the Church’s pastors rely on the Second Vatican Council’s articulation of both the “common good” and “religious liberty.” Gaudium et spes (GS) defines the common good as “the sum of those conditions of social life that allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough access to their own fulfillment,” while Dignitatas humanae (DH) describes it as “the entirety of those conditions of social life under which men enjoy the possibility of achieving their own perfection in a certain fullness and also with some relative ease.” This way of understanding the “common good” has been evident in the teachings of the Popes going back to Leo XIII. It shaped the authoritative Catechism and the official but non-authoritative Vatican Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It is now—thankfully—woven into the sinews of Catholic thought about political matters.

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