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 Chapter 13

The Papal Encylical of 1995 and Religious Liberty


ONE of the most important papal encyclicals in modern times, promulgated on May 25 1995, was entitled Ut Unum Sint [That They May Be One]. Unlike most encyclicals, which have special relevance to the Roman Catholic Church, this was meant to have broad implications for the whole of Christendom, including all the Protestant and Orthodox communities. The encyclical made clear reference to the issue of religious freedom.

At the same time, it takes into account everything affirmed at the [Second Vatican] council’s declaration D/H on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae. Pope John Paul II, They May Be One, Electronic form, Trinity Communications, 1995, p. 5

The encyclical also proclaimed,

The Council’s declaration of Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae attributes to human dignity the quest for truth, "especially in what concerns God and His Church," and adherence to truth’s demands. A "bringing together" which betrayed the truth would thus be opposed both to the nature of God who offers His communion and to the need for truth found in the depths of every human heart. Ibid., p. 8

Yet this basis in truth has to be understood from the Roman Catholic perspective. It is not established upon the primacy of the Word of God but upon the primacy and authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The encyclical reads as follows:

Catholic theologians engaged in ecumenical dialog, while standing fast by the teachings of the Church and searching together with separated brothers and sisters into the divine mysteries, should act with love for truth, with charity, and with humility. Ibid., p. 14

In spite of the appealing language of the pope, we cannot escape the implications of the contemporary Roman Catholic catechism.

The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been intrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the pope and to the bishops in communion with him. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, p. 35

Protestants hold that the only valid basis for truth is the Word of God. The Reformers proclaimed "Sola Scriptura." It is plain that the only way that Protestants can be brought into the ecumenical unity that John Paul II proposes in his encyclical, is to surrender their fundamental belief in "Sola Scriptura." One thing is certain: that not all Protestants will surrender this basic principle of their faith. Surely the words of Jesus’ prayer for unity are absolutely unchallengeable. Thus in this prayer, preserved in John chapter 17, we read,

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. John 17:17

We find that Jesus places the Word alone as the basis of unity. That Word of course is the Scriptures. This allows for no inclusion of tradition, as the Roman Catholic Church holds.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Matthew 15:9

Peter also warned against the traditions of men.

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 1 Peter 1:18, 19

In his unity prayer, Paul, like Jesus, emphasized that unity is predicated upon the Word of truth.

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. Ephesians 4:13–15

Faithful Christians cannot move away from the paradigm of Holy Scripture as the basis of truth, sanctification, and unity. But the Roman Catholic Church teaches that such unity comes from passively following the directions from the priests of the Church.

Mindful of Christ’s words to His apostles: "He who hears you, hears me," the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. Catechism, p. 33, emphasis added

Surely the doctrine of papal infallibility is an insuperable barrier to unity. In reaffirming the Catholic position on the primacy of the pope, Pope John Paul said,

Among all the Churches and Ecclesial communities, the Catholic Church is conscious that she has preserved the ministry of the Successor of the Apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome, whom God established as her "perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity" and whom the Spirit sustains in order that he may enable all the others to share in this essential good. John Paul II, p. 33

The issue is put more plainly in the catechism.

The Roman pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. Catechism, p. 256

In the whole of the encyclical there is not the slightest hint that the Roman Catholic Church might be willing to discard any of its non-biblical doctrines in its desire to attain unity in the Christian faith. Though not explicitly stated, the intention is plain that Roman Catholics have the responsibility of more carefully and more clearly explaining their beliefs to those of other faiths, but never to change them.

Therefore the encyclical leaves no other conclusion but that the unity that the papacy seeks, is a unity that can be established only upon the surrender of Protestant and Orthodox churches to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholic doctines are built upon not only the Word of God but also upon the ever expanding traditions of the Church.

The history of the Roman Catholic Church since the time of Roman Emperor Constantine, and Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, has been characterized, as we have seen, by strong sacral thinking and action. The sacral mentality comes originally from paganism, where most pagan potentates enforced their religion upon their subjects, believing that should subjects practice a different religion, that would be disloyalty to the monarch. The "conversion" of Emperor Constantine to Christianity opened the way for the development of the sacral concepts of the Roman Catholic Church first systematized by Augustine, but developed by many theologians including Thomas Aquinas many centuries later (see chapter 12 entitled, "The Theology of Persecution"). Note the words of the encyclical:

This journey towards the necessary and sufficient unity, in the communion of the one Church willed by Christ, continues to require patient and courageous efforts. Ibid., p. 30, emphasis added

Of course the "one Church willed by Christ" refers to the Roman Catholic Church. The sacral mentality sees the church as involving all the community irrespective of their conscientious beliefs.

The undoubted vision of John Paul II to bring a world-wide unity "of the human race" under the papal leadership is very strange in the light of the letter written by Pope Gregory I, referred to by the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Pope Gregory the Great, to Bishop John of Constantinople.

I say confidently, therefore, that whosoever calls himself Universal Bishop, or even desires in his pride to be called such, is the forerunner of antichrist. Samuel Cassels, Christ and Antichrist, Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1864

It may well be that this earlier pope actually pinpointed the true nature of the Papacy as we come to the time of the soon return of Jesus. Certainly, to achieve his goals, Pope John Paul II has clearly thought to use the secular political means to achieve his goal. Malachi Martin, in his book, Keys of This Blood, stated,

Referring to John Paul’s insistence on Slavic Christianity, the communist official warned, "This pope is not saying these things because the spirit moves him. These are calculated statements designed to pose a direct challenge to governments that no modern nation—especially you Americans with your separation of church and state—could tolerate."

Malachi Martin, Keys of This Blood, p. 101

Malachi Martin, a priest of the Roman Catholic Church and a strong, dedicated supporter of John Paul II, made it plain that even his humanitarian approaches had a strong political motivation.

Indeed, the note that dominated and animated that encyclical document [referring to Dignitatis Humanae] was John Paul’s insistence that the hard, intractable problems of the world—hunger, violation of human dignity and human rights, war and violence, economic oppression, political persecution—any and all of these can be solved only by acceptance and implementation of the message of Christ’s revelation announced by the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. Ibid., p. 74

No doubt these social issues will become central to the Pope’s agenda in his desire to win the loyalty of the human race. In spite of the recent calls for religious liberty, the Catechism is ominous.

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 presence, 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, p. 568

The Catechism also gives a hint where at least part of this coercion will be directed.

In respecting religious liberty and the common good of all, Christians should seek recognition of Sundays and the Church’s holy days as legal holidays. Ibid., p. 585

The testimony of history is wholly against the prospect that the message which the pope delivered in his encyclical, might possibly produce true unity and true peace. The questions that are immediately raised include, What will happen when every peaceful attempt has been made to persuade, encourage, and even urge all humanity to unite under the leadership of the bishop of Rome? Unquestionably there will be those who will not succumb, through persuasion, bribery, flattery, or any other method, to what they believe to be a false unity. Will then a Church, supported by the State, use its influence to encourage the State to use the sword of steel in a desperate attempt to force all the human race to pay homage to the papal pontiff? The testimony of history and the warnings of Holy Scripture both answer the question in the affirmitive. Therefore we have no confidence that this ecumenical encyclical will lead to an age of peace and safety for all. Rather we see it as likely to produce the greatest persecution of dissenters that this world has ever witnessed.


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