Skip to content

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

Religious Toleration

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

Toleration in general signifies patient forbearance in the presence of an evil which one is unable or unwilling to prevent. By religious toleration is understood the magnanimous indulgence which one shows towards a religion other than his own, accompanied by the moral determination to leave it and its adherents unmolested in private and public, although internally one views it with complete disapproval as a "false faith ". Since, in this article, we are to treat toleration only from the standpoint of principle, leaving its historical development to be discussed in a special article, we shall consider:

I. The Idea of Toleration ;
II. The Inadmissibility of Theoretical DogmaticalToleration ;
III. The Obligation to Show Practical Civil Toleration ;
IV. The Necessity of Public Political Toleration.


Considered in the abstract, the general idea of toleration contains two chief moments:

(a) the existence of something which is regarded as an evil by the tolerating subject;
(b) the magnanimous determination not to interfere with theevil, but to allow it to run its course without molestation.

Viewed under the former aspect, toleration is akin to patience which also connotes an attitude of forbearance in the face of an evil. Patience, however, is rather the endurance of physical sufferings (e.g. misfortune, sickness), toleration of ethical evils. When not an evil but some real good (e.g. truth or virtue ) is in question, toleration gives way to interior approbation and external promotion of such good. No one will say: "We must show toleration towards science or patriotism ", for both these objects are recognized by all as laudable and desirable. A second idea akin to toleration is connivance ( conniventia, dissimulatio ), which means the deliberate closing of one's eyes to evil conditions so as not to be obliged to take measures against them. The distinction between connivance and toleration lies in the fact that the latter not only closes its eyes to the tolerated evil, but also openly concedes it complete liberty of action and freedom to spread. It is indeed in this deliberate granting of liberty that the characteristic quality of toleration lies. For the intolerant person also regards what opposes him as an evil and a source of annoyance; but, it is only by combating it overtly or secretly, that he shows his intolerance. Not all intolerance, however, is a vice, nor is all tolerance a virtue. On the contrary, an exaggerated tolerance may easily amount to a vice, while intolerance keeping within just limits may be a virtue. This statement is substantially in agreement with Aristotle's definition that virtue in general holds the right mean between two extremes which are as such both vices. Thus the intolerance shown by parents towards grave faults in their children is an obligation imposed by conscience, although, if it be carried to the extreme of cruelty, it degenerates into a vice. On the other hand, excessive toleration towards an evil becomes under certain circumstances a vice, for example when secular rulers look with folded arms upon public immorality.

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

The above remarks show that manifold distinctions are necessary before we are in a position to develop the true principles which underlie real toleration. Viewing our subject partly from the ethical and religious, and partly from the political standpoint, we find three distinct kinds of tolerance and intolerance, which refer to entirely different domains and thus rest on different principles. As regards religious tolerance, which alone concerns us here, we must distinguish especially between the thing and the person, the error and the erring. According as we consider the thing or the person, we have theoretical, dogmatic, or practical civic tolerance, or intolerance. Distinct from both is political tolerance, since the distinction between the individual and the State must also be considered. We must inquire somewhat more closely into these three kinds of tolerance and their opposites before considering the principles which underlie each.

(1) By theoretical dogmatic tolerance is meant the tolerating of error as such, in so far as it is an error ; or, as Lezius concisely expresses it, "the recognition of the relative and subjective right of error to existence " ("Der Toleranzbegriff Lockes u. Puffendorfs", Leipzig, 1900, p. 2). Such a tolerance can only be the outcome of an attitude which is indifferent to the right of truth, and which places truth and error on the same level. In philosophy this attitude is briefly termed scepticism, in the domain of religion, it develops into religious indifferentism which declares that all religions are equally true and good or equally false and bad. Such an internal and external indifference towards all religions, especially the Christian religion, is nothing else than the expression of personal unbelief and lack of religious convictions. A person who is tolerant in the domain of dogma resembles the botanist who cultivates in his experimental beds both edible plants and poisonous herbs as alike valuable growths, while a person intolerant of error may be compared to a market-gardener, who allows only edible plants to grow, and eradicates noxious weeds. Just as vice possesses no real right to existence, whatever toleration may be shown to the vicious person, so also religious error can lay no just claim to forbearance and indulgence, even though the erring person may merit the greatest affection and esteem. There is, of course, a psychological freedom both to sin and to err, but this liberty is not equivalent to an inherent right to sin or to err in religion. The "freedom of thought" claimed by free-thinkers is really vitiated by an internal contradiction, since the intellect is bound by the laws of thought and must in many cases yield to the force of evidence. But if by freedom of thought we are to understand the personal right of the individual to form on all questions such internal convictions as he may judge right, this ethical freedom also has its limits, since the inner spiritual life is at all events subject to conscience and to the moral order of the universe, and is, therefore, bound by ethical obligations which no man may disregard. The so-called "freedom of belief ", which asserts the right of each person to believe what he pleases, is open to the same criticism. For, if the psychological liberty to accept the wildest phantasies and the most foolish stories is an undeniable prerogative of the human soul, ethical freedom and the ethical right to freedom of belief are nevertheless conditioned by the presumption that a person will spurn all false religions and cling solely to that which he has recognized as alone true and consequently alone legitimate. This obligation was justly emphasized by Leo XIII in his Encyclical "Immortale Dei" of 1 November, 1885: "Officium est maximum amplecti et animo et moribus religionem, nec quam quisque maluerit, sed quam Deus jusserit quamque certis minimeque dubitandis indiciis unam ex omnibus veram esse constiterit" (The gravest obligation requires the acceptance and practice, not of the religion which one may choose, but of that which God prescribes and which is known by certain and indubitable marks to be the only true one). (Cf. Densinger, "Enchiridion", 9th ed., Freiburg, 1900, n. 1701.) The mere description of this kind of tolerance shows that its opposite, i.e. theoretical dogmatic intolerance, cannot be a vice. For it is essentially nothing else than the expression of the objective intolerance of truth towards error. In the domain of science and of faith alike, truth is the standard, the aim, and the guide of all investigation; but love of truth and truthfulness forbid every honourable investigator to countenance error or falsehood. It, therefore, follows that well-considered opposition to actual or supposed error, in whatever domain is simply the antagonism between truth and falsehood translated into personal conviction; as impersonal adversaries, truth and error are as bitterly opposed to each other as yes and no, and consequently, in accordance with the law of contradiction, they can tolerate no mean between them. This theoretical dogmatic intolerance -- so often misunderstood, so often confounded with other kinds of intolerance, and as a result unjustly combated -- is claimed by every scholar, philosopher, theologian, artist, and statesman as an incontestable right, and is unhesitatingly accepted by everyone in daily intercourse.

(2) Practical civic tolerance consists in the personal esteem and love which we are bound to show towards the erring person, even though we condemn or combat his error. The motive for this difference of attitude is to be sought in the ethical commandment of love for all men, which Christianity has raised to the higher ideal of charity or love of neighbour for the sake of God. One of the most beautiful outgrowths of this charity is shown in the correct Christian attitude towards the heterodox. This relation, rooted solely in pure love, is commonly meant when one speaks of "religious tolerance ". It springs, not from pharisaic pride or from pity pluming itself on its superiority, but chiefly from respect for another's religious convictions, which out of true charity we do not wish to disturb to no purpose. Since innocent error may attain to the firmest and sincerest conviction, the person's salvation does not seem to be greatly imperilled until good faith turns into bad faith, in which case alone the feeling of pity has no justification. The good faith of the heterodox person must, as a rule, be presumed, until the contrary is clearly established. But even in the extremest cases, Christian charity must never be wounded, since the final judgment on the individual conscience rests with Him who "searches the heart and the reins". The same measure of respect which a Catholic claims for his religion must be shown by him to the religious convictions of non-Catholics. Here obtains the principle which Gregory IX once recommended in a Brief (6 April, 1233), addressed to the French bishops concerning the attitude of Christians towards the Jews : "Est autem Judæis a Christianis exhibenda benignitas, quam Christianis in Paganismo existentibus cupimus exhiberi" ( Christians must show towards Jews the same good will which we desire to be shown to Christians in pagan lands). (Cf. Auvray, "Le régistre de Grégoire IX", n. 1216.) Whoever claims tolerance must likewise show tolerance. True tolerance in the right place and under the right conditions is one of the most difficult, and also one of the most beautiful and delicate virtues, and in the possession of it the true greatness of a noble and beautiful soul is reflected. To such a soul has been communicated, as it were, a spark of the burning charity of the God of love, Who with infinite forbearance tolerates the countless evils of the world, and suffers the cockle to grow with the wheat until the harvest.

The precept of fraternal charity is transgressed by practical civic intolerance, which in more or less detestable fashion transfers intolerance of the error to the erring persons. With complete justice did the sarcastic Swift write: "In religion many have just enough to make them hate one another, not enough to make them love one another" (cf. J. S. Mackenzie, "An Introduction to Social Philosophy ", Glasgow, 1890, p. 116). The intolerant man is avoided as much as possible by every high-minded person, both in society and in daily intercourse. The man who is tolerant in every emergency is alone lovable and wins the hearts of his fellowmen. Such tolerance is all the more estimable in one whose loyal practice of his own faith wards off all suspicion of unbelief or religious indifference, and whose friendly bearing towards the heterodox emanates from pure neighbourly charity and a strict sense of justice. It is also an indispensable requisite for the maintenance of friendly intercourse and co-operation among a people composed of different religious denominations, and is the root of religious peace in the state. It should, therefore, be prized and promoted by the civil authorities as a safeguard of the public weal, for a warfare of all against all, destructive of the state itself, must again break out (as at the time of the religious wars and of American Knownothingism ), if citizens be allowed to assail one another on account of religious differences. A person who by extensive travel or large experience has become acquainted with the world and men, and with the finer forms of life, does not easily develop into a heretic-hunter, a sadly incongruous figure in the modern world.

(3) Public political tolerance is not a duty of the citizens, but is an affair of the State and of legislation. Its essence consists in the fact that the State grants legal tolerance to all the religious denominations within its boundaries, either through its written constitution, through special charters, or at least through prescriptive right based on long tradition. This tolerance may under certain circumstances amount to the principle of equality of rights or parity, even to the full enjoyment of all civil rights, entirely regardless of one's religious belief. Since the modern State can and must maintain towards the various religions and denominations a more broad-minded attitude than the unyielding character of her doctrine and constitution permit the Church to adopt, it must guarantee to individuals and religious bodies not alone interior freedom of belief, but also, as its logical correlative, to manifest that belief outwardly -- that is, the right to profess before the world one's religious convictions without the interference of others, and to give visible expression to these convictions in prayer, sacrifice, and Divine worship. This threefold freedom of faith, profession, and worship is usually included under the general name of religious freedom. Tolerance and religious liberty are not, however, interchangeable terms, since the right implied in state tolerance to grant full or limited religious liberty involves the further right to refuse, to contract, or to withdraw this freedom under certain circumstances, as is clear from the history of toleration laws in every age. Nor is the idea of parity identical with that of religious liberty. For the maintenance of a state Church from public funds (e.g. the Established Church of England ) is an offence against parity as regards the dissidents, who must meet their religious needs out of their own means, but it does not affect the general religious liberty, which is enjoyed by the dissidents in the same degree as by the members of the state Church.

Little girl looking Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Political intolerance finds its harshest expression in the forcible imposition of a religion and its worship, which reached its climax in the drastic political maxim of the Reformation epoch: "Cuius regio, illius et religio". Since external profession and liturgical worship are but the spontaneous expression of faith, it is plain that state compulsion in the matter of worship is a grievous attempt to tyrannize over conscience and tends to breed hypocrisy. Neither political nor ecclesiastical authority can exercise a physical control over interior conviction, since into the secret sanctuary of the mind only the Deity can enter, and He alone can compel the heart. Hence, the principle of Roman law : "De internis non judicat prætor." But, inasmuch as the Church and she alone, with her authority to teach and the power of the keys, may legislate even for conscience, she and only she is justified in making a particular faith obligatory in conscience ; consequently she may bring to bear upon interior conviction an ethical compulsion, to which corresponds the obligation to believe on the part of the subject. The State on the other hand cannot extend its jurisdiction to religion until this has become visibly embodied in external profession and worship. There are several ways in which the State may interfere. It may either adopt a friendly attitude towards a certain religion and make it the state religion (c. g. the medieval religious States, and certain modern States which have established Churches); or it may adopt a hostile attitude towards a certain religion, which it may eventually endeavour to suppress by the employment of force and the infliction of penalties, as e.g. the pagan Roman Empire tried to suppress Christianity. But the State may also remain neutral, confining itself to simple tolerance, e.g. as did Constantine the Great and Licinius in the Tolerance Edict of Milan, A. D. 313. The modern constitutional State adopts as a basic principle, not mere tolerance towards the various religious bodies, but complete religious freedom; this principle finds its truest and most consistent expression in the United States of America.


As already said, this kind of tolerance implies indifference towards the truth and in principle, a countenancing of error ; hence it is clear that intolerance towards error as such is among the self-evident duties of every man who recognizes ethical obligations. Inasmuch as this dogmatic intolerance is a prominent characteristic of the Catholic Church, and is stigmatized by the modern spirit as obstinacy and even as intolerable arrogance, its objective justification must now be established. We will begin with the incontestable claim of truth to universal recognition and exclusive legitimacy. Just as the knowableness of truth is the fundamental presupposition of every investigator, so also are its final attainment and possession his goal. Error itself, as the opposite of truth, is intelligible only when there is an unchangeable norm of cognition by which the thinking mind is ruled. He who sees in the development of human sciences only one vast graveyard containing thousands of tombstones erected over truth, preaches the death of all science -- that is, the scepticism which was avowed in antiquity by the Middle Academy of Arcesilaus and by later Greek Pyrrhonism, and which the sceptics of all the succeeding centuries down to the ingenious Pierre Bayle (d. 1706) have taken for their model. Recent Pragmatism (W. James, Schiller, and others), which denies the eternal, necessary, and unalterable character of truth, is only a dreary relapse into the scepticism of the sophist Protagoras, against which Socrates raised the banner of truth and virtue. The mutability of truth with the passage of time is also a thesis of Modernism. In the Decree "Lamentabili" of 3 July, 1907, Pius X condemned the Modernistic proposition: Veritas non est immutabilis plus quam ipse homo, quippe quæ cum ipso, in ipso et per ipsum evolvitur (Truth is no more unchangeable than man, since with him, in him, and by him it is evolved). (Cf. Denzinger -Bannwart, "Enchiridion", 11th ed., Freiburg, 1911, n. 2058.) The final consequence of this suicidal system led F. Nietzsche to intellectual Nihilism : "Nothing is true, everything is allowed." The transference of this destructive scepticism to the domain of religion breeds religious indifferentism, which is no less unreasonable and immoral, since it also sins against the sacredness of truth.

Nowhere is dogmatic intolerance so necessary a rule of life as in the domain of religious belief, since for each individual his eternal salvation is at stake. Just as there can be no alternative multiplication tables, so there can be but a single true religion, which, by the very fact of its existence, protests against all other religions as false. But the love of truth requires each man to stand forth as the incorruptible advocate of truth and of truth alone. While abstract truth, both profane and religious, asserts itself victoriously through its impersonal evidence against all opposition, its human advocate, engaging in personal contest with adversaries of flesh and blood like himself, must have recourse to words and writing. Hence the sharp, yet almost impersonal clash between opposing views of life, each of which contends for the palm, because each is thoroughly convinced that it alone is right. But the very devotion to truth which supports these convictions determines the kind of polemics which each believes himself called on to conduct. He whose sole concern is for truth itself, will never besmirch his escutcheon by lying or calumny and will refrain from all personal invective. Conscious that the truth for which he fights or in good faith believes he fights, is, by reason of its innate nobility, incompatible with any blemish or stain, he will never claim licence to abuse. Such an ideal champion of truth is fittingly designated by the English word "gentleman". He may, however, by a fair counter-stroke parry an unjust, malicious, and insulting attack, since his adversary has no right to employ invective, to falsify history, to practise sordid proselytism, etc., and may, therefore, be driven without pity from his false position. These principles obtain universally and for all men -- for scholars and statesmen, for Catholics and Protestants.

If, therefore, the Catholic Church also claims the right of dogmatic intolerance with regard to her teaching, it is unjust to reproach her for exercising this right. With the imperturbable conviction that she was founded by the God-Man Jesus Christ as the "pillar and ground of the truth " ( 1 Timothy 3:15 ) and endowed with full power to teach, to rule, and to sanctify, she regards dogmatic intolerance not alone as her incontestable right, but also as a sacred duty. If Christian truth like every other truth is incapable of double dealing, it must be as intolerant as the multiplication table or geometry. The Church, therefore, demands, in virtue of her Divine commission to teach, the unconditional acceptance of all the truths of salvation which she preaches and proposes for belief, proclaiming to the world with her Divine Founder the stern warning: "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned" ( Mark 16:16 ). If, by conceding a convenient right of option or a falsely understood freedom of faith, she were to leave everyone at liberty to accept or reject her dogmas, her constitution, and her sacraments, as the existing differences of religions compel the modern State to do, she would not only fail in her Divine mission, but would end her own life in voluntary suicide. As the true God can tolerate no strange gods, the true Church of Christ can tolerate no strange Churches beside herself, or, what amounts to the same, she can recognize none as theoretically justified. And it is just in this exclusiveness that lies her unique strength, the stirring power of her propaganda, the unfailing vigour of her progress. A strictly logical consequence of this incontestable fundamental idea is the ecclesiastical dogma that outside the Church there is no salvation ( extra Ecclesiam nulla salus ). Scarcely any other article of faith gives such offence to non-Catholics and occasions so many misunderstandings as this, owing to its supposed hardness and uncharitableness. And yet this proposition is necessarily and indissolubly connected with the above-mentioned principle of the exclusive legitimacy of truth and with the ethical commandment of love for the truth. Since Christ Himself did not leave men free to choose whether they would belong to the Church or not, it is clear that the idea of the Christian Church includes as an essential element its necessity for salvation. In her doctrine the Church must maintain that intolerance which her Divine Founder Himself proclaimed: "And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican " ( Matthew 18:17 ). This explains the intense aversion which the Church has displayed to heresy, the diametrical opposite to revealed truth (cf. 1 Timothy 1:19 ; 2 Timothy 2:25 ; Titus 3:10 sq. ; 2 Thessalonians 2:11 ). The celebrated church historian Döllinger writes very pertinently: "The Apostles knew no tolerance, no leniency towards heresies Paul inflicted formal excommunication on Hymenæus and Alexander. And such an expulsion from the Church was always to be inflicted. The Apostles considered false doctrine destructive as a wicked example. With weighty emphasis Paul declares ( Galatians 1:8 ): 'But though we or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema '. Even the gentle John forbids the community to offer hospitality to heretics coming to it, or even to salute them" ("Christentum und Kirche", Ratisbon, 1860, pp. 236 sq.).

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

During the Middle Ages the Church guarded the purity and genuineness of her Apostolic doctrine through the institution of the ecclesiastical (and state) Inquisition, which, with many excellent qualities, had unfortunately also its drawbacks. As justly remarked by Cardinal Hergenröther, the Inquisition suffered internally from "serious and lamentable defects", for example, secrecy as to accusers and witnesses, the admission of suspected witnesses, excessive scope for the subjective judgment of the judge, secrecy of the procedure (see INQUISITION ). Thus are explained the frightful scenes which Germany witnessed under the grim grand inquisitor, Conrad of Marburg (d. 1233). Following the example of the Apostles, the Church today watches zealously over the purity and integrity of her doctrine, since on this rests her whole system of faith and morals, the whole edifice of Catholic thought, ideals, and life. For this purpose the Church instituted the Index of Prohibited Books, which is intended to deter Catholics from the unauthorized reading of books dangerous to faith or morals, for it is notorious that clever sophistry coated with seductive language may render even gross errors of faith palatable to a guileless and innocent heart. The State itself is at times obliged to confiscate books that are dangerous to its existence or to morality in order to protect unsuspecting readers from contagion and to preserve the structure of the social order. But what is right for the State must be also just for the Church. The sharp attack made by Pius X on Modernism, which is undermining the foundations not alone of Christianity, but even of natural religion, is simply an act of necessary self-defence against an assault, not only upon individual dogmas, but likewise upon the whole basis of faith. Again the ancient expression " heretical poison" ( venemum seu virus hæreticum; pravitas h&ealig;reticalis ), which has passed from canon law into the set phraseology of the papal chancery and quite naturally sounds hard to Protestants, is to be explained psychologically in view of the above-mentioned fundamental conviction. It is not intended to express any offensive slur on the heterodox, who adhere to their opinions in good faith and in honest conviction. Consequently, the writers who represented Pius X as applying to the present generation of honest Protestants the historical condemnation which he passed on the Reformers of the sixteenth century in his Borromæus Encyclical, and thus ascribed to him a public rebuke which he never in the least intended, were guilty of exaggeration and evident injustice. Besides, Protestant historians have passed much harder judgments on the leaders of the Reformation. No Protestant takes umbrage at the fact established in every manual of church history , that, after long convulsions and spasms, the Lutheran Church, by the Formula of Concord (1577), expelled the "crypto-Calvinist poison" which Philip Melanchthon had instilled into the faith of Orthodox Lutheranism. And did not Crypto-Calvinism really act like blood-poisoning? The canonical expression " heretical poison" is intended to convey no other meaning than that the Catholic faith dreads as blood-poisoning heretical infection of any kind, whatever be its source.

But does the proposition that outside the Church there is no salvation involve the doctrine so often attributed to Catholicism, that the Catholic Church, in virtue of this principle, "condemns and must condemn all non-Catholics"? This is by no means the case. The foolish and unchristian maxim that those who are outside the Church must for that very reason be eternally lost is no legitimate conclusion from Catholic dogma. The infliction of eternal damnation pertains not to the Church, but to God, Who alone can scrutinize the conscience. The task of the Church is confined exclusively to the formulating of the principle, which expresses a condition of salvation imposed by God Himself, and does not extend to the examination of the persons, who may or may not satisfy this condition. Care for one's own salvation is the personal concern of the individual. And in this matter the Church shows the greatest possible consideration for the good faith and the innocence of the erring person. Not that she refers, as is often stated, the eternal salvation of the heterodox solely and exclusively to "invincible ignorance ", and thus makes sanctifying ignorance a convenient gate to heaven for the stupid. She places the efficient cause of the eternal salvation of all men objectively in the merits of the Redeemer, and subjectively in justification through baptism or through good faith enlivened by the perfect love of God, both of which may be found outside the Catholic Church. Whoever indeed has recognized the true Church of Christ, but contrary to his better knowledge refuses to enter it and whoever becomes perplexed as to the truth of his belief, but fails to investigate his doubts seriously, no longer lives in good faith, but exposes himself to the danger of eternal damnation, since he rashly contravenes an important command of God. Otherwise the gentle breathing of grace is not confined within the walls of the Catholic Church, but reaches the hearts of many who stand afar, working in them the marvel of justification and thus ensuring the eternal salvation of numberless men who either, like upright Jews and pagans, do not know the true Church, or, like so many Protestants educated in gross prejudice, cannot appreciate her true nature. To all such, the Church does not close the gate of Heaven, although she insists that there are essential means of grace which are not within the reach of non-Catholics. In his allocution "Singulari quadam" of 9 December, 1854, which emphasized the dogma of the Church as necessary for salvation, Pius IX uttered the consoling principle: "Sed tamen pro certo pariter habendum est, qui veræ religionis ignorantia laborent, si ea est invincibilis, nulla ipsos obstringi hujusce rei culpa ante oculos Domini" (But it is likewise certain that those who are ignorant of the true religion, if their ignorance is invincible, are not, in this matter, guilty of any fault in the sight of God ). ( Denzinger -Bannwart, 11th ed., Freiburg, 1911, n. 1647.)

As early as 1713 Clement XI condemned in his dogmatic Bull "Unigenitus" the proposition of the Jansenist Quesnel : "Extra ecclesiam nulla conceditur gratia", i.e. no grace is given outside the Church (op. cit., n. 1379), just as Alexander VIII had already condemned in 1690 the Jansenistic proposition of Arnauld : "Pagani, Judæi, hæretici aliique hujus generis nullum omnino accipiunt a Jesu Christo influxum" (Pagans, Jews, heretics, and other people of the sort receive no influx [of grace] whatsoever from Jesus Christ ) (op. cit., n. 1295). In her tolerance toward the erring the Church indeed goes farther than the large catechism of Martin Luther, which on " pagans or Turks or Jews or false Christians " passes the general and stern sentence of condemnation: "wherefore they remain under eternal wrath and in everlasting damnation." Catholics who are conversant with the teachings of their Church know how to draw the proper conclusions. Absolutely unflinching in their fidelity to the Church as the sole means of salvation on earth, they will treat with respect, as ethically due, the religious convictions of others, and will see in non-Catholics, not enemies of Christ, but brethren. Recognizing from the Catholic doctrine of grace that the possibility of justification and of eternal salvation is not withheld even from the heathen they will show towards all Christians, e.g. the various Protestant bodies, kindly consideration. Concerning these dogmatic questions, cf. Pohle, "Dogmatik", II (5th ed., Paderborn, 1912), 444 sqq., 453 sqq.


For the practical attitude of Catholics towards the heterodox the Church has inculcated the strict command of neighbourly love, which corresponds to Christian charity: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." The sincerest love for the erring is indeed quite compatible with keen repugnance for the error to which they cling. From the very definition of practical civic tolerance (see above, I, 2) springs the maxim which St. Augustine expresses as follows: "Diligite homines, interficite errores; sine superbia de veritate præsumite, sine sævitia pro veritate certate" (Love men, slay error ; without pride be bold in the truth, without cruelty fight for the truth ) (Contra lit. Petil., I, xxix, n. 31, in P. L., XLIII, 259). God is a God of love, and consequently His children cannot be sons of hate. The gospel of the Divine paternity in heaven is also the joyous tidings of the brotherhood of all men on earth. For all without exception the Saviour prayed in His capacity of high-priest during the night before His Passion, and for all He shed His Blood on the Cross. The sublime example of Christ affords a striking indication of the manner in which we should regulate our conduct towards those who differ from us in faith, for we know that, so to speak, a drop of the redeeming Blood of Christ glistens on every human soul. To penetrate into the inner shrine of another's conscience with feelings of doubt and distrust is forbidden to all in accordance with the principle: "Nemo præsumitur malus, nisi probetur" (No one is presumed to be evil until proved to be so). And St. Paul declares: "Charity is patient, is kind: charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely . . ., is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil " ( 1 Corinthians 13:4 sq. ). By this Christian love alone is the truly tolerant man, the true disciple of Christ, recognized. But did not the medieval Church by her bloody persecution of heretics trample under foot this commandment of love and thus nullify in practice what in theory indeed she always inculcated with honeyed words? The enemies of the Church search eagerly the musty documents which tell of inquisitional courts, autos-da-fé , chambers of horror, instruments of torture, and blazing pyres. Without any palliation of the historical facts, let us examine a little more closely this reproach, and see what importance is to be attached to it.

(1) When the inglorious origin of his forbears is constantly cast in the teeth of an honest nobleman, with the spiteful idea of wounding his feelings, no upright person will regard such conduct as tactful or just. What has the Church of today to do with the fact that long-vanished generations inflicted, in the name of religion, cruelties with which the modern man is disgusted? The children's children cannot be held accountable for the misdeeds of their forefathers. Protestants also must take refuge in this principle of justice. However much they endeavour to blink the fact, they have also to regret similar occurrences during the Reformation epoch, when, as everyone knows, the Reformers and their successors made free use of the existing penal ordinances and punished with death many inconvenient and, according to their view, heretical persons (e.g. the anti-Trinitarians Servetus and Sylvanus, the Osiandrist

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Saint of the Day logo
Prayer of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.