For some years I watched in alarm as more and more Catholics abandoned the only good thing to emerge from the liturgical and organizational wreckage of Vatican II. Namely, the Church’s return to its ancient embrace of religious freedom. That was the Church’s stance from the age of the apostles until the reign of the Roman emperor Theodosius (379 A.D.).
There is no hint in the Gospels or in apostolic tradition that Christians were secretly waiting for the chance to take power and silence heresy. So that idea is a late fourth-century innovation. As the scholarly tome I edited by Benjamin Wiker and Scott Hahn, Politicizing the Bible, makes clear, popes who wanted to use the State to silence heresy had to reach back to the Old Testament, and claim that they wielded the powers of Moses.
In one place after another, I’ve seen some Catholics dismiss the writings of Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI on freedom of conscience as “Americanist” heresy. I’ve seen the religious freedom which U.S. bishops gratefully praised for centuries damned as the fruit of “liberalism.” And seen writers like Patrick Deneen, Michael Hanby, and Rod Dreher agree with Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concept of American freedom. That is, as an empty and arbitrary exercise in making up meaning. Free permission to interpret “the mystery of existence” to serve one’s greed or glands. This despite the massive documentary evidence that our Founders (even the Deists among them) considered liberty impossible without the virtue instilled by religion. ….