Christianity and the Freedom of Religion


  1. Abstract.
  2. Keywords.
  3. Introduction.
  4. Nature of this issue
  5. Historico-doctrinal presentation.
    1. The position of the Church vis à vis the Roman Empire. The formulation of the ancient freedom of religion.
      1. Brief description of the historical drama that unfolded in the encounter of Rome with Christianity.
      2. Two ways of understanding the freedom contained in Christianity. The meaning of the drama.
    2. Christianity after Constantine.
    3. The situation after the Reformation.
  6. Practical aspects.
  7. Bibliography.
  8. About the author.



Christianity brought into history the sharpest awareness of the freedom of the spirit, of the religious dimension of the human person, vis ­­­ à vis political power. In this way it forced the imposition of the freedom of religion in its ancient sense, through martyrdom. After Constantine these insights were kept untouched but changed their exterior aspect due to the change in circumstances. With the Reformation rose the Modern sense of the freedom of religion, which is different from the ancient one. Later some movements of political power reclaimed control over the spirit, over religion. This led to a new clash with the Christians that is still ongoing.



Christianity, Ancient freedom of religion, Modern freedom of religion, Tolerance, God and Caesar, Church and State



Christianity is the religion born from the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ and from His teachings and actions. It is a spiritual force that has affected many civilizations. For the Roman Empire, it is the reality that changed the course of its history by opening a space that could properly be called a space for the freedom of religion in the ancient sense. That is to say, political power may not rule over divine truth and the true worship may not be imposed by physical coercion. However, Christianity did not introduce the concept “freedom of religion” in the Modern sense, understood as the right of the individual to choose any religion he pleases without subjection to any authority, political or ecclesiastical.

Among Jesus Christ’s teachings the most relevant one in this respect is “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mt 22:21). Christians understood immediately that divine truth was not in the power of political authority; and they also understood that Caesar was a legitimate authority in his own sphere. Christ illuminated this further in his dialogue with Pilate: “you would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from on high” (John 19:11). In this way the scenario was set for the awe-inspiring drama of the three centuries’ duel between this new spiritual force that was entirely peaceful (because its followers understood that, although Christ is the King of the Universe and will come again, his Kingdom is not from this earth),[1] on the one hand, and the political and physical strength of the Roman Empire, on the other. The solution of this drama marked the rest of the history of Christianity.


Nature of this issue.

The connection between Christianity and the freedom of religion requires a multidisciplinary perspective. It has historical, theological, philosophical and juridical elements. I have tried to synthesize them in the following sections.


Historical-Doctrinal development of the concept of freedom of religion in Christianity.


The position of the Church vis à vis the Roman Empire. The formulation of the ancient freedom of religion.

Brief description of the historical drama that unfolded in the encounter of Rome with Christianity.

Greece developed natural theology. In its summit, Aristotle was able to write that although “political prudence rules over everything within the city,” it serves wisdom or theology but cannot rule over theology, because it would be like ruling “over the gods.”[2] So, there was a precedent according to which theology should be free from political power. But in Rome Christians found a different spiritual situation which is precisely what led to persecution. It is worth to describe now both, the spiritual situation and the persecutions.

Although Christians were persecuted for all sorts of reasons,[3] the structural ones connected to the concept of the freedom of religion had to do with the need Rome felt of being intrinsically connected to the cosmic-divine order, of having a civil theology in which Rome itself played a central role. This need led to attempts by political power to control civil theology and, for this reason, to resistance and persecution. Let us examine a couple of experiments in this line.

When Rome became a monarchical Empire, Caesar tried to recast Rome’s civil theology by assuming the Alexandrine practice of the divinization of the emperor. He tried to blend it with Roman traditions and invoked the augural powers of Romulus and Attus but he clearly went beyond them.[4] And, although the divinization of the Emperor was not as successful as expected to provide a theological basis for the Empire, it did provide a reason for the martyrdom of Christians.[5]

Moreover, since the formation of the empire, according to Celsus, Rome included in its Pantheon all gods, so that acceptance of polytheism seemed to be essential to the empire. The Jews were exempted due to their alliance with Rome, but Christians, when expelled from the synagogue, were considered “atheists”[6] and subject to persecution.

Both, Christians and Roman authorities were struggling for truth. But Roman authorities had in mind the expedience of society, while Christians had in mind the good to which all souls ought to be directed by a free act of the will.

Since Rome felt the need to have true divine sanction, the support of the true gods, and since Christians, with their patient martyrdom and with their arguments,[7] had given proof that their God was real, in the end the still gentile Emperors surrendered to that God. They felt that divine punishment was afflicting them and the State due to the persecution of Christians. We have, through Eusebius’ work, the text of the end of the last great persecution of Christians (a.D. 311). There, emperor Galerus Maximian states the cause of the persecution and of his surrender:

Among the decisions made by us for the benefit and profit of our subjects, we willed […] to find a way to make also Christians return to seek the good goal after they had abandoned the way of their fathers. Because we do not know through what reasoning such a great pride has taken hold of them that they refuse to follow the statutes established by our ancestors, the same statutes that probably their own fathers established. […] In view of this, we published an edict commanding them to return to those statutes established by our ancestors. As a consequence, many of them have incurred in danger of death; many others, after being disturbed, have faced all sorts of tortures and have died. But, since the great majority of Christians persisted in the same madness, we saw that they were duly worshiping neither the celestial gods nor the god of Christians. Therefore, paying attention to our goodness […], we have come to believe that we must very gladly extend our forgiveness in the present case, so that Christians may have the houses where they used to meet, so that they do nothing against their own discipline. […] And, in accordance with this our indulgence, Christians must pray to their god for our health, for the health of the people and for their own health, so as to seek the health of the people by all means […].[8]

Here we confront an essentially theological issue with political implications, not vice-versa: Maximian wanted to achieve God’s favor and felt that the afflictions he was suffering were due to Christians not duly worshiping God because of persecution. And thus ended the last great Roman persecution.

Nobody in this drama thought of the individual as an isolated agent who creates “opinions” and holds on to them or not as he pleases. Christians were not resisting so that the individuals could freely choose the particular religion of their liking in the way customers choose products in a supermarket. They were actually obeying the true God.[9] With their resistance to the use of Imperial power over divine truth, Christians had demonstrated that the human person has a dimension of union to the good of the whole universe, to God, that transcends the good of political society and its authority. It was not an individualist stand.[10] Caesar represents divine order but the divine order transcends the political order. Rome cannot be identified with the divine order. All human beings belong to this order and divine justice protects all of them.[11]


Two ways of understanding the freedom contained in Christianity. The meaning of the drama.

Robert Wilken has argued that Christians struggled against Rome in order to establish the Modern freedom of religion and that they, actually, coined this idea, “freedom of religion.” He cites Lactantius and Tertulian as the authors who introduced the concept “libertas religionis,” and adds that Tertulian applied it to communities. He goes on to say that after the “Constantinian turn” this trace was lost in Christianity because “it was one thing to call upon religious liberty while enduring persecution, ‘quite another when holding the reins of power’ (p. 24).”[12] This approach is interesting, but inaccurate. Joseph Streeter has really refuted it, by demonstrating that in the context in which the expression libertas religionis is used by Tertullian and Lactantius, it does not entail the recognition of differing true religions among which the individual had the right to choose. The true religion was Christianity and the false one was superstition. Therefore, what the expression libertas religionis meant was that religion may not be controlled by political power, that the individual must worship of his free will in the way he found true and political power cannot force him to worship,[13] although he is obliged to worship the true God and may (even should) be punished if he does not. If the pagan gods were real, says Tertullian, Christians should be rightly punished.[14] This is the ancient meaning of the expression “freedom of religion.”

Based on the fact that Christians were not fighting for the Modern “freedom of religion,” Joseph Streeter states that Christians did not even have tolerance for different religions, because they considered them just false and therefore underserving any respect.[15] But here he is wrong.

In order discuss Streeter’s critique, we need to introduce the main ideas of Roman theology. Rome felt that for the survival of its power, it needed to be intrinsically connected to the cosmic-divine order. Varro understood it before the age of the Principate, and called the theology that undergirds the Roman strength “civil theology.” Such theology has been created by the city and should not be publicly contradicted.[16] Cicero, Varro’s friend, seems to have held a similar view. In his De natura deorum, the character Cotta is a Roman priest who holds the belief in the gods only through faith in his ancestors. But he is a thinking man and knows well the philosophical critique of civil religion and, in turn, is able to astutely criticize the Epicurean and Stoic views on the divine. He keeps the faith of the elders because he knows there is a core of truth in it. Lactantius points out that Cicero held that the weakness of the civil theology was not a matter to discuss in a way that could come to the ears of the people, and that he held a view of divine realities that is higher than those that appear in the dialogue.[17]

As Streeter has pointed out, Christians were unable to see what Cicero and Varro understood as “civil theology” with favor. Christians saw it just as manifestly false, mere superstition. Lactantius very sternly criticizes Cicero because he held that, while the popular religion is false, it should not be discussed with a vulgar audience. The reason Cicero gave is that such discussion would risk the vanishing of the traditional religiosity of the Romans. Lactantius thought that Cicero acted out of fear and not at all like Socrates. This reproach came from his deeply felt pity for the people, who were left living in darkness.[18] So, what Lactantius really did not understand is that the mass of the people, unaided by faith, can only have religion if it is expressed for them in a metaphorical and imaginative way. That is why Cicero did not denounce as false the religion received from the fathers, because that would have created a fearful void, actually similar to the void the Romans found in Greece, according to Polybius.[19]

However, Lactantius knows that there can be other kind of religion besides Christianity, and on this he follows an old teaching of the Christian faith: there is harmony with reason and one should not invoke in favor of truth in a discussion with the gentiles a source that can only be accepted if one has received the faith. Therefore, with gentiles the Scripture should not be invoked as proof of Christianity, but only reason, and authorities acceptable for them, the philosophers and historians.[20] This means that there is a natural religion that is true.[21] This is important because (1) it means that there can be a public religion based on reason alone. And (2) it will allow to formulate what, in my opinion, is the right way to conceive the freedom of religion today, a sort of overlapping consensus, according to Christianity and Dignitatis humanae.

It is a pity that Robert Wilken cut off his analysis at the supposed “Constantine turn,” so that he did not explore how Christianity shaped the political landscape regarding the spiritual freedom of human beings and communities. We will cover that gap here.


Christianity after Constantine.

After the conquest of the Roman Empire by Christianity, the spiritual authority was placed over the political one. This was, of course, better realized in the West for a thousand years, after the fall of the Roman Empire and at least until the time of the Reformation (in Spain until the Bourbons). The ideal system, never fully realized, is explained by Aquinas in two lucid texts: chapters 15 and 16 of his De Regno, and Summa Theologiae II-II, qq. 10, a. 10; and 12, a. 2. The basic concept is that, once the Church grew and absorbed the temporal authority, such authority became the secular arm of the Church.[22] It was bound to be so because Paul had taught in 1 Cor. 6:1-2, “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to court before the unrighteous and not before the saints?  Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” However, the rule of the political leader is not sacred, but secular, he must receive only what is Caesar’s.

The said arrangement constrained the power of the political rulers but protected the souls and bodies of all. This was made crystal clear at the very start of the system. –For example, when Ambrose sanctioned Theodosius due to the massacre in Thessalonica;[23] or, when Osius resisted Constantius’ mingling in theological matters.[24] It was made very clear again in the Investitures’ polemics. But it was ratified once and again. –For example, when the English legists wanted to apply the Roman Law to turn the fate of the villeinage into the fate of Roman slaves (before the reforms of Antoninus Pius) and they met the resistance of the clergy.[25] Again, when Charles I of Spain wanted to leave as settled (by the jurists) the way in which the Amerindians were going to be ruled, Francis Vitoria told him that the jurists were competent in Spanish Law but that the Amerindians were not subject to such Law, so that, if Charles wanted to be just and save his soul, he needed to leave the theologians and priests discuss the issue to its bottom and act according to the theological conclusions, that is, in accordance with the judgment of the Church.[26] And Charles obeyed the Church.[27]

It must be noted that the spiritual power of the Papacy was based on the temporal lords’ conviction that justice is above power and the just life in this world (or God’s forgiveness) is necessary for them to achieve eternal life. Because the spiritual power was quite weak and sometimes null from the military view point.

With the absorption of society by the Church and the division between secular and spiritual power, a new question arises, a tension that must be very well understood: Augustine, for example, is happy that coercion is used against the heretics in Africa and that restrictions are imposed on pagan sacrifices. He supports this because of the good of souls, for their salvation.[28] However, this clashes with other principles. First, divine faith is a gift from God,[29] so that human authority, including the Church’s authority, cannot impose conversion and baptism; second, the parents are to decide whether their children may or may not be baptized.[30] These two principles were observed constantly in the history of the Church, although occasional violations occurred.[31]

They imply that Christians did not perceive “freedom” as a quality of an isolated individual; the individual was inserted in a community through events in which his will, at first, was not exercised in act.[32] But baptized people, and only baptized people found themselves under the jurisdiction of the Church. This meant, precisely, that the Christian community, the Church, could forcibly require from her members allegiance to Her essential structure, even when they were incorporated to Her while being small children.[33] (As, in the Old Testament, the Hebrews were incorporated to the People of God through circumcision when they were eight days old.) This has an impact on what we discovered in the previous section, so that we have to achieve a more perfect definition of the specifically Christian freedom of religion, implicit in the canonists’ and scholastic’s understanding of this subject: “religion may not be controlled by political power, the individual must worship of his free will in the way he found true and political power cannot force him to worship, although he is obliged to worship the true God and may (even should) be punished if he does not, very particularly if he is under the jurisdiction of the Church through baptism.”

Let us examine now these three subjects: the freedom of conversion; the baptism of children and the jurisdiction over heretics.

First, the Corpus iuris canonici, in continuation with Tertulian, summarizes the Christian position concerning imposing conversion by force: “This is contrary to the Christian religion, that at any time someone earnestly opposed and against his will be coerced to receive and serve Christianity.”[34] This posed the problem of non-Christian persons and communities within Christian commonwealths. These persons and communities were tolerated although the way in which they were tolerated varied in each Christian commonwealth and according to a variety of circumstances. The reason was that the Church had no spiritual authority over them.[35] “Toleration” here means precisely to endure something that is bad or evil so that greater goods are not impaired or prevented.[36] The Jews were in principle tolerated and allowed to have their own rites, judges and teachers. Public pagan rites were less often tolerated,[37] although the pagan subjects were not forced to convert.[38]

Second, Christian theology taught that to baptize children without the parents’ consent was contrary to Natural Law.[39] This doctrine was always followed by orthodox agents. I will make especial mention of Spanish America during the Spanish rule, which was an extension of the Latin Christendom. We have very clear testimonies (dated close to the founding of the Spanish empire and close to its end), that the preceding dispositions were religiously observed.[40]

The third point is perhaps the one that is hardest to understand today. John Henry Newman has demonstrated that the Church has always, since its inception, cared about the divine doctrine that Jesus Christ taught Her. Actually, that is one of the main reasons of Her existence.[41] She is the perpetuation of Christ’s teachings and actions, so that His prophecy will be fulfilled: “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”[42] Newman proves as well that the care for divinely revealed truth, and the use of forcible sanctions against the disobedient and heretical, are discerned not only in tradition but in the Bible itself as well:

[…] what a scandal it was in St. Peter to exert his apostolical powers on Ananias; and in St. John to threaten Diotrephes? What an exposure in St. Paul, to tell the Corinthians he had "a rod" for them, were they disobedient! One should have thought, indeed, that weapons were committed to the Church for use as well as for show […].[43]

There are, then, two ways of understanding the “freedom of the Christian” within the Church. One is the path of acknowledging that truth is what “will set us free.” The other is that our conscience must be free from truth and orthodoxy. I am talking about the ecclesiastical sphere. Some Protestants think that the freedom of the Christian regarding the Church is to be free from orthodoxy, that the Church must be tolerant in this sense.[44] But this means the atomization of the Church, in the long run, into as many pieces as minds there are. The traditional view in Christianity was radically different. The individual lived within a society of the faithful, united precisely in the participation of one true doctrine. The dignity of the human person consisted precisely in the ability to adhere to divine truth, and most importantly, to divinely revealed truth.[45] From this depended the liberty of the Christian.

So, the Church has jurisdiction over the faithful and may excommunicate anyone who holds heretical opinions or behaves in a way incompatible with Christian doctrine. This power, moreover, is used for the good of the transgressor as well as for the common good.[46]

But, in the West, in Latin Christendom, this power was extended over political society. The reason is that for many centuries political society was absorbed and became a part of the Church. This happened because the great majority of the members of society and virtually all the people in structures of power became Christian and therefore cooperated not only in the attainment of the political common good, but also of the supernatural common good. Moreover, it was the clergy that saved civilization and science, and even the establishment of political structures and of lines of command in big territories would have been unattainable without the clerical structure.[47] This is the context in which Aquinas held that the priestly hierarchy of the Church had to judge about heterodox opinions. In case somebody was found guilty of defending such opinions, he should be called to conversion. If the person was unrepentant, then he would be excommunicated. But, when this happened, the civil authorities often imposed other punishments in protection of the public order of the Christian society. Aquinas argues in favor of the criminal punishment stating that the heretics are worse than the forgers of fake money since heretics adulterate something more valuable, divine teachings.[48]

Two things must be kept in mind, however. First, that in the Latin Christendom all theses and opinions could be defended at the University, at least for the sake of argument. There was great freedom of research, as can be gathered from Aquinas’ Summa theologiae and from the Quaestiones disputatae, because they reflect the practice at the universities: the strongest objections were always considered. This explains the great development of all sciences.[49] And, second, that the Christian doctrine slowly seeped into the souls and usages, as can be understood in Sigrid Undset’s works.[50] There was plenty of room for popular opinions that were not wholly orthodox.

Usually, only when opinions broke the unity with political and ecclesiastical authorities and challenged the very structure of Christian faith and society the sin of heresy was punished. This is what happened with the Albigenses (and Cathars), for example. They rejected marriage, rejected the ecclesiastical hierarchy and French political power and asserted their independence by force. St. Dominic went to preach conversion and when by violence the heretics attempted to prevent the mission (with the assassination of one of the Cistercian legates on January 15 1208, Pierre de Castelnau), a crusade was called against them.[51]


The situation after the Reformation.

The incipient secularist and nationalist tendencies (very strongly present first in Florence, then in England and in France, and later in Holland) found a powerful ally in the Reformation and produced a mighty disruption of the whole system achieved in Latin Christendom. After the many wars and battles that this originated, in Pasau and in Westfalia, the freedom of conscience among Christians was declared in those countries subject to the Austrian emperor and divided by the Reformation. There is discrepancy between official history and the information provided by primary sources. Jaime Vicens Vives tells this official story in his Historia General Moderna: in Westfalia (1648) freedom of conscience was acknowledged and developed and reached wider regions, because, although the formulae ius reformandi and cuius regio eius religio contained in the text of the Hapsburg’s Peace (the 1555 Dieta agreements) were maintained, the non-conformist subjects were no longer forced to recant or migrate. After this, Vicens Vives proceeds in a footnote to correct this story, thus: “Such is the most current synthesis of the 1555 Dieta agreements [that they established the aforementioned principles]. However, a thorough analysis of the mentioned Habsburg’s Peace –a very conceptually baroque text– does not allow to come to such conclusions, as can be gathered from reading the following chapters: […] 10) ‘No authority may force its subjects to its own religion, and no authority may force them to apostatize, and/or no authority may use its power to do violence to them in any form. If some authorities have already in the past used coercion in this matter, however, with this Peace that we are signing we free them of being accused or found guilty.’ […] 14) ‘Since in many imperial and free States both religions have been practiced, that is to say, our ancient Faith and the Habsburg’s Confession, thus must they be practiced in the future, and the citizens and all inhabitants, religious or secular, will enjoy freedom and peace to live within one or the other [Faith or Confession].’”[52]

In this way, the result of the wars that followed the Reformation was freedom of conscience but politically neutralizing religion. No longer was there a spiritual power over and above the secular power, except in those countries that inherited the Christendom’s order, like Spain (including the Spanish America, Spanish Africa and Spanish Asia) and some parts of Italy, and, in a lesser degree, other Catholic countries. In non-Catholic countries that had been part of the Latin Christendom, either the political authority assumed religious authority or just considered itself emancipated from religious authorities. Of course, Christian public opinion and usages played still a role in restraining the government (and even today they do, although they are almost totally erased).[53] Moreover, in general, universities were still for at least a couple of centuries centers in which theological and philosophical wisdom was cultivated and therefore limits to political power were freely discussed.

In the United States the Constitution was originally very much inspired by classical philosophy and the rulers did not have the aspiration to rule over religion. In that country there was, therefore, ample room for the freedom of religion in the Modern sense, although, as Tocqueville witnessed, Christianity with its traditional wisdom and usages very much gave vitality to the life and institutions of the country, and restrained political action within the limits of morality, excluding the use of the impious raison d’Etat.[54] However, in other countries the situation was very different.

Since the 18th century a movement arose in Europe that wanted systematically to reduce the influence of what they called “superstition,” that is, Christianity. Adam Smith even designed a clever plan for such goal in book 5, chapter 1 of his Wealth of Nations (1869). But many others did the same. The Philosophes in France put analogous and even more aggressive plans into practice with the “Civil Constitution of the Clergy.” August Comte wanted to replace Christianity with the “Religion of Humanity.” Christianity was actually persecuted in many countries, such as France, Spain, Spanish America, and later Italy. In Germany, Bismark implemented his cultural wars against the Lutheran and the Catholic churches.[55] It was, in a sense, a return to the primitive situation of the Church, because the State not just saw itself as independent from religion, but as a bearer of a new comprehensive truth that should strive to replace religion, and very specially Christianity. But it turns out that now that human beings are aware that the human person is directed to an end transcending the political order, the attempt to transform the political order into the final response to the human thirst for happiness is doomed to become tyrannical. It needs to forget the dignity of human beings, their personality. This has been attempted in a variety of ways: for example, by apparently exalting individual freedom while proclaiming that the Legislator is the representative of the General Will and adherence to this will the only true freedom (Rousseau and Robespierre);[56] by denying that there is any other “rational mechanism” to attain a good society than the pleasure-pain and no other principle of morality than the principle of utility (Helvetius, Benthan);[57] by exalting society as a whole that completely absorbs individual human beings (Marx)[58], etc.


Practical aspects.

In the 20th century we encountered a very complicated landscape for the Church and for Christianity. A big part of the world was covered with totalitarian ideologies that demanded total allegiance and knew themselves totally incompatible with Christianity and with the freedom of religion in the ancient sense. Other ideologies, although perhaps not totalitarian, proposed contingent political views as new doctrines of salvation, in the sense that they held that without them there was no justice on earth. These too, often, antagonized the Church and Christianity. The survival of the Christian and classical traditions, however, lent a protective mantle to the Church in many countries, including the United States and many Iberian-American countries. It must be added that, of course, children baptized into heretical or schismatic centennial traditions are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Church, and now there are many such children even in formerly Catholic countries. This is the context in which the II Vatican Council document Dignitatis humanae was issued. (See the respective entry concerning this document.)

A reasonable interpretation of the said document allows current Christians to take note of other important aspects of the current situation: (a) political authority is no longer the secular arm of the Church. So, all citizens who respect natural Law and concur in public discussion with the use of natural reason[59] may legitimately be full citizens; and (b) the practice of religion is communitarian and not individualist, which is a fact of very wide consequences. Because of this communitarian dimension, parents may and must baptize their children, in accordance with Scripture and Tradition, and thus children find themselves under the jurisdiction of the Church in Her own sphere. Moreover, Christians can form associations like universities, with Christian identity, so that a professor teaching in one of them may not invoke his freedom of religion to teach in a way contrary to the identity of the institution. If such teaching were allowed, then there would be no right of association, and, actually, without right of association, there would be no real freedom of religion.[60]

If there was an honest government that respected these two points, then the best course of action would be that natural theology (in the sense of Varro, Cicero, Justin, Lactantius and Augustine) informed political society (not atheism)[61] and that, since neither political society nor natural theology can satisfy the deep longings of the human soul, the various religious communities lived in accordance with their respective views and had their own system of education and even their own courts[62] to solve the internal problems of the community, such as the courts of Canon Law.  (Having their own courts means, of course, that State coercion would be at the service of such courts.) But all communities should be subject to the public Law, encompassing natural and positive (reasonable) Right. And they should be open to learn and loyally discuss each other doctrines, because true Christians would burn in anguish seeing that many souls live in darkness and deprived of the way to salvation without the teaching of the Lord, Jesus Christ. This would be a kind of overlapping consensus compatible with full Christianity.

Of course, two problems remain. First, human beings are wounded by original sin. Therefore, without divine grace and light, on the one hand, public authority can hardly abide by justice and natural Right[63], and, on the other, the masses can’t really attain natural theology and they remain very vulnerable to the corruption of their mores and to the snares of tricksters as we are contemplating now in the whole world. Moreover, there would be a constant danger of hostility between the different branches of such political community,[64] as we have seen in the United States between Jews, Protestants, Catholics and secularists; mostly between religious and secularist people.

Notice that we have stated the implications of the reasonable understanding of the Christian freedom of religion in the contemporary situation in a conditional way. “If there were an honest government” open to respect the freedom of the spirit, it could be realized.  But the current situation does not permit to be optimistic. Political and even international powers more and more demand an allegiance that goes beyond what is due to Caesar, and establish ersatz religions and [pseudo-]duties that clash frontally with the teachings of Christ, such as those connected with gender ideology or sexual liberation.

At this juncture when not only the freedom of religion but the fundamental freedom of the human spirit is at risk, Christianity is still the bearer of the teaching of her divine Founder: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” and of the duty of demonstrating that there are evils worse than death.[65]



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About the author.

Carlos A. Casanova was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1966 and baptized shortly after. There he got an excellent Catholic education thanks to the Prelature Opus Dei, and a Law degree from the Catholic University Andrés Bello (1988). He worked as an Attorney for a few years. Then he went to Spain where he got a PhD degree in philosophy at the Universidad de Navarra (1995). Back in Venezuela he taught classical philosophy at Universidad Simón Bolívar (1996-2002). He was the Chair of the Graduate Studies in Philosophy at the USB (1999-2002). For political reasons he had to leave his country. Afterwards he was a Visiting Professor at Boston University (2002-2003), a Senior Research Fellow at the Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame (2003-2005) and Adjunct Professor of the Department of Philosophy (2004-2005). In 2005 he moved to Chile with his family. He worked there at the International Academy of Philosophy at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (2005-2012), at the Center for Thomistic Studies of the University of Saint Thomas (2013-2020) and at the School of Law at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (2020-2023). Now he is a Visiting Professor at the Hamilton Center of the University of Florida.

He has published 9 philosophical books at important academic publishing houses, and many papers in prestigious journals of the Spanish-speaking world and the English-speaking world. One of his books has been translated into Portuguese and was published in Brazil. These are some of the most important titles: El ser, Dios y la ciencia, según Aristóteles; El hombre, frontera entre lo inteligible y lo sensible; Reflexiones metafísicas sobre la ciencia natural; Racionalidad y justicia and Verdad práctica, en defensa de la ética clásica.

Besides, he has organized important international Thomistic conferences and he has translated into Spanish Aquinas’ Commentary on the Book of Psalms and prepared the first bilingual edition (Spanish/Latin) of this work, along with Enrique Alarcón. He has fought during his life to defend university autonomy, the right of the parents to choose the education of their children and to protect the innocence of children from the attempt to corrupt it through comprehensive sexuality education and gender ideology. The circumstances forced him to dedicate much time to think about the idea of the republic and about totalitarian ideologies.



[1] See the response of Jude’s relatives given to Domitian in Daniel Ruiz Bueno (2003), pp. 233-234.

[2] See (1962), VI 13, 1145a6-11.

[3] Due to slander (see St. Justin, 1857, n. 108, p. 727). Due to other reasons: Remember Nero and see Daniel Ruiz Bueno (2003), pp. 234-238, 863-864 (where Ruiz Bueno cites Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum, 11 [ed. CSLS·, 27, I, pág. 185]). See also Eusebius (2003), n. 1, pp. 868-869; and Acts 19:21-40.

[4] That he tried to use Roman traditions is proved by Michael Koortbojian in (2013), chapter 3. Gilson shows the connection between Alexander and Augustus: p. 154 of (1976). Eric Voegelin agrees with this: see (1987), p. 97.

[5] See, for example, the Act of St. Marinus’ martyrdom in Ruiz Bueno (2003), p. 856. The Roman elite experienced with a variety of symbolic theologies to try to provide a solid foundation to the authority of Caesar and of the Empire (see Voegelin [1987], 97-99).

[6] In the Acts of Martyrdom of St. Justin the accusation is to lack religion, disobey the Emperor and not to sacrifice to the gods. See Daniel Ruiz Bueno (2003), pp. 314-316.

[7] St. Justin, for example, had addressed impressive apologies to the Emperors.

[8] Eusebius (2003), pp. 900-901.

[9] They were, actually, obeying Scripture that forbade to make sacrifices or simply to have false gods (See Ex.20:3 and 22:20, cited by the martyr Fileas, Bp. of Tmuis in his letter to the faithful, cited by Eusebius, reproduced in Ruiz Bueno [2003], p. 884).

[10] Charles De Koninck in (2009) and (1952) has explained very well the contrast between the individualist and the Christian way to understand this dimension that lies above political authority.

[11] In the Lockean view, foreign countries lie outside any solidarity (“in reference to the rest of mankind, they make one body, which is, as every member of it before was, still in the state of nature with the rest of mankind.” [1964], n. 145), and only the co-citizens enter within the concept of “toleration.”

[12] Paul Hartog, (2020), pp. 135-137.

[13] See Tertulian (1989), chapter 28, p. 89; Lactantius (1844), chapters LIII-LIV, pp. 1059-1061.

[14] See Joseph Streeter (2021). Lactantius (1844) book 4, chapter 28, pp. 536-538; and Tertullian (1889), chapter 10, p. 35.

[15] See Joseph Streeter (2021), pp. 372-373.

[16] See (1864), book 6. Varro’s conception seems to be very similar to that of Averroes. There is a “natural theology” (physiké), a civil theology and a mythical theology. While the latter ones are the work of the city, the first one is true, so that the gods as they are understood by natural theology are the real foundation of the city and the cosmos. Augustine concludes from this that Varro knew that the civil theology was false. However, it seems to me that his thought was more like Aristotle’s in (1895) Lambda 8: natural theology discovers the truth that is expressed in a rough and popular way by civil theology.

[17] See Lactantius (1844), book 2, chapter 3; and book 2, chapter 9. [Wrongly] cited in Cicero (1967), p. 385. God would be a sort of demiurge who, in order to produce the world, uses preexistent matter and the elements.

[18] (1844), book 2, chapter 3, PL 6, p. 264. St. Justin is full of this same kind of pity in his Apologies: “[…] We do all in our power to free you of the unjust prejudice that dominates you” (18572, n. 4, p. 451). In pp. 459-462 one can see that his whole activity aims at converting souls and saving them from eternal damnation. He cites in his support Socrates and his teaching on the One God, probably the demiurge. Augustine rejects Varro’s approach to theology precisely because it left the masses without knowledge of truth that could save the soul not for this world but for eternal life (1864, book 6).

[19] See Polybius (1889) Vol. 1, book VI, chapters 56-58.

[20] See (1844) book 5, chapter 4, pp. 563-564. In a similar sense, see Justin, 18572, nn. 13-15, pp. 465-468.

[21] See (1844) book 2, chapter 9, p. 297; and book 2, chapter 3, p. 264. According to the first of these passages, Cicero seems to have believed in the existence of one Demiurge who did not create matter, but presupposed it in his modelling of the cosmos.

[22] See, in this sense, St. Augustine, (1865) chapter 3, n. 9, p. 325.

[23] See John Henry Newman (1900), pp. 33-42.

[24] Citado por Christopher Dawson (1974), p. 54. Él lo toma de Atanasio, History of the Arians, 44, en la traducción francesa de Tillemont, Memoires, tomo VII, 313.

[25] See Paul Vinogradoff (1909), pp. 85 and 97-101.

[26] See Farncis Vitoria (2007), n. 3, p. 66.

[27] This seems to collide with the historical fact of the sack of Rome. It does not, however, because the pope was temporal lord and had formed a temporal alliance against the emperor, because the pope refused to fulfill his duty of calling for a General Council to cope with the rising Reformation, because Charles V was not present at the siege and his commander died during the assault, and because many of the German troops who looted Rome were Lutheran. See José Palanca (S/F).

[28] See Epistula 93, PL 33, 321 ff. Augustine argues in part that the force of public authority neutralized coercion exerted by the heretics on people who were willing to embrace the truth but were afraid to do so in public. He also said that public force neutralized the strength of usage.

[29] See Acts 11:17.

[30] Children were baptized on the faith of their parents: see Decretum Gratiani, Tertia Pars De consecration, Dist. IV, chapter 74, (1959), p. 1387. It cites St. Isidorus, De officiis, book 2, chap. 24.

[31] In the 15th century the Jews were expelled from Spain and were given the chance to convert. But the act did not have as its aim to force a conversion, but to prevent the apostasy of the Conversos (See William Walsh [1987], pp. 342-372. Regarding the expulsion from other countries, like Portugal, England or France, I do not have sufficient information.

[32] See Acts 10:24.44; 11:14; 16:15; 16:31.33. Individuals believed and were baptized “with his [or her] whole house.”

[33] This is, of course, what happens to all authorities to whom we owe real piety: our Fatherland, our parents,  God. Locke has a hard time explaining this kind of authority and proposes totally inadequate solutions (see, for example, [1964], n. 117). This is a clear symptom of the inadequacy of individualism to explain social and political phenomena, including ecclesiastical phenomena.

[34] Gregory (1959), Libro III, título XLII, cap. 3, p. 646. However, if somebody, being coerced, for fear agrees to be baptized, he is validly (although illicitly) baptized. The point here is that the book of Maccabees taught that to simulate in these matters is illicit.

[35] See (20002) II-II, q. 10 a. 9 c.

[36] See (20002) II-II q. 10, a. 11, c. See Gregory (1959), Lib. V. Tit. VI. De Iudais, Sarracenis etc., chapters 1-9, pp. 771-774.

[37] See St. Augustine (1865), chapter 3, n. 10, p. 326.

[38] See Summa theologiae II-II q. 10, a. 11, c. Concerning the intolerance of Muslim rites, see Clemente V (1959), Lib. V, Tit. II, pp. 1180-1181. Concerning the tolerance of Jewish rites, see, for example, Decretum Gratiani (1959), Prima Pars, Dist. XLV., c. 3, pp. 160-161. This latter authority is cited frequently by Aquinas. However, the discovery of the Talmud, perhaps along with other causes, led to the expulsion of the Jews from France and England. In Poland they were always tolerated. Pagans were tolerated in all Christian lands where orthodoxy was respected. In Spain the Muslim people and the moriscos were expelled because they were a real threat to the safety of the kingdom, which was at constant war with the Muslim powers of Africa, Asia and Europe, mostly the Turks.

[39] See Summa Theologiae III, q. 68 a. 10 c.

[40] See, for example, Obispo Martí (1998), pp. 273-274. Also, see Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo. (1945), pp. 70-105, especially p. 102 (Third Part, book 5, chapters II-III).

[41] See John Henry Newman (1900), pp. 127-129.

[42] Mt 24:35.

[43] (1900), p. 129.

[44] This sense was systematized by Locke in his Letters on Toleration. If one thinks about Locke’s works, however, one must agree with Streeter that his proposal is based on the presupposition that Christianity is but an opinion among others and that there is no religious authority of one man over another (see Josef Streeter, [2021], p. 376). But, worse than that, one realizes two traces rarely commented on: first, that Locke denied the existence of free will (see [1824], II 21), and, second, that, although he thought that a threat of an effective sanction would dissuade any agent who acts based on his passions (see [18241], II 20), he proposes that when the conscience of a private person tells him that the command of political authority is unjust and cannot be obeyed, “such a private person is to abstain from the actions that he judges unlawful; and he is to undergo the punishment, which is not unlawful for him to bear” ([18242], Vol. 5, pp. 1-59). Thus, it is not true that Locke bears with any opinion, he rather eliminates any interference of religion over politics.

[45] Charles de Koninck made an analogous point concerning the common good. It is immediately applicable here because truth is one aspect of the common good of the Church. See (2009), pp. 78 y 87-88; and (1952), pp. 30-31.

[46] See 1 Cor. 5:1-5; and 2 Cor. 2:5-11, for example.

[47] See Etienne Gilson (1976), Chapter 3, Section 1, pp. 169-188.

[48] See (20002), II-II q. 11, a. 3, c.

[49] See on this regard, Alistair C. Crombie (1959).

[50] See (1994-1995) and (1997-2000).

[51] See John B. O’Connor (1909), 106-107.

[52] Jaime Vicens Vives (1999), Vol. 1, pp. 361 and 145 (in a footnote of p. 361, Vicens Vives asks the reader to read back p. 145). There were early proponents of the freedom of religion in the Modern sense. It seems that Balthasar Hubmaier was one of them.

[53] Alexis de Tocqueville (1953), Vol. 1, pp. 326-27.

[54] See Tocqueville (1953) I, pp. 300-301 y 305.

[55] See Pius IX (1975), on the war against the Catholic Church.

[56] Jean J. Rousseau (1761), books 3, chapter 6; and 4, chapter 7; and Pierre Manent (1994), p. 75.

[57] See Eric Voegelin (1975), chapters 2-3, pp. 35-73.

[58] See (1975) 112-119.

[59] See (20001)1, chapters 1-8.

[60] See Constitutional Court of Spain in Plenary (1981).

[61] In (2008), pp. 143-144, John Paul II made clear that God is the supreme guarantor of a just order in political society. And, in (1999), n. 5, he taught that without the guidance of ultimate truth in modern so called democracies, ideas and convictions could be easily manipulated.

[62] See 1 Cor. 6:1-2.

[63] See, for example, Prov. 28:2, “When the impious rule, people moan.”

[64] This is bound to happen, especially if through public debates and mutual influences, one of the communities thrives and the others begin to dwindle.

[65] See Leo Strauss (1974), pp. 198-200. Igor Shafarevich testifies how Stalin had to come to terms with Christianity because its adherents turned out to have a surprising endurance to pain. See (1975), p. 49. Poland lived a similar experience, of course.

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