The Truth about Catholic Intolerance

Liberals and Intolerance

If there is one thing that is considered a sin among liberals, it is intolerance. To liberals, intolerance is when a person who disagrees with liberals claims to know a truth that contradicts liberalism and is not afraid to communicate it.

However, this ad hominem often serves to shut down debate and leads to confusion. For those who are confused it is best to make things clear, so that one can courageously continue to do good despite unprincipled opposition.


34. The Church is accused of intolerance. This word is sometimes meant to convey the idea of dogmatical or doctrinal intolerance; sometimes the word signifies practical and civil intolerance. In either sense the accusation is unfounded. A few precise definitions will prove this.

1)  What is dogmatic tolerance or intolerance? and in what does the dogmatic intolerance of the Church consist?

35. Dogmatic tolerance is another expression for religious indifference, which leaves each one free to choose his own style of worship , as though all religions were equally good, or at the least indifferent.

This tolerance, or rather this religious indifference, which is call also religious indifferentism, contains a doctrine absurd as it is impious. It may, in fact, be expressed thus: The Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Mahometan, worships are, it is true, opposed to each other: the one burns what the other reveres; the one adores Jesus Christ, the other blasphemes Him; the one calls virtue what the other calls crime; nevertheless all are equally true, good, and agreeable to God. It would be impossible not to admit that such a doctrine can only be called a mockery of God and His worship, and a practical denial of all religious truth. Dogmatic tolerance is therefore false and impious.

36. Dogmatic intolerance, on the contrary, teach the necessity of one true religion, and it may be thus expressed: In the same way as there is only one God, so there is but one religion by which to worship Him, and this one religion is obligatory on all mankind. It is the doctrine of the Catholic Church contained in these words: ‘Out of the Church there is no salvation.’ Is this doctrine reprehensible? It cannot be so if it be true, and we have shown that it is true. It is the doctrine  of Jesus Christ Himself, the supreme Lawgiver, who established the universal law, that whosoever should by faith and baptism, enter the bosom of His Church, should be saved, and whosoever should reject the Church should be condemned. The Church goes no further than to proclaim this divine law, and in this her intolerance consists.

Hence (1) the dogmatic intolerance of the Church is the intolerance of truth which, in its nature unchangeable, can admit of no alliance or compromise with error, which, pure in its nature as the light, rejects the darkness of falsehood, and says, Truth is everything or nothing. (2) the intolerance of the Church is that of God Himself. It is, in other words, the fidelity of the Church in preaching the divine law, and her constant refusal to betray her mission by having any alliance with falsehood.

37. At the same time it is important that this formula, ‘Out of the Church there is no salvation,’ should be taken in its true sense. It by no means signifies that whoever is not a Catholic will be damned; but it means that, as the Catholic religion is obligatory for all men, those who refuse to become acquainted with it, or to embrace it when they know it, become grievously culpable before God, and incur the sentence of eternal damnation. In other words, no man can be saved if, by his own will, he remains out of the Church…Even a pagan may belong to the Church; for as long as he keeps the natural law, the providence and grace of God will not be wanting to him; and by means of his faith in a God who has redeemed and will reward him, he will be led at least to the baptism of desire, which will assure his justification; and so he will,…obtain everlasting salvation…

(2) What is practical and civil tolerance or intolerance? and what is the practical intolerance of the Catholic Church?

39. By practical tolerance or intolerance is generally meant external liberty or constraint in matters of religion. The State calls practical tolerance civil tolerance, and it may be defined thus: the enactment of laws which permit the free exercise of all religions, or even which afford the same protection to all sects, whether true or false. Civil intolerance is a legal restriction upon the liberty of worship, either in favor of truth or error.

40. This intolerance admits of several degrees: (1) one religion alone may be favoured, the others simply tolerated; or (2) one alone may be allowed, the rest forbidden; or again (3) one alone may be not only allowed, but enforced under rigorous penalties. When the obligation binds to a false religion, and proscription of the true religion is sanctioned by penalties, it is constraint, violence, and religious persecution.

41. What must be thought of civil tolerance from the point of view of right? In principle absolute civil tolerance is bad and unjust, and contrary to both natural and divine right. (1) Truth has a right to be protected against error, as much as virtue against vice and order against disorder. A legislator is, then, bound to protect the true religion, and to repress error,  just as much as he is bound to protect order and repress disorder. This obligation springs from natural right quite independently of Christian revelation. But (2) as the Christian revelation is a notorious fact in the world and cannot be eliminated from it, it must be presupposed, and therefore the obligation of which we have just spoken is of divine right. God who is the Sovereign Legislator, established the Christian law for the whole of humanity; not only each individual man, but nations and societies ought to be Christian, and should respect and protect the Church of Jesus Christ. Can we, then, establish in principle the separation, or we may say, the divorce, of the Church from the State, or affirm that the State should be atheist and ignore God, and yet continue to exist, a stranger to all religion? This assertion, so justly condemned by the Church, is contrary alike to divine and natural right and to the persuasion of all mankind. Though the State possesses no authority in religious matters, it is none the less obliged to further the interests of religion, as being a power charged to protect order and morality.

42. The condemnation of civil tolerance which we have just explained springs immediately from Catholic truth, and from the obligation imposed by the Creator on all His creatures to obey the law of Jesus Christ. But as it happens that all men do not obey the Gospel, and that side by side with Catholic truth there exist in the world false divers false worships, the principle expressed above must in practice admit of modifications, and the following rules may be established:

(1) When  a country is in possession of the truth—that is to say, when it is Catholic—the laws also must be Catholic, and tend to the defence of truth against error.

(2) In a country where there are many religions, but where the Catholic religion predominates, it must be the favoured one. False worships may be tolerated so long as they remain inoffensive.

(3) In a country where there are many religions and where no one predominates, the law may extend equal protection to all religions, so long as they remain inoffensive.

(4) In a country where many religions exist, and where error predominates, the law cannot prohibit or restrict Catholic truth, even under the pretext that it is dangerous and hurtful to the State; for such could not be the case, seeing that it is divine, inoffensive, and beneficial by its very nature.

(5) In countries entirely infidel, heretical, or pagan, the civil authority has no right to hinder the introduction or propagation of the Catholic faith by means of persuasion. An infidel king, in common with every human being, is bound to acquaint himself, as far as he is able, with the truth, and to further its propagation. Should he act otherwise, believing perhaps that his false religion is the true one, and therefore interdicting the preaching of the Gospel, he cannot be said to be doing well, but, on the contrary, he is fighting against truth, and doing evil without knowing it, being deceived by a false conscience.

(6) Persecution cannot be lawful in favor either of truth or error. I mean persecution properly so called, that is to say violence employed against an offending religion or error. But if such religion or error becomes, on the contrary, turbulent and hurtful, its acts may be reproved like any other offense, in which case it suffers punishment, not persecution. In the same way, if a member of the Church becomes unfaithful, and falls into heresy, or commits some other great crime, such member can be punished by the ecclesiastical authority on whom he depends. The Church has a right not only to censure her subjects, but, if she thinks proper, she can also inflict external penalties, and have recourse to the secular power. In this case also it would be punishment and not persecution that the offender would undergo.

43. Let us pass from the question of right to that of fact.

What has always been the legislation and the conduct of that Church which has been so much accused of intolerance?

Faithful to the command of Jesus Christ, the Church, has ever been content with preaching the Gospel; that is to say, she has always acted by means of persuasion without employing any violence. She has never persecuted; but in all times and in all ages, like her Divine Master, she has suffered persecution. With regard to her own rebellious or straying children, when she has judged it expedient to punish them, she has always done it with a maternal hand, in order to bring them back to a sense of duty and to remove scandal. On every page of impartial history this is shown. If, under certain circumstance and through an excess of zeal, Christian princes have used harsh and rigorous means to convert unbelievers or sectarians, they have, in doing so, followed their own personal impulses and not the rules of the Church, which cannot therefore be held responsible for their acts. The Inquisition, which was established by the Pope, does not, as we shall hereafter show, prove anything to the contrary.

44. Besides the distinction between dogmatic and civil intolerance, which we have just been explaining, there is another kind of intolerance, which means almost the same thing. There is intolerance of doctrines and principles, and intolerance of persons. The Church is always full of indulgence for persons. She is only intolerant of evil doctrines and erroneous principles, just as she is intolerant of vice, though full of mercy for the men who are its slaves. She follows the example of Almighty God, who hates sin, but receives sinners with bounty and compassion.

Schouppe, F.X. S.J. A Course of Religious Instruction: Apologetic Dogmatic and Moral for the use of Colleges and Schools. 1879. pp. 69-75. Impr.

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