Pink was on top form at Notre Dame and it is delightful to see him admit the wisdom of Aegedius Romanus with his closing remarks. Given that Pink holds it to be part of the state’s essential duties to recognise the true religion and then (due to the nature of Divine Law) enter into soul-body union with the Church, it seems to me he has answered the central criticisms of John Lamont. The assumption of various patristic writers that it is part of the essential duties of the state to repress religious error stem from the more fundamental assumption that it is part of the state’s essential duties to recognise the true religion. Insofar as the state only truly realises its own definition when it adopts the true religion the state only truly is the state when it functions as the instrument of the Church in these matters. This is the pure doctrine of St Augustine (enthusiasitically endorsed by Leo XIII in Humanum Genus and Immortale Dei). It is because of the revealed Divine Law by which the state’s acts must be informed that it can only repress religious error as the Church’s instrument. In a state of pure nature the state would supress religious error in its own right, but in this order of providence the state was made to be the instrument of the Church.
The most remarkable factor in this debate is how uninterested Rhonheimer is in the truth of the matter or the intentions of the Council Fathers. What he wants is the repudiation of the prior teaching of the Church. He promotes a tendentious understanding of St Gelasius and then quotes the ‘erring’ views of St Gregory the Great and St Isidore of Seville (both Doctors of the Church). He never mentions Quanta Cura whose doctrine he passionately rejects but in which as Bl. John Henry Newman observes the “infallible teaching voice” is distinctly heard. The only way he has of avoiding this problem is to say that the Popes can err concerning what is or is not a matter of faith and morals. Thus Rhonheimer renders empty the entire concept of ecclesiastical infallibility. As Rhonheimer says, in his view, “the Vatican Council exactly teaches as a right what the Pontiffs of the nineteenth century have condemned, there is a real contradiction.” But this is not a problem for Rhonheimer, because this is what he most earnestly desires for its own sake, quite independently of the whole question of religious liberty. Dignitatis Humanae (and contraception in his other writings) are merely test cases by which he pursues his real goal of overthrowing the irreformability of the magisterium. This is why Rhonheimer wastes so much time of the interpretation of a curial address of Benedict XVI and spends so little time on Dignitatis Humanae itself. As a conservative Modernist Rhonheimer treats not the solemn definitions of Popes and Councils but rather the most recent statements of the ecclesiastical establishment (regardless of their magisterial weight) as the theological norm that outranks all others. We must recall the Anti-Modernist Oath which declares “I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense“. It is this ‘far worse’ error that Rhonheimer really cares about and seeks to insinuate by his mutationist reading of Dignitatis Humanae.