Mindful that 2017 is a significant year for ecumenical relationships, in this two-part article, Anthony Towey explains why Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae was key to a renewed approach of Catholicism to the views of other Christians and indeed to adherents of all faiths and none. Anthony Towey is the Director of the Aquinas Centre at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.
Dignitatis Humanae – The Declaration On The Right Of Persons And Communities To Social And Civil Liberty In Religious Matters is one of the shortest of the sixteen documents that comprise the ‘canon’ of the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65. Variously hailed as ‘a decisive document in the history of humanity’ (Hünermann, 2006: 451) or the ‘ruin of the Church’ (Lefebvre in O’Malley, 2008: 217), the principles enshrined therein polarized opinion at the Council and led, fairly directly, to schism, albeit on a limited scale. Even today, the document remains something of a ‘hot potato’. Either explicitly or implicitly, this short document takes a stance on truth, freedom, religion, politics, salvation – even the integrity of God – which rightly gives it an importance way beyond its word count.