Vatican City, 14 December 2013 (VIS) – Yesterday, 13 December, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States, attended at a conference held in Rome abnd organised by the Religious Freedom Project of Georgetown University and the Berkley Centre for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, at which he gave a presentation on the links between religious freedom and Christianity, within the scope of a Conference organised by Georgetown University of Washington on the theme “Christians and religious freedom: historical and contemporary perspectives”.
The Archbishop affirmed that “the concept of human rights itself originated in a Christian context” and offered as an example St. Thomas More, “who at the price of his own life bore witness to the fact that Christians, in the light of reason and by virtue of their freedom of conscience, are called to reject every form of oppression”.
“The link between Christianity and freedom is thus original and profound”, he continued. “It has its roots in the teaching of Christ himself and Saint Paul appears as one of its most strenuous and brilliant defenders. Freedom is intrinsic to Christianity, for it was, as Paul says, for freedom that Christ set us free”. While the Apostle referred to interior freedom, this “naturally also has consequences for society”.
“This year marks the one-thousand-seven-hundredth anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which crowned the expansion throughout society of that interior freedom of which Saint Paul spoke. At the same time, from an historical and cultural standpoint, the Edict represented the beginning of a process which has marked European history and that of the entire world, leading in the course of the centuries to the definition of human rights and the recognition of religious freedom as 'the first of human rights'”.
“Constantine saw that the growth of the Empire depended on the ability of each individual to profess freely his or her religious beliefs. … It suffices to consider the great patrimony of the world’s art, not only that of Christian inspiration, in order to appreciate the inherent goodness of this relationship. … At this point, however, there is a need to avoid possible misunderstanding, since the word 'freedom' can be interpreted in many ways. Freedom cannot be reduced to mere caprice, or understood in a purely negative sense as the absence of constraint”, continued Archbishop Mamberti. “Consequently, the proper exercise of religious freedom cannot prescind from the interplay of reason and faith. … This also provides a bulwark against both relativism and against those forms of religious fundamentalism which, like relativism, see in religious freedom a threat to their own ideological dominance”.
The Archbishop concluded by commenting that when the Second Vatican Council set forth the principle of religious freedom, “it was not proposing a new teaching. Rather, it was restating a common human experience: namely, that 'all human beings … endowed with reason and free will, and therefore bearing personal responsibility, are impelled by their nature… to seek the truth … It is in the truth, seen not so much as an absolute which we already possess, but as the potential object of rational and relational knowledge, that we encounter the potential for a sound exercise of freedom. And it is precisely in this connection that we discover the authentic dignity of the human person”.