Date of Award


Degree Type

Master's Essay - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Perhaps more than any other document, the Declaration on Religious Freedom demonstrates the development of doctrine. The concept of religious liberty in the Church has evolved gradually and haltingly throughout the centuries toward the contemporary realization as expressed in the Conciliar statement promulgated by Vatican II. Indeed, it is quite incorrect to speak of a consistent process of development, since the thinking of recent and past popes differs widely on the subject. Pius XII did not specifically affirm religious liberty as a human right. Where Leo XIII and Pius XII were preoccupied primarily with the establishment question and only secondarily touched the question of religious liberty, John XXIII affirmed religious freedom directly and left the establishment question aside. A study of the stages through which the Vatican declaration passed prior to publication is revelatory of a distinct change and evolution of thought. The Declaration on Religious Freedom was finally presented to the world on December 7, 1965, after beginning its conciliar gestation nearly five years before. In the course of two years, five corrected versions appeared in print. The contents were doctrinal and personal. A consideration of the evolution of certain key ideas, during this period, namely 1) the moral duty to follow a sincerely formed conscience, 2) the free supernatural character of the act of faith, and consequently, 3) the recognition of governmental incompetence in matters religious, will indicate reasons why the declaration has been so widely studied and acclaimed.