George Weigel, commenting on Theodore Maynard’s The Story of American Catholicism , highlights the commitment that early American Catholics had to religious freedom:

Because of their own theological tradition, Maryland Catholics (and their brethren in Pennsylvania) could have embraced something resembling the First Amendment in the days when New England Puritans were teaching their children to sing, “Abhor that arrant Whore of Rome/and all her blasphemies/And drink not of her cursed cup/Obey not her decrees.”

Maynard wrote, 70 years ago:
“ . . . [The] Church . . . has always maintained that, whatever may be the accidental inequality of gift and station between man and man, they are all essentially equal in the sight of God. It is only upon such a doctrine that democracy can repose. It is only democratic institutions that put that doctrine into visible practice. For despite the Declaration of Independence, with its ‘self-evident’ truth that all men are created equal, the thing is not self-evident at all. On the contrary, it seems to be at variance with self-evident facts. It is really a mystical dogma, and the one institution we can be perfectly certain will never renounce that dogma is the Catholic Church.”

And Weigel muses:
But perhaps “mystical” is not quite right. There is a chain of ideas here, and it can be traced. From Thomas Aquinas to Robert Bellarmine to the Anglican divine Richard Hooker; then from Hooker to John Locke to Thomas Jefferson: that’s one plausible intellectual roadmap to the Declaration and the First Amendment. The American Thomas Jefferson, owed the scholastic Thomas Aquinas, more than the Sage of Monticello likely ever knew.

Articles by Sebastian White O.P.

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