Dignitatis Humanae

Dignitatis humanae is the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. It was promulgated on December 7, 1965.



As with all historic teachings, the biggest challenge in reading Dignitatis humanae is to understand what it says.

After all, many people have strong opinions about it. But most people have never read it.

The task at hand is to read the document, and to thoroughly understand it. Then you will be able to form mature opinions about it.

We are devoting this page to understanding what Dignitatis humanae says.

The best way to read Dignitatis humanae is to go to the source and read it yourself.

We suggest you go to Vatican.va and read Dignitatis Humanae.

Here is our own summary of the document:




Our Summary

People have a growing awareness of the dignity of the human person. People should have the freedom to live their lives as they see fit.

This demand for freedom is fueled by the quest for the values proper to the human spirit. The first of those values is the free exercise of religion in society.

The Second Vatican Council declares these desires for religious freedom to be greatly in accord with truth and justice.

As people come to know more of the truth, they need to embrace it.

Truth cannot be imposed. People cannot be coerced.


“Subsists In”

The Council says the one true religion subsists in the Catholic church.

This phrase (“subsists in”) has become one of the most notorious phrases from the Second Vatican Council.

When people read it, they imagine it means all sorts of things, such as ONLY in.


However, the phrase “subsists in” is not exclusionary. Think of it as centered upon, but expands beyond.



Our Summary

The Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom.

People are compelled to see the truth. Once they find truth, they are to order their lives in accord with the demands of truth.

In our day, many people profess Christian faith as the truth. But we wonder:

Do they order their lives according to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ?


Mea Culpa

The Council says for religious freedom, people need psychological freedom. And immunity from external coercion.

This is a mea culpa on the part of the Catholic church.

For centuries the Catholic church had been the worst violator of religious freedom on the planet.

The Catholic church seized the property of Jewish people and forced them to live in ghettos.

The Catholic church used coersion to force people to accept specific beliefs.

The Catholic church abducted people for their beliefs, and used torture to force them to accept specific beliefs.

The Catholic church arrested people for their beliefs and put them to death.

After centuries of being the worst violator on the planet, the Catholic church has finally changed its mind. Now it finally says people have a right to religious freedom.



Our Summary

People have the right to seek the truth in matters of religion. And they are free to adhere to it by their own decision.

People cannot be forced to act in a manner contrary to their conscience. Nor can they be restrained from acting in accordance with their conscience.



Our Summary

Religious organizations have freedom. They can govern themselves, worship, assist their members, teach, and unify.

They can select their ministers, communicate within their organization, build buildings, and own property.

In their ministry to people, religious communities may not use coercion or dishonorable persuasion.



Our Summary

Parents have the right to determine the religious upbringing of their children.

And they have the right to a free choice of schooling for their children.



Our Summary

An essential duty of government is to protect and promote the human rights.

Governments must safeguard the religious freedom of all its citizens.

The freedom of religion must be applied to all people equally. There must not be favoritism or discrimination.

A government is wrong when it repudiates any religion.



Our Summary

In their free exercise of religion, people are bound by the moral law.

They must respect the rights of other people. They must be aware of their own duties toward other people. They must play their part in building the common good.

Governments have the right to defend themselves against possible abuses committed on the pretext of the freedom of religion.



Our Summary

Some people wrongly use religious freedom as an excuse for refusing to submit to authority.

However, religious freedom should help us act with greater responsibility in fulfilling our duties in community life.



Our Summary

The Council’s doctrine of freedom is rooted in Divine Revelation.

For that reason, Christians should respect it all the more diligently.

religious freedom in society is entirely consonant with the freedom of the act of Christian faith.



Our Summary

The act of faith is of its very nature a free act.

no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will.

Every manner of coercion should be excluded.



Our Summary

The LORD God gives us freedom. He calls us to serve him in spirit and in truth. But we are not under compulsion.

The Lord Jesus Christ did not come to domineer us. Rather, he came to serve and to give his life as a ransom.

His disciples strove to convert people to faith in Jesus Christ. But they did not use coercion.

On the one hand, they called people to obey just governments.

But on the other hand, they spoke against governments which set themselves in opposition to the holy will of God.

They said:

We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)



Our Summary

With regard to religious freedom, the Council admits that with regard to the Catholic church:

there has at times appeared a way of acting that was hardly in accord with the spirit of the Gospel or even opposed to it.


Mea Culpa

Given the heinous behavior of the Catholic church in the past, this is a radical admission.

As an institution, the Council is repenting.



Our Summary

Concerning the Catholic church and governments and the whole civil order, the Catholic church has freedom.

As a spiritual authority, it has freedom.

As a society of people, it has freedom.

Christian people, as well as all other people, possess the right to not to be hindered in living their lives in accordance with their consciences.



Our Summary

The Catholic church is a teacher of truth. It teaches the truths of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The faithful should attend to those teachings:

  • Grow in their understanding
  • Faithfully proclaim them
  • Vigorously defend them

And do those things with love and prudence and patience.



Our Summary

The Council calls people to carefully consider how greatly necessary religious freedom is.

It must be given a constitutional guarantee everywhere.

People everywhere have a high duty and right to freely lead their religious lives in society.



Dignitatis Humanae, at Vatican.va


Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.


Author: todd

At Explore the Faith, I share insights into the Bible and theological writings. If you like what I write, become my partner by donating. Help me reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.