On the Nature of Human Liberty

Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter on the Nature of Human Liberty: Libertas Praestatissimum (1888).

The encyclical, on the relationship between human freedom and absolute truth, is a discussion of the sources and nature of human liberty, grounded in the eternal law: “[T]he eternal law of God is the sole standard and rule of human liberty, not only in each individual man, but also in the community and civil society which men constitute when united. Therefore, the true liberty of human society does not consist in every man doing what he pleases, for this would simply end in turmoil and confusion, and bring on the overthrow of the State; but rather in this, that through the injunctions of the civil law all may more easily conform to the prescriptions of the eternal law." Libertas ¶10. Leo criticizes certain liberal theories of the separation of church and state (¶¶18-22), freedom of speech and the press (¶23), and freedom of conscience, except as it may be said to affirm the individual’s freedom from “an omnipotent state” to obey God and his commands (¶¶30 and 31). The focus of this encyclical is the relationship between human freedom and absolute truth.

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