Syllabus of Errors

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The Syllabus of Errors was a detailed proclamation by Pope Pius IX in 1864 specifying liberal errors in political thought that were rejected by the Church.

The pope denounced 80 specific propositions that promoted pantheism, naturalism, nationalism, indifferentism, socialism, communism, freemasonry, and other 19th century views. He claimed for the Catholic Church total control over science and culture. The Liberals viewed this as a declaration of war by the Church on modern civilization.


The 80 condemned propositions cover: Pantheism, Naturalism, Absolute Rationalism (1-7); Moderate Rationalism (8-14); Indifferentism and false Tolerance in Religious matters (15-18); Socialism, Communism, Secret Societies, Bible Societies, Liberal Clerical Associations, and Errors regarding the Church and its rights (19-38); Errors on the State and its Relation to the Church (39-55); Errors on Natural and Christian Ethics (56-64); Errors on Christian Marriage (65-74); Errors on the Temporal Power of the Pope (75-76); Errors in Connection with Modern Liberalism (77-80).

The first part attacked pantheism, naturalism, and absolute rationalism because of their assumption that God is none other than nature; that human reason is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood and good and evil; that all the truths of religion are derived from human reason; that Christian faith contradicts human reason and that divine revelation not only does not promote but even hinders the perfection of man; that the miracles recorded in the Scriptures are poetic fiction; and that Christ himself is a myth.

The second part criticized “moderate rationalism”, which taught that theology must be treated in the same manner as philosophy; that all dogmas of the Christian religion are to be dealt with by “scientific methods” and that human reason is able to arrive at the truth of even the most recondite dogmas; that the Church should never pass judgment on philosophy, but should leave their correction to philosophers; that the decrees of the Church impede the free progress of knowledge; that the methods and principles which the school men applied to theology are not congruous with the progress of the sciences; and that philosophy must be treated without reference to supernatural revelation.

The Syllabus next attacked indifferentism and latitudinarianism, including such errors as the teaching that every man is free to embrace and profess the religion which, guided by the light of reason, he believes to be true; that men through any religion can find the way to eternal salvation; that we may cherish at least a well-founded hope for the eternal salvation of all who are not in the true Church of Christ; and that Protestantism is another form of the Christian religion which can be as pleasing to God as in the Catholic Church.

The Syllabus lumped together Socialism, Communism, secret societies, Bible societies, and clerico-liberal societies and called attention to the various encyclicals and official statements in which "pests of this kind" had been excoriated.

Pius turned to what he deemed errors concerning the right of the Catholic Church. He rejected claims that the Church does not enjoy peculiar and enduring rights conferred on her by God, but that the government can determine the rights and limits within which the Church may exercise authority; that the ecclesiastical power should not wield its authority without the permission of civil officials; that the Catholic Church does not have the power to define dogmatically that it is the only true religion; that the obligation by which all Catholic teachers and theologians are bound applies only to those matters which by the judgment of the infallible Church are set forth as dogmas to be believed by all; that popes and ecumenical councils have exceeded the limits of their power, have usurped the rights of governments and have even erred in defining matters of faith and morals; that the Church does not have the power to invoke force and does not have direct or indirect temporal power; that the Church does not have the innate right of acquisition and possession; that the ministers of the Church and the pope should be completely excluded from all charge and dominion over temporal affairs; that bishops do not have the right to publish their apostolic letters without the permission of the government; that dispensations granted by the pope can be considered as null unless they have been requested by the government; that the immunity of the Church and of ecclesiastics has its origin in civil law; that exemption of the clergy from military service may be abolished without violating natural law and equity; that the teaching of theology is not exclusively under the jurisdiction of the Church; that there would be nothing to forbid a general council or an act of all peoples from transferring the supreme pontificate from the Bishop of Rome (the pope) to another state; that the decision of a national council does not admit of further discussion and that the civil power can accept it as final; that national churches can be instituted by separation from the authority of the Roman Pontiff; and that arbitrary acts of the popes have contributed to the division of the Church into East and West.

Next Pius rejected errors about the civil society, both in itself and in its relations with the Church. Among them were that the civil state is the origin and source of all rights; that the teaching of the Catholic Church is opposed to the well-being and interests of human society; that in a conflict of laws between the two powers the civil law should prevail; that the civil authority may intervene in matters of religion, morals, and spiritual government and hence can pass judgment on instructions issued by pastors for the guidance of consciences; that the entire direction of public schools in which the youth of Christian states are educated, except to a certain extent seminaries, must appertain to the civil power; that in clerical seminaries the method of study is subject to the civil power; that a system separating instruction from the Catholic faith and the power of the Church may be approved by Catholics; that the civil power has the right to prevent ministers of religion and the faithful from communicating freely with one another and the pope; that the secular power possesses the right to present bishops and to require them to take possession of their dioceses before having received canonical institution from the pope; that the secular authority has the right to depose bishops; that the state has the right to alter the age prescribed by the Church for the religious profession by men and women and may forbid religious establishments to admit any to solemn vows without its permission; that the civil government may assist all who wish to quit the religious life and may suppress religious orders, collegiate churches, and simple benefices and seize their lands, goods and revenues; that princes are not only exempt from the jurisdiction of the Church but are also superior to it in litigated questions of jurisdiction; and that the Church should be separated from the state and the state from the Church.

Errors concerning natural and Christian ethics were given as follows: that moral laws do not need divine sanction; that philosophy and morals and also civil laws may and must depart from divine and Church authority; that no other forces are to be recognized than those which reside in matter, and all moral teaching and excellence should consist in the increase of riches by every possible means and in the enjoyment of pleasure; that all human duties are but vain words; that authority is nothing but the sum of numerical superiority and material force; that the principle of non-intervention by the Church should be proclaimed and observed; that it is permissible to refuse obedience to legitimate kings and to rebel against them; and that the violation of a solemn oath and every wicked action repugnant to the eternal law are worthy of the highest praise if done for the love of country.

Pius went on to define errors concerned with marriage. Among them were the denial that Christ had raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament; that the sacrament of marriage is only an adjunct to a contract, is separable from it, and consists merely in the nuptial benediction; that in many cases divorce may be pronounced by the civil authority; that the Church does not have the authority to lay down the impediments to marriage,

but that the civil power possesses it and can annul them; and that a civil contract may among Christians constitute true marriage. The civil power of the Pope inevitably was a matter of concern. Two more errors were that Catholics differed among themselves on the compatibility of the temporal with the spiritual power and that the abolition of the civil power possessed by the pope would contribute to the liberty and prosperity of the Church.

Pius attacked the errors of modern liberalism: that it was no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be the only religion of the state to the exclusion of other forms of worship; that in some countries called Catholic, immigrants should be permitted the public exercise of their own religion; and that religious liberty does not corrupt the morals of the people. The Syllabus ended by denouncing the notion that "the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself to and agree with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization".

See also

Further reading

  • Haag, Anthony. "Syllabus." Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. (1912) online