Syllabus of Errors

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"Syllabus of Errors" is the shortened version of the title of a document issued together with the encyclical quanta cura on Dec. 8, 1864, containing errors condemned by Pius IX. The full title is: "A syllabus containing the most important errors of our time which have been condemned by our Holy Father Pius IX in allocutions, at consistories, in encyclicals and other apostolic letters."

History. Pope Pius IX was petitioned by the Provincial Council of Spoleto in 1849 to draw up a constitution that would list the principal prevailing errors and condemn them. In 1852 he commissioned Cardinal Fornari to formulate the list; the cardinal enumerated 28 errors, but two years later the project was transferred to the commission that had drawn up the bull defining the Immaculate Conception. This work was abruptly ended when in 1860 P. Gerbet, Bishop of Perpignan, published in his diocese a "pastoral instruction on various errors of the present"; this document with its 85 theses so satisfied the Pope that he organized a new commission under the leadership of Cardinal Caterini to formulate a syllabus with this instruction as its framework. This new commission drew up a list of 61 errors with their theological qualifications. It was presented for approbation to an assembly of 300 bishops gathered in Rome for the canonization of the Japanese Martyrs in 1862. The anticlerical Turin newspaper Il Mediatore disclosed the errors and their theological notes and caused a storm of hostility against the Church; thus Pius IX refrained from promulgating this list. A new commission was appointed and compiled the final syllabus of 80 theses (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 29012980); the wording of the errors was drawn from the allocutions, encyclicals, and apostolic letters of Pius IX. When the syllabus was sent to the bishops of the world, it was accompanied by an official communication from the secretary of state, Cardinal Antonelli; it was not signed by Pius IX.

The publication raised a furor that had been long expected. The Italian and French governments allowed the press to publish and comment upon it, but denied the ecclesiastical authorities equal freedom in explaining the propositions; and so misconceptions about the condemned errors became widespread, especially since many of the errors had specific reference to the Italian situation. For example, condemned proposition 80 reads: "The Roman pontiff can and should reconcile and harmonize himself with progress, with liberalism, and with recent civilization." This condemnation was drawn from the allocution Jamdudum cernimus (March 18, 1861), which had reference to the Piedmontese government's idea of progress and civilization, i.e., closing of religious houses, enforcement of secular education, secularism, and anticlericalism. Other nations had different views on progress, liberalism, and civilization, and misinterpreted the meaning of the pope; Catholics became confused about some of these condemnations, although many were very clear, e.g., those with reference to the denial of Christ's divinity and to atheism.

Contents. The syllabus is composed of ten sections under which the 80 theses are arranged: (1) pantheism, naturalism, and absolute rationalism (theses 17); (2) moderate rationalism (814); (3) indifferentism and religious latitudinarianism (1518); (4) a paragraph condemning socialism, communism, secret societies, Bible societies, and clerical-liberal societies; (5) errors about the Church and its rights (1938); (6) errors on the State and its relation to the Church (3955); (7) errors on natural and Christian ethics (5664); (8) errors on Christian matrimony (6574); (9) errors on the temporal power of the pope (7576); and (10) errors of modern liberalism (7780).

The condemned propositions under the first heading either identify God with the universe or totally exclude God from it (No. 2) and exalt human reason in a way that does away with revelation; e.g., "All the truths of religion derive from the natural force of human reason; hence reason is the principal norm by which man can and must attain knowledge of all truths of any kind whatever" (No. 4). The condemned propositions of the second title, however, exaggerate the possibilities and independence of philosophy to such an extent that they would admit of no judge of philosophy, whether it be the Church or supernatural revelation. The Church is accused of preventing the advance of science, holding onto archaic methods and principles of theology that do not meet the needs of the times. The indifferentism condemned in section 3 places all religions on a par with one another as means of salvation. The condemned propositions of section 5 deny the freedom of the Church and its nature as a true and perfect society, subjecting it rather to the laws and authority of the State. The Church's power solemnly to define its unicity is denied (No. 21). Temporal power, direct or indirect, is refused the Church (No. 24) as well as any native right to acquire and possess any material goods (No. 26). Bishops have no right to promulgate apostolic letters without permission of the government (No. 28), the ecclesiastical and clerical immunities are said to originate from civil law alone (No. 30), and clerical exemption from military service can be abrogated if civil progress so requires (No. 32). The inherent right of the Church alone to direct the teaching of sacred doctrine is denied (No. 33), and it is asserted that national Churches, freed of the authority of the Roman pontiff, can be established (No. 37). This section of the syllabus is the longest because of the contemporary widespread attack on these rights of the Church.

The errors enumerated in section 6 about civil society are numerous for the same reason. The State is granted limitless power in them because it is the origin and font of all rights (No. 39), and among them is at least an indirect negative power in matters of religion (Nos. 41, 44). Civil law must always prevail in conflicts of the power of Church and State (No. 42). The State has the right to rescind concordats concerning ecclesiastical immunities without seeking the consent of the Holy See (No. 43). The State has the exclusive right to decide all questions in schools in which Christian youth are educated (No. 45), and even the method of studies used in seminaries is subject to civil authority (No. 46). The right of civil authority to prevent bishops and the faithful from communicating with the pope is asserted (No. 49). Lay authority per se has the right to present bishops, install them, and depose them (Nos. 50, 51) and is not obliged to obey the laws of the Church as regards the constitution of bishops. The government is able in its own right to change the laws of the Church concerning ages for religious profession and to demand that its permission be sought before anyone be admitted to solemn vows (No. 52). Kings and princes are exempted from the jurisdiction of the Church (No. 54), and there must be separation of Church and State (No. 55).

Among the errors on ethics, it is stated that human laws do not need to conform to the law of nature or to receive divine sanction (No. 56); only those powers rooted in matter are to be acknowledged (No. 58), and authority is nothing other than numbers and the sum of material powers (No. 60). It is licit to rebel and withdraw obedience from legitimate princes (No. 63). The errors in section 8 about Christian matrimony would deny the sacramental character of matrimony, asserting that the sacramental aspect consists in a blessing only (No. 66). The matrimonial bond is said to be dissoluble of its very nature, and the State can allow divorce in the strict sense (No. 67). Only civil authority has the right to state diriment matrimonial impediments; those that the Church determined were done so not by the authority of the Church, but by the power received from the State (Nos. 68, 69). The canons of the Council of Trent censuring those who deny the Church the right to declare diriment impediments either are not dogmatic or must be understood in the sense of the Church's power coming from the State (No. 70). The form of marriage determined by Trent does not oblige, under pain of invalidity, if the State has decided upon another form (No. 71). Matrimonial cases by nature are to be adjudicated in civil courts (No. 74).

The two errors in section 9 say that the compatibility of the temporal with the spiritual power of the pope is disputed among Catholics (No. 75) and that the abrogation of the civil power that the Holy See has acquired would be most conducive to the liberty and well-being of the Church (No. 76). In the final part against liberalism, error 77 reads that it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion be the only religion of the State, and proposition 78 commends the fact that in some regions Catholic in name, laws provide that immigrants may publicly exercise any cult they choose.

Interpretation. The interpretation of these theses requires examination of the writings of Pope Pius IX from which they were compiled and of the condemned books in which they were originally found; otherwise grave misinterpretations will result. For example, the clericalliberal societies condemned in thesis 18 refer to those government-supported groups of the Piedmontese clergy opposed to the papal attitude against the closure of monasteries, etc.; by ignoring the context of this thesis some have thought it was directed against Montalembert and his followers in France. Condemned proposition 15 reads: "Everyone is free to adopt and profess that religion which he, guided by the light of reason, holds to be true." The meaning of this proposition, contained in the apostolic letter Multiplices inter of June 10, 1851, is that given by Vigil, a Peruvian priest, in his Defensa. Vigil asserted that man was to rely on his own powers of reason and not on the authority of God in the acceptance of religious truths, and it is in this sense alone that thesis 15 must be understood; for when the words are considered by themselves apart from the context, they contain a truth.

Theologians dispute the authority of the condemnations in the syllabus itself, although there is unanimity that the errors are condemned if not in the syllabus, at least in the papal documents from which they were taken. Some theologians attribute infallible teaching authority to the syllabus itself, while others deny this. Nevertheless, the syllabus must be accepted by all Catholics, since it comes from the pope as universal teacher and judge, according to the official communication from Cardinal Antonelli accompanying it. Its contents cannot be challenged by Catholics, and they are to give assent to it, holding the opposite of the condemned propositions. To find out the general position held by the Church in the matters repudiated by the syllabus, one need simply preface the errors by "It is not true that ." Care mustbe used, however, not to draw false conclusions about the Church's positions; e.g., in denying that the State has the absolutely exclusive right to control schools one must not conclude that their control is not at all within the power of the State. Attention must always be paid to the exact wording to ascertain the precise sense of the condemnation.

Importance. The syllabus enjoys an important role in the history of the Church because of its attack on the rationalistic currents of the 19th century that sought to undermine religion, the Church, and the true nature of civil society. While defending the basic rights and privileges of the Church, the syllabus sought to prevent the havoc being caused by the confusion of freedom with license and of progress with error, and by the excessive claims being made for the power of reason. In the name of freedom the liberals were casting aside everything that had any connotation of restraint, oblivious to the fact that freedom does not allow man to act against his nature and supernature, and that freedom and law are not mutually opposed but complementary. By repudiating these errors that eradicate the influence of the Church from the life of the individual, family, and nation, the Syllabus of Errors called to the attention of mankind the nature and mission of the Church in this world. By pointing out the errors into which mankind was falling through the use of reason alone, the syllabus has served to recall to man a proper appreciation of the role of human reason when used in harmony with faith and to prepare the way for the decrees of Vatican Council I.

Bibliography: r. aubert, Le Pontificat de Pie IX (Paris 1952). g. f. h. and j. berkeley, Italy in the Making, 3 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 193240). l. briguÉ, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 14.2:28772923. r. corrigan, The Church and the Nineteenth Century (Milwaukee 1938). e. e. y. hales, Pio Nono (New York 1954). s. w. halperin, Italy and the Vatican at War (Chicago 1939). g. mollat, La Question romaine de Pie VI à Pie IX (Paris 1932). t. f. woodlock, "'Liberalism' and the Church," Month 167:493503; "Liberals and the Syllabus," Catholic Mind 42:1220.

[w. f. hogan]