Pius IX — Part 3
On December 8,
1864 Pius with his encyclical Quanta cura issued his famous
"Syllabus of Errors." Its proclamation caused, to put it mildly, "a
sensation." In this Syllabus Pius set forth his condemnation of the
winds of democratic change sweeping Europe, which he discerned as
contrary to the aims of the Papacy. He also challenged liberal doctrinal
positions which had begun to arise among Roman Catholic theologians.
Important as these statements were to an
understanding of the church’s position on current political and
theological issues, they were not as ominous as his ideas, soon to be
declared infallible, on liberty of conscience. Included in his long list
of errors, numbers 15 and 77 stood out as outrageous affronts to
liberty of conscience. In these he declared that it was an error
to promote the concept that—
Error 15: Every man is free to embrace or
profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall
This "error" destroyed liberty of conscience
and certainly displayed an intolerance of others’ rights not
demonstrated in the life of the One whose vicar Pius claimed to be. In
another place the pope declared,
Error 77: In the present day it is no longer
expedient that the Catholic religion should be the only religion of
the state, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.
Remember, Pius declared this concept to be a deadly
Emphasizing the use of coercion of the conscience by
implication, the Pontiff declared the view that—
Error 24: The church has not the power of force,
nor has she any temporal power, direct or indirect,
to be an error. Still chafing under that which
had occurred sixty-six years earlier when the Papacy received its deadly
wound, Pius IX condemned individual freedom severely. It should not
escape our attention that The Syllabus of Errors was proclaimed
exactly one decade after the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
That the pope meant precisely what he wrote is
evidenced by his shameful concordat with Ecuador, which he concluded two
years earlier. There it was agreed that,
Roman Catholicism was to be the only religion
allowed in Ecuador. The church was granted complete control of
education. (Peter de Rosa, Vicars of Christ, p. 343)
Other cited errors were equally shocking.
Remember, these statements were declared by Pius to be errors. We
Error 79: Hence it has been wisely
decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to
reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar
Error 30: The immunity of the church and of
ecclesiastical persons derived its origins from civil law.
Error 80: The Roman Pontiff can and should
reconcile himself and come to terms with progress, liberalism and
Errors ? Certainly not!
The response of the press in
Britain was swift. The London Times declared that,
There is scarcely a political system in Europe,
except the Papal Government, that does not rest on principles which
are here declared to be damnable errors.
So different from the silence of today’s Anglican
Church, its British paper, Church Times, described the
Syllabus as viewed with "disgust and derision." Even the satirical
weekly periodical, Punch, published a poem in its first edition
of 1865, which would win no prizes for poetry, but did emphasize its
assessment. It stated in part:
I was prepared to swallow with unquestionable
The biggest things delivered by Superior
To stretch my mouth from ear to ear I shouldn’t
Would willingly have opened it to any width
But really that Encyclical, so contrary to reason,
Your Holiness had published just at this special
Insisting on the divine right of priestly
O’er civil power, the family and public education;
Against despotic government denouncing
Denying people’s right to choose their rulers by
Proclaiming the Church bound to back the State in
Condemning free press, conscience, free and liberal
Peter de Rosa’s assessment of the era was that "The
one thing Rome cannot abide is freedom in any form" (Ibid. p.
346). Not surprisingly the Bishop of Rome condemned the reasonable
Error 22: The dogmas the church holds out as
revealed are not truths that have fallen from heaven. They are
interpretations of religious facts which the human mind has acquired
by laborious effort.
For a pope who over five years later was to declare
himself and all other popes infallible when speaking ex cathedra,
this declaration surely prepared the way.
The Syllabus of Errors set a tone for Pius’
remaining fourteen years of office and revealed the philosophy behind
his previous eighteen years as pope. It is little wonder that it soured
relations between the Vatican and the United States, leading to the
severance of diplomatic ties. It was shortly after the issuance of this
encyclical that the American public laid at the feet of Roman
Catholicism the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The
encyclical was an unabashed statement of claimed authority, an authority
which was to serve the Papacy well as it entered the less turbulent
ecclesiastical waters of compliant ecumenism of the second half of the
The Syllabus of Errors also led to regretable
persecution of Roman Catholics. It was the final straw for Prussian
tolerance, especially when six years later Papal infallibility was
proclaimed. Count Otto von Bismarck introduced the policy of
Kulturkampf. This led to the closures of numerous seminaries and
churches, and about 1800 priests were imprisoned. Even Bishop Eberhard
was sent to prison in March 1874. Perhaps this persecution of German
Roman Catholics was dwelt upon by Pius XII when he chose to remain
silent in the face of German atrocities during the Nazi regime.
The First Vatican Council assembled December 8, 1869.
It seemed that December 8 was a day of special significance for the pope
with his three most important initiatives taken on that day. Top on the
agenda was the proposed Dogma of Papal Infallibility. The Bishops were
equally split between acquiescence and opposition. It was not a
This Dogma stated,
The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra,
that is, when in the exercise of his office as the pastor and teacher
of all Christians, he defines by virtue of his supreme apostolic
authority the doctrine concerning faith and morals to be held by the
universal church, is, by the divine assistance promised to him in the
person of St. Peter, possessed of that infallibility wherewith the
divine Redeemer wished His church should be endowed in defining
doctrine concerning faith and morals; and that for this cause such
definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves and
not because of the consent of the church.
Here was a claim directed not only to Roman Catholics
but to "all Christians." Here was a dogma demanding that all spiritual
power be vested in a single human being. This dogma centralized the
authority of the Roman Catholic Church, reducing all other prelates to a
place of subservience. The Council of Chalcedon convened in 451 bestowed
"equal privileges" upon the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople. But
Emperor Justinian a little over eighty years later declared the Bishop
of Rome to possess sole primacy. Even Cardinal Manning, the archbishop
of Westminster [London] declared that the proposed dogma "must overcome
history." It most certainly bore no Scriptural authority. Peter
certainly was fallible, as Scripture attests:
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him
to the face, because he was to be blamed. (Galatians 2:11)
And make no mistake, this was in a matter of faith
and doctrine—the continuation of Jewish ceremonies within the Christian
Bishops spoke in opposition. When Bishops ventured to
declare that tradition was vital to doctrine, Pius rather immodestly
declared, "I am the tradition." It was a sign of the growing arrogance
of the Bishop of Rome.
Fully aware of the likely consequences of opposition
to the pope’s initiative, it is little wonder that one bishop prefaced
his remarks in opposition with the words, "It is not without trembling .
. ." This was the Bishop of Diakovár, Bishop Josef Georg Strossmayer.
Bishop Strossmayer was born on February 4, 1815 of German parents
residing in Croatia. He was created Bishop of Diakovár, a city of
Bosnia, on November 18, 1849.
In his address to the bishops, who wore white
chasubles (white, sleeveless vestments), with white mitres on their
heads, Bishop Strossmayer asserted that he had searched Scripture and
the writings of the early Christian leaders and there found not—
one single chapter, or one little verse, in which
Jesus Christ gives to St. Peter the mastery over the Apostles, his
fellow workers. If Simon [Peter], son of Jonas, had been what we
believe his Holiness Pius IX to be today it is wonderful that He
[Christ] had not said to him, "When I have ascended to my Father, you
should all obey Simon Peter as you obey me. I establish him as My
Vicar on earth."
These were telling words, but held in little
consequence by those whose minds were closed to Scriptural evidence, and
by a pope who believed that he was merely the mouthpiece for the Holy
When Strossmayer summoned sufficient courage to state
that the apostle Paul,
counting up the offices of the church, mentions
apostles, prophets, evangelists, doctors and pastors. Is it to be
believed, my venerable brethren, that St. Paul the great apostle of
the Gentiles would have forgotten the first of these offices, the
Papacy, if the Papacy had been a Divine institution? This
forgetfulness appeared to me to be as impossible as if an historian of
this Council was not to mention one word of his Holiness Pius IX.
This was too much! Some bishops cried out "Silence!
and Heretic!" But Strossmayer continued,
Calm yourselves, my brethren, I have not yet
finished. Forbidding me to go on, you show yourselves to the world to
do wrong, and to shut the mouth of the smallest member of this
Turning to church history, Strossmayer declared,
None of you, I hope, will doubt the great authority
of the holy Bishop of Hippo, the great and blessed St. Augustine. This
pious doctor, the honor and the glory of the Catholic Church, was
secretary in the Council of Melvie. In the decrees of this venerable
assembly are to be found these significant words—"whoever wills to
appeal beyond the seas shall not be received by anyone in Africa to
This Council was held in North Africa. Clearly Rome,
across the Mediterranean Sea, was held to possess no authority over them
in Africa. That Council was held in the early fifth century. Strossmayer
also provided much documentation that the rock upon which Christ built
His church was Christ and His truth.
The bishop’s lengthy speech was later interrupted
with calls from his fellow bishops of "Down from the pulpit. Quick, shut
the mouth of the heretic!", "Get down, Out with the Protestant, the
Calvinist, the traitor of the church!" Tolerance was not present at that
Council. Strossmayer’s retort, "Your cries, Monsignori, do not frighten
me. If my words are hot, my head is cool. I am neither of Luther nor of
Calvin, nor of Paul, nor of Apollos, but of Christ," led to more
interjections from the bishops, "Anathema! Anathema to the apostate."
Strossmayer had delivered his soul, but his words, so far as bringing
conviction to the corpus of bishops, were swept away with the same wind
that uttered them. In the end, while not voting for the dogma, he did
not attend to register a negative vote.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia stated,
At the Vatican Council he [Bishop Strossmayer] was
one of the most notable opponents of papal infallibility, and
distinguished himself as a speaker. The Pope praised Strossmayer’s
"remarkably good Latin." A speech in which he defended Protestantism
made a great sensation . . . . After the Council Strossmayer
maintained his opposition longer than all other bishops. (1913
Edition, Vol. XIV, p. 316)
Tragically he eventually succumbed to Papal pressure.
Strossmayer had kept in contact with two prominent Roman Catholic
academics who actively opposed the Dogma of Papal Infallibility. But in
October, 1871, he finally notified the two men, Professors Döllinger and
Reinkens, that he intended to yield, "at least outwardly," to the Papal
Dogma. In his pastoral letter dated 28 February, 1881, Strossmayer
expressed his devotion to the Papal See in extravagant terms. (Ibid.)
He died at the age of 90 on 8 April, 1905. His
Croatian Christian names were Josip Juraj.
When on July 18, 1870 the fateful day of the vote was
reached, 140 of the attending bishops felt it prudent to absent
themselves, including two-thirds of the American bishops led by
Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis. Of the 433 bishops who voted in the
positive over 300 were either titular bishops holding the title but not
supervising a diocese, or were members of the Roman curia.
The fearful storms which raged during the one and a
half hours of vote counting as the 435 bishops present individually were
called upon to orally vote placet or non-placet was
interrupted by flashes of lightening and sounds of crashing thunder.
Some observers believed this to be God’s sign of His displeasure.
Only two bishops summoned sufficient courage to
attend and vote non-placet: Bishop Fitzgerald of Little Rock,
Arkansas and Bishop Riccio of Cajazzo in Naples. Yet even—
Those two brave bishops, who, a moment ago, denied
it [papal infallibility], now confessed on their knees to Pius
IX—"Medo [sic] credo, Sancte Pater"—that they believed it as sincerely
as they believed in God and Jesus’ divinity. Theirs was the quickest
conversion in history. (Peter de Rosa, Vicars of Christ, p.
But the cowardly bishops who had absented themselves
from the vote returned to their respective dioceses, many promoting the
dogma they had spoken against and even less than truthfully stating that
it was passed unanimously. Such is the peer pressure within a body of
clergy, and the fear of loss of ordination that compels conformity to
hierarchical power. Such fears are not confined to Roman Catholicism.
Some dissenting bishops even turned against those who expressed
identical views to their own. One who was excommunicated in such
circumstances was Theology Professor Döllinger of Munich.
Pius IX’s long pontificate, at first evaluation, may
be declared to be a relapse of the deadly wound. Politically his
reactionary policies exacerbated the growing liberal and democratic
sentiments in Europe and particularly within the Papal States, leading
to the total loss of sovereignty which had only been restored fifty-five
years earlier by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle. In the religious realm
he had effectively antagonized the Protestant nations by his dogmas and
his condemnation of religious liberty in The Syllabus of Errors.
The deadly wound would never be completely healed
until "all the world wondered after [admired] the beast" (Revelation
13:3). Pius died on February 7, 1878, with many of the world’s nations
and their populations scorning his presumptuous decrees. Many would have
concurred with the judgment of Charles Forbes René Montalembert, the
grandson of the French Marquis, Marc René Montalembert. His second name
was taken from the surname of his English mother. Charles Montalembert
had stated that Pius IX was "The idol in the Vatican" who had invested
with the powers of a god and had infallibly decreed
his own infallibility.
Yet even he, before his death, just four months
before the dogma was voted,
made the submission expected of him to the council.
(Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1963 edition, Vol. 15, p. 745)
Yet it must not be overlooked that this pope
reestablished the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England (1850) and the
Netherlands (1853). When the Prussian Government under Count Otto von
Bismarck introduced the policy of Kulturkampf, the struggle
between the German Government and the Roman Catholic Church which began
in 1872 when the Government demanded control over marriages, schools and
ecclesiastical appointments, the German Roman Catholic Church put up a
spirited defense and demonstrated that it had mustered sufficient
political power to oppose even the might of the new Germany bolstered in
power and prestige by victory in the Franco-Prussian War.
Further, in assessing this rule of over three
decades, it must not be forgotten that iron-fisted control over the
Roman Catholic faithful was a prerequisite to the return to world-wide
political influence of the Papacy. This first step was effectively
enforced by the 1870 Dogma of Papal Infallibility. Pius IX’s successors
were to build on this stout platform.