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Chapter 35

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 consider true.

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 error.

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 cite:

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 worship.

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 modern civilization.

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 docility,

The biggest things delivered by Superior Infallibility;

To stretch my mouth from ear to ear I shouldn’t have objected,

Would willingly have opened it to any width directed.

But really that Encyclical, so contrary to reason,

Your Holiness had published just at this special season [Christmas],

Insisting on the divine right of priestly domination

O’er civil power, the family and public education;

Against despotic government denouncing insurrection,

Denying people’s right to choose their rulers by election,

Proclaiming the Church bound to back the State in persecution,

Condemning free press, conscience, free and liberal constitution."

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 assertions that

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 twentieth century.

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 propitious commencement.

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 church.

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 Ghost.

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 assembly.

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 the Communion."

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. 187)

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 himself—

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.

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