Does the Church require Catholics to oppose the 1st Amendment?

According to Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors, Catholics are in error if they believe:

  1. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.-- Allocution “Maxima quidem,” June 9, 1862; Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.

  2. The best theory of civil society requires that popular schools open to children of every class of the people, and, generally, all public institutes intended for instruction in letters and philosophical sciences and for carrying on the education of youth, should be freed from all ecclesiastical authority, control and interference, and should be fully subjected to the civil and political power at the pleasure of the rulers, and according to the standard of the prevalent opinions of the age.–Epistle to the Archbishop of Freiburg, “Cum non sine,” July 14, 1864.

  3. The Church ought to be separated from the .State, and the State from the Church.–Allocution “Acerbissimum,” Sept. 27, 1852.

  4. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.–Allocution “Nemo vestrum,” July 26, 1855.

  5. Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions whatsoever and thoughts, conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people, and to propagate the pest of indifferentism.–Allocution “Nunquam fore,” Dec. 15, 1856.

These are just five excerpts, but they appear to strike at the heart of what a lot of people hold dear about our Constitution’s First Amendment: That the government shall not establish a state religion and all people are free to believe as they choose. Pope Pius IX’s syllabus appears to be saying that you are in error if you agree.

Am I interpretting this correctly? Has the Vatican, in the 150-some odd years since this was published, ever contradicted what it contains or does it still stand? Is it dogma or discipline? Are Catholics who support the First Amendment in error? On a personal note, should I tell my husband? As a Catholic, is he obligated to oppose one of the things that I think makes this country great?

Granted, I was never admitted to the “inner circles;” but I did endure 12 years of parochial school during the 50s and 60s, and this is the first I’ve heard of the above.

My WAG (especialy based on the sections in which your ecxcerpts appear) is that Pius IX compiled his list in response to the political climate of the day. But I imagine that tomndebb (or at least someone who has been practicing more recently than I) will be along to give a more authoritative take on the matter.

You have heard of Vatican II, right?

And that it happened in, what, the 1960’s?

Yes, I have. But did it address this syllabus? Did it publish anything that canceled the syllabus out? That’s what I want to know.

After all, when it’s brought up that the Pope should allow priests to marry or couples to use birth control, it’s sometimes stressed that the Church can’t just change to fit the times. How does that attitude affect how the syllabus should be viewed today?

I’m curious-did Vatican II specifically address and overturn each of the above tenets?

Well, in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Syllabus of Pius IX and the later one by Pius X, the author makes a point of declaring that all Catholics must accept it after pointing out that it is not an infallible document. The author them goes on to point out that the actual “errors” must be interpreted in the light of the original documents against which the pope spoke and in light of his specific response to that specific document.

Therefore, several of the general condemnations of errors need to be seen (and limited to) specific 19th century documents that incurred the ire of Pius IX and cannot be broadly used (in the way that either the various extreme right-wing Catholic societies or anti-Catholic polemics would wish to).

(Mind you, the Encyclopedia interpretation was written 50 years prior to Vatican II, and only ten years after the Syllabus of Pius X, and the author (who clearly wants all Catholics to “accept” the statements) still put in the qualifying language to limit the meaning of those declarations to as narrow a focus as he could.)

As an example of the legalistic nature of the theses in the syllabus, consider this quote from the Encyclopedia article:

Has the church ever gone back and said “We got this one wrong.”? Nope. The church never goes back and says it got one wrong. What you will find in reading documents written between 1870 and 2002 is that for any given thesis on the syllabus, the church may have any number of “clarifying” statements that go in rather different directions.

I don’t recall whether they are in here as well as other works, but Pius IX, Benedict XIII, and Pius X all made statements that could, on a superficial reading, be construed as condemnations of organized labor, yet every single pope through the later portion of the 20th century has published statements that declared labor organization to be a human right–even quoting Benedict on occasion. The difference? In the late 19th century, several labor organizers in Europe published principles for their organizations that were clearly anti-clerical and, occasionally, anti-religious. The initial statements pointing out the philosophical/theological “errors” (from the perspective of those popes) in those tracts have become irrelevant to the discussions of labor organization, today. You can still find extreme right-wing Catholics opposing Labor based on those old proclamations, but those people are not taken seriously.

The short answer is that these were never tenets of the church to begin with, but specific philosophical/theological objections to specific theological or philosophical statements.

So, it’s all in the spin, right?

I take it the short answer is:

a) No, there has never been any retraction of either document. They stand as issued.

b) Modernists have, however, interpreted them as being intended to be much more limited in scope than a literal reading would indicate.


and, didn’t the Church say ‘we got it wrong’ re. Galileo?

I had not been aware of these 19th century statements until recently, and had not seen their substance until you posted them. However, on a recent radio program (sorry, don’t remember which one), they were discussing the uncomfortable relations between Rome and the American Catholic church. The guest noted that the church in the US led the rest of the church in some ways. He gave the example that while Rome disapproved of the concepts of freedom of religion and separation of church and state in the 1800s, in time the American view became more widespread in the church throughout the world, allowing Rome to adopt this view after World War II. I can’t remember which pope it was, nor if it was part of Vatican II or earlier. So it would seem that some of the statements have been, shall we say, superceded. I’ll poke around over the next couple days and try to find a cite.

Although tomndebb’s response may be slightly tongue-in-cheek, it is true that the church doesn’t usually admit errors. The only three cases I can think of are[ul][li]Galileo[/li][li]treatment of Jews[/li]treatment of other Christians - especially sacking Constantinople[/ul]Oftentimes they can foist the blame on errors of interpretation and implementation by local and regional bishops, priests, etc, without impugning doctrine. This is what they did with certain abuses of indulgences in the middle ages, and in all likelihood is the approach they’ll take in the current pedophilia cases.

Well, I’m pretty sure no Pope has ever included “Molesting little children is wrong” as a “condemned proposition” in a “syllabus of errors”.

I take it you read neither my comments nor the link to the Catholic Encyclopedia?

The author of the linked article, writing over 80 years ago, would not have been a Modernist even in his day, much less in ours and and he cited works that were from an additional 40 years earlier. From the earliest examinations of the text, it has been placed in a fairly narrow scope. (I’m sure that Pius IX would have been put out by that narrow scope, but he did not cast the “refutations” of the errors as doctrine, so he does not get to determine their scope once the church has moved on.)

Here you go. The Second Vatican Council issued 16 documents, one of which was Dignitatis Humanae - subtitled Declaration on Religious Freedom.

The five “errors” you cited seem to boil down to three: freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and secular education.

Freedom of religion is pretty clearly embraced throughout the document.

Separation of church and state is not embraced as a prescription, but is clearly accepted. State religion may also be ok, but**

**Of the issues you chose, secular education is the issue on which it is most wishy-washy. Secular education is not forbidden or even discouraged, but the concern is more with the right to have religious education.

Note that the US system is fine by this standard, for while secular education is imposed, it is not imposed on all; parents are free to send their children to parochial schools, home school, or religious classes outside regular school. The text seems to be aimed more at communist and Islamic educational systems.

The document is not just lip service. In 1992, Paraguay adopted a new constitution.

**This is surely not an action the local church would have taken without Rome’s blessing.

So in short, no, Catholics who support the first amendment are not in error.

Ok, I think I understand. I’ll admit, I didn’t read the documents referenced at the end of each statement, I was taking the syllabus at its face value, which I think a lot of people have done. Reading the comments page hadn’t helped, either, because it has so many different opinions, even one from someone who apparently agrees that “progress, liberalism, and modernism” are destroying civilization and the syllabus is still 100% applicable today.

Thank you, everyone, especially tomndebb who is, as always, a jewel.

Let’s see - There is to be no coercion from civil authority, but:

“First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men.”

It is the duty of each ‘man’ (I assume women are included, if only tangentially) to find the ‘true’ (Catholic) religion.

But we won’t demand it (foreswearing the military option?).

Sorry, this is a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement.

and… Yes, Tom~ I DID read your post - but I get a headache when I read the C.E. - the entry on Persecution

is a case in point :rolleyes:

BTW - you may wish to look into Constitutional Law - your ability to dance around words is amazing

There is probably a general misunderstanding about what the church did or did not say regarding Galileo, as well.

The church (1980-1992?) re-examined Galileo’s second trial and noted that there were irregularities regarding that court’s decision, most notably, they declared that Galileo was teaching heresy when, in fact, the church had never declared geocentrism a religious truth. The declaration of the investigation in the early 90s was that the court seriously screwed up and overstepped it bounds. However, since the church (in the form or voice of a council, synod, or papal decree) had never proclaimed heliocentrism to be a religious error, the church has not had to “recant” what it “taught” regarding heliocentrism. In point of fact, the church accepted the heliocentic theory as proven in 1838 when a stellar parallax was finally discovered (Galileo never did prove heliocentrism) and as early as 1741, before heliocentrism was proven and fewer than 90 years after his trial, Galileo’s complete works had been given an imprimatur.

The trial of Galileo, like the treatment of Jews, Orthodox, and Protestants, is an action for which the church has (correctly, if horribly belatedly) apologized. The church is still careful not to retract any earlier doctrine.

By which, I take it, you have noted that I prefer to do surgery with a scalpel rather than a machete.

We don’t get the Straight Dope by carving every subject into broad categories of “good” and “bad.” The world is a marvellously complex place and a willingness to ignore the details while proclaiming some broad “truth” are what leads the world to inquisitions, crusades, and condemning whole peoples as heretics or infidels. I don’t support the church in efforts to make those claims and I don’t support similar efforts aimed at the church (or the U.S. or Islam or Judaism or Communism or any other complex institution/organization).

Jewel? Onyx, perhaps.


I am a reasonably intelligent, educated individual.

I cannot, however, get a clear grasp on the various levels of authority/authenticity involved in Catholic Doctrine/Bulls/Councils/‘teachings’, etc.

Is there an (english) table which depicts the ranks of statements?

For instance: Does Vat II over-ride the Syllabus of Pius IX? Why/why not?

Aside from the 2 ex-cathedra statements re. Mary, are there ANY proclamations which the Church cannot weasel out of by declaring “oops, so-and-so made an ERROR! That was not the CORRECT interpretation!”?

An Ecumenical Council of the Church (Nicaea, Vatican I, Vatican II) has the greatest power for declaring the magisterium. (Papal infallibiltiy probably fits in there, but I’m hoping they “reconsider” that to put better constraints on it.) Councils are church-wide meetings. Synods are local/regional meetings. (Think of them as appellate courts that can set precedent, but can be overridden.)

The pope can issue a statement at any time to address a specific issue. Depending on where one stands on the church political spectrum, one can see these as little short of direct declarations by God or see them as theological musings that ought to be considered, but without bearing any extraordinary authority. (I tend to fall near the center of that spectrum, beliving that they should be seriously considered as providing a voice of the church on an issue, but realizing that they are generally written as theological treatises by theologians for the pope, and are, therefore, subject to human errors and the influences of prior disposition and even politics.)

The C.E. describes Bulls and Briefs:

The Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX was, I believe, a decretal, but I may be mistaken.

As to weaseling, the only version of that that I could think of would be some of the decrees from the Council of Trent. Those on the far right declare that Vatican II was a false council because it “overturned” absolute decrees from Trent. They would see any defense of Vatican II as weaseling.

I would see it as the church responding in different language to different world conditions. No great truth from Trent was overthrown by Vatican II. What did happen on occasion was that the language of Trent declaring the absolute Truth of Catholic position was acknowledged at Vatican II, but that Vatican II then went on to note that human errors preceding Trent had caused the divisions that Trent condemned and that we needed to understand that Protestants were not turning their back on God by turning their back on the RCC.

Cite, please.