Syllabus of Errors

The Syllabus of Errors (Latin: Syllabus Errorum) was a document issued by Holy See under Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1864, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, on the same day as the Pope's encyclical Quanta cura. It listed the church's position in a number of both philosophical and political areas, and referred to the church's teaching on these matters as given in a number of documents issued previously. It is important as it was widely interpreted as an attack by the church on modernism, secularization and the political emancipation of Europe from the tradition of Catholic Monarchies.


The Syllabus was made up of phrases and paraphrases from earlier papal documents, along with index references to them, and presented as a list of "condemned propositions". For instance, in condemning proposition 14, "Philosophy is to be treated without taking any account of supernatural revelation", the Syllabus asserts the truth of the contrary proposition—that philosophy should take account of supernatural revelation. The Syllabus does not explain why each particular proposition is wrong, but it cites earlier documents to which the reader can refer for the Pope's reasons for saying each proposition is false. With the exception of some propositions drawn from Pius' encyclical Qui pluribus of November 9, 1846, all the propositions were based on documents that postdated the shocks to the Pope and the papacy of the Revolutions of 1848 (see Italian unification).

The Syllabus was divided into ten sections which condemned as false various statements about these topics:

Some statements of condemnation

Statements the encyclical condemned as false include the following:



Within the Protestant world, reactions were uniformly negative. In 1874 the British Leader of the Opposition William Ewart Gladstone published a tract entitled The Vatican Decrees in their bearing on Civil Allegiance: A Political Expostulation, in which he said that after the Syllabus:

. . . no one can now become (Rome's) convert without renouncing his moral and mental freedom, and placing his civil loyalty and duty at the mercy of another.

The government of France briefly tried to suppress the circulation of the encyclical and the Syllabus within its borders; it forbade priests to explain the Syllabus from the pulpit, though newspapers were allowed to discuss it from a secular point of view.


The document met with a mixed reception among Catholics; many accepted it wholeheartedly, others wanted a clarification of some points, and still others were as shocked as their Protestant neighbors by the apparent broad scope of the condemnations.

Catholic apologists such as Félix Dupanloup and John Henry Newman said that the Syllabus was widely misinterpreted by readers who did not have access to or did not bother to check the original documents of which it was a summary. The propositions listed had been condemned as erroneous opinions in the sense and context in which they originally occurred; without the original context, the document appeared to condemn a larger range of ideas than it actually did. Thus it was asserted that no critical response to the Syllabus which did not take the cited documents and their context into account could be valid (Newman 1874). Newman writes:[1]

The Syllabus then has no dogmatic force; it addresses us, not in its separate portions, but as a whole, and is to be received from the Pope by an act of obedience, not of faith, that obedience being shown by having recourse to the original and authoritative documents, (Allocutions and the like,) to which the Syllabus pointedly refers. Moreover, when we turn to those documents, which are authoritative, we find the Syllabus cannot even be called an echo of the Apostolic Voice; for, in matters in which wording is so important, it is not an exact transcript of the words of the Pope, in its account of the errors condemned, just as would be natural in what is an index for reference.

In the wake of the controversy following the document's release, Pius IX referred to it as "raw meat needing to be cooked." However, others within the church who supported the syllabus disagreed that there was any misinterpretation of the condemnations.

Sources cited

The Syllabus cited a number of previous documents that had been written during Pius's papacy. These include : Qui pluribus, Maxima quidem, Singulari quadam, Tuas libenter, Multiplices inter, Quanto conficiamur, Noscitis, Nostis et nobiscum, Meminit unusquisque, Ad Apostolicae, Nunquam fore, Incredibili, Acerbissimum, Singularis nobisque, Multis gravibusque, Quibus quantisque, Quibus luctuosissimis, In consistoriali, Cum non sine, Cum saepe, Quanto conficiamur, Jamdudum cernimus, Novos et ante, Quibusque vestrum and Cum catholica.

Subsequent history

Further thoughts in the same vein were expressed in Pius' s encyclical of 21 November 1873, Etsi multa ("On the Church in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland"), which is often appended to the Syllabus. There Pius condemned contemporary liberalizing anti-clerical legislation in South America as "a ferocious war on the Church."

In 1907 Lamentabili sane exitu was promulgated, a "Syllabus condemning the errors of the Modernists", being a list of errors that might be made by scholars engaged in biblical criticism.[2]

Some think that the political or dogmatic propositions of the Syllabus may be abrogated by later documents coming from the Second Vatican Council in 1962. Others argue that this view results from an excessively broad interpretation of statements that had a narrower sense in their original context, and from contrasting the infallible documents of the ecumenical council with papal statements that were not infallible because they were not addressed to the whole church.

English historian E.E.Y. Hales argues that:

[T]he Pope is not concerned with a universal principle, but with the position in a particular state at a particular date. He is expressing his "wonder and distress" (no more) that in a Catholic country (Spain) it should be proposed to disestablish the Church and to place any and every religion upon a precisely equal footing. ... Disestablishment and toleration were far from the normal practice of the day, whether in Protestant or in Catholic states.[3]


  1. Francis A. Sullivan, Creative Fidelity, ISBN 0-8091-3644-9, p. 143.
  2. Lamentabili Sane text 1907
  3. Hales, E.E.Y. (1958). THE CATHOLIC CHURCH in the MODERN WORLD: A Survey from the French Revolution to the Present. Doubleday.

Further reading

External links

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