Quanta Cura

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There is also an earlier encyclical of the same title, issued in 1741 by Pope Benedict XIV, forbidding traffic in alms.

Historical context[edit]

The encyclical was prompted by the September Convention of 1864, an agreement between the Kingdom of Italy and the Second French Empire of Napoleon III, undertaken as a part of the Italian Risorgimento, under which France was to withdraw its army from Rome, which they had previously occupied in order to prevent Italy from capturing the city and completing the unification of Italy.

Pius closed the encyclical by declaring a Jubilee year for 1865, with a plenary indulgence.

Opposition to freedom of conscience[edit]

Pius IX's 1864 encyclical specifically marks for condemnation that:

liberty of conscience and worship is each man's personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way. (section 3)

Propositions condemned[edit]

Quanta Cura also condemns several other propositions, notably:

  • That the will of the public is supreme and overrides any other law, human or divine
  • That "in the political order accomplished facts, from the very circumstance that they are accomplished, have the force of right."
  • That the outlawing of public begging and almsgiving is sound policy
  • That parents have no rights with respect to their children's education, except what the civil law grants them
  • That Catholics have no moral obligation to obey the church's laws unless they are ratified by the state
  • That the state has a right to take the property of the church and the religious orders

These propositions were aimed at anticlerical governments in various European countries, which had been recently and would in the next few years be secularizing education (sometimes by taking over Catholic schools rather than starting their own competing public schools) and suppressing religious orders, confiscating their property. (Hales 1958)

Subsequent commentary[edit]

John Henry Newman comments on this passage in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1874), section 5:

It is a rule in formal ecclesiastical proceedings, as I shall have occasion to notice lower down, when books or authors are condemned, to use the very words of the book or author, and to condemn the words in that particular sense which they have in their context and their drift, not in the literal, not in the religious sense, such as the Pope might recognize, were they in another book or author. ..... Both Popes [Gregory XVI and Pius IX] certainly scoff at the so-called "liberty of conscience," but there is no scoffing of any Pope, in formal documents addressed to the faithful at large, at that most serious doctrine, the right and the duty of following that Divine Authority, the voice of conscience, on which in truth the Church herself is built.

And on the condemnation of absolute freedom of speech, he wrote, after discussing the restrictions on freedom of speech and worship in English law (ibid, section 6):

Now, is there any government on earth that could stand the strain of such a doctrine as this? ... It is the liberty of every one to give public utterance, in every possible shape, by every possible channel, without any let or hindrance from God or man, to all his notions whatsoever.

Syllabus of Errors[edit]

Quanta Cura is remembered mostly because of its annex, the Syllabus of Errors, which condemns a number of political propositions involving democracy, socialism, and freedom of speech and religion.


The doctrines of Quanta Cura and the Syllabus were reaffirmed by Pius IX successors, most notably Leo XIII, Pius X and Pius XI the latter instituting a major feast of Christ the King to enshrine the doctrines in the liturgical year. Allegations that Quanta Cura's opposition to religious pluralism was considerably softened by the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council and that in particular, Gaudium et Spes approves of the pluralistic culture of modernity,[citation needed] while Dignitatis Humanae supports Church-State separation have been the cause of considerable controversy.

See also[edit]


  • The Catholic Church in the Modern World by E.E.Y. Hales (Doubleday, 1958)
  • Letter to the Duke of Norfolk by John Henry Newman (Longman, 1874)
  • Utt, Walter C. (1960). "Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors". Liberty (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 55 (6, November–December): 12, 13, 32–34. Retrieved June 24, 2011. 

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