Syllabus of Errors

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Pope Pius IX, ca. 1864

The Syllabus of Errors (Latin: Syllabus Errorum) is a document issued by the Holy See under Pope Pius IX on 8 December 1864, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as an appendix to the Quanta cura encyclical.[1] It condemns a total of 80 errors or heresies, articulating Catholic Church teaching on a number of philosophical and political questions.

Reaction from Catholics was mixed, while that from Protestants was uniformly negative. The document remains controversial, and it has been cited on numerous occasions by both Catholic traditionalists seeking to uphold traditional Catholic values and anti-Catholics seeking to criticize the Church's positions.

The purpose of the Syllabus was not to explain each error in depth, but only to provide a list briefly paraphrasing each and referring to the corresponding papal documents which define and explicate the errors in detail. These detailed documents are essential for understanding the pope's view.


On 8 December 1864, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy See under Pope Pius X issued the Syllabus of Errors, a compilation of what the Catholic Church believed to be heresies in the philosophical and political realm. It listed them, and referred to older Church documents previously issued on these matters.[citation needed]


The Syllabus is made up of phrases and paraphrases from earlier papal documents, along with index references to them, presenting a list of "condemned propositions", and implicitly supporting their opposites. For instance, in condemning proposition 14, "Philosophy is to be treated without taking any account of supernatural revelation", the Syllabus asserts the contrary proposition—that philosophy must take account of supernatural revelation. The Syllabus does not explain why each particular proposition is wrong, but cites earlier documents considering each subject. Except for some propositions drawn from Pius' encyclical Qui pluribus of 9 November 1846, most were based on documents issued since the pope had been shocked by the Revolutions of 1848.

The Syllabus is divided into ten sections of 80 propositions which condemn various errors about the following topics:

  1. pantheism, naturalism, and absolute rationalism, #1–7
  2. moderate rationalism, #8–14
  3. indifferentism and latitudinarianism, #15–18
  4. socialism, communism, secret societies, Bible societies, and liberal clerical societies, a general condemnation, unnumbered
  5. the Catholic Church and her rights, #19–38 (defending temporal power in the Papal States, overthrown six years later)
  6. civil society and its relationship to the church, #39–55
  7. natural and Christian ethics, #56–64
  8. Christian marriage, #65–74
  9. the civil power of the sovereign Pontiff in the Papal States, #75–76
  10. liberalism in every political form, #77–80.

Selected propositions[edit]

Statements the encyclical condemns as false include:

  • "Human reason, without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil." (No. 3, rationalism)
  • "All the truths of religion proceed from the innate strength of human reason; hence reason is the ultimate standard by which man can and ought to arrive at the knowledge of all truths of every kind." (No. 4, rationalism)
  • "Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church." (No. 18).
  • "The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church." (No. 55, separation of church and state)
  • "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." (No. 77)
  • "Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true." (No. 15) and that "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." (No. 78, freedom of religion)
  • "The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization." (No. 80, cf. Jamdudum cernimus)



Within the Protestant world, reactions were uniformly negative. In 1874, the British Leader of the Opposition William 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 could be valid, if it did not take into account the cited documents and their context. Newman writes:

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.[2]

As the English Catholic historian E. E. Y. Hales explained, concerning item #77:

"[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]

Newman points out that this item refers to the 26 July 1855 allocution Nemo vestrum. At this time, Spain had been in violation of its Concordat of 1851 with the Holy See (implemented 1855).[4][5]

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.[citation needed] The Syllabus was an attack on liberalism, modernism, moral relativism, secularization, and the political emancipation of Europe from the tradition of Catholic monarchies.[6]

Sources cited[edit]

The Syllabus cites 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[edit]

In the 21 November 1873 encyclical, Etsi multa ("On the Church in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland"), which is often appended to the Syllabus, Pius expresses further thoughts in the same vein, condemning 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 made by scholars of biblical criticism.[7]


  1. ^ Pius PP. IX. Quanta cura. Romae, 1864. link.
  2. ^ Francis A. Sullivan, Creative Fidelity, ISBN 0-8091-3644-9, p. 143.
  3. ^ Hales, E.E.Y. (1958). THE CATHOLIC CHURCH in the MODERN WORLD: A Survey from the French Revolution to the Present. Doubleday.
  4. ^ Kelly, Leo, and Benedetto Ojetti. "Concordat." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 10 January 2019 Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ Shaw, Russell. "Syllabus of Errors still relevant 150 years later", OSV Weekly, 25 November 2014
  6. ^ "The Syllabus of Pius IX". New Advent. Kevin Knight, dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  7. ^ Pope Pius X (1907). "Lamentabili Sane". Retrieved 17 April 2021.

Further reading[edit]

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