December 8

Pius IX and the Syllabus of Errors (1864)

It was on this date, December 8, 1864, that Pope Pius IX published the encyclical Quanta cura, containing the Syllabus errorum or Syllabus of Errors. The Pope "reprobated. proscribed, and condemned" eighty propositions concerning various kinds of religious Liberalism that had been creeping into his Church, a body he believed had stopped innovating with Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the Syllabus as "an inestimable service to the Church and to society at large." It was in fact a repudiation of the popular demand for freedom of inquiry and freedom of conscience. The following ideas are condemned, but sound quite reasonable as stated:

     3. Human reason, without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood...
     12. The decrees of the Apostolic See and of the Roman congregations impede the true progress of science.
     13. The method and principles by which the old scholastic doctors cultivated theology are no longer suitable to the demands of our times and to the progress of the sciences.
     15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.
     24. The Church has not the power of using force, nor has she any temporal power, direct or indirect.
     40. The teaching of the Catholic Church is hostile to the well-being and interests of society.
     47. The best theory of civil society requires that popular schools open to children of every class of the people ... should be freed from all ecclesiastical authority, control and interference....
     55. The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.
     67. By the law of nature, the marriage tie is not indissoluble, and in many cases divorce properly so called may be decreed by the civil authority.
     80. The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.
What Pius IX condemned generally as "Liberalism" is today seen as general principles of modern civilization. The Syllabus, still in force today, is Roman medievalism gasping for air.

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Pius IX and Original Sin (1854)

Declaramus, pronuntiamus et definimus doctrinam quae tenet beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suae conceptionis fuisse singulari Omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque idcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam.
— Latin definition of the doctrine of Immaculate Conception (1854)

It was also on this date, December 8, 1854 — that the same Pope Pius IX promulgated, in the bull Ineffabilis Deus, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Not to be confused with the "virgin birth" legend of Jesus, this equally absurd doctrine says that, at Mary's conception, she did not inherit the guilt of the sin of Adam known as Original Sin.

Articulated in the Genesis legend of the Fall of Man, all humans inherited God's curse on Adam, the Original Sin. This can be relieved only through Christian baptism. The ideas of inherited sin and eternal punishment would seem to make the Christian religion an inferior creed to the many circulating in the Greek-Roman world in the beginning centuries of the Christian Era. Most other religious systems, not to mention legal systems, would never prescribe infinite punishment for finite offenses. Similarly, to maintain that guilt is carried from father to son, generation upon generation, is absurd on its face.

"The Fall of Man" by Michelangelo

The idea was controversial for the early Church, but Tertullian in the 2nd century, and Augustine in the 5th century, made it doctrine. Original Sin made medieval reformers queasy, as we see in Martin Luther's Thirty-nine Articles. Most modern theologians either ignore Original Sin or evade it, when they do not actually condemn it. But it is why Catholic babies are rushed to church for baptism as soon as possible after birth. To everyone else, the idea is a joke: "Do you believe in Original Sin?" "I don't know. How original do you want to be?"

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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