Pope Leo XIII on Americanism

"…But, beloved son, in this present matter of which we are speaking, **there is even a greater danger and a more manifest opposition to Catholic doctrine and discipline in that opinion of the lovers of novelty, according to which they hold such liberty should be allowed in the Church, that her supervision and watchfulness being in some sense lessened, allowance be granted the faithful, each one to follow out more freely the leading of his own mind and the trend of his own proper activity. They are of opinion that such liberty has its counterpart in the newly given civil freedom which is now the right and the foundation of almost every secular state.


Here is some more:

"…In the apostolic letters concerning the constitution of states, addressed by us to the bishops of the whole Church, we discussed this point at length; and there set forth the difference existing between the Church, which is a divine society, and all other social human organizations which depend simply on free will and choice of men.

It is well, then, to particularly direct attention to the opinion which serves as the argument in behalf of this greater liberty sought for and recommended to Catholics.

It is alleged that now the Vatican decree concerning the infallible teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff having been proclaimed that nothing further on that score can give any solicitude, and accordingly, since that has been safeguarded and put beyond question a wider and freer field both for thought and action lies open to each one. But such reasoning is evidently faulty, since, if we are to come to any conclusion from the infallible teaching authority of the Church, it should rather be that no one should wish to depart from it, and moreover that the minds of all being leavened and directed thereby, greater security from private error would be enjoyed by all. And further, those who avail themselves of such a way of reasoning seem to depart seriously from the over-ruling wisdom of the Most High-which wisdom, since it was pleased to set forth by most solemn decision the authority and supreme teaching rights of this Apostolic See-willed that decision precisely in order to safeguard the minds of the Church’s children from the dangers of these present times.

These dangers, viz., the confounding of license with liberty, the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world, have so wrapped minds in darkness that there is now a greater need of the Church’s teaching office than ever before, lest people become unmindful both of conscience and of duty.

We, indeed, have no thought of rejecting everything that modern industry and study has produced; so far from it that we welcome to the patrimony of truth and to an ever-widening scope of public well-being whatsoever helps toward the progress of learning and virtue. Yet all this, to be of any solid benefit, nay, to have a real existence and growth, can only be on the condition of recognizing the wisdom and authority of the Church.

Coming now to speak of the conclusions which have been deduced from the above opinions, and for them, we readily believe there was no thought of wrong or guile, yet the things themselves certainly merit some degree of suspicion. First, all external guidance is set aside for those souls who are striving after Christian perfection as being superfluous or indeed, not useful in any sense -the contention being that the Holy Spirrit pours richer and more abundant graces than formerly upon the souls of the faithful, so that without human intervention He teaches and guides them by some hidden instinct of His own. Yet it is the sign of no small over-confidence to desire to measure and determine the mode of the Divine communication to mankind, since it wholly depends upon His own good pleasure, and He is a most generous dispenser 'of his own gifts. “The Spirit breatheth whereso He listeth.” – John iii, 8.

“And to each one of us grace is given according to the measure of the giving of Christ.” – Eph. iv, 7.

And shall any one who recalls the history of the apostles, the faith of the nascent church, the trials and deaths of the martyrs- and, above all, those olden times, so fruitful in saints-dare to measure our age with these, or affirm that they received less of the divine outpouring from the Spirit of Holiness? Not to dwell upon this point, there is no one who calls in question the truth that the Holy Spirit does work by a secret descent into the souls of the just and that He stirs them alike by warnings and impulses, since unless this were the case all outward defense and authority would be unavailing. “For if any persuades himself that he can give assent to saving, that is, to gospel truth when proclaimed, without any illumination of the Holy Spirit, who gives unto all sweetness both to assent and to hold, such an one is deceived by a heretical spirit.”-From the Second Council of Orange, Canon 7.

Moreover, as experience shows, these monitions and impulses of the Holy Spirit are for the most part felt through the medium of the aid and light of an external teaching authority. To quote St. Augustine. “He (the Holy Spirit) co-operates to the fruit gathered from the good trees, since He externally waters and cultivates them by the outward ministry of men, and yet of Himself bestows the inward increase.”-De Gratia Christi, Chapter xix. This, indeed, belongs to the ordinary law of God’s loving providence that as He has decreed that men for the most part shall be saved by the ministry also of men, so has He wished that those whom He calls to the higher planes of holiness should be led thereto by men; hence St. Chrysostom declares we are taught of God through the instrumentality of men.-Homily I in Inscrib. Altar. Of this a striking example is given us in the very first days of the Church…"


It seems that the notion of “liberty of conscience” is inherently anti-Catholic. Furthermore, he specifically mentions that the Holy Spirit is made known through external teaching authority. Does this in any way refer to personalism???

There is some historical context in the Wikipedia article:


Thank You, I will read it all later, God Bless, Memaw

Yes, liberty of consioence is anti-Catholic. LIBERTY is not, LIBERTY is Catholicism, because we are ultimately liberated from sin and Hell.

But the LIBERTY to spread soul-killing heresy? Really? Is that the religious liberty Americans worship?

It MAY surprise some of you, but the US is not the Kingdom of God on Earth…

Yes, liberty of consioence is anti-Catholic. LIBERTY is not, LIBERTY is Catholicism, because we are ultimately liberated from sin and He

Very well said. In our day and age, there are many who do not believe that Holy Mother Church is a DIVINE society; a perfect society which is not subject to the examination of human reason. From Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Satis Cognitum:

"…Wherefore Jesus Christ bade all men, present and future, follow Him as their leader and Saviour; and this, not merely as individuals, but as forming a society, organized and united in mind. In this way a duly constituted society should exist, formed out of the divided multitude of peoples, one in faith, one in end, one in the participation of the means adapted to the attainment of the end, and one as subject to one and the same authority. To this end He established in the Church all principles which necessarily tend to make organized human societies, and through which they attain the perfection proper to each. That is, in it (the Church), all who wished to be the sons of God by adoption might attain to the perfection demanded by their high calling, and might obtain salvation. The Church, therefore, as we have said, is man’s guide to whatever pertains to Heaven. This is the office appointed unto it by God: that it may watch over and may order all that concerns religion, and may, without let or hindrance, exercise, according to its judgment, its charge over Christianity. Wherefore they who pretend that the Church has any wish to interfere in Civil matters, or to infringe upon the rights of the State, know it not, or wickedly calumniate it.

***God indeed even made the Church a society far more perfect than any other. For the end for which the Church exists is as much higher than the end of other societies as divine grace is above nature, as immortal blessings are above the transitory things on the eart***h. Therefore the Church is a society divine in its origin, supernatural in its end and in means proximately adapted to the attainment of that end;…"


From Pope Gregory XVI’s encyclical Mirari Vos:

“…14. T***his shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it***. “But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error,” as Augustine was wont to say.[21] When all restraints are removed by which men are kept on the narrow path of truth, their nature, which is already inclined to evil, propels them to ruin. Then truly “the bottomless pit”[22] is open from which John saw smoke ascending which obscured the sun, and out of which locusts flew forth to devastate the earth. Thence comes transformation of minds, corruption of youths, contempt of sacred things and holy laws – in other words, a pestilence more deadly to the state than any other. Experience shows, even from earliest times, that cities renowned for wealth, dominion, and glory perished as a result of this single evil, namely immoderate freedom of opinion, license of free speech, and desire for novelty…”


"…*15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true

  1. The Church is not a true and perfect society, entirely free- nor is she endowed with proper and perpetual rights of her own, conferred upon her by her Divine Founder; but it appertains to the civil power to define what are the rights of the Church, and the limits within which she may exercise those rights.

  2. The civil authority may interfere in matters relating to religion, morality and spiritual government: hence, it can pass judgment on the instructions issued for the guidance of consciences, conformably with their mission, by the pastors of the Church. Further, it has the right to make enactments regarding the administration of the divine sacraments, and the dispositions necessary for receiving them. – Allocutions “In consistoriali,”

  3. The abolition of the temporal power of which the Apostolic See is possessed would contribute in the greatest degree to the liberty and prosperity of the Church

  4. 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. *…"


The main issue with Americanism was not that certain American liberties were per se bad (they could be appropriate given the circumstances), but rather that they should be universally applied to all societies, including the Church (Americanism also incorporated other ideas concerning natural virtues, etc.).

Liberty of conscience also should be better defined: the Church rejects a moral freedom that contradicts the universal obligation of faith (ie religious indifferentism). However, the Church accepts a limited freedom from coercion by civil authorities.

The Church and the State have different “orbits” of authority, to borrow a phrase from Pope Leo. Since one of the things that defines what the Church is is her one faith, she cannot permit of her members the same kind of freedom of belief that the state can and even must.

Civil authority, on the other hand, exists solely to advance the common good of all its citizens, but this also includes the spiritual well-being of it’s citizens. For that reason, the Catholic principles which apply to civil religious liberty are different from American principles in this regard, even though both can reach the same result depending on the circumstances. The appropriate limits vary depending on the circumstances because the state can limit religious freedom when doing so advances the common good (cf CCC 2109), but it cannot go beyond this. Likewise, the common good must to assessed based on what is true, just and good, not in a relativistic way.

In the 19th century, the Church strongly condemned the introduction of liberties based on indifferentism or false conceptions of the truth, and especially those based on an irreligious spirit or which were proposed in absolute, unlimited terms. Later, the Church opposed those regimes that did the opposite: arbitrarily suppressing religious activity, even when it did not harm the common good. Both violated sound principles concerning religious freedom.

Well said!!

OP: Thanks for bringing these wonderful quotes from these wonderful documents(I recommend you all read each one that was quoted) to CAF!! A lot of American Catholics don’t know that these exist.

I read a book claiming that never was there a truly Christian society on Earth until the United States came along. BALONEY!

An individual’s conscience is one of the highest moral authorities.

From the Catechism:

*1782: Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”

1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.*

Notice the phrase “Judgement of conscience.” Theologians speak of conscience as a judge and the need to respect our conscience as one respects a judge who enters the courtroom, as one who has authority to convict us.

*Conscience is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.

  • John Henry Cardinal Newman*


Yes, Catholicism is liberty.

I do think the CCC could be worded better about that.

Liberty of conscience to the CCC meant liberty to act on God’s law written on all our hearts. Liberty of conscience to Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XI, Pius XII, Pius IX, and many many others AND the modern world means doing whatever you think would pleasure you or whatever you subjectively think is right.

All Catholics are required to have a Correctly formed conscience under the guidance of the Holy Catholic Church. God Bless, Memaw


Exactly. This is the crucial aspect that modernists ignore. If the conscience is neglected or malformed, it is darkened and cannot be trusted. To use the cliché example: the 9/11 hijackers more than likely felt that they were obeying their consciences. Look at the horrors that can arise from obeying a malformed conscience. Whenever the Church speaks of one “obeying his conscience”, she is speaking of a conscience rooted and formed in the Truth of Jesus Christ.

St. Catherine of Siena compared one’s conscience to a guard dog noting that you have to feed and take care of or else he will become weak, cease to function properly, and even die. We feed our conscience with the word of God.

Here’s a really good explanation of the role of conscience by Cardinal Newman. It is in context of these very controversies about the subject in the 19th century, so it is right on point. He distinguishes the good freedom of conscience from that condemned by the Church.


For further discussion on this in the context of specific documents, see also Newman on the encyclical Quanta Cura (there’s a good dicussion here on the “insanity” of an absolute and relativistic freedom of conscience, which the Church certainly rejects):

And on the Syllabus:

To be fair, the paragraphs in the CCC directly after those (ie 2108 and 2109) deal with those distinctions and also explain when man can be restrained, citing in the footnotes the papal documents from those Popes on the topic.

I guess then the CCC is like the Bible?

It is good in individual verses, but only fully understood in context?

This is interesting from Pope Pius VI:

"*The necessary effect of the constitution decreed by the Assembly is to annihilate the Catholic Religion and, with her, the obedience owed to Kings. With this purpose it establishes as a right of man in society this absolute liberty that not only insures the right to be indifferent to religious opinions, but also grants full license to freely think, speak, write and even print whatever one wishes on religious matters – even the most disordered imaginings. It is a monstrous right, which the Assembly claims, however, results from equality and the natural liberties of all men.

But what could be more unwise than to establish among men this equality and this uncontrolled liberty, which stifles all reason, the most precious gift nature gave to man, the one that distinguishes him from animals?

After creating man in a place filled with delectable things, didn’t God threaten him with death should he eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil? And with this first prohibition didn’t He establish limits to his liberty? When, after man disobeyed the command and thereby incurred guilt, didn’t God impose new obligations on him through Moses? And even though he left to man’s free will the choice between good and evil, didn’t God provide him with precepts and commandments that could save him “if he would observe them”? …

Where then, is this liberty of thinking and acting that the Assembly grants to man in society as an indisputable natural right? Is this invented right not contrary to the right of the Supreme Creator to whom we owe our existence and all that we have? Can we ignore the fact that man was not created for himself alone, but to be helpful to his neighbor? …

Man should use his reason first of all to recognize his Sovereign Maker, honoring Him and admiring Him, and submitting his entire person to Him. For, from his childhood, he should be submissive to those who are superior to him in age; he should be governed and instructed by their lessons, order his life according to their laws of reason, society and religion. This inflated equality and liberty, therefore, are for him, from the moment he is born, no more than imaginary dreams and senseless words. "*

Pius VI, Brief Quod aliquantum, of March 10, 1791

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