Question on the 'Syllabus of Errors'

Hi. I’m not a Catholic, just an agnostic who likes to read a lot. I recently read the Syllabus of Errors (because a book I’m reading on about Tyrrell mentioned it), and with all due respect, it was honestly one of the worst things I’ve read this year. There were so many condemnations I had qualms with, and I doubt much can really get me to change my mind on this.
My question is: how much authority does the Syllabus hold? Are Catholics supposed to agree with the points on there? I’ve found a confusing variety of answers, so I’d appreciate some kind of detailed response ^^

The Syllabus is not meant to be a standalone document. It is a summary of issues dealt with in the cited documents and allouctions of Pius IX. It’s basically a “hey, in case you missed a bunch of important things the Pope said and wrote recently, here they are organized by topic.” Sometimes the issues addressed are time-and-place specific; sometimes they are more broad. You have to go to the original text cited to get the true meaning.

See St. John Henry Newman’s explanation here:

Also, the Catholic Encyclopedia article here for some more background:

Here is a book with all the texts the Sylalbus points to (as well as the encyclical Quanta Cura), but it’s in Latin:

In general, they are shocking to modern ears because modern society has fully embraced Liberalism. But ultimately, Liberalism is in principle incompatible with the Catholic faith because, at least when it comes to public life, it is indifferent to the truth about God and man as revealed in the one true religion (as a practical matter, there can be co-existence and the Church can even thrive in a Liberal society if it is given its own due freedom, which it usually wasn’t in 19th century Liberal Europe).

If there are any particular entries you have questions about, I am happy to go into more detail.


There is also the syllabus condemning the errors of the Modernists Lamentabili sane exitu and Pascendi Dominici gregis of St. Pope Pius X, from 1907.

I’ll choose to respond to your answer, because the ‘cultural Marxism’ comment got on my nerves.
Anyway, I see. I was hoping for some other unique answer because, if this is binding, I don’t think I ever could become a Catholic. There’s simply too much in there I could never come to terms with, not without violating my conscience anyway.
May I ask, would it be right to say it wants to preserve the old order of traditional Catholic monarchies under the influence of Rome? It even condemns the principle of non-intervention. which seems to hint at that.

Have to be careful with that document. First of all, it’s an attachment to an encyclical. Second, it’s primarily a representation of what was happening at that time. And it has to be read with that in mind. One would almost need a course in 19th century Euro-Catholic relations to understand the root of what’s being said.

This from CA article:

For example, freedom of the press was condemned. To our ears, this sounds absolutist. But in the context of the time, the press was not an objective means of keeping the public informed—rather, it was nothing more than biased diatribes, particularly in Europe. It was also often viciously anti-Catholic, lacking norms of objectivity or balance. In other words, what the Syllabus condemned was simple propaganda.

With regard to the monarchies, only in the sense that they acknowledged the Catholic faith as an element of the common good and were supposed to operate within the principles of that faith–they had a higher law than themselves (the Pope is under the same law, not master of it). But monarchy in general is not necessary–other forms of government are fine too. The new Liberal regimes were condemned, not because they weren’t monarchies, but because they were a law unto themselves based on positivist principles. The state or the “will of the people” replaced God as the ultimate law of the land. Can you see how a Catholic might have a problem with that?

As for the principle of non-intervention (#62 in the Syllabus), this is a great example where the original document and situation is key. This comes from the allocution Novos et ante which deals specifically with the Papal States’ conflict with the Kingdom of Sardinia. Sardinia had attempted to conquer and capture certain provinces in the north of the Papal States. The “principle of non-intervention” was put forth as a justification against the Pope’s call for aid from other foreign countries. The principle was used to deny third-party interference even in the case of an unjust aggression by one country against another. The Pope especially calls out the hypocrisy of this principle not being applied against Sardinia, who was interfering in the papal states! Even if Sardinia was violating this principle, the same principle would forbid anything to be done about it. The universal application of this principle in this way would mean the deprivation of property and lands against divine and human laws would become common.

In that context, with that meaning, it seems reasonable to me.


I see. I’d still take issue with liberalism being bad, whatever that means, but I guess context is important here. I’ll certainly try and find something to read on this topic. Thanks for the help. You too 1lord1faith.
One more question, is the separation of church and state thing some contextual thing or is it an explicit condemnation of the very idea?

and @oxford

I agree, there really is no excuse for using the term “cultural Marxism”.

There are two separate documents, both titled Syllabus of Errors, issued by two different popes, more than forty years apart: first by Pius IX in 1864, and then by Pius X in 1907. The one that Newman is discussing is the earlier one, but I suspect the OP is probably referring to the later one, which is generally regarded as significantly more controversial.

If Pius X made one, I’d be interested to see it. I’ve never heard of a second syllabus by him. I’ve read Pascendi Dominici Gregis, and that’s probably the closest I can think of.

Just a quick note on Liberalism, in this context it is defined as the ideology that subordinates faith to reason (or excludes faith altogether) and excludes the authority of revelation from public life.

We support separation of Church and State meaning there are two powers with two different orbits of responsibility. We do not support the separation of truth or God and state which is what separation of Church and State means in the condemned context. Caesar is not exempt from giving to God what is God’s. Likewise, since both the state and Church serve the good of the same people, they should work together in harmony.

To break it down, Catholic doctrine proposes that the civil power exists to serve the common good (CCC #### = a paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1997):

CCC 1927 It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society.

So what is the common good?

CCC 1925 The common good consists of three essential elements: respect for and promotion of the fundamental rights of the person; prosperity, or the development of the spiritual and temporal goods of society; the peace and security of the group and of its members.

Notice how it also includes the spiritual well being of the community.

Since authority comes from God (see CCC 1899), it must be exercised according to His law:

CCC1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse."23

Man’s true good is only found in the true religion, so the state should take this into account:

CCC 2244 Every institution is inspired, at least implicitly, by a vision of man and his destiny, from which it derives the point of reference for its judgment, its hierarchy of values, its line of conduct. Most societies have formed their institutions in the recognition of a certain preeminence of man over things. Only the divinely revealed religion has clearly recognized man’s origin and destiny in God, the Creator and Redeemer. The Church invites political authorities to measure their judgments and decisions against this inspired truth about God and man:

Societies not recognizing this vision or rejecting it in the name of their independence from God are brought to seek their criteria and goal in themselves or to borrow them from some ideology. Since they do not admit that one can defend an objective criterion of good and evil, they arrogate to themselves an explicit or implicit totalitarian power over man and his destiny, as history shows.51

Given the above, the Church can pass moral judgments on political matters affecting the salvation of souls and rights of man (see CCC 2246).

The Liberal conception of public authority and the common good denies all of the above.


It mostly has to do with things the rest of the world doesn’t care about, so it is less famous. It is technically from the Holy Office under Pius X (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and, unlike that of Pius IX, it is a standalone document.

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I can at least understand the viewpoint that faith is superior to reason, but I still have a hard time buying this kind of political philosophy. With that being said, I appreciate the clarity you’ve added. Do you mind if I DM you for some further reasons? I can probably ask before, and I’d like to leave before talk about ‘cultural marxism’ lol

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As I thought, your interest is in the later of the two Syllabuses, Pius X’s Pascendi Dominici Gregis. The earlier one – less well-known because it is less controversial – is Pius IX’s Quanta Cura, which is the one Gladstone mocked and Newman defended. In fact there is evidently so little interest in it that the Holy See website has it in Latin and Italian only. Here it is in Italian:

Here is Pius X’s Pascendi on the same website:


Interestingly, Quanta Cura (an encyclical, not a Syllabus–the Syllabus was just published and mailed out along with it) is referenced in the Catechism, while Pasciendi is not.

2109 The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a “public order” conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner.39 The “due limits” which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with "legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order."40

39 Cf. Pius VI, Quod aliquantum (1791) 10; Pius IX, Quanta cura 3.
40 DH 7 § 3


In the sense that monarchies were not illegitimate governments, and that it would be wrong to overthrow a monarchy just because one could. The Church accepts many different arrangements of government as legitimate, including the ones as “exotic”, as Republic of Venice with elaborate elections of doge or Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with elected king, powerful Sejm (parliament), legal rebellions (rokosz) and armed leagues of noblemen (konfederacja).

After all, it looks like the most relevant part here is “63. It is lawful to refuse obedience to legitimate princes, and even to rebel against them.”.

In effect, a Catholic cannot prefer Robespierre to Louis XVI or Lenin to Nicholas II just because Robespierre and Lenin claimed to rule in the name of the people.

But then, it does not seem to be a reasonable option for any other human with a functioning survival instinct.

Usually “Separation of Church and State” ends up meaning that Church is not allowed to have any influence on State, but State can have as much influence on Church, as it wants.

For example, you might note that “55. The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.” cites allocution “Acerbissimam”. This same allocution is also cited for “51. And further, the lay Government has the right of deposing bishops from their pastoral functions, and is not bound to obey the Roman Pontiff in those things which relate to the institution of bishoprics and the appointment of bishops.”. That is, the government used “Separation of Church and State” as a pretext to rule over Church, not as a pretext to stay out of Church affairs.

As you can see, “Separation of Church and State” is not anywhere as symmetrical, as the name would seem to indicate. And yes, it is condemned.

After all, no serious organisation can find something like that acceptable. No party is going to like “Separation of Party and State”, no university is going to like “Separation of University and State”, no trade union is going to like “Separation of Trade Union and State”, no chess club is going to like “Separation of Chess Club and State”.

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No, I was asking about Pius Xi’s, I just asked another question about Pius X. Again, already read Pascendi

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