To the Liberals’ Dismay, Pope Pius IX Publishes the Syllabus of Errors

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To the Liberals’ Dismay, Pope Pius IX Publishes the Syllabus of Errors
To the Liberals’ Dismay, Pope Pius IX Publishes the Syllabus of Errors

From the time of the 1848 Revolution, French and Austrian troops protected the Papal States against Italian revolutionaries. The Holy See had no army that could effectively oppose the government of Piedmont-Sardinia. The situation worsened with Napoleon III’s political leftward shift and his victory against Austria in 1859. The defense of Church territories now depended exclusively on France.

At the same time, France started supporting Italian unification. Napoleon III even allowed Piedmont to seize papal domains. Pius IX protested vigorously. Nonetheless, the imperial government’s connivance and assistance helped bring out the spoliations the Holy See suffered. Consequently, French public opinion reacted so strongly against Napoleon III’s Italian policy that the Emperor had to demand that Piedmont content itself with the territories it had already obtained.

In 1864, Pius IX became seriously ill. Napoleon III judged the moment opportune to take another step in the unification of Italy. On September 15, he signed a convention with the plenipotentiaries of the Turin government, known as the September Convention. By its tenets, French troops would withdraw from the Papal States. To save face, the revolutionaries chose Florence, not Rome, as the capital of unified Italy. Piedmont pledged not to attack the Eternal City nor let it be attacked. The Holy See could equip its own army, provided it was not so strong as to disturb the peace in the peninsula.

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Everything was done in the utmost secrecy. Pius IX, French Empress Eugenie and even King Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia were unaware of the convention until the treaty was signed. The Pope protested and immediately tried to organize an army. However, he lacked the time it took for a new army to acquire the efficiency needed to fight a war. Thus, the Holy See was at the mercy of Italian revolutionaries.

In France, on the other hand, the offensive of liberal Catholics continued, less open but more cunning and just as lively. At the second congress of Mechlin in 1864, the Count of Montalembert was replaced by Bishop Felix Dupanloup, who was much more able and diplomatic.

On December 8, 1864, determined to suppress these errors, Pius IX published the encyclical Quanta Cura, condemning liberalism. The same day, the Pope released the famous Syllabus, a catalog of liberal errors already defined as such by earlier Sovereign Pontiffs.

The two documents were received with enormous emotion—some rejoiced, others were dismayed. The French government forbade the documents’ publication and tried to prevent the bishops from releasing them. However, Quanta Cura and the Syllabus were too important to be silenced. No one observed the government’s ban. A violent polemic began between Syllabus supporters and opponents. It became the dominant topic of concern.

Seeing that the Encyclical Quanta Cura and the Syllabus utterly condemned liberal Catholicism, Montalembert decided to close his newspaper, the Correspondant. In this action, he had the agreement of his fellow liberals, Augustin Cochin and the Prince de Broglie. In a letter to the Count de Falloux, Montalembert wrote, “Dear friend, I am leaving this very instant for the solitude of Morvan to dull my pain and—I must confess-my shame. I have but one ambition: to see us united in the shipwreck as we have been in more than twenty years of struggles.”

Ultramontane newspapers defended the encyclical and the Syllabus. Against them, a veritable avalanche of attacks came from all sides. The Church’s enemies attacked the Pope, as did Revolutionaries, nostalgists for the time of Louis Philippe and all those who opposed the solemn condemnation of liberalism and the Revolution.

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Bishop Dupanloup received the news of the encyclical while preparing a protest against the September convention. He immediately began writing an interpretation to minimize the blow against liberal Catholicism. On January 23, 1865, he launched his famous book The September 15 Convention and the December 8 Encyclical. Mixing the two issues enabled him to defend Pius IX and his liberal friends simultaneously. By selecting only those ideas that it suited him to refute, the Bishop of Orléans showed how wrong the onslaughts of Church enemies were. He again applied his distinction between thesis and hypothesis to the errors the Pope condemned.

Within a fortnight, 100,000 copies of Bishop Dupanloup’s book were sold. A few weeks later, numerous bishops congratulated him. Pius IX congratulated him for repelling so well the inept, disloyal, and slanderous interpretations published about the Syllabus. The Holy Father advised him to complete the book with the needed doctrinal interpretations. Bishop Dupanloup did not follow Pius IX’s advice. Despite his interpretation of the encyclical, liberal Catholicism was seriously damaged. It would never again have the brilliance and momentum it enjoyed after the closing of l’Univers.

Simultaneously, Pius IX was secretly preparing the Vatican Council. On December 6, 1864, two days before he published the encyclical, he communicated to the Sacred College of Cardinals his intention to convene a great Council. In March 1865, he established a commission of five cardinals to determine the preliminary questions. At the Vatican Council, the last manifestations of this first phase of liberal Catholicism will give the sad measure of this movement’s errors.

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