Pope Pius IX, SYLLABUS OF ERRORS (1864)(1)



Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) was one of the most outspoken opponents of nineteenth-century liberal ideas. The Syllabus of Errors is a systematic condemnation of eighty propositions which he had previously anathematized. Note that the syllabus of errors is drawn up negatively. To be properly understood, each proposition should be preceded by the phrase "It is not true...." It would seem to be implied that the opposites of the condemned propositions are true, although historians disagree on this interpretation.(2)



1) That there exists no Supreme, all-wise, all-provident Divine Being, distinct from the universe, and God is identical with the nature of things, and is, therefore, subject to changes. In effect, God is produced in man and in the world, and all things are God and have the very substance of God, and God is one and the same thing with the world, and, therefore, spirit with matter, necessity with liberty, good with evil, justice with injustice.

2) That all action of God upon man and the world is to be denied.

3) That human reason, without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil; it is law to itself, and suffices, by its natural force, to secure the welfare of men and of nations.

4) That 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.

5) That divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to a continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the advancement of human reason.

6) That the faith of Christ is in opposition to human reason, and divine revelation not only is not useful, but is even hurtful to the perfection of man.

7) That the prophecies and miracles set forth and recorded in the Sacred Scriptures are the fiction of poets, and the mysteries of the Christian faith the result of philosophical investigations. In the books of the Old and the New Testament there are contained mythical inventions, and Jesus Christ is Himself a myth.


8) That as human reason is placed on a level with religion itself, so theological must be treated in the same manner as philosophical sciences.

9) That all the dogmas of the Christian religion are indiscriminately the object of natural science or philosophy; and human reason, enlightened solely in an historical way, is able, by its own natural strength and principles, to attain to the true science of even the most abstruse dogmas; provided only that such dogmas be proposed to reason itself as its object.

10) That as the philosopher is one thing, and philosophy another, so it is the right and duty of the philosopher to subject himself to the authority which he shall have proved to be true; but philosophy neither can nor ought to submit to any such authority.

11) That the Church not only ought never to pass judgment on philosophy, but ought to tolerate the errors of philosophy, leaving it to correct itself.

12) That the decrees of the Apostolic See and of the Roman congregations impede the true progress of science.

13) That the methods 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.

14) That philosophy is to be treated without taking any account of super-natural revelation.


15) That every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.

16) That man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation.

17) That good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ.

18) That 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.


....Pests of this description are frequently rebuked in the severest terms in [many previous papal encyclicals]


That the Roman Pontiffs and Oecumenical Councils have exceeded the limits of their powers, have usurped the rights of princes, and have even committed errors in defining matters of faith and morals.

That the ecclesiastical power must not exercise its authority without the permission and assent of the civil government.

That the Church has not the power of availing herself of force, or of any direct or indirect temporal power....

That ecclesiastical jurisdiction for the temporal causes--whether civil or criminal--of the clergy, ought by all means to be abolished.

That National Churches can be established, after being withdrawn and separated from the authority of the Holy Pontiff.

That many Pontiffs have, by their arbitrary conduct, contributed to the division of the Church into Eastern and Western.

That there would be no obstacle to the sentence of a general council or the act of all the peoples, transferring the pontifical sovereignty from the Bishop and City of Rome to some other bishopric and city.


39) That the State, as being the origin and source of all rights, is endowed with a certain right not circumscribed by any limits.

40) That the teaching of the Catholic Church is hostile to the well-being and interests of society.

41) That the civil government, even when in the hands of an infidel sovereign, has a right to an indirect negative power over religious affairs....

42) That in the case of conflicting laws enacted by the two powers, the civil law prevails.

43) That the secular power has authority to rescind, declare and render null, solemn conventions, commonly called concordats, entered into with the Apostolic See, regarding the use of rights appertaining to ecclesiastical immunity, without the consent of the Apostolic See, and even in spite of its protest.

44) That 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.

45) That the entire government of public schools in which the youth of a Christian state is educated, except (to a certain extent) in the case of episcopal seminaries, may and ought to appertain to the civil power, and belong to it so far that no other authority shall be recognized as having any right to interfere in the discipline of the schools, the arrangement of the studies, the conferring of degrees, in the choice or approval of the teachers.

46) That moreover, even in ecclesiastical seminaries, the methods of studies to be adopted is subject to the civil authority.

47) That the best theory of civil society requires that popular schools open to children of every class of the people, and, generally, all public institutes intended for instruction in letters and philosophical sciences and for carrying on the education of youth, should be freed from all ecclesiastical authority, control and interference, and should be fully subjected to the civil and political power at the pleasure of the rulers, and according to the standard of the prevalent opinions of the age.

48) That Catholics may approve of the system of educating youth unconnected with Catholic faith and the power of the Church, and which regards the knowledge of merely natural things, and only, or at least primarily, the ends of earthly social life.

49) That the civil power may prevent the prelates of the Church and the faithful from communicating freely and mutually with the Roman Pontiff.

50) That lay authority possess of itself the right of presenting bishops, and may require of them to undertake the administration of the diocese before they receive canonical institution, and Letters Apostolic from the Holy See.

51) And further [that] 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.

52) That government can, by its own right, alter the age prescribed by the Church for the religious profession of women and men; and may require of all religious orders to admit no person to take solemn vows without its permission.

53) That the laws enacted for the protection of religious orders and regarding their rights and duties ought to be abolished; nay, more [that] civil Government may lend its assistance to all who desire to renounce the obligation which they have undertaken of a religious life, and to break their vows. That Government may also suppress the said religious orders, as likewise collegiate churches and simple benefices, even those of advowson, and subject their property and revenues to the administration and pleasure of the civil power.

54) That kings and princes are not only exempt from the jurisdiction of the Church, but are superior to the Church in deciding questions of jurisdiction.

55) That the Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.


56) That moral laws do not stand in need of divine sanction, and [that] it is not at all necessary that human laws should be made conformable to the laws of nature, and receive their power of binding from God.

57) That the science of philosophical things and morals and also civil laws may and ought to be kept aloof from divine and ecclesiastical authority.

58) That no other forces are to be recognized except those which reside in matter, and [that] all the rectitude and excellence of morality ought to be placed in the accumulation and increase of riches by every possible means, and the gratification of pleasure.

59) That right consists in the materials fact. [That] all human duties are an empty word, and all human facts have the force of right.

60) That authority is nothing else but numbers and the sum total of material forces.

61) That the injustice of an act when successful inflicts no injury on the sanctity of right.

62) That the principle of non-intervention, as it is called, ought to be proclaimed and observed.

63) That it is lawful to refuse obedience to legitimate princes, and even to rebel against them.

64) That the violation of any solemn oath, as well as any wicked and flagitious action repugnant to the eternal law, is not only not blamable but is altogether lawful and worthy of the highest praise when done through love of country.


67) That by the law of nature the marriage tie is not indissoluble, and [that] in many cases, divorce, properly so called, may be pronounced by the civil authority.

73) That a merely civil contract may, among Christians, constitute a true marriage, and [that] it is false either that the marriage contract between Christians is always a sacrament, or that the contract is null if the sacrament is excluded.


76) That 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.


77) That 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.

78) That hence 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.

79) That 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.

80) That the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.

1. Compiled from the following sources: a) J. H. Hexter, The Traditions of the Western World (Chicago, 1967), pp. 723-727; b) Brooklyn College History 2.1 Sourcebook, pp. 222-223; c) Henry Bettenson (ed.), Documents of the Christian Church (London and New York, 1963), pp. 272-273.

2. Paraphrased from J. H. Hexter, The Traditions of the Western World, p. 723.