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(syllabos, "collection")

The name given to two series of propositions containing modern religious errors condemned respectively by Pius IX (1864) and Pius X (1907).

The syllabus of Pius IX


The first impulse towards the drawing up of the Syllabus of Pius IX came from the Provincial Council of Spoleto in 1849. Probably on the motion of the Cardinal Archbishop of Perugia, Pecci (later on Leo XIII), a petition was laid before Pius IX to bring together under the form of a Constitution the chief errors of the time and to condemn them. The preparation began in 1852. At first Pius IX entrusted it to Cardinal Fornari, but in 1854 the Commission which had prepared the Bull on the Immaculate Conception took matters in hand. It is not known how far the preparation had advanced when Gerbet, Bishop of Perpignan, issued, in July, 1860, a "Pastoral Instruction on various errors of the present" to his clergy. With Gerbet's "Instruction" begins the second phase of the introductory history of the Syllabus. The "Instruction" had grouped the errors in eighty-five theses, and it pleased the pope so much, that he set it down as the groundwork upon which a fresh commission, under the presidency of Cardinal Caterini, was to labour. The result of their work was a specification, or cataloguing, of sixty-one errors with the theological qualifications. In 1862 the whole was laid for examination before three hundred bishops who, on the occasion of the canonization of the Japanese Martyrs, had assembled in Rome. They appear to have approved the list of theses in its essentials. Unfortunately, a weekly paper of Turin, "Il Mediatore", hostile to the Church, published the wording and qualifications of the theses, and thereby gave rise to a far-reaching agitation against the Church. The pope allowed the storm to subside; he withheld the promulgation of these theses, but kept to his plan in what was essential.

The third phase of the introductory history of the Syllabus begins with the appointment of a new commission by Pius IX; its most prominent member was the Barnabite (afterwards Cardinal) Bilio. The commission took the wording of the errors to be condemned from the official declarations of Pius IX and appended to each of the eighty theses a reference indicating its content, so as to determine the true meaning and the theological value of the subjects treated. With that the preparation for the Syllabus, having occupied twelve years, was brought to an end. Of the twenty-eight points which Cardinal Fornari had drawn up in 1852, twenty-two retained their place in the Syllabus; of the sixty-one theses which had been laid before the episcopate for examination in 1862, thirty were selected. The promulgation, according to the original plan, was to have taken place simultaneously with the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception; in the event it was ten years later (8 December 1864) that Pius IX published the Encyclical "Quanta Cura", and on the same day, by commission of the pope, the secretary of State, Cardinal Antonelli, sent, together with an official communication, to all the bishops the list of theses condemned by the Holy See. The title of the document was: "A Syllabus containing the most important errors of our time, which have been condemned by our Holy Father Pius IX in Allocutions, at Consistories, in Encyclicals, and other Apostolic Letters".

The reception of the Syllabus among Catholics was assured through the love and obedience which the children of the Church bear towards the vicar of Christ on earth. They were, besides, prepared for its contents by the various announcements of the pope during the eighteen years of his pontificate; and, as a matter of fact, no sooner had it made its appearance than it was solemnly received in national and provincial councils by the episcopate of the whole world. Among the enemies of the Church, no papal utterance had stirred up such a commotion for many years: they saw in the Syllabus a formal rejection of modern culture, the pope's declaration of war on the modern State. In Russia, France, and also in those parts of Italy then subject to Victor Emmanuel, its publication was forbidden. Bismarck and other statesmen of Europe declared themselves against it. And to the present day, it is a stumbling-block to all who favour the licence of false Liberalism.

Binding power

The binding power of the Syllabus of Pius IX is differently explained by Catholic theologians. All are of the opinion that many of the propositions are condemned if not in the Syllabus, then certainly in other final decisions of the infallible teaching authority of the Church, for instance in the Encyclical "Quanta Cura". There is no agreement, however, on the question whether each thesis condemned in the Syllabus is infallibly false, merely because it is condemned in the Syllabus. Many theologians are of the opinion that to the Syllabus as such an infallible teaching authority is to be ascribed, whether due to an ex-cathedra decision by the pope or to the subsequent acceptance by the Church. Others question this. So long as Rome has not decided the question, everyone is free to follow the opinion he chooses. Even should the condemnation of many propositions not possess that unchangeableness peculiar to infallible decisions, nevertheless the binding force of the condemnation in regard to all the propositions is beyond doubt. For the Syllabus, as appears from the official communication of Cardinal Antonelli, is a decision given by the pope speaking as universal teacher and judge to Catholics the world over. All Catholics, therefore, are bound to accept the Syllabus. Exteriorly they may neither in word nor in writing oppose its contents; they must also assent to it interiorly.


The general contents of the Syllabus are summed up in the headings of the ten paragraphs, under which, the eighty theses are grouped. They are: Pantheism, Naturalism, Absolute Rationalism (1-7); Moderate Rationalism (8-14); Indifferentism and false Tolerance in Religious matters (15-18); Socialism, Communism, Secret Societies, Bible Societies, Liberal Clerical Associations (reference is made to three Encyclicals and two Allocutions of the pope, in which these tendencies are condemned), Errors regarding the Church and its rights (19-38); Errors on the State and its Relation to the Church (39-55); Errors on Natural and Christian Ethics (56-64); Errors on Christian Marriage (65-74); Errors on the Temporal Power of the Pope (75-76); Errors in Connection with Modern Liberalism (77-80). The content of any one thesis of the Syllabus is to be determined according to the laws of scientific interpretation. First of all, one has to refer to the papal documents connected with each thesis. For, in accordance with the peculiar character of the Syllabus, the meaning of the thesis is determined by the meaning of the document it is drawn from. Thus the often-cited eightieth thesis "The pope may and must reconcile himself with, and adapt himself to, Progress, Liberalism, and Modern Civilization", is to be explained with the help of the Allocution "Jamdudum cernimus" of 18 March, 1861. In this allocution the pope expressly distinguishes between true and false civilization, and declares that history witnesses to the fact that the Holy See has always been the protector and patron of all genuine civilization; and he affirms that, if a system designed to de-Christianize the world be called a system of progress and civilization, he can never hold out the hand of peace to such a system. According to the words of this allocution, then, it is evident that the eightieth thesis of the Syllabus applies to false progress and false Liberalism and not to honest pioneer-work seeking to open out new fields to human activity.

Moreover, should a thesis, according to the papal references, be taken from a condemned book, the meaning of the thesis is to be determined according to that which it has in the condemned book. For the thesis has been condemned in this particular meaning and not in any other which might possibly be read into its wording. For instance the fifteenth thesis, "Everyone is free to adopt and profess that religion which he, guided by the light of reason, holds to be true", admits in itself of a right interpretation. For man can and must be led to the knowledge of the true religion through the light of reason. However, on consulting the Apostolic Letter "Multiplices inter", dated 10 June, 1851, from which this thesis is taken, it will be found that not every possible meaning is rejected, but only that particular meaning which, in 1848, Vigil, a Peruvian priest, attached to it in his "Defensa". Influenced by Indifferentism and Rationalism, Vigil maintained that man is to trust to his own human reason only and not to a Divine reason, i.e. to the truthful and omniscient God Who in supernatural revelation vouches for the truth of a religion. In the sense in which Vigil's book understands the fifteenth thesis, and in this sense alone does the Syllabus understand and condemn the proposition.

The view held by the Church in opposition to each thesis is contained in the contradictory proposition of each of the condemned theses. This opposition is formulated, in accordance with the rules of dialectics, by prefixing to each proposition the words: "It is not true that . . ." The doctrine of the Church which corresponds, for instance, to the fourteenth thesis is as follows: "It is not true, that 'philosophy must be treated independently of supernatural revelation.'" In itself no opposition is so sharply determined as by the contradictory: it is simply the negation of the foregoing statement. However, the practical use of this negation is not always easy, especially if a compound or dependent sentence is in question, or a theoretical error is concealed under the form of an historical fact. If, as for instance in thesis 42, the proposition, that in a conflict between civil and ecclesiastical laws the rights of the State should prevail, be condemned, then it does not follow from this thesis, that, in every conceivable case of conflicting laws the greater right is with the Church. If, as in thesis 45, it be denied that the entire control of the public schools belongs exclusively to the State, then it is not maintained that their control does in no way concern the State, but only the Church. If the modern claim of general separation between Church and State is rejected, as in thesis 55, it does not follow that separation is not permissible in any case. If it be false to say that matrimony by its very nature is subject to the civil power (thesis 74), it is not necessarily correct to assert that it is in no way subject to the State. While thesis 77 condemns the statement that in our time it is no longer expedient to consider the Catholic religion as the only State religion to the exclusion of all other cults, it follows merely that today also the exclusion of non-Catholic cults may prove expedient, if certain conditions be realized.


The importance of the Syllabus lies in its opposition to the high tide of that intellectual movement of the nineteenth century which strove to sweep away the foundations of all human and Divine order. The Syllabus is not only the defence of the inalienable rights of God, of the Church, and of truth against the abuse of the words freedom and culture on the part of unbridled Liberalism, but it is also a protest, earnest and energetic, against the attempt to eliminate the influence of the Catholic Church on the life of nations and of individuals, on the family and the school. In its nature, it is true, the Syllabus is negative and condemnatory; but it received its complement in the decisions of the Vatican Council and in the Encyclicals of Leo XIII. It is precisely its fearless character that perhaps accounts for its influence on the life of the Church towards the end of the nineteenth century; for it threw a sharp, clear light upon reef and rock in the intellectual currents of the time.

The syllabus of Pius X


The Syllabus of Pius X is the Decree "Lamentabili sane exitu", issued on 3 July, 1907, condemning in sixty-five propositions the chief tenets of Modernism. This Decree, later on called the Syllabus of Pius X on account of its similarity with the Syllabus of Pius IX, is a doctrinal decision of the Holy Office, i.e. of that Roman Congregation which watches over the purity of Catholic doctrine concerning faith and morals. On 4 July, 1907, Pius X ratified it and ordered its publication; and on 18 November, 1907, in a Motu Proprio he prohibited the defence of the condemned propositions under the penalty of excommunication, reserved ordinarily to the pope. The Decree is supplemented by the Encyclical "Pascendi" of 8 September, 1907 and by the oath against Modernism prescribed on 1 September, 1910. Thus, the Syllabus of Pius X is the first of a series of ecclesiastical pronouncements dealing with the condemnation of Modernism, whilst the Syllabus of Pius IX sums up the condemnations previously passed by the same pope.


By far the greater number of the theses of this Syllabus are taken from the writings of Loisy, the leader of the Modernists in France; only a few are from the works of other writers (e.g., thesis 6, Fogazzaro; 26, Le Roy). As a rule the quotation is not literal, for it would have been possible only in a few cases clearly to express the error in a short proposition. According to their contents the theses may be divided into six groups. They condemn the doctrine of the Modernists on ecclesiastical decisions (1-8), and on Holy Writ (9-19); the Modernist Philosophy of Religion (20-26) and Modernist Christology (27-38); the theory of the Modernists on the origin of the sacraments (39-51) and the evolution of the Church with regard to its constitution and doctrine (52-65). In detail the Syllabus of Pius X condemns the following assertions: ecclesiastical decisions are subject to the judgment of scientific scrutiny and do not demand interior assent (1-8); "excessive simplicity or ignorance is shown by those who believe that God is really the Author of Holy Scripture" (9); God neither inspired (in the Catholic sense of the word) the sacred writers nor guarded them from all error; the Gospels in particular are not books worthy of historic belief, as their authors have consciously, though piously, falsified facts (10-19); Revelation can be nothing else than the consciousness acquired by man of his relation to God, and does not close with the Apostles (20-21); "The Dogmas, which the Church proposes as revealed are not truths fallen from Heaven, but an interpretation of religious facts, acquired by the human mind through laborious process of thought" (this twenty-second thesis, with the somewhat crude expression, "truths fallen from Heaven", is taken from Loisy's "L'Evangile et l'Église"); one and the same fact can be historically false and dogmatically true; faith is based upon a number of probabilities; dogmatic definitions have only a passing practical value as norms in life (23-26); the Divinity of Christ is a dogma which the Christian consciousness deduced from its idea of the Messiah; the real, historical Christ is inferior to the Christ idealized by faith; Jesus Christ erred; His resurrection is no historical event; His vicarious death is a Pauline invention (27-38); the sacraments were not instituted by Christ, but are additions made by the Apostles and their successors, who, under the pressure of events, interpreted the idea of Christ (39-51); Jesus Christ did not think of founding a Church; the latter is a purely human society subject to all the changes of time; of the Primacy, Peter himself knew nothing; the Church is an enemy of scientific progress (5-57) "Truth is as changeable as man, because it is evolved with him, in him, and by him" (58); there are no immutable Christian dogmas, they have developed and must develop with the progress of the centuries (59-63); "Scientific progress demands a reform of the Christian dogmatic conception of God, creation revelation, the Person of the Word Incarnate, and redemption" (64); "The Catholicism of today is irreconcilable with genuine scientific knowledge, unless it be transformed into a Christendom without dogmas, i.e. a broad and liberal Protestantism" (65).

Binding power

Many theses of the Syllabus of Pius X, as all Catholic theologians affirm, are heresies, i.e. infallibly false; for their contradictory is dogma, in many cases even fundamental dogma or an article of faith in the Catholic Church. With regard to the question, whether the Syllabus is in itself an infallible dogmatic decision, theologians hold opposite opinions. Some maintain that the Decree is infallible on account of its confirmation (4 July, 1907) or sanction (18 November, 1907) by the pope; others defend the opinion that the Decree remains nevertheless the doctrinal decision of a Roman Congregation, and is, viewed precisely as such, not absolutely immune from error. In this theological dispute, therefore, liberty of opinion, which has always been safeguarded by the Church in undecided questions, still remains to us. Yet all theologians agree that no Catholic is allowed to maintain any of the condemned theses. For in the decrees of a Roman Congregation we not only have the verdict of a scientific commission, which gives its decisions only after close investigation, but also the pronouncement of a legitimate religious authority competent to bind the whole Church in questions within its competence (cf. what has been said above regarding the Syllabus of Pius IX; under I. B.).


The Syllabus of Pius X may be taken as an introduction to the Encyclical "Pascendi", which gives a more systematic exposition of the same subject. It may be, therefore, that later generations will not find it necessary to distinguish between the importance of the Syllabus and that of the Encyclical. Nevertheless, the Syllabus was published at the most opportune moment. The Catholics of those countries in which Modernism had worked its ill effects felt relieved. By this Decree the tenets of religious evolutionism were laid before them in short theses and condemned. Up to that time the significance and the bearing of isolated Modernist views, appearing now here, now there, had not always been fully grasped. Now, however, everyone of good will had to recognize that the Modernists, under the plea of assimilation to modern ideas of development, had tried to destroy the foundations of all natural and supernatural knowledge. Moreover, to the whole Catholic world the Decree sounded a note of warning from the supreme pastor and drew attention to the excellent principles of scholastic theology and to the growing importance of a thorough schooling in exegetical criticism and in the history of dogma, which the Modernists had abused in the most unpardonable manner.


DENZINGER, Enchiridion, No. 1700 sqq.; No. 2001 sqq.; The Doctrinal Authority of the Syllabus in The Catholic World, XXII (New York, 1886), 31; WARD, The Life of John Henry Cardinal Neuman, II (London, 1912); GLADSTONE, Rome and the Newest Fashions in Religion (London, 1875); NEWMAN, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk on Occasion of Mr. Gladstone's Recent Expostulation (London, 1875); MANNING, The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance (London, 1875), another reply to Gladstone; MACCAFFREY, History of the Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century (St. Louis, 1910), I, 249, 438, 440, 487; II, 60, 462, 480; CHOUPIN, Valeur des décisions (Paris, 1907); HOURAT, Le Syllabus (Paris, 1904); HEINER, Der Syllabus in ultramontaner und anti-ultramontaner Beleuchtung (Mainz, 1905); RINALDI, Il valore del Syllabo (Rome, 1888); HEINER, Der neue Syllabus (Mainz, 1907); BESSMER, Philosophie und Theologie des Modernismus (Freiburg, 1912); VILLADA, Razón y Fe, XIX, 154; LEPIN, Les théories de M. Loisy (Paris, 1908).

About this page

APA citation. Haag, A. (1912). Syllabus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Haag, Anthony. "Syllabus." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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