Timing is everything…

“[It is anathema to say that] ‘The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.'”— Allocution “Jamdudum cernimus,” March 18, 1861. Cited in Syllabus Errorum, Pius IX.

Fr. Hunwicke recently decided to celebrate the sesquicentenary of the Syllabus of Errors by Pius IX. In his own droll way he highlights the problem:

“[T]he Syllabus of Errors” is regarded as the quintessential epitome of reactionary ecclesiastical obscurantism; you have to say the very words in the same tones of hushed horror as “the Inquisition”. But I am sure that a special Commission has been put together in Rome to organise this Year in which the Universal Church will be called upon to celebrate, to study, to reappropriate the teaching handed down on the instructions of Papa Mastai-Ferreti. This blog will, as ever, merely follow humbly the lead of the Magisterium, or, if the lead is a trifle late coming, will examine as best it can hermeneutical questions arising from this laudable document….

I hope that Fr. Hunwicke is not sincerely waiting for Rome to celebrate, much less mention, the Syllabus 150 years out, since, as far as my (admittedly scant) research indicates, there wasn’t even any hoopla for the centenary of the Syllabus. In fact, the closest thing I’ve found so far to a mainstream “reappropriation” of Pio Nino’s witness is this 1978 article. Interestingly enough, though, as my codgitator kept processing the numbers involved in the centenary and sesquicentenary of the Syllabus, I realized something.

And it gave me a chill.

Cardinal Razinger, in his 1982 Principles of Catholic Theology, wrote that the Dogmatic Constitution Gaudium Spes “breathe[s] an astonishing optimism … [and] represents a kind of anti-Syllabus” (I am translating from my copy of the German edition, p. 398).

okay then raising arizona“Okay, then.”

An anti-Syllabus? Really?

When was the Syllabus promulgated?

On December 8, 1864.

Presumably in order to mark the tenth anniversary of his own promulgation of Ineffabilis Deus, in which he instituted The Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

When was the “anti-Syllabus” Gaudium et Spes promulgated?

On December 7, 1964.

Precisely one day before the centenary of the Syllabus. Presumably in order to drown out any discussion, much less commemoration, of the Syllabus.


Not at all peculiar.

As you were. Carry on.

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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4 Responses to Timing is everything…

  1. Branch says:

    The sum result? Confusion. What is the reality? What ought to be our posture towards ‘the world’? Were we reactionary, self-enclosed? Is the optimism of GS the right approach now? Who really knows for sure.

  2. Tony Jokin says:

    Of all the things I can reconcile, I must admit that the Syllabus is the hardest to reconcile with the efforts of the Church today (and Vatican II). The Syllabus says the Church should not be trying to come to terms with the modern culture while it seems (and is explicitly said) that it is what we would like to do now.

    In my head, I reconcile this as an emergency procedure. In other words, I think that the Syllabus is in-fact correct. BUT, given the circumstance that most people today have become modernized (non-Catholics AND Catholics), the Church has to try and reach out to them. So the Church does not try to adapt practices or pastoral styles out of some evolutionary mindset. Rather, she does so out of compromise.

    I guess the best example is the Pope’s temporal authority. While the Pope legitimately is entailed to have temporal authority (certainly more than he does now), the society does not recognize it. So to keep asking for him to be recognized and condemning the masses that reject his authority is not going to get anywhere. It’s better to try and get people to come back again and then as they become seeped in the doctrine and spiritual life of the Church, these other aspects will follow. So essentially, the past beauty of the Church will come back again as the world becomes Catholic again. But if the Church keeps condemning and requesting to be recognized for her true self, then it is not likely that it will happen.

    So in this time in history, it probably means nothing to celebrate the document which tried to prevent society from heading to the place where it has gone today. At least that is how I reconcile the syllabus and some of the Vatican II docs in my head.

    Granted, some folks today have crossed the line and made Vatican II docs the new Church. That obviously creates a rupture because the idea then is that we are starting fresh by abandoning the past. But I like to think and hope that what is done today is a compromise so that the past will inevitably be restored.

  3. c matt says:

    Fair enough TJ. But how long do you give the compromise to work in restoring the Syllabus? At what point do you determine that the comrpomise is not working to restore, but the opposite – it is taken us further away?

  4. Tony Jokin says:

    (Before I proceed to reply, I just want to make it clear that this is a possible explanation (among possibly millions) that I have personally come to hold. There is no definitive reason to give that this is true. I just thought I should clarify unless some reader misunderstands)

    So I think there is a slight distinction that needs to be made first before answering your question. Right now I feel there are three (in a very general way) camps of pastoral approach in the Church.

    The ultra-liberal camp
    The trad camp
    The compromise camp

    It is my belief that the ultra-liberal camp is dominant and tends to give the idea of an actual break. So they do not see a temporary compromise. They see the VII shift (regarding the adapting to the modern world) as a call to start fresh. So for all purposes, its as if starting with a blank slate of doctrine and adding as they go on. In doing so, they do destroy the church. They make it such that even if the whole world became “Catholic”, there is certainly no need to go back because most of the Catholic doctrines had been abolished. So with these group of people being dominant, one could say that the vision of the Council has not been realized. In fact, they undermine it. So I think they got to change their minds soon.

    Then there is the trad camp. They hold not only to the doctrine but also zealously safe-guard the traditions of the Church that were so important in living a Catholic life. I think this group is important (in so far as we speak of those in the church) for it is this camp that will have a role to play in the true vision of Vatican II (will elaborate in a bit).

    Finally the compromise camp. This camp is probably very small at the moment. It is hard to recognize this camp for some of their actions will be similar to the ultra-liberal camp at times. This camp will not change any doctrine. Instead, they will try to PRUDENTLY alter some traditions temporarily to try and reach out to many. You will know they are not trying to just keep the faithful in one place because they will have other very traditional practices side by side with the liberal ones. There might even be suggestion to adopt them as they educate the new entrants in to the Church. The existence of trad camps can help at this stage as well for they will have a door open to those who mature in their faith and start to want to get the full Catholic package (by their own decision). To me, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a prime example of someone belonging to this camp.

    One may ask why can’t we just have the trad camp. My thinking tells me that it won’t work for the following reason. The rich traditions of the Church were made for Catholic living. It was made to defend a Catholic society from falling in to error and decadence. But many Catholics themselves abandoned such things and adapted to modern thinking. We see that from the texts and fashions that were becoming popular among Catholics even before Vatican II. It is impossible in such a setting to win back Catholics by telling them about the traditions. The traditions are accepted after one becomes Catholic (accepts the authority and doctrine of the Church). So the Church necessarily has to find a way to first get people to open up and become Catholic.

    So this brings me to answering your question. The answer is that the compromise camp will probably exist till the end of time unless the world becomes very Catholic in the coming years (I hope it does for I am personally a believer in St. Don Bosco’s prophecies). Because there is just no other way to win back those who are already outside the Church. The Church cannot sell traditions which people consider as backward when the basis for selling them is completely dependent on the acceptance of the underlying doctrines. The Church cannot just send out decrees and expect even those “inside” the Church to obey. What can she do about a disobeying diocese or a whole conference considering the Church has no secular enforcer?

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