Part VII: Newman and the Pope

Newman and the Pope

“But we must hope, for one is obliged to hope it, that the Pope will be driven from Rome, and will not continue the Council, or that there will be another Pope. It is sad he should force us to such wishes.”
(Newman’s Letter to Fr. Ambrose St. John, 22 August, 1870)

The above words, written approximately one month after the promulgation of the Dogma of Papal Infallibility on July 18, 1870, succinctly summarize Newman’s attitude towards the Definition, and towards the Papacy of Pope Pius IX. This quote should astound us, and elicit an enquiry as to how such sentiments are possible from a man who has just been beatified, and who is being held up as a model of obedience to Church authority. It needs also to be stated that the reader should not conclude that Newman’s view expressed above merely reflect a momentary indiscretion. His letters during this period are replete with such sentiments. Two months after the above letter to Fr. Ambrose, and one month after the official suspension of Vatican Council I (dashing any of his expressed hopes that the Council Fathers could reverse themselves on the Definition), he wrote the following to Lady Simeon on Nov 18, 1870:

“We have come to a climax of tyranny. It is not good for a Pope to live 20 years. It is anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it.” (Quotations from Newman’s letters are taken from Charles Stephen Dessain’s The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, v. XXVI).

The reader who wishes to somehow deny the significance of the above quotes is, of course, able to offer words from Newman’s writings which, in their general tenor and expression of belief, run directly contrary to such sentiments in regard to the Papacy. Thus, in his Discourse on University Education,1852), he writes:

“Deeply do I feel, ever will I protest, for I can appeal to the ample testimony of history to bear me out, that, in questions of right and wrong, there is nothing really strong in the whole world, nothing decisive and operative, but the voice of him, to whom have been committed the keys of the kingdom and the oversight of Christ's flock. That voice is now, as ever it has been, a real authority, infallible when it teaches, prosperous when it commands, ever taking the lead wisely and distinctly in its own province, adding certainty to what is probable and persuasion to what is certain. Before he speaks, the most saintly may mistake; and after it has spoken, the most gifted must obey….” (Dessain, vol. XXVI, p. 167)

This duplicity of Newman in regard to the Papacy is, of course, paralleled by a corresponding duplicity in regard to the Dogmatic Definition of Papal Infallibility itself. It is the proclamation of the Dogma itself which is the act of cruelty of which Newman speaks, and it is for having promulgated this Dogma that Newman “hopes” for the death of the Pope Pius IX, or that he be driven from Rome. On the other hand, Newman claims to have personally believed in Papal Infallibility before the Vatican Council, and he also submitted to and embraced (after an agonizing struggle) the actual Definition after the Council.

This enigma of Newman’s duplicity in regard to both Dogma and the Papacy is usually lightly passed over as part of the complexity and depth of the man, and the profundity of his intellect. It is my belief that such is not the case. Rather, what might seem enigmatically complex, is simple contradiction; and what has been considered profound, is really the shallow fruit of his rejection of Thomistic philosophy, and especially of that branch of philosophy called epistemology – the science of how we know and, therefore, also the science which establishes the reliability and power of our knowledge. This subject has been covered in depth in my article titled Does God Love Us?, and I refer the reader to it for an in-depth understanding of what is really wrong with Newman’s approach towards Catholic Faith, Dogma, and Papal Authority.

In this article, I intend to analyze the fruits of this duplicity. We have already explored Newman’s astounding words concerning the Definition of Papal Infallibility and his sentiments towards the Pope responsible for its promulgation. I would now like to turn his equally disturbing treatment of Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors.

The Syllabus

It is important to first place things in context.

The Syllabus of Errors of Pope St. Pius IX, sent to all the bishops of the world along with the encyclical Quanta Cura (Dec 8, 1864), amounted to a declaration of war against the revolutionary world of the 19th Century – revolutions being waged in every sphere of human thought, life, and activity against Christ and His Church. The vast scope of the errors condemned is reflected in its division into 10 sections, each section representing a different area of human thought or activity. These are labeled as follows: 1)Pantheism, Naturalism, and Absolute Rationalism; 2) Moderate Rationalism; 3) Indifferentism and Latitudinarianism; 4) Socialism, Communism, Secret Societies, Bible Societies, and Liberal Clerical societies; 5) Errors concerning the Church and Her Rights 6) Errors About Civil Society, Considered Both in Itself and in Its Relation to the Church; 7) Errors Concerning Natural and Christian Ethics; 8) Errors Concerning Christian Marriage; 9) Errors Regarding the Civil Power of the Sovereign Pontiff; 10) Errors Having Reference to Modern Liberalism.

In considering the Syllabus in its larger context, it is also important to realize that the Pontificate of Pope Pius IX’s successor, Pope Leo XIII, was largely focused upon fleshing out these condemnations through an amazing array of profound social encyclicals covering all these areas of thought and activity. Further, Pope Pius X, Leo’s successor, brought this analysis and condemnation of modern errors to fruition in both his encyclical Pascendi, and in his own Syllabus Against the Errors of Modernism.

It is therefore impossible to overestimate the importance of Pius IX’s Syllabus for our understanding of the ideas, techniques, and activities of the forces of evil in the modern world, and also, therefore, for our being able to acquire those intellectual and moral weapons necessary for the Church’s defense and offense against these immensely destructive errors.

On the other hand, to undermine the authority and importance of the Syllabus in any way can only serve the purpose of aiding and abetting these same forces of evil. As we shall see, John Henry Newman used virtually every subterfuge conceivable to accomplish just such a task.

One of the things characteristic of the Modernist mind is that, to a large extent, such persons are able to leave the “bigger” mysteries of our faith alone. The doctrines of the Trinity, or of the Incarnation, for instance, do not demand “essentialization” with the same intensity as do many other magisterial teachings. These “major” doctrines usually play a very small role in that “illative sense” (experiential) which is “immediate” to man’s perception and experience, and they therefore do not usually demand alteration in order for modern man to adapt to historical and cultural conditions, growth in secular and scientific knowledge, etc. Such doctrines are not confronted with the evolving ideas of human liberty, religious pluralism, political movements, new economic realities, and secularism. They do not, therefore, get “in the face” of the world.

It is otherwise with the truths which are affirmed as contraries to the 80 propositions condemned by the Syllabus, Here, the “illative sense” of the dominant worldview, with which the ecumenist wishes to enter into dialogue and dialectical progress, is directly confronted and condemned. A person could hardly find himself in a position of being more of a sign of contradiction to the world and modern culture than by fully assenting to and embracing the Syllabus. And this is why the Syllabus is such a nemesis to the Liberal and Modernist mind. It lays bare precisely those principles and ideas which are on the cutting edge of the “vitality” of the modern world, and effectively burns them at the stake. It puts the ecumenist out of a job, It puts the non-Thomist out of a job, and it would have put Newman out of a job if the Catholics around had taken it with the substantial seriousness which it deserved. Few did. Cardinal Manning was one of them. Newman eventually won the battle, and Manning lost.

Newman’s “definitive” response to the Syllabus of Pope Pius IX is to be found in Section 7 of the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1875), usually considered his last major work. It is with an analysis of this work that we will be concerned here

First, Newman does everything possible to undermine the physical and moral connection of the Syllabus to the Pope. He says such things as:

“viewed in itself, it is nothing more than a digest of certain Errors made by an anonymous writer.”

“There is not a word in it of the Pope’s own writing.”

“There would be nothing on the face of it, to show that the Pope had ever seen it, page by page, unless the ‘imprimatur’ implied in the Cardinal’s letter had been an evidence of this.”

“but the Syllabus makes no claim to be acknowledged as the word of the Pope.”

“the Syllabus cannot even be called an echo of the Apostolic Voice.”

Now, of course, none of the above statements are quoted in context. In point of fact, the context makes them appear even worse. This “context” is constituted by the fact that the Syllabus was long in preparation, and a project very close to the heart and mind of Blessed Pope Pius IX (and also Cardinal Pecci, the future Pope Leo XIII). Below is taken from the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia. I quote it in its entirety because it clearly “puts the lie” to Newman’s contention that the Syllabus was not the “Voice” of Pope 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'."

This effort to deny the connection of the Syllabus to the mind and will of Pope Pius IX is part of the larger scheme to deny any dogmatic force to its condemnations. Newman simply and emphatically states,

“the Syllabus then has no dogmatic force.”

His efforts towards establishing this fallacy are threefold:

1) As already analyzed, he makes every effort, and uses every subtlety to separate it from the Pope.

2) He exercises similar subterfuge to separate the Syllabus from the encyclical Quanta Cura (Condemning Current Errors). He writes:

“The Syllabus does not exist as far as the language of the Encyclical is concerned.”

This, of course, is pathetic. The Pope ordered Cardinal Antonelli to send Quanta Cura to all the bishops, accompanied by the Syllabus. Cardinal Antonelli’s letter of introduction read as follows

“Our Holy Father, Pius IX, Sovereign Pontiff, being profoundly anxious for the salvation of souls and of sound doctrine, has never ceased from the commencement of his pontificate to prescribe and condemn the chief errors and false doctrine of our most unhappy age, by his published Encyclicals, and Consistorial Allocutions and Apostolic Letters. But as it my happen that all the Pontifical acts do not reach each one of the ordinaries, the same Sovereign Pontiff has willed that a Syllabus of the same errors should be compiled, to be sent to all the Bishops of the Catholic world, in order that these Bishops may have before their eyes all the errors and pernicious doctrines which he has reprobated and condemned.
He has consequently charged me to take care that this Syllabus, having been printed, should be sent to your [Eminence] on this occasion….”

The Syllabus was obviously meant to augment the encyclical with greater detail by documenting individual errors. Both documents dealt with modern errors, and complimented one another. In Quanta Cura, the Pope, in speaking of past actions says, “We raised Our voice, and in many published Encyclical Letters and Allocutions delivered in Consistory, and other Apostolic Letters, we condemned the chief errors of this most unhappy age…we condemned the monstrous portents of opinion which prevail especially in this age, bringing with them the greatest loss of souls and detriment of civil society itself, which are grievously opposed also, not only to the Catholic Church and her salutary doctrine and venerable rights, but also to the eternal natural law engraven by God in all men’s hearts, and to right reason; and from which almost all other errors have their origin.” It is these “chief errors” spoken of by the Pope in Quanta Cura which are detailed and documented in the Syllabus. The two documents are clearly bound to one another.

3) Newman does everything he can to undermine the “universal application” of these condemnations. After flatly stating that “the Syllabus then has no dogmatic force,” he further writes:

“…[the Syllabus] is to be received from the Pope by an act of obedience, not of faith, that obedience being shown by having recourse to the original and authoritative documents.”

In other words, we are entirely relieved of all responsibility to obey any universality in the truths expressed in the propositions in themselves. It is Newman’s position that the individual propositions have no universal verity, no dogmatic force, and that their meaning and applicability are to be reduced to the particular historical situations, etc. which surrounded their original statement in the individual Papal documents of Pius IX. Five times, in fact, he refers to the Syllabus as being merely an “index” to these previous documents, and he says, “But we can no more accept it as de fide, as a dogmatic document, than any other index or table of contents.” This is proved manifestly false by the very title of the document:”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 Syllabus is intended by the Pope to condemn “the most important errors of our time.” The “most important errors of our time” are not limited to a particular country, to an individual literary work, etc.

It is certainly good to have reference to the particular Allocution, Encyclical, etc. in order to obtain depth and accuracy of understanding of these propositions, but this “recourse” to these original contexts should in no way be used to undermine the universal application of these condemnations.
In order to perceive the depths or subterfuge involved here, let us look at Newman’s handling of one single condemned proposition

(#77) “It is no longer expedient that the Catholic Religion should be established to the exclusion of all others.”

Here is Newman’s “reduction” of this particular proposition:

“When we turn to the Allocution, which is the ground of its being put into the Syllabus, what do we find there? First, that the Pope was speaking, not of States universally, but of one particular State, Spain, definitely Spain; secondly, that he was not noting the erroneous proposition directly, or categorically, but was protesting against the breach in many ways of the Concordat on the part of the Spanish government; further, that he was not referring to any work containing the said proposition, nor contemplating any proposition at all; nor, on the other hand, using any word of condemnation whatever, nor using any harsher terms of the Government in question than an expression of "his wonder and distress." And again, taking the Pope's remonstrance as it stands, is it any great cause of complaint to Englishmen, who so lately were severe in their legislation upon Unitarians, Catholics, unbelievers, and others, that the Pope merely does not think it expedient for every state from this time forth to tolerate every sort of religion on its territory, and to disestablish the Church at once? for this is all that he denies. As in the instance in the foregoing section, he does but deny a universal, which the "erroneous proposition" asserts without any explanation.”

Newman here clearly uses every means possible to minimize the meaning and extent of this proposition’s condemnation. According to Newman, the condemnation only has application to Spain. It only applies to breaches of the Concordant by that government. It is really not a condemnation at all, but only an expression of “wonder and distress.” And it is reducible to the position “that the Pope merely does not think it expedient for every state from this time forth to tolerate every sort of religion on its territory, and to disestablish the Church at once [ this last, bold emphasis is mine].

To perceive the falsity involved in all of this subterfuge, one need only look to Quanta Cura for a true explication of this condemned proposition. Here, the Pope writes:

"For you well know, venerable brethren, that at this time men are found not a few who, applying to civil society the impious and absurd principle of "naturalism," as they call it, dare to teach that "the best constitution of public society and (also) civil progress altogether require that human society be conducted and governed without regard being had to religion any more than if it did not exist; or, at least, without any distinction being made between the true religion and false ones." And, against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that "that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require."

In other words, Proposition 77 says just exactly what it appears to say; it condemns precisely what it appears to condemn, and this in its obvious and universal sense. And, it affirms its opposite – that it is expedient that the Catholic Religion should be established to the exclusion of all others.

The Syllabus really came to fruition in the social encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII. There, we can find the full development and universal applicability of the condemnation of Proposition 77. Interestingly enough, in Pope Leo’s Encyclical Immortale Dei (Christian Constitution of States), we find a passage which seems very applicable to Newman and his relationship to the Syllabus of Pius IX:

“On the question of the separation of the Church and State the same pontiff [Leo is here speaking of Gregory XVI] writes as follows: ‘Nor can we hope for happier results, either for religion or for the civil government, from the wishes of those who desire that the Church be separated from the State, and the concord between the secular and ecclesiastical authority be dissolved. It is clear that these men, who yearn for a shameless liberty, live in dread of an agreement which has always been fraught with good, and advantageous alike to sacred and civil interest.’ To like effect, also, as occasion presented itself, did Pius IX brand publicly many false opinions which were gaining ground, and afterwards ordered them to be condensed in summary [the Syllabus] in order that in this sea of error Catholics might have a light which they might safely follow.”

It is this light which Newman dimmed with his obfuscations.

It is known what a great distaste Newman held for Pius IX. We now have a Pope who would be of his liking. The following is taken from my article The War Against Being:

The year 1982 also saw the publication of Cardinal Ratzinger’s book Principles of Catholic Theology. The book contains an Epilogue On the Status of Church and Theology Today. Part B is titled Church and World: An Inquiry into the Reception of Vatican Council II. The text focuses primarily on the Vatican II document the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes), which the Cardinal calls “a kind of summa of Christian anthropology.” The following is of immediate interest to our subject:

“If it is desirable to offer a diagnosis of the text (Gaudium et Spes) as a whole, we might say that (in conjunction with the texts on religious liberty and world religions) it is a revision of the Syllabus of Pius IX, a kind of countersyllabus. Harnack, as we know, interpreted the Syllabus of Pius IX as nothing less than a declaration of war against his generation. This is correct insofar as the Syllabus established a line of demarcation against the determining forces of the nineteenth century: against the scientific and political world view of liberalism. In the struggle against modernism this twofold delimitation was ratified and strengthened. Since then many things have changed. The new ecclesiastical policy of Pius XI produced a certain openness toward a liberal understanding of the state. In a quiet but persistent struggle, exegesis and Church history adopted more and more the postulates of liberal science, and liberalism, too, was obliged to undergo many significant changes in the great political upheavals of the twentieth century. As a result, the one-sidedness of the position adopted by the Church under Pius IX and Pius X in response to the situation created by the new phase of history inaugurated by the French Revolution was, to a large extent, corrected via facti, especially in Central Europe, but there was still no basic statement of the relationship that should exist between the Church and the world that had come into existence after 1789. In fact, an attitude that was largely pre-Revolutionary continued to exist in countries with strong Catholic majorities. Hardly anyone today will deny that the Spanish and Italian Concordats strove to preserve too much of a view of the world that no longer corresponded to the facts. Hardly anyone today will deny that, in the field of education and with respect to the historico-critical method in modern science, anachronisms existed that corresponded closely to this adherence to an obsolete Church-state relationship…..
Let us be content to say here that the text serves as a countersyllabus and, as such, represents, on the part of the Church, an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789.”

Cardinal Newman hoped for the death of Pope Pius IX, and the election of a successor more to his liking. Cardinal Newman now has his Pope.