With the Fortnight for Freedom (FFF) just over the horizon and many conservative Catholic eyes fixed anxiously on the Supreme Court as the country awaits the outcome of Sabelius v. Hobby Lobby (the “HHS Mandate case”), perhaps now would be a good time for the Church in America to follow the lead of Fr. John Hunwicke by reminding the faithful that 2014 is the sesquicentenary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s 1864 encyclical Quanta Cura and its annex, the Syllabus Errorum. Although the Syllabus condemned some 80 propositions, the following sampling of errors could serve as a fruitful basis for meditation before our Eucharistic King during the forthcoming 14 days of prayer prescribed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):
15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.
16. Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation.
17. 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.
19. The Church is not a true and perfect society, entirely free – nor is she endowed with proper and perpetual rights of her own, conferred upon her by her Divine Founder; but it appertains to the civil power to define what are the rights of the Church, and the limits within which she may exercise those rights.
20. The ecclesiastical power ought not to exercise its authority without the permission and assent of the civil government.
39. The State, as being the origin and source of all rights, is endowed with a certain right not circumscribed by any limits.
41. The civil government, even when in the hands of an infidel sovereign, has a right to an indirect negative power over religious affairs. It therefore possesses not only the right called that of “exsequatur,” but also that of appeal, called “appellatio ab abusu.”
55. The Church ought to be separated from the .State, and the State from the Church.
77. 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.
79. 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. The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.
Now, at first blush it may seem strange to use the Syllabus or any other papal encyclical condemning liberal errors as a wellspring for prayerful reflection, but the practice is not without precedent. As Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais quoted in his 2011 Angelus Press Conference talk, “Archbishop Lefebvre: A Life for Christ the King,” the late Irish expositor of Catholic Social Teaching, Fr. Denis Fahey, referred to the Syllabus as a “principal object of my meditations on the royalty of Christ and its relation to the priesthood.”
Here, during the FFF, it would likely be prudent to modify slightly the aim of Fr. Fahey’s meditations, retaining, of course, proper focus on the royalty—the kingship—of our Lord Jesus Christ while opening our hearts to what that kingship, a social kingship as defined clearly and succinctly by Pope Pius XI in Quas Primas, means for Catholics living in a secular liberal society. All of the condemned errors cited above were condemned precisely because they revolt against the Kingship of Christ and His right to reign over not just individuals, but society as well. This is no easy task, but that it is a task—and perhaps the task of Catholic social witness today—was recognized recently by the Dominican theologian Fr. Aidan Nichols: “Publicly recognizing divine revelation is an entailment of the Kingship of Christ on which, despite its difficulties in a post-Enlightenment society, we must not renege.”
Perhaps the burden of standing up for the social rights of Christ the King and His Catholic and Apostolic Church could be made easier were the principles a bit clearer. It is no doubt confusing for many of the faithful to hear the USCCB and the clergy under its watch speak of libertas religionis when they should proclaim unequivocally libertas ecclesiae. When that happens, it would seem as if the Catholic Church had baptized the thought of John Locke and America’s so-called Founding Fathers, which all of us who have studied the tradition of the Church while continuing to read that tradition through what Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI called a “hermeneutic of continuity” know is impossible. (For those of us who prefer the more direct route of reading the past half-century of magisterial teachings in the light of tradition, the reality of the impossibility of sanctifying liberal error may be even sharper.)
With that in mind, let me suggest that now, during the convergence of the FFF and the “Year of the Syllabus,” that it would be expedient for the USCCB to issue a statement both praising the rectitude and holiness of Blessed Pius IX and reminding the faithful, clergy and lay, that the great martyrs of the Church such as Saints Thomas More, John Fischer, Panteleimon, George, and Ignatius of Antioch, did not have their earthly pilgrimages put to a violent end for such a vague, nay, obscuring and misleading principle like “religious liberty.” St. Theodore of Amasea didn’t set fire to the temple of Cybele to vindicate the rights of Sethian and Basildean Gnostics.
Should the USCCB be clear-minded and forthright enough to issue a statement along these lines, I do hope as well that they would attach the following prayer to it. Prior to the Second Vatican Council it carried a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions (Confession, Communion, and prayers for the Pope’s intentions). Maybe the USCCB can appeal quickly to Rome for the indulgence to be reinstituted during the FFF. There’s still time.
O Christ Jesus, I acknowledge Thee as Universal King. For Thee all creatures have been made. Do Thou exercise over me all Thy rights. Renewing my baptismal vows, I renounce Satan, with his works and pomps, and I promise to live as a good Catholic. Especially do I pledge myself to work with all of my power for the triumph of the rights of God and of Thy Church. Divine Heart of Jesus, I offer Thee all my poor actions to obtain that all hearts may recognize Thy Sacred Royalty, and that thus the reign of Thy peace may be established throughout the entire world. Amen.
Note: This post contains material which appeared previously on Opus Publicum: “Year of the Syllabus – Don’t Forget,” 6/17/2014.