The Syllabus of Errors, Part II – Ecumenism
For many decades, we have seen popes meeting with leaders of other religions, proclaiming the brotherhood of man and exhorting all men to support the loving embrace of ecumenism. While ecumenism was originally limited to branches of Christianity, popes have also reached out and embraced leaders of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other religions. One Holy Pontiff after another finds God in all these branches of religion, and embraces them with love. But if you look at the actual doctrines of the Catholic Church, you get a different picture. The Syllabus of Errors, for example, condemns ecumenism.
Keep in mind that the Syllabus is basically a list of errors. It is easy to misunderstand it, since it is asserting errors as if they were statements of fact. Recall too that when the Syllabus was issued in 1862, the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants were a distant memory. Catholics and Protestants had been peacefully coexisting for centuries.
18. 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.
The sainted Pope Pius IX was not a fan of peaceful coexistence. While he was lacking in secular strength, he lashed out as best he could. Here he denies that Protestantism is a valid form of Christianity. In the eyes of God, he asserts, it falls far short of Catholicism.
16. Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation.
It is wrong to believe that just any religion can yield eternal salvation. This seems reasonable, but it is based on a dubious assumption. Pius IX believed that religion is the primary determinant of salvation, and that conduct plays a secondary role. According to Pius, even a bad Catholic has a better chance of attaining salvation than a righteous Protestant, not to mention a Jew or Muslim. This is clearer when we look at other “errors.”
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.
This is an error, and you have to “negate” it to get the correct interpretation. In other words, there is no hope of eternal salvation outside the true Church of Christ. Pius IX doesn’t bother to specify what that true church is, since he is preaching to the choir, and it is understood. No matter how righteous you are, there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church.
15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.
Again, this is an error. There really is no freedom of religion, and neither reason nor preference has anything to do with it. (Pius IX hated reason, but that is a matter for a future article.) If you want eternal salvation, there is no choice. In fact, Pius IX doesn’t even believe that people should be free to make an incorrect choice.
21. The Church has not the power of defining dogmatically that the religion of the Catholic Church is the only true religion.
This pretty much says it all. The Catholic Church is the only true religion. This is official Church doctrine, and has been practically from its inception. It is often repeated, e.g., The Fourth Lateran Council. Yet you very rarely hear it.
Pope Pius IX had no doubt about other religions, whether or not they were Christian. They are false, and do not lead to salvation. Ecumenism is an error. Pius held the claims in this encyclical to be infallible. They are part of official Church dogma, and the fact that Pius IX was made a saint in 2000 only reinforces his claims. While this might strike the innocent observer as hate-mongering, Catholic officials regard it as divinely inspired. You are simply too ignorant and too possessed by Satan to appreciate these divine truths.
What about all those ecumenical meetings between popes and other religious leaders? Popes know that both the other leader and his flock are facing damnation, at least according to the Syllabus. Furthermore, the other religious leader also knows this is the Church’s position. But those ecumenical meetings never discuss this, nor do they make any attempts at persuasion or conversion. Most say nothing at all about doctrine. They are Kabuki theater.
They are publicity stunts that let each leader display his benevolent and godlike qualities to his flock, thus strengthening their bonds. Preaching or signaling to the other flock is at best secondary. Another purpose is to promote the “product category,” rather than specific religious brands. These photo-ops cast religion in a favorable light by showing competing faiths working together to establish goodwill on earth - a display of divine love that warms the hearts of many. Finally, they divert attention from unpleasant realities. I suspect that popes arranged many of these meetings around the time that various scandals were in the news – or were soon expected to be.