Good morning father,
I am writing to you because some of my friends, involved with Monsieur Lefebvre’s fraternity, pointed out to me that the Syllabus of Errors is an act of infallible magisterium, and that the same is to say for the document Quanta Cura. These documents condemn many of the current positions taken by the Church’s pastoral ministry. I don’t know how to answer these considerations, as they appear correct to me. What is your opinion about this? I think that the Church cannot contradict itself; however, even if I tried to contextualize these documents, I couldn’t give myself a satisfactory explanation.
I hope you will answer me, and I salute you as a brother in Christ.
The answer from father Angelo
1. These two documents must be read within the problematics of their times n, which were profoundly different from today in terms of both the socio-cultural situation and the thought of the time. Taking those documents and applying them to today’s world is incorrect from both of these aspects.
2. In the encyclical Mater et Magistra, published in 1961, Pope John XXIII observed that “The attempt to find a solution to this problem [the order of coexistence] has given birth to a number of theories. Some of these were little more than ephemeral; others have undergone, and are still undergoing, substantial change; others again are proving themselves less and less attractive to modern man.” (MM 213) All this was true almost a hundred years after the two documents by Pius IX, and it is even more true today..
3. I affirm it’s true not simply because it was said by John XXIII, but because this is how things are. We live in a profoundly different society from the one that Pius IX lived in. To read present times as if nothing changed in 160 years can’t be anything but anachronistic.
4. Moreover, even without detracting anything from the authoritativeness of the two documents you mentioned, it must be said that we cannot “throw out the baby with the bathwater”, as not all the condemnations are expressed with the same tone. Some regard the Divine Revelation, others regard specific currents of thought that today no one really follows or considers anymore. For example, think about the proposition number 76 of the Syllabus, which condemns those who affirm that “the abolition of the temporal power of which the Apostolic See is possessed would contribute in the greatest degree to the liberty and prosperity of the Church”. Even Pius IX did not intend to excommunicate those who thought differently. This is a prudential judgement made by the Church, which was formulated accordingly to the viewpoint of that historic period.
5. What’s the point in opposing a world or a reality which doesn’t exist anymore? If I may give you a suggestion, don’t waste your time in similar conversations that only generate disaffection towards the Church, while inhibiting progress in the spiritual life (which must improve even in the midst of all the difficulties that today’s Church is facing).
6. This progress can only happen through love. When love fails both in judgements and discipline (that manifest itself through obedience to the Roman Pontiff and by being in full communion with him), this must be interpreted as an obvious sign that we’re not on the right track.
This is what I think.
I bless you, wish you all the best and assure you of remembrance to the Lord.