Maxima Quidem

Introductory Note

Blessed Pope Pius IX is imagined by many as a bitter reactionary and megalomaniac, the Pope who locked himself up in the Vatican and shut out the modern world, who arranged his own apotheosis and announced “La Tradizione son Io!”  

We reject this slanderous caricature of the great Pope, whom we cannot help but venerate.  He was a zealous and holy man, plagued by political difficulties beyond his control, struggling to preserve the integrity of the faith amidst the death throes of Christendom.  Here at The Josias, we remember him fondly as the Pope of the Syllabus, the architect of the First Vatican Council, and the great defender of the rights of the Church vis a vis the modern nation state.  

In his great Syllabus Errorum, Blessed Pius compiled a collection of errors associated with modern politics and philosophy, which he had identified in his earlier writings and speeches as Pope.  Today we are pleased to present, for the first time in English, a translation of one of the main source documents for the Syllabus.  This translation represents the first-fruits of a collaborative translation project, undertaken by the community behind The Josias. We offer it in thanksgiving to God for the fruitfulness of our labors over the past year, and with the prayer that He, through the intercession of Blessed Pius and Mary Immaculate, would employ our work further, for the liberty and exaltation of the Church and the salvation of souls.

The translation provided here is based on the text in Pii IX Pontificis Maximi Acta, Pars Prima, Vol. III.  A dual Latin-English edition of the text can be found in PDF format here. —The Editors



Translated by H.H.G.

We were moved with great joy, Venerable Brethren, when yesterday, with God’s good help, We were able to bestow the honors and cult of the Saints upon twenty-seven most invincible heroes* of our divine religion, with you standing by our side. You, our highest solace and consolation, who, gifted with great piety and virtue, are called to our aid in such harsh times to take part in fighting for the House of Israel. If only, while we are bathed in such joy, no cause of sorrow or grief would discourage us from other quarters.

For we cannot but be vehemently grieved and distressed when we see the most lamentable evils and damages, which can never be sufficiently deplored, by which, to the great detriment of souls, the Catholic Church and civil society itself are pressed and torn asunder in the most pitiable manner. As you know well, Venerable Brethren, a most abominable war has been enflamed against the whole Catholic cause by those men, who are enemies of the Cross of Christ. For since they do not accept sound teaching, having joined in a foul conspiracy, they blaspheme in their ignorance, and endeavor by perverse arts of every kind to shake the foundations of our most holy religion and of human society. Indeed they endeavor, as if it were possible, to overthrow religion and society altogether, and to infect the hearts of all men with the most baleful errors, to corrupt them, and to turn them away from the Catholic religion.

Truly these most cunning artificers of fraud and fabricators of falsehood do not cease to call forth from the darkness all monstrous portents of ancient errors—already overthrown and driven away so many times by the wisest writings, and condemned by the most solemn judgment of the Church—and to magnify them, expressing them in new, varied and most fallacious forms and expressions, and to disseminate them in all modes everywhere.

With this most calamitous and utterly diabolical method they befoul and disfigure the knowledge of all things; they spread abroad a fatal poison, to the ruin of souls, and encourage unbridled license of living, and all manner of vicious lusts; they invert religious and social order; they strive to extinguish even any idea of justice, truth, right, honesty, and religion, and they mock, and scorn, and attack the most holy dogmas and doctrine of Christ. The soul shudders, and indeed, flees, and shrinks from even lightly touching on such precipitous and pestilential errors, by which men of this sort in these wretched times confound all things divine and human.

None of you are ignorant, Venerable Brethren, that such men are plainly destroying that necessary coherence, which, by the will of God, intercedes between both orders, natural and supernatural; and likewise these same men transform, subvert, and destroy the proper, true, and genuine nature and authority of divine revelation, and the constitution and power of the Church. And they proceed in this boldness of opinion, so that they do not hesitate most audaciously to deny every truth, and every law, power, and right of divine origin.

For by no means do they blush to assert, that the knowledge of moral and philosophical things, and likewise civil laws, can and should deviate from divine revelation and the authority of the Church. And they say that the Church is not a true and perfect society, completely free. They claim that she is not able to define Her proper and constant rights, bestowed upon Her by Her divine Founder; but that it is for the civil power to determine the rights of the Church and the limits within which She can exercise those same rights.

From this, they perversely allege that it is possible for the civil power to immerse itself in affairs that pertain to religion, morals, and spiritual government, and furthermore to prevent the bishops and the faithful from communicating freely with the Roman Pontiff, the highest of all divinely established pastors of the Church, and they dissolve that necessary and closest union, divinely instituted by Christ the Lord himself, which ought to be between the members of the mystical body of Christ and its visible head.

And they are not at all afraid to pronounce, by every fallacy and trickery, before the whole world, that the sacred ministers of the Church and the Roman Pontiff ought to be excluded from every right and dominion of temporal affairs.

Further, they do not hesitate to assert, with the greatest impudence, that divine revelation is not only useless, but even harmful to human improvement, and that revelation is incomplete and therefore subject to a continuous and indefinite development corresponding to the progress of human reason.

Nor do they fear to claim that the prophecies and miracles described and recounted by the sacred scriptures are nothing but the inventions of poets, and the sacred mysteries of our divine faith the result of philosophical speculations, and the sacred books of both Testaments full of invented myths and even (horribile dictu!) that Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is a mythical fiction.

Thus, according to the prating of these most unruly adherents of perverse dogmas, the moral law is in no need of divine sanction, and it is not at all necessary for human laws to conform to natural right or receive their binding force from God. And therefore they assert that there is no divine law.

In addition, they dare to deny any activity of God in men and in the world. And they rashly assert that human reason, without any reference to God, is the only judge of truth and falsehood, good and evil, and that human reason is a law unto itself, and suffices by its own natural power for the care of the good of persons and peoples. But since they perversely dare to derive all truths of religion from the inborn force of human reason, they assign to man a certain basic right, from which he can think and speak about religion as he likes, and give such honor and worship to God as he finds more agreeable to himself.

But they indeed arrive at the impiety and effrontery to try to attack heaven and remove God Himself from our midst. With singular lack of principle, equal only to their folly, they do not scruple to assert that there is no all wise and provident Divine Being distinct from the things of this world, and that God is identical to nature, and that He is therefore subject to change; and that God is really coming to be in man and in the world; and that all things are really God and of God’s substance; and that God and the world are really one and the same thing, and so too spirit and matter, necessity and freedom, truth and falsehood, good and evil, just and unjust are all really the same.

Certainly nothing more demented, nothing more impious, nothing more repugnant to reason itself can ever be imagined or devised than this. But they prattle about authority and right so heedlessly, that they impudently say that authority is nothing other than the sum of number and material forces, and that right consists in material fact, and that all duties of men are an empty name, and that all human deeds have the force of right.

Now again, heaping up fabrications upon fabrications, delusions upon delusions, and trampling every legitimate authority, and all legitimate laws, obligations, and duties, they do not hesitate to substitute, in the place of true and legitimate right, false and pretended rights of natural forces, and to subject the order of morals to the order of material things.

Nor do they recognize other powers, except those which are placed in matter, and every upright discipline of morals they place in the accumulating and increasing of riches by any means whatsoever, and in the satiating of any and all pleasures. And with these nefarious and abominable principles, they maintain, favor, and exalt the false sense of rebellious flesh for the spirit, and bestow upon it natural endowments and rights, which they say are trampled through Catholic doctrine, utterly despising the warning of the Apostle crying, “For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Rom. 8:13).

Moreover, they strive to usurp and destroy all rights of legitimate property, and falsely feign and imagine in mind and thought that there is a certain unbounded right, which they rashly judge to be the origin and font of all rights, from which the State derives its power.

But while we touch hurriedly and with sorrow upon these preeminent errors of our most wretched age, we omit to review, Venerable Brethren, the innumerable other falsehoods and frauds, which are especially well-known and evident to you, by which the enemies of God and men struggle to confuse and convulse both the sacred and public spheres. And We pass over in silence the many and most grave injuries, calumnies, scorns, with which they unceasingly tear at and slander the sacred ministers of the Church and this Apostolic See. We say nothing of the iniquitous hypocrisy, with which the leaders and accomplices of the destructive party of perturbation and rebellion, chiefly in Italy, persist in saying that they wish for the Church to enjoy Her liberty, while with daring sacrilege they continually trample upon all the rights and laws of this very Church, and despoil Her goods; and in every way harass and thrust into prison Her bishops and ecclesiastics, although these so discharge their illustrious office so well; and they violently drive the mothers of religious orders and virgins consecrated to God away from their convents, and despoil them of their goods; and leave nothing untried so that they might crush the Church, and reduce Her to the most shameful servitude.

And while certainly we feel singular delight at your most welcome presence, you yourselves see what liberty the Venerable Brethren, bishops in Italy, now have, who, strenuously and constantly fighting the battles of the Lord and the labors of their adversaries, have, to the greatest sorrow of our soul, not been able to come to us at all, and be among you, and be present at this assembly, which they very much had wished for, just as the Archbishops and Bishops of unhappy Italy have signified to us and to this Holy See in their most plentiful letters of the utmost love and obedience.

Indeed you also see that none of the sacred prelates of Portugal are present here, and we suffer in no small measure when we consider the nature of the hardships which hinder them, such that they cannot be present among us.

We pass over so many other truly distressing and horrible things, done by the adherents of these perverse doctrines, to Our unspeakable sorrow, and to yours, and to that of all good men. Nor do We speak of the impious conspiracies, and perverse devices and fallacies of all kinds with which they seek completely to overthrow and destroy the civil power of this Apostolic See. We prefer to recall the wonderful unanimity with which you, together with other Venerable Brethren, the bishops of the whole Catholic world, never ceased to refute such fallacies in letters to us and in pastoral letters to the faithful, in which you taught that the civil power of the Holy See was given to the Roman Pontiff by a special decree of divine providence, and that this is necessary so that the Roman Pontiff might not be subject to any worldly authority, and might thus be able with full liberty to exercise the supreme power and authority, which was divinely granted by Christ the Lord Himself, to shepherd and rule the whole flock of Christ, and be able thus to promote what is best for the Church, and provide what is good and advantageous and needed for the faithful.

Those things that we have lamented thus far, Venerable Brethren, show plainly the sorry spectacle.

For who does not see that the Christian people from day to day are miserably beguiled by the iniquity of so many perverse dogmas, and by so many depraved delusions and machinations, and are thrust into ruin; and that the Catholic Church, her salutary teaching, her venerable rights and laws, and her sacred ministers, are besieged, and that, for these reasons, all manner of vices and calamities predominate and are increased, and civil society itself is continually stirred up?

And so we, exceedingly mindful of our Apostolic office, and especially solicitous of the spiritual good and salvation of all peoples, divinely entrusted to us from heaven—since, to use the words of our most holy predecessor Leo I, “We cannot otherwise govern those entrusted to us, unless we, with the zeal of faith in the Lord, seek after those who destroy and are destroyed, and, with what severity we can muster, sever them from sound minds, lest this pestilence be disseminated more broadly.”**—lifting up our Apostolic voice in this your most distinguished assembly, we reject, proscribe, and condemn all the particularly related errors, entirely repugnant and very much opposed not only to Catholic faith and teaching, and to divine and ecclesiastical laws, but also to the everlasting and natural law, and to justice and right reason.

But you, Venerable Brethren, who are the salt of the earth, and the guardians and pastors of the Lord’s flock, again and again we stir up and implore, that you might proceed on behalf of your distinguished religion and episcopal zeal, just as up to now, with the highest praise of your order, you have worked, with all care, zeal, and eagerness, to protect the faithful delivered to You from these venomous places of pasture, and with what expression, with what commodious writings You have labored to refute and cast down so many portents of perverse opinions.

For you know best about the chief thing to be done, since it concerns the cause of our most holy faith, and that of the Catholic Church and Her doctrine, and of the salvation of peoples, and the good and tranquility of human society. Therefore, so far as it is in You, do not cease ever to turn and divert from the faithful the contagions of so dire a pestilence;—that is, do not cease to remove from their eyes and hands ruinous books and newspapers, and assiduously to imbue, and educate, and admonish, and exhort the very same faithful, with the most pious instructions of our august religion, so that they might flee from these teachers of iniquity, as from the presence of a serpent.

Go on to direct all your cares and thoughts toward that foremost purpose, so that a Clergy might be established in a skillful and holy manner, and be refulgent in all the virtues, in order that the youth of either sex might be formed attentively according to decency of morals, piety, and every virtue; so that the course of study may be salutary. And guard and watch most diligently, lest at any time, in handing on the humanities, and the more difficult disciplines, there might creep in anything which opposes faith, religion, and good morals.

Do manfully, Venerable Brethren, lest you should lose strength of soul in the great commotion and iniquity of the times; but relying entirely on divine help, and taking up in all things the impregnable shield of equity and faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, do not cease to resist the exertions of all enemies of the Catholic Church and of this Apostolic See, and to blunt their darts and shatter their assaults.

But in the meanwhile, with eyes raised to Heaven, let us not desist, Venerable Brethren, from ceaselessly beseeching and imploring, in the humility of our heart, and with the most fervent prayers, the most clement Father of mercies, and the God of all consolation, Who from the shadows makes light to shine, and Who is able from stones to raise up children for Abraham; so that, through the merits of His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, He might will to extend to the Christian and civil republic a succoring hand, and destroy all errors and impieties, and enlighten the minds of all those who err with the light of His divine grace, and to turn and recall these to Himself, by Whom His holy Church might acquire that most desired peace, and receive, from day to day, greater increase everywhere on the earth, and might prosperously flourish and blossom forth.

But in order that we might more readily obtain the things we seek and ask, let us never cease to make recourse to the foremost intercessor before God, the Immaculate and most Holy Virgin Mother of God, Mary, who, the most merciful and most loving mother of us all, ever extinguishes all heresies, and than whose patronage there is none more propitious to God.

Let us also seek the patronage both of St. Joseph, the spouse of the same Virgin, and then of the holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul, and of all the heavenly host, and of those especially whom, having been added most recently to the calendar of Saints, we honor and venerate.

Yet before we make an end of our words to you, we are not able to refrain, in fact let us again testify and confirm, that we enjoy the greatest consolation, when we delight in the most agreeable sight of all of you, who, obliged with such faith, piety, and esteem to us and to this Chair of Peter, and fulfilling your ministry, glory in procuring, with all zeal, the greater glory of God, and the salvation of souls; and who, with minds most harmonious, and with admirable care and love, one with the other Venerable Brethren of the entire Catholic world, the bishops, and with the faithful committed to your care and theirs, you do not cease to alleviate and lighten our most burdensome difficulties and hardships in every way.

Wherefore yet again, on this occasion we declare the feeling of our most loving and thankful soul toward you, and toward all the other Venerable Brothers, and the faithful, publicly and with great words.

But we ask of you, that, when you return to your Dioceses, you might deliver in our name to those same faithful, entrusted to your care, these thoughts of our mind, and assure them of our paternal charity towards them, and of the Apostolic benediction, conjoined with best wishes for true felicity, which we are exceedingly glad to impart to you, and to the same faithful, from the innermost depths of our heart.


* St. Paul Miki and Companions

** Letter VII, to the Bishops of Italy, ch. 2