The following numbered paragraphs are condemned as errors by Pope Pius IX. Although some persons say that every Syllabus of Errors is infallible, I think it falls under the ordinary non-infallible Magisterium.
“15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true. — Allocution Maxima quidem, June 9, 1862; Damnatio Multiplices inter, June 10, 1851.”
The truth is that we all have an objective grave moral obligation to find the fullness of truth in the Catholic Faith, and to become a believing and practicing Catholic. Those who fail through invincible ignorance may still be saved, even if they follow some other religion. Those who fail and who sin gravely without repentance, along with those who reject the true Faith culpably are condemned to Hell, unless they repent.
Freedom of religion is necessary in a pluralistic society, as a political right, because no one is justified in forcing someone to convert to the Catholic Faith.
The “forced baptisms” of Augustine were not the same as forcing conversion. This was considered by the Saint for cases where the town was in danger of mass deaths by war or natural disaster, and he thought that their souls might be saved in this way. And the “forcing” was not literally holding down adults and baptizing them, which would not be valid; but rather some pressure from local government leaders, at a time when Christianity had political power, to influence them to be baptized.
In terms of salvation, people are free before God, in absolute terms, to follow their own conscience. If anyone joined the Catholic faith, thinking it to be a false religion, they would sin against God. So people are required to follow their own conscience. Even so, there is an objective and grave obligation to become Catholic, as the Church is the sole Ark of Salvation. They only are saved who die as one of Her members, at least implicitly, as proven by the state of grace.
“16. Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation. — Encyclical Qui pluribus, Nov. 9, 1846.”
The surest path to salvation is the Catholic Faith. The further one goes from Catholicism, the more difficult it is to be saved. By the mercy of God, persons in any religion may obtain salvation, but this is obtained despite the errors of that non-Catholic religion, due in part to whatever in that religion is also in Catholicism, and also due to invincible ignorance and a sincere but mistaken conscience.
The condemned error is an error because it makes all religions seem equal, whereas the benefits of Catholicism are so much greater than any other religion. As previously stated, human persons have a grave moral obligation to find the Catholic Church and enter the true Faith by baptism.
By the way, Satanism is not a religion. Whoever chooses to worship evil commits an actual mortal sin and is condemned, unless they repent. And just like the idolatry of sex or violence or money or fame, it is not to be considered a religion at all. As for the pagan religions, these are essentially no different from atheist, as there is nothing of true religion in them. The term religion must be reserved for those beliefs which at least contain love of God and neighbor. Thus, moderate peaceful Islam is a religion, whereas an extremist version of Islam, which is merely used to justify horrific violence against innocents, is an offense against the one true God.
“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. — Encyclical Quanto conficiamur, Aug. 10, 1863, etc.”
Notice that the statement is qualified by the phrase “not at all in the true Church of Christ”. In fact, persons who are in no sense members of the Church are not saved. However, implicit membership is possible, as is explained by the same Pope who wrote the above quote (n. 17) and the same Pope who wrote this Syllabus of Errors:
“Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching. There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.”
And this proves that the past teachings of the Church on other religions is NOT to be interpreted such that only Catholics or only Christians are saved. Then, too, the further one goes from the Catholic Faith, the more difficult is the path of salvation. All religions are not equal, but all are offered a path of salvation which is concretely accessible to them, in good conscience.
“22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church. — Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, Tuas libenter, Dec. 21, 1863.”
The above error is commonly found among the papal accusers. They reject any teaching of the Church that they dislike, by saying that it is non-infallible; and therefore they are supposedly under no obligation to believe it. This claim of theirs is an errors condemned by Pope Pius IX. We are obligated to believe even non-infallible teaches, as Pope Benedict XVI teaches in Donum Veritatis, and as the Second Vatican Council taught in Lumen Gentium. Notice how the teachings of the Church before and after Vatican II are in harmony. Pope Pius IX also taught that there are “those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace.” And this is the same Pope who issued the Syllabus of Errors. With the proper interpretation and understanding, there’s no discontinuity between pre- and post-Vatican II, only a wise development of doctrine.
“23. Roman pontiffs and ecumenical councils have wandered outside the limits of their powers, have usurped the rights of princes, and have even erred in defining matters of faith and morals. — Damnatio Multiplices inter, June 10, 1851.”
It is a condemned error to claim that Popes and Councils have “erred in defining matters of faith and morals.” And as understood by the previous condemned error (n. 22), this assertion is not limited to infallible teachings. As Saint Robert Bellarmine taught, Ecumenical Councils cannot err on matters of faith or morals: “A general Council represents the universal Church, and hence has the consensus of the universal Church; wherefore if the Church cannot err, neither can a legitimate and approved ecumenical Council err.”
The non-infallible teaches of Popes can err only to a limited extent, never to a grave extent. Therefore, if a proposed error in a papal teaching would be grave, it is a false accusation. Some say that Ecumenical Councils can teach non-infallible, in which case the same assertion would apply, no grave errors are possible and any proposed error of a Council’s non-infallible teaching, if it would be grave, must be not at all an error. My view, currently, is that Ecumenical Councils never err in their teachings on faith or morals, as they either are issuing a solemn definition or they are teaching definitively, without a particular solemn definition. The ordinary and universal Magisterium does not disappear when a Council is in session.
Notice that n. 22 and 23 are condemned as errors by Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors, a document that Catholics on the far right claim is infallible. (I opine that it is an exercise of the non-infallible Magisterium, but nevertheless contains no errors.) And yet they regularly violate its teaching in both 22 and 23. They claim that they are only strictly bound to hold infallible teachings; that is a condemned error. They claim that Popes and Councils have “erred in defining matters of faith and morals.” They reject teachings of Ecumenical Councils, and not only teachings of Vatican II. They reject teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, such as on freedom of religion — a teaching not in conflict with the above explained teachings of Blessed Pope Pius IX. They reject many teachings of Pope Francis. They refuse to believe his non-infallible teachings (thus falling under the condemnation of n. 22). They accuse him of grave errors on faith and morals, whereas n. 23 asserts that Popes and Councils cannot err in defining matters of faith and morals.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.