Liberalism has been condemned by the Pope in many and various documents. From these let us select a few epithets which stigmatize it with unsparing emphasis. They will bring out in striking relief the perfidious character of this cunning heresy.
In his brief to Mgr. De Segur in regard to the latter's well known work Hommage Aux Catholiques Liberaux the Pope calls it a "perfidious enemy"; in his allocution to the Bishop of Nevers, "the present real calamity"; in his letter to the Catholic circle of St. Ambrose of Milan, "a compact between injustice and iniquity"; in the same document he speaks of it as "more fatal and dangerous than a declared enemy"; in his letter to the Bishop of Quimper, "a hidden poison"; in the brief to the Belgians, "a crafty and insidious error"; in another brief to Mgr. Gaume, "a most pernicious pest". All these documents from which we quote may be found in full in Mgr. Segur's book Hommage Aux Catholiques Liberaux.
But Liberalism is always strategically cunning. It rejected these very plain condemnations on the ground that they had all been made to private persons; that they were, therefore, of an entirely private character, by no means ex cathedra, and, of course, not binding. Heresy is always sophistically obstinate; it clings to the least pretext, seeks every excuse to escape condemnation. Barricading itself behind these technical defenses, Liberalism practically defied the authority of the Church. Its perfidy was short-lived. A solemn official public document of a general character and universally promulgated would sweep away the cobwebs with which Liberal Catholics had endeavored to bind the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff. The Church could not refuse a formal and decisive word to relieve the anxiety of her children. That word was spoken; it was the Syllabus of Errors of December 8, 1864.
All faithful Catholics hailed it with an enthusiasm only equaled in intensity by the paroxysm of fury with which the Liberals received it. Liberal Catholics thought it more prudent to strike at it covertly by overwhelming it with artificial interpretations. The Liberals denounced it with unsparing bitterness; the Liberal Catholics whittled it away by all manner of emasculating explanations. It was a document fatal to both; they had reason to fear it, the one execrating it, the other seeking with desperate subtlety to parry the blow, for the Syllabus is an official catalogue of the principal errors of the day in the form of concrete propositions placed under the formal ban of the Church. In it will be found, succinctly formulated, the various errors which are met with in the current literature of the times. The Syllabus crystallizes all these errors and stamps them with the seal of the explicit and formal condemnation of the Church. Here we have in detail all the Liberal dogmas. Although Liberalism may not be expressly named in any one of the propositions, most of its errors are there placed in pillory. From the condemnation of each of the Liberal errors results a condemnation of the whole system. Let us briefly enumerate them.
Condemnation of liberty of worship [propositions 15, 77, and 78]; of the placet of governments [propositions 20 and 28]; of the absolute supremacy of the State [proposition 38]; of the secularization of public education [proposition 45, 40 and 48]; of the absolute separation of Church and State [proposition 15]; of the absolute right to legislate without regard to God [proposition 56]; of the principle of nonintervention [proposition 62]; of the right of insurrection [proposition 63]; of civil marriage [proposition 73 and others]; of the liberty [license] of the press [proposition 79]; of universal suffrage as the source of authority [proposition 60]; of even the name of Liberalism [proposition 88].
There have been books, pamphlets, and articles innumerable written on the proper interpretation of the propositions of the Syllabus. But the most authoritative interpretation ought to be that of its radical enemies, not of course in the absurdities of their misunderstandings or perversions, like Mr. Gladstone's unfortunate attempt to distort some of its propositions into a sanction of civil disloyalty, a position from which he has since withdrawn, we are glad to be able to say. But outside of such patent misconstructions we may rely upon the interpretation given by Liberals of all shades, especially in those points wherein we see them wince under its uncompromising phraseology. When Liberals regard The Syllabus of Errors as their most detestable enemy, as the complete symbol of what they term Clericalism, Ultramontanism and Reaction, we may rest assured that it has been well interpreted in that quarter. Satan, bad as he is, is not a fool, and sees clearly enough where the blow falls with most effect. Thus he has set the authority of his seal-----which after God's is most reliable-----on this great work, the seal of his inextinguishable hate. Here is an instance in which we can believe the father of lies. What he most abhors and defames possesses an unimpeachable guaranty of its truth.