PIUS IX 1846-1878

Rationalism and Indifferentism*

 

[From the Allocution, “Singular quadem,” Dec. 9, 1854]

 

1642 There are, besides, Venerable Brothers, certain men pre-eminent in learning, who confess that religion is by far the most excellent gift given by God to men, who, nevertheless, hold human reason at so high a value, exalt it so much, that they very foolishly think that it is to be held equal to religion itself. Hence, according to the rash opinion of these men, theological studies should be treated in the same manner as philosophical studies [see n.1708], although, nevertheless, the former are based on the dogmas of faith, than which nothing is more fixed and certain, while the latter are explained and illustrated by human reason, than which nothing is more uncertain, inasmuch as they vary according to the variety of natural endowments and are subject to numberless errors and delusions. Therefore, the authority of the Church being rejected, a very broad field lies open to every difficult and abstract question, and human reason, trusting too freely in its own weak strength, has fallen headlong into most shameful errors, which there is neither time nor inclination to mention here; for, they are well known to you and have been examined by you, and they have brought harm, and that very great, to both religious and civil affairs. Therefore, it is necessary to show to those men who exalt more than is just the strength of human reason that it (their attitude) is definitely contrary to those true words of the Doctor of the Gentiles: “If any man think himself to be something, whereas he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” [Gal. 6:3]. And so it is necessary to show them how great is their arrogance in examining the mysteries which God in His great goodness has deigned to reveal to us, and in pretending to understand and to comprehend them by the weakness and narrowness of the human mind, since those mysteries far exceed the power of our intellect which, in the words of the same Apostle, should be made captive unto the obedience of faith [cf. 2 Cor. 10:5].

 

1643 And so, such followers, or rather worshipers of human reason, who set up reason as a teacher of certitude, and who promise themselves that all things will be fortunate under its leadership, have certainly forgotten how grave and terrible a wound was inflicted on human nature from the fault of our first parent; for darkness has spread over the mind, and the will has been inclined to evil. For this reason, the famous philosophers of ancient times, although they wrote many things very clearly, have nevertheless contaminated their teachings with most grave errors; hence that constant struggle which we experience in ourselves, of which the Apostle says: “I see a law in my members fighting against the law of my mind” [Rom. 7 23]

 

1644 Now, since it is agreed that by the original sin propagated in all the posterity of Adam, the light of reason has been decreased; and since the human race has most miserably fallen from its pristine state of justice and innocence, who could think that reason is sufficient to attain to truth? Who, lest he fall and be ruined in the midst of such great dangers and in such great weakness of his powers, would deny that he needs the aid of a divine religion, and of heavenly grace for salvation? These aids, indeed, God most graciously bestows on those who ask for them by humble prayer, since it is written: “God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble” [ Jas. 4:6]. Therefore, turning toward the Father, Christ our Lord affirmed that the deepest secrets of truth have not been disclosed “to the wise and prudent of this world,” who take pride in their own talents and learning, and refuse to render obedience to faith, but rather (have been revealed) to humble and simple men who rely and rest on the oracle of divine faith [cf. Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21 ].

 

1645 You should inculcate this salutary lesson in the souls of those who exaggerate the strength of human reason to such an extent that they venture by its help to scrutinize and explain even mysteries, although nothing is more inept, nothing more foolish. Strive to withdraw them from such perversity of mind by explaining indisputably that nothing more excellent has been given by the providence of God to man than the authority of divine faith; that this is for us, as it were, a torch in the darkness, a guide which we follow to life; that this is absolutely necessary for salvation; for, “without faith . . . it is impossible to please God” [ Heb. 11:6] and “he that believeth not, shall be condemned”[Mark 16:16].

 

1646 Not without sorrow we have learned that another error, no less destructive, has taken possession of some parts of the Catholic world, and has taken up its abode in the souls of many Catholics who think that one should have good hope of the eternal salvation of all those who have never lived in the true Church of Christ [see n. 1717]. Therefore, they are wont to ask very often what will be the lot and condition after death of those who have not submitted in any way to the Catholic faith, and, by bringing forward most vain reasons, they make a response favorable to their false opinion. Far be it from Us, Venerable Brethren, to presume on the limits of the divine mercy which is infinite; far from Us, to wish to scrutinize the hidden counsel and “judgments of God” which are ‘a great deep” [ Ps. 35:7] and cannot be penetrated by human thought. But, as is Our Apostolic duty, we wish your episcopal solicitude and vigilance to be aroused, so that you will strive as much as you can to drive from the mind of men that impious and equally fatal opinion, namely, that the way of eternal salvation can be found in any religion whatsoever. May you demonstrate with that skill and learning in which you excel, to the people entrusted to your care that the dogmas of the Catholic faith are in no wise opposed to divine mercy and justice.

 

1647 For, it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood; but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not stained by any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God. Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things? For, in truth, when released from these corporeal chains “we shall see God as He is” [ 1 John 3:2], we shall understand perfectly by how close and beautiful a bond divine mercy and justice are united; but, as long as we are on earth, weighed down by this mortal mass which blunts the soul, let us hold most firmly that, in accordance with Catholic teaching, there is “one God, one faith, one baptism” [ Eph. 4:5 ]; it is unlawful to proceed further in inquiry.

 

1648 But, just as the way of charity demands, let us pour forth continual prayers that all nations everywhere may be converted to Christ; and let us be devoted to the common salvation of men in proportion to our strength, “for the hand of the Lord is not shortened” [Isa. 9:1] and the gifts of heavenly grace will not be wanting those who sincerely wish and ask to be refreshed by this light. Truths of this sort should be deeply fixed in the minds of the faithful, lest they be corrupted by false doctrines, whose object is to foster an indifference toward religion, which we see spreading widely and growing strong for the destruction of souls.

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