Liberalism: An Evil Defined

The following excellent explanation of liberalism is taken from: Parente, Pietro; Piolanti, Antonio; and Garofalo, Salvatore, Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology, translated by Emmanuel Doronzo, O.M.I., S.T.D., Ph.D. (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1951) p. 163 and 164. I have provided only the linked references and one small note in brackets.

Liberalism. A doctrinal current, quite complex and changeable, which has had various interpretations and practical applications, not easily definable. The basic concept of liberalism is liberty, taken as emancipation and independence of man, society, and State, from God and His Church.

Born of Encyclopedism, liberalism finds a philosophical justification in Kantianism (q.v.), and gains strength with naturalism and rationalism (q.q.v.); with the French Revolution it enters the sociopolitical field and manifests itself as exaggerated democracy (sovereign people), as separatism with respect to the relations between Church and State (“A free church in a free State”), as indifferentism in matters of religion and worship, and as abstentionism (noninterference) of the State in economics (“Leave everything to private initiative”) [BAM note: this form of liberalism is known as “libertarianism” in American politics].

In the first half of the past [19th] century this dangerous and erroneous current made great inroads among Catholic ranks, assuming a more moderate form and insisting especially on the separation of Church from State and on broad-mindedness with regard to a liberal spirit. Characteristic in this connection was the Catholic-Liberal movement in France, led by Félicité de Lamennais, and followed enthusiastically by Lacordaire, a Dominican, Montalembert, and others. These sought, with the best of intentions but to no avail, to Christianize liberalism, fundamentally adverse to revealed religion. The Church was forced to intervene, first warning, then condemning.

The principal documents of the Church magisterium are: (I) The encyclical, Mirari vos, of Gregory XVI (1832). (2) The encyclical, Quanta cura, with the attached Syllabus, of Pius IX (1864). (3) The encyclicals, Immortale Dei and Libertas, of Leo XIII (1885 and 1888).

In the Syllabus (q.v.) is found the explicit and detailed condemnation of liberalism, whether philosophical, theological, religious, or sociopolitical. Certain modern tendencies with a more attenuated liberal tinge are to be distinguished from this classic liberalism.

Leo XIII, in his two famous encyclicals, confirms the condemnation given by Pius IX in the Syllabus, maintaining vigorously the rights of God and of the Church with regard to the individual and the State, which cannot divest itself of interest in the religious problem or put the Catholic Church on a par with other cults. But, in consideration of contingent difficulties, he does not condemn the government which, for reasons of freedom of conscience, permits in its territory — even where the majority of citizens is Catholic — the free exercise of other religious forms. This is a tolerance, therefore, of practical necessity, similar to that with which God tolerates evil by the side of good in the world; but the principle remains intact, namely: the truth and the right of the Catholic religion and Church in its relations with the individual, with society, and with the State.


BILLOT, De Ecclesia Christi, Vol. 2 (Rome, 1922), pp. 15—58. CONSTANTIN, “Libéralisme,” DTC. DE PASCAL, “Libéralisme,” DA. GIBBONS, Faith of Our Fathers (Baltimore, 1890) GRUBER, “Liberalism,” CE. MANNING, “Liberty of the Press,” Essays, third series (London 1892). MING, Data of Modern Ethics Examined (New York, 1897). WEILL, Histoire du catholicisme libéra1 en France 1828—1908 (Paris, 1909).

  • Howie Flecher

    No church has any right whatsoever to intrude into the public discourse with regard to matters of social morals, or anything else. To do so is to relinquish the tax free status the government gives to churches to, in effect, stay the heck out of the way. It is quite revealing that you would make the blanket statement that liberalism is an “evil”, and that the catholic church should be distinguished from all other “cults”. This use of the language of exceptionalism and also eliminationism shows the true character of your church, and re-affirms my own opinion that it is something that needs to stay far away from me and my family. I’m quite glad that these most transparent aspects of the hypocrisy of your institution is now on full display for the world to see.

  • Rhetorical tool

    The hope for the future is not the Catholic Church in politics but the Christian conscience in society. Take a look at places like Saudi Arabia if you want to see the end result of mixing church and state. I like our system better.

  • Rhetorical: I would rather behold Christendom to see the results of Christian religion and Christian statecraft working together. Islam and Catholicism have very different notions of Church-State relations, and always have.

  • Stephen Parker

    Did the Council Fathers who contributed to “Gaudium et Spes” – referred to famously as a sort of “counter-syllabus” – draw clearly on the work of the French Catholic-Liberals: Lacordaire, et al?

    Has there been any recent writing on a re-examination of the Syllabus vs. GS?

    Also, Rhetorical, Saudia Arabia (and the Islamic model in general) is in no way a “mixing of Church and State”. Even in it’s more-or-less benign forms, it’s much more the denial of any difference between the two. Islam is a legal system to which (by its own lights) everyone on earth must submit: whatever they believe privately, or publicly profess in terms of religion.

    About my questions, I suppose I could do my own internet research! If anything comes to mind, super. If not, no problem. Thanks for another excellent post.

    In XP,

  • Stephen: What inspired the progressive Fathers and periti was not so much the old-school liberalism of the 19th century, but a developed/attenuated form of it known as La Nouvelle Théologie — . The leaders of this school were the luminaries of neo-modernism: Henri de Lubac, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Yves Congar, Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, Edward Schillebeeckx, Marie-Dominique Chenu, and others. Many of these named neo-mods were periti at Vatican II. Some of them (e.g., Schillebeeckx) became much more radical than the others.

    The best recent writing on the subject is “The Ecumenical Vatican Council II, A Much Needed Discussion,” by Msgr. Brunero Gherardini. He’s respectful of the authority of Vatican II and its fathers, but within the framework of a theological critique, he has some pretty stunning observations, including a defense of Pius IX and his Syllabus. The book is not in our bookstore, because the publishers basically sell it at their cost. You can get it from “Academy of the Immaculate.”

  • Ben H – USA

    With respect to the beliefs and lofty educational background of the author, the above article stating that liberalism is “an evil” involving “emancipation and independence of man, society, and State, from God and His Church” that distorts what the author implies is the proper relationship between Church and State, seems to me to beg the question: how could anyone who is not Catholic possibly subscribe to this view, this political philosophy which would seem to grant the Catholic Church an exceptionally large berth in determining government policies that would by no means be necessarily in non-Catholic people’s interest? Additionally, how could Catholics who support democratic fairness in any country (all except Vatican City) where not every citizen is Catholic support an official relation between (Roman Catholic) Church and the State?
    On another note I commend Brother Marie on his astute observation that economic libertarianism is a form of liberalism, when the two related schools of thought are often presented, at least in US political discourse, as being opposing ideas.

  • Ben: I would not expect non-Catholics to subscribe to the ideal of a confessional Catholic state, although there might possibly be those whose good judgment on temporal matters would make them tend to see the wisdom of traditional Christian polity. Neither would I expect a secular or other non-Catholic society to adopt the social teachings of the Church as a model for its statecraft. This ideal has always been proposed exclusively for Catholic countries, and never as a result of the overthrow of a legitimate regime.

    By the way, the article did not say — and I would not advocate — that the Church determines government policy. In the days of truly great Catholic leaders (of Church and State) this was never the ideal. The “two swords” were considered distinct, but the natural law of God, and the supernatural law of God were both respected by Church and State.

  • Jude

    Favorite book on line for free reading is LIBERALISM IS A SIN