In the Piazza del Gesù in Rome stands the mother church for the Society of Jesus, the Church of the Gesù. Inside one finds artist Pierre Le Gros’ classic marble relief, Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred (pictured above). Long recognized by art historians as an archetypal image of the Church Triumphant, the Web Gallery of Art notes:
In Le Gros’ work, Religion hurls down thunderbolts upon an old woman representing Hatred while a male figure of Heresy writhes vanquished beneath; to reinforce the point, a putto cheerfully tears pages out of a volume by the Swiss reformer Zwingli, and a tome beneath the figure of Heresy bears Luther’s name prominently on its spine.
In a similar vein as Le Gros’ masterpiece stands Pope Gregory XVI’s 1832 encyclical, Mirari Vos, On Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism. Written during a time of great political and ecclesial tumult, and by a pope only in the second year of his pontificate, Mirari Vos employs the full authority of the papacy to boldly combat error. The language is direct and triumphalist in tone, differing significantly from what we have seen so often in the post-conciliar years. Pope Gregory is also succinct in stating his purpose. At a mere 24 paragraphs total, Mirari Vos is most effective in part because of its brevity.
“Now We consider another abundant source of the evils with which the Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained. Surely, in so clear a matter, you will drive this deadly error far from the people committed to your care. With the admonition of the apostle that “there is one God, one faith, one baptism” may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever…” (13)
Regarding what Pope Gregory calls the “freedom of error”, or an individual’s “liberty of conscience”:
“This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. “But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error,” as Augustine was wont to say. When all restraints are removed by which men are kept on the narrow path of truth, their nature, which is already inclined to evil, propels them to ruin…” (14)
In the wake of the modern ecumenical movement and interfaith discussions, and at a time when religious truths often play second fiddle to religious liberty, the triumphalist language found in Mirari Vos is refreshing. As in Le Gros’ masterpiece in the Church of the Gesù, pray that we will once again see heresy and error condemned with boldness and clarity. Mercy and charity call for no less than this.
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.
The exciting adventure of proclaiming Christ in His Gospel does not permit an indifferent attitude because there is only confidence and belief in an all-powerful ad triumphant God. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
“At a mere 24 paragraphs total, Mirari Vos is most effective in part because of its brevity.”
Dear Mr. Williams,
The “churchmen” of the Second Vatican Council do not seem to possess very much Wisdom, nor do they use ANY Divine Authority to alleviate chaos amongst its members…
The “Second Vatican Church” IS NOT the True Church!!!
“Rome will LOSE the Faith and become the seat of antichrist…”
“A perverse man stirreth up quarrels: and one full of words separateth princes.”
Truly, this is one encyclical condemning the error of indifferentism that was not only rejected by the popes and Magisterium of the Second Vatican Council, but adopted with fervor in its emphasis on “unity” or ecumenism (which was also condemned by the Church from its very beginning as Scripture so clearly states.)
Of course, the issue that needs to be addressed is whether there is truly an contradiction between Mirari Vos and Vatican II. But that’s an issue you assume instead.
The problem with your article is, Lumen Gentium #14 affirms the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ and, “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.”
Also, Dignitatis Humanae #1 tells us:
“First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you” (Matt. 28:19–20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.”
However, it points out that the focus of Dignitatis Humanae (contra the Communists) are dealing with the rights of religious freedom against the state:
“Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” DH will also discuss the importance of Catholic missionary activity.
There is no contradiction between the essence of Gregory XVI and the Vatican II era and beyond–merely some differences on *how* they are to be carried out.
On the other side of the issue, I suggest you consider Pope Pius IX who, in 1863 wrote:
“7. 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.
9. God forbid that the children of the Catholic Church should even in any way be unfriendly to those who are not at all united to us by the same bonds of faith and love. On the contrary, let them be eager always to attend to their needs with all the kind services of Christian charity, whether they are poor or sick or suffering any other kind of visitation. First of all, let them rescue them from the darkness of the errors into which they have unhappily fallen and strive to guide them back to Catholic truth and to their most loving Mother who is ever holding out her maternal arms to receive them lovingly back into her fold. Thus, firmly founded in faith, hope, and charity and fruitful in every good work, they will gain eternal salvation.” https://www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/P9QUANTO.HTM
Please keep this in mind before trying to portray a breach.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment David. Indifferentism is widespread today. Many Catholics walk away from the faith believing they do not need to remain in the Church to inherit Heaven. In my other recent post here at 1P5 I referenced this stat from CARA:
Those indetifying as former Catholic adults has increased from 7.5m in 1975 to 28.9m in 2014
Vast numbers of the faithful have fallen into this error and yet we here little of this condemned in clear language. The language of Mirari Vos is not heard today, particularly at the parish level where the faithful continue to fall away, viewing Mass attendance and the practicing of their faith as optional.
I would also argue that the decisive language of Mirari Vos, and my article as well, demonstrate both charity and mercy.