O, how bastardized liberalism is! Within the Catholic world, especially online, is a great hatred for liberalism; “liberalism is a sin. It is the mother of all evils. Satan was the first liberal.” I have seen outbursts against it de temps en temps before. For those who are not Catholic or do not know of the Catholic social circles, there are handful of Catholic who find that liberalism is the mother of all evils. But which liberalism are they speaking of? Or is it a categorical condemnation? Is the Church on their side? Well, these men speak to a specific liberalism. It is a historical liberalism, one of many that they rightfully hate. It is one that is inspired by the French Revolution. It is anti-Catholic and borne from blood and unwarranted revolution. Ultimately though, it takes on two actually illiberal characteristics. It worships equality (unnatural) and begets licentiousness (corruption). It is only a matter of historical record that it is called “liberalism.” But if the liberalism we speak of is good, natural, and in accordance with Christian virtue, why spare any confusion? Why not use a new name? This cannot be done. True liberals own the word. It should not be sacrificed to those who bastardize its true, natural meaning, whether they praise this liberalism or condemn it. And my fear is that Catholics who reject that historical liberalism will have among their casualties, true liberty, which was ordained by God to reside in the will of man. But where does this illiberal fury rage from?

It is typically predicated on being an authoritarian Catholic. And this presupposes that a traditional Catholic must be well versed in Catholic philosophy and theology—or at least be of that appearance—to have such a specific philosophical quarrel (of great implications though), one that is lost on the majority of practicing Catholics. They might affirm true liberty, but deem it necessarily impractical today, taking on a utilitarian approach to many intellectual realms, that an excess of order is the right prescription. All in all, to them, liberalism whether it started well & ended terribly, is intrinsically evil, or destroyed itself by its own success, liberalism is deemed an evil, anti-Catholic concept.

But, why do traditional Catholics vehemently deny liberalism? The reason why is because they vacuously read Syllabus Errorum, the Syllabus of Errors, by Pope Pius IX, with an utmost juvenility, merely reading the surface of pages and nothing deeper. Does Pope Pius IX condemn liberalism in the same way that traditional Catholics do? He condemns what the name represented at the time, what would be more aptly called licentiatarianism, that historical liberalism.

For a good definition of liberty—subsequently of liberalism rightly understood—Libertas 1-13 by Pope Leo XIII says it best. One will find that Leo XIII’s definition and exposition of liberty is the basis of a true liberalism. We both take liberty to be subject to reason, because the intellect precedes the will.[1] The proper end or object of liberty is virtue or the good.[2] It is understood by both that license, when liberty is erroneously used for desires of sin, is slavery.[3] Adherence to natural theology and especially to the Gospel is imperative for liberty.[4] In short, it should be that all men be “free to live according to law and right reason; and in this, as We have shown, true liberty really consists.”[5] This true liberty does not exclude God, but comes from Him. With this as our reference as to what liberty is, in the Catholic context, what is the reasoning of illiberal Catholics to reject liberalism?

Upon their release to the whole world on December 8th, 1864, two Church documents, Quanta Cura and Syllabus Errorum—the Syllabus is not an encyclical, by the way—, seemed to indicate to the whole world that Pope Pius IX was anti-liberal, anti-progress, and anti-civilization. Quanta Cura and Syllabus Errorum were Church documents that basically listed errors of the modern world. What they listed was condemned by the Church. They were untouchable ideas. This was at a time when Europe had been struck with revolution, revolt, and war all over. The old order was being disrupted, much like when Martin Luther unleased his revolution. To Europe’s eyes during this time, it had seemed that the Church made the world anathema. And within the Church, the sect of liberal Catholics, proponents of liberalism, was no less than distraught by what the Pope had done. Was this a categorical condemnation of liberalism by Pope Pius IX? No; this could not be any more incorrect. Alas, this is exactly what illiberal Catholics believe. Seeing that the whole world was misinterpreting Pius IX’s Quanta Cura and Syllabus Errorum, Bishop Dupanloup of Orléans, a staunch liberal and a leader of the liberal movement among Catholics in the 19th century, sought out to defend Pope Pius IX, the Church, and the two documents from an authentic liberal perspective. It was Dupanloup that showed us that Pius IX, the Church, and Quanta Cura & Syllabus Errorum, are not anti-liberal. In fact, all are greatly liberal.

In 1865, Dupanloup published La Convention du 15 Septembre et l’encyclique du 8 Décembre, (The Convention of September 15th and the Encyclical of December 8th). How does this great liberal defend the Syllabus?

Let us look to what Dupanloup has to say:

“Can they [false liberals] imagine that he [Pius IX] condemns… what is truly liberal and Christian in liberalism? It is a foolish fancy, however; and as directed against Pius IX, it is an injustice and enormous ingratitude!”[6]

Certainly, it would be foolish to deny that which is good in liberalism. It is not only foolish to say that Pius IX condemns what is truly liberal and truly Christian within liberalism, but that to say this is “an injustice and enormous ingratitude!” Have not we not seen participation in foolishness and unjust calumnies towards the Blessed Pius IX with mediocre musings?

Dupanloup continues this trend by calling out evil men who defile the good terms, liberal, progress, and civilization:

“False liberals…. have you not abused these grand words, the noble ornaments of the language of men—liberty, progress, civilization?”[7]

There must be a distinction to be made between false liberals and true ones. Imagine, discarding the terms, liberty, progress, and civilization, words of grandeur and nobility, because one has given a pithy skim of the Syllabus. The words Dupanloup pins to licentious men, who pervert the meaning of liberty, can aptly be applied to the illiberal men of today who do the same. To be licentious or illiberal are of the same clan, both of whom are against liberty to a high degree.

Dupanloup does not try to awkwardly impose liberalism on Christianity either, but being so confident in their intimate relationship, he says:

“[T]he great law of progress, of liberty, of civilization is the Gospel…. [O]ur Lord himself brought into the world the most exalted, the most pure, the most comprehensive ideal of these three qualities in all their noblest characters.”[8]

It is a fact that the Scriptures speak highly and frequently of liberty; this cannot be denied and it must be praised. Christ came to set us free; we would all benefit from a rereading of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians to further the agreement of liberalism to the Scriptures.

Adhering to true liberalism, embodying the freedom described in Scripture, and loving the will that God bestowed in each one of us, Dupanloup calms the liberal Catholic, reassuring:

“for those who, in speaking to us of progress, liberalism, and modern civilization, mean what is really good, useful, acceptable, and Christian, I repeat there is no need of reconciling the Pope with their meaning.”[9]

What is so evil about a liberalism that is good and Christian? We liberals, need not to wrestle with the Pope; it is our duty to defend against the detractors of liberalism, the Syllabus, and Pope Pius IX. It is that straight forward. True liberty is affirmed by Pope Pius IX.

“Yet, surely this was some sort of desperate retrofitting, where liberals disguised themselves as fellow sheep in the flock. Of course, it was nothing other than a clever, cute attempt, but the good traditional Catholics see through the façade.” O how the mighty fall!

Dupanloup’s supreme defense of the Syllabus in a grand liberal manner was not a rejected obscurity of its time. In fact, upon the publication of Dupanloup’s defense, 630 bishops—which was around 60% majority of the Church’s bishops—sent him letters of congratulations and praise in response.[10] Among his supporters were Cardinal Caterini (a principle architect of the Syllabus itself), Card. Guibert (Archbishop of Paris), papal Nuncio Mgr. Chigi to Paris, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Card. Deschamps, Card. Bonnechose, Card. Caverot, and Card. Bonald (All the cardinals mentioned were made cardinals by Pope Pius IX, except Card. Bonald, who was made a cardinal by Pope Gregory XVI).[11] Mgr. François Lagrange collected all 630 letters—not including all the letters of other clergy and laity—and has extracted sections of about 50 letters from cardinals, archbishops, and bishops.[12]

It benefits us to see what Cardinal Caterini had to say to Bishop Dupanloup:

“A prince of the Roman court, Cardinal Caterini, one of the great promoters of the Syllabus wrote to him [Dupanloup] in Rome: ‘… I estimate that this writing as an admirable work, a work of gold…. That argument is what victories win over error, eloquence at the service of truth and justice!’”[13]

The response of one of the principle architects and promoters of the Syllabus is absolutely golden, because Dupanloup’s defense is a golden work.

Cardinal Guibert, Archbishop of Paris, also had praiseworthy comments for Dupanloup and his liberal defense:

“You sir have well rendered services to the Church since you are bishop; this one is the greatest.”[14]

Along with Cardinals Caterini and Guibert, Mgr. Chigi, the papal Nuncio to Paris, had this to say:

“Monsignor Chigi, papal Nuncio to Paris: “I cannot finish without expressing to you sir, all my gratitude for this novel proof—that you come to give to the Church and to the Holy See—, your zeal and your devotion, and for the powerful support that you bring again and, if appropriate, to the cause of the Holy Father.”[15]

Even a papal Nuncio of Pius IX’s ventured to say Dupanloup, along with his recent work, was a powerful supporter of the Holy Father.

Perhaps, I have not yet convinced the traditional Catholics. If 630 bishops, which is a high majority of bishops, a Syllabus-architect Cardinal, and a solid liberal defense of the Syllabus were not enough—I know I would be satisfied—, do not threat. There is more.

Rev. Marvin R. O’Connell details in an article on Ultramontanism and Dupanloup that “in 1865 Joachim Pecci [Pope Leo XIII] had also congratulated Dupanloup’s publication of [his Syllabus defense,] La convention du 15 septembre et l'encyclique du décembre.”[16] This claim is further corroborated by Emile Faguet in Mgr. Dupanloup, un Grand Évêque. Faguet agrees, claiming “On the other hand, the future Pope Leo XIII, the Archbishop of Perugia, Mgr. Pecci, had energetically approved Mgr. Dupanloup about this circumstance and if Mgr. Dupanloup was treated paternally by the current pope, then he was fully approved by the Pope to come.”[17] What did Pope Pius IX and future Pope Leo XIII have to say about Dupanloup’s defense of the Syllabus? Do they agree with their many brother bishops?

Pope Pius IX wrote him a letter congratulating him on his defense, saying:

“[T]each and make your people understand the true sense of Our letters with all the more zeal and care with which you refuted most vigorously the calumnious interpretations that they were inflicted.”[18]

There is the explicit praise and affirmation of the good liberal, Dupanloup, by Pope Pius IX, author of Quanta Cura & Syllabus Errorum, supposed anti-liberal documents.

To further this continuity of praise by Pope Pius IX, Cardinal Pecci, the future Pope Leo XIII, wrote an even greater letter of praise for Dupanloup’s grand contributions:

“This work—that met the applause of Catholics and that made so much noise in Europe—is well worthy of your teaching, Monsignor, who art the defender and the support of the persecuted Holy See and who fought so furiously in our unhappy century. Please therefore, Monsignor, accept my congratulations with those of the whole world.”[19]

It is Dupanloup and his liberal thought that defends and supports the Holy See. Pope Leo XIII desired that he be met with applause, his congratulations, and the praise of the whole world.

Such repetitious iterations could never suffice to convey the gravity in which these endorsements carry, but I shall repeat anyways. Bishop Dupanloup of Orléans, a genuine liberal of the 19th century, and his monumental defense of the Syllabus via the liberal tradition were rightfully greeted with great praise and explicit congratulation from an astounding total of 630 bishops, Cardinal Caterini—a faithful architect and promoter of the Syllabus—, Pope Pius IX, and the future Pope Leo XIII. When it comes to the anti-liberal traditionalists, it is clear that the most traditional popes of the modern era are opposed to their empty position that liberalism is evil. Dupanloup, Pius IX, and Leo XIII are liberals, while those certain traditional Catholics are not.

What has been established is that the pro-liberal arguments put forth by the good Bishop of Orléans and the absolute vindication of said arguments by many of the highest in the Church hierarchy—and the highest, the one who sits on the Throne of St. Peter in both a present and future instance. Under this new light and vindication of liberalism, rightly understood, the major papal letters from the modern popes since Pope Gregory XVI must be reevaluated. We ought to follow the consensus of 630 bishops and two popes—previously thought to be anti-liberal—and take on a liberal perspective, true to the thought of the vindicated Bishop Dupanloup, an ardent liberal. Traditional Catholics, modern illiberals—many of which are also traditional Catholics—, cannot look to the letters of the modern popes for ammunition, for they all espouse the liberal idea.

The hermeneutic continuity of liberalism in Church teaching is unavoidable, undeniable, and unstoppable. At one of liberty’s most crucial moments, the 19th century, this demonstration of liberalism being continuously taught and affirmed in the 19th century should be all that is necessary to prove the continuity and affirmation true. But the key to all of this is none other than Dupanloup and his liberal defense of the Syllabus. We do not speak of the licentious devils who appropriated the name “liberal,” but affirm a libertas expressed by Bishop Dupanloup, affirmed by the popes, and practiced by the Church. Dupanloup has showed that the Roman Catholic Church is liberal; we see this to be extremely true from Pope Gregory XVI to Pope Pius IX to Pope Leo XIII. The Bride of Christ “named herself Liberty when she abolished slavery, rehabilitated woman, rescued childhood, old age, the poor, and all the weaknesses of humanity.”[20] This is in stark opposition to the blind and foolish belief amongst traditional Catholics. They could not be further from the truth in this regard.

And to finish with a refutation to a juvenile objection: all this talk of liberalism being good is true, but certainly, we should not use the name, because it has been destroyed; we do not want to confuse people. Firstly, this does not refute that the liberty of liberalism is a blessed thing. Secondly, we should not let evil steal that which is God’s. Pope Leo XIII recognizes this semantical equivocation done by false liberals, saying there are those “who follow in the footsteps of Lucifer…, substitute for true liberty what is sheer and most foolish license...., [and], usurping the name of liberty, style themselves liberals.”[21] I, as a true liberal and a Catholic, a liberal Catholic, will not let evil men nor ignorant men usurp the name of a gift from God. We ought to look to Dupanloup for guidance regarding this weak rebuttal.

As this frail purposeless objection is in vogue today, such was the same in 1865. False liberals of old and traditional Catholics today say the same erroneous words, but for different purposes; “the Church is anti-liberal” and depending on which group, this is either praiseworthy or condemnable. Dupanloup noticed the same disposition between false liberals and his illiberal Catholic colleagues, the ultramontanes. The illiberal ultramontanes that Dupanloup faced against are akin to the illiberal Catholics we encounter today. In his pamphlet, he materially addresses secular journalists and false liberals for their erroneous assumption that the Syllabus was illiberal, but more fundamentally “he was of course implicitly accusing the intransigent ultramontanes of the same fault.”[22]

Condemning the false liberals and implicitly illiberal Catholics of his time, Dupanloup sets the record straight by stating:

“You [false liberals] speak to us of progress, liberalism, and civilization, as if we were barbarians, and utterly ignorant of their meaning; but these sublime words, which you pervert, you learned from us [the Church], who gave you the true meaning, and, better yet, the sincere reality. Each of these words has had, and, in spite of you, still preserves, and will forever retain, a perfectly Christian meaning; and the day on which this meaning should perish, would witness the destruction of all real progress, all honest liberalism, all true civilization.”[23]

If we as Catholics, so much as forfeit the glorious word, liberalism, to wicked men, we all will eventually amount to no more than the life of a slave. I am afraid to say that currently, it is forfeited. It is time for us to take it back. Our confused brothers and the wicked outsiders will not render unto God what is His, so we must take it back. The Church must return to liberalism in name and in practice, so that She might be free. Let Her be surrounded by truth, that she might be set free. Let Her come to Christ freely.

Hopefully, the minds of traditional Catholics turn towards this real tradition, liberalism, maintained by the Church. Bishop Dupanloup defended the liberal character of both the Faith and Syllabus Errorum. Pope Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII, and 630 other bishops agree because of Dupanloup’s flawless display of argumentation. From Pope Gregory XVI to Pope Pius IX to Pope Leo XIII, the most traditional and orthodox popes of the modern era, true liberty was maintained. Many more encyclicals and apostolic letters could have been used to demonstrate this reality. The liberal character of the Church has never been more true. It is a shame that there are Catholics who, through their ignorance, spread illiberalism. Many post-liberals, integralists, and distributists are illiberal. But, putting it simply, they are wrong. Liberalism is Catholic.

[1] Libertas, 5.

[2] ibid., 5.

[3] ibid., 6.

[4] ibid., 12.

[5] ibid., 12.

[6] Dupanloup, La Convention du 15 Septembre et l’encyclique du 8 Décembre, p. 61.

[7] ibid., p. 62.

[8] ibid., p. 63-64.

[9] ibid., p.64.

[10] Mgr. F Lagrange, Vie de Mgr. Dupanloup tome deuxième, p. 301.

[11] L’Abbé Chapon, Mgr. Dupanloup et la Liberté, sa vraie doctrine, p. 366-368.

[12] Mgr. F Lagrange, Vie de Mgr. Dupanloup tome deuxième, p. 418-432.

[13] ibid., p. 299.

[14] L’Abbé Chapon, Mgr. Dupanloup et la Liberté, sa vraie doctrine, p. 366.

[15] ibid., p. 365-366.

[16] Marvin R. O'Connell, Ultramontanism and Dupanloup: The Compromise of 1865, p. 217.

[17] Emile Faguet, Mgr. Dupanloup, un Grand Évêque, p. 84.

[18] Henri Chapon, Évêque de Nice, Mgr. Dupanloup devant la Saint-Siège et l'Épiscopat, p. 255.

[19] Mgr. F Lagrange, Vie de Mgr. Dupanloup tome deuxième, p. 423.

[20] Dupanloup, La Convention du 15 Septembre et l’encyclique du 8 Décembre, p. 63.

[21] Libertas, 14.

[22] Marvin R. O'Connell, Ultramontanism and Dupanloup: The Compromise of 1865, p. 214.

[23] Dupanloup, La Convention du 15 Septembre et l’encyclique du 8 Décembre, p. 63.