Modern era being 1500 CE and onward. Religious syncretism is an overlapping of faiths. For example, Santa Muerte is a Mexican folk saint that blends a Catholic icon with a native reverence of death. In 2013 her following was officially denounced by the Vatican.

The president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, said worshipping Santa Muerte was a "degeneration of religion".

Similarly, there are practitioners of both Voodoo and Christianity throughout the world, but in 2011 Pope Benedict gave a speech that denounced this overlap. He gave the speech in Ouidah, Benin- a city referred to as the spiritual capital of Voodoo.

Since the 1500's, when did the papacy or an official spokesman first make such a statement? By official I mean either a designated representative of the Holy See or the Pope himself. What is the earliest example of the Pope formally denouncing such overlaps in faith?

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The first statement of the Apostolic See on syncretism with non-christian practices after 1500 may be a decree of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide from 12 September 1645.

This was the first comment of the Apostolic See on the Chinese Rites controversy between the most Jesuits and the other missionaries in China (Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians and a minority of the Jesuits). The Jesuits used a policy of accomodation allowing e.g. participating in the seasonal rites for Confucius and some forms of ancestor worship. They declared this as "civil ceremonies" not depending on religion.

Others regarded this as syncretism and complained in Rome. First Propaganda Fide issued a prohibition of the rites (12 September 1645), followed by a partial withdraw in 1656. The prohibition was renewed on 20 November 1704, in the apostolic constitution "Ex illa die" 19 March 1715 and finally the bull "Ex quo singulari" 11 July 1742 (German source).

I will add the text of those documents when the libraries open again. I did not found them online.


According to the OED, syncretism is

the system or principles of a school founded in the 17th century by George Calixtus, who aimed at harmonizing the sects of Protestants and ultimately all Christian bodies: see Calixtin n. 2

Calixtin n. 2: "George Calixtus (1586–1656), a Lutheran divine and professor at the University of Helmstedt, Brunswick, noted for his moderate and conciliatory views and writings on controversial points"

Although the word "syncretism" was not explicitly used, one of the principal reasons for the convocation of the Council of the Trent by Pope Paul III on 22 May 1542 was to clarify Christian doctrine against Lutheran corruptions of it and thereby foster unity in true doctrine:

[…] since neither Christian and Catholic truth, nor our own dignity nor that of the Apostolic See would permit us to yield in this, we chose rather to command that it be proposed openly that a council be held as soon as possible […] [Because] the truth of whose faith and whose religion are now so violently assailed both from within and without[, we desire to] […] bring speedily and happily to the desired result whatever things pertain to the purity and truth of the Christian religion, to the restoration of what is good and the correction of bad morals, to the peace, unity and harmony of Christians among themselves, of the princes as well as of the people, and whatever is necessary to repulse those attacks of barbarians and infidels whereby they seek the overthrow of all Christendom.

The decree concerning the opening of the council (13 December 1545, the first session, celebrated under Paul III) also implied that "peace and unity" result from "the extirpation of heresies" (i.e., by not syncretically compromising on doctrinal truths and principles):

Does it please you, for the praise and glory of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the advance and exaltation of the Christian faith and religion, for the extirpation of heresies, for the peace and unity of the Church, for the reform of the clergy and Christian people, for the suppression and destruction of the enemies of the Christian name, to decree and declare that the holy and general Council of Trent begins and has begun?

They answered: It pleases us.

quotes from: Schroeder, O.P.'s Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent
cf. also Jedin's history of the Council of Trent

For a good overview of the Catholic doctrine of unity in the true faith, see Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Satis cognitum: On the Unity of the Church.

  • 1
    Your first link is a login page for the OED, followed by a second link, which directs to a definition posted in the New Advent Encyclopedia. Could this also be an acceptable definition?
    – user42241
    May 20, 2020 at 17:30

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