Catholic History


THIS Council met on December 8, 1869, and is not yet concluded. No general council had been held for three hundred years, and the author of the articles on Trent in Herzog's "Encyclopedia," writing only about seven years before the bishops met in the Aula of the Vatican, speaks of another general council as a moral impossibility. Yet, it is easy enough to see that the events of half a century had been preparing the way for the General Council of 1869. The interference of statesmen with the freedom of the Church had turned the law (Concil. Trid. sess. xxiv. "De Reform." C. 2) which requires provincial synods to be held every three years, into a dead letter. The same cause would also have proved an obstacle, and probably an insuperable one, to great assemblies of the bishops at Rome. But the revolution which stripped the Church of her wealth certainly left her free in action. The first Provincial Synod which had been known for long, assembled at Tuam in 1817, and its decrees were confirmed at Rome. It was followed by the National Synod of Hungary, held at Pressburg in 1822. But it was from the United States that the revival of Provincial Councils really came. There were Provincial Synods of Baltimore in 1829, 1833, 1837, 1840, 1843, 1846, and 1849. Pius IX in his early Pontificate urged the observance of the Church's law upon the bishops. Soon, no fewer than twenty provincial councils had assembled in France; Austria and Hungary followed the example in 1858 (Synods of Vienna and Grau), Holland in 1865 (Synod of Utrecht), and numerous synods were held in Germany in England, just after the hierarchy had been restored, in Ireland, in Australia, and in South America (Quito and New Granada). Even the Catholics of the Oriental rites were affected by the movement. Syrians, Maronites, Armenians, met in council, and the last Council of the Armenians at Constantinople in 1869 deserves special notice. In Italy, on the other hand, political troubles made the number of provincial councils very small. Nor was this revival of synodical action the only preparation for a general council. Pius IX. had three times seen a vast number of bishops gathered round him viz. at the definition of the Immaculate Conception, at the canonisation of the Japanese martyrs, on the eighteenth centenary of the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul. Since the Second Lateran Council Of 1139, Rome had never witnessed such an assembly of bishops as this last one. Nor was it simply the fact of these unions which led the way to the General Council in the Vatican. It is evident now that the chief definition of this Council viz. that of the Papal Infallibility, came as the result of forces which had been long at work. The French universities had disappeared in the storms of the Revolution, and Gallican principles were dying out in France itself. In Italy, Spain, and Portugal, where, owing to the influence of the Governments, Gallicanism had found, even late in the last century, such representatives as Tamburini, Bishop Solari, Fontani, Palmieri, Degola, Bishop Clement of Barcelona, etc., it was now wholly extinct. Many of the provincial councils and the bishops in their assemblies at Rome had held language which showed that a proposal to define the Pope's infallibility would meet with no opposition among the majority. With the German Catholics it was otherwise. There many of the clergy were still educated at "mixed" universities many of the Catholic professors had already manifested their distrust of the "Roman" theology, and some of them had come into collision with the Roman Congregations. They clung, in the supposed interests of science, to methods different from those which prevailed at Rome. And even in France there was a party, small in numbers, but strong in talent and character, which was attached to liberal principles in politics and distrustful of Roman interference in such matters. They had fought the Church's battle for freedom of instruction and they were unwilling to admit that the appeal they had made to the principles of freedom and toleration was after all only an argumentum ad hominem. Ultramontanism then prevailed throughout the Church, but it was opposed by a small band of Catholic "liberals" in France, and by a number of learned men in Germany. The former advocated the interests of freedom, as they understood it; the latter, those of philosophy, history and theology, as they understood them. There were, besides, Catholic statesmen in both countries who saw danger to the State in a definition of Papal infallibility.

Pius IX. first imparted his idea of convoking a General Council to the cardinals of the Congregation of Rites in December, 1864; and shortly afterwards he consulted all the cardinals who resided in Rome on the matter. They were requested to submit to the Pope their opinions, in writing, on the opportuneness of such a convocation, and the subjects which, supposing the Council opportune, ought to be discussed. Nineteen advised the convocation, two were against it, one was doubtful. In March, 1865, five cardinals (Patrizi, Reisach, Panebianco, Bizarri, Caterini) were appointed to consider the votes sent in, and these, with the addition of some other cardinals and of consultors, were formed into a Congregation of Direction (Cecconi, "Storia del Concil. Vatic." lib. i. cap. i). In April and May a circular was addressed to thirtysix bishops, begging their opinion on the subjects to be treated (ib. Doc. ii.), and letters were also addressed to the Nuncios at the various Courts, asking them to find theologians fit to act as consultors in the preliminary congregations (ib. Doc. iv.). Next year, in February and March, certain Oriental bishops and bishops of the Greek rite in the Austrian Empire, were also consulted (ib. Doc. vi. and vii.). All these consultations were made in the strictest confidence. On June 4, 18671, Cardinal Caterini wrote to all the bishops present for the centenary of the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul. He added a list of seventeen questions on points of discipline, and invited suggestions on other matters (ib. Doc. ix.).

At last, in the same month, the Pope announced in a public Consistory of some 500 bishops his intention of convoking the Council (ib. Doc. x.), and by a bull of June 29, 1869 (ib. Doc. xxxvi.), the Council was summoned to meet at Rome on December 8, 1869. Meantime, in September of the previous year, "all bishops of the churches of Oriental rite not in communion with the Apostolic See" (ib. Doc. xxxvii.), and all "Protestants and nonCatholics" (ib. Doc. xxxviii.), were invited to attend. There was some thought of addressing a similar invitation to the Jansenist bishops in Holland, but it was resolved not to do so (ib. vol. i. p. 119 seq.). It was intended that these Oriental bishops should be allowed no part in the Council till they professed the Catholic Roman faith whole and entire; and it was explained in a letter to Archbishop, now Cardinal, Manning that the Protestants were only invited to attend that they might be referred to "experienced men," and have their difficulties solved. No effect followed from these letters to Orientals and Protestants, except a few protests (Friedrich, "Geschichte des Vatikan Concils," i. p. 723 seq.). Besides the Commission of General Direction, mentioned already, the Pope nominated six special commissions _ for Ceremonial, the Relations of Church and State, the Churches and Missions of the East, the Religious Orders, Dogmatic Theology, and Discipline. Each consisted of a cardinalpresident, and of consultors from all parts of the world. Vercellone, Theiner, Tarquini, Franzelin, Schrader, Perrone, Gibert, Freppel, Hefele, Haneberg, Hergenröther, Alzog, Molitor, Moufang, Hetlinger, Feijje, were among the consultors. Dr. (now Cardinal) Newman was asked to be a consultor, but declined on account of bad health. It was the duty of these special congregations to prepare "schemata" i.e. draughts of canons and decrees for the consideration of the Fathers. Their members were bound to absolute secrecy.

Till the Council met nothing was said by anyone in authority of any intention to define Papal infallibility. But attention was roused by statements in the French correspondence of the "Civiltà," February 6, 1869 (reprinted in Cecconi, Doc. cxl.). In this Jesuit organ, published at Rome, and believed by many to possess very high authority in the Roman Court, it was stated that the Council would probably set its seal to the condemnations of the Syllabus; that the bishops would define the Pope's infallibility by acclamation, and that the corporal assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven would be made an article of faith. This was the occasion soon after of the famous articles in the Augsburg "Allgemeine Zeitung," which afterwards appeared in the, form of a book entitled "Janus." It professed to be written from a Catholic point of view, but was in reality a bitter attack on the Papacy. In April, 1869, Prince Hohenlohe, Foreign Minister in Bavaria, sent a circular to the European Governments warning thern of the political dangers which the Council might cause (Fried. rich, ib. i. P. 774), and in September a large majority of the German bishops assembled at Fulda laid before Pius IX. their fears as to the consequences in Germany should Papal infallibility be defined. This document was undoubtedly despatched to the Pope, but Cecconi, after laborious search, could not find it in the Roman archives (Cecconi, part i. vol. ii Sect. i. P. 479.)

The time of convocation was drawing near, and Pius IX. in a brief "Multiplices inter," November 27, 1869 (ib. Doc. Iii.), arranged the order of business at the Council. The preparatory commissions had done their work and were to be replaced by new ones. The Pope appointed five cardinalpresidents; viz. Reisach (who died shortly afterwards, and was replaced by DeAngelis), De Luca, Bizzari, Bilio, Capalti, a secretary viz. Bishop Fessler of St. Pölten, and a deputation of members of the Council who were to examine proposals made by the bishops. Four other deputations for Dogma, Discipline, Religious Orders, and Oriental Rites, were to be chosen by the Fathers of the Council, but each was to be placed under a cardinalpresident nominated by the Pope himself. The schemata drawn up by the preparatory commissions were to be printed and distributed to the Fathers. The bishops might send proposals to be examined by the directive deputation. These new schemata or proposals, if approved by it, were also to be printed and circulated among the bishops some days before the discussion on them began. Bishops who wished to speak on any subject must notify their intention at least a day before. They were to do so in order of rank, and after they had ended others might obtain leave to speak from the presidents. If there was no prospect of agreement, the schemata, according to their subjectmatter, were to be referred to the special commissions for revisal and then voted upon in general congregation. Finally, the canon or decree was to be read in the Pope's name in solemn session, the Fathers were to answer "Placet" or "Non placet;" the Pope was to announce the result, and, in case of acceptance by the Council, to confirm its decision by Apostolic authority. The Council opened on December 8, 1869. There were 719 members present, and by March of the following year as many as 764. Of these 120 were archbishops or bishops in partibus infidelium, now called titular prelates, and 52 were abbots, generals of orders, etc. (From the lists in Schneemann.)

Much time was spent in discussions on discipline, the preparation of a Short Catechism, etc., which have issued as yet in no definite result. The work actually finished consists of two Constitutions _ one, "De Fide Catholica," made up of chapters and canons on the primary truths of natural religion, on revelation, on faith, and the connection between faith and reason; the other, "De Ecclesia Christi," treating chiefly of the primacy of the Roman See, and defining the Pope's immediate authority over all Christians. The former constitution passed with comparatively little difficulty. It was unanimously accepted by the 667 Fathers present, and confirmed by the Pope in the third public session, April 24, 1870.

Very different was the fate of the second constitution. We have seen that nothing had been said, at least publicly and by authority, before the Council met, of any intention to define the Pope's infallibility, and Cecconi (lib. i. cap. i.) assures us that of the cardinals first consulted by the Pope i. e. in 1864 two only even mentioned the subject. Scarcely, however, had the Council met when a "postulatum" representing the views of the great majority of the Fathers, begged that the question should be proposed for decision. On the other hand, in January, 1870, fortyfive German and Austrian bishops, thirtytwo French, joined by three Portuguese and four Orientals, twentyseven from nations of English speech, seventeen Orientals, seven Italians, begged the Pope to prevent the discussion. (Original texts in Friedrich, "Documenta ad Illustrandum Concil. Vatic." Abth. i. Pp. 251, 254, 256, 450.) At the same time, outside the Council, a protest was made by Dr. Döllinger, as well as by the French Minister Daru and the Austrian von Beust, supported by the Bavarian, Portuguese, Prussian, and English Cabinets. Archbishops Dechamps of Malines, Manning of Westminster, Spalding of Baltimore, and Bishop Martin of Paderborn, were prominent on the side of the majority; while the learned Hefele, who was promoted to the bishopric of Rottenburg in November, 1869, Strossmayer, bishop of Diakovar in Slavonia, Cardinal Rauscher, archbishop of Vienna, Darboy, archbishop of Paris, Dupanloup, bishop of Orleans, Maret, bishop in partibus, Kenrick, archbishop of St. Louis, in the United States, Clifford, bishop of Clifton, were strenuous supporters of the opposition.

New complications arose from a document issued by the cardinalpresidents at the wish of the Pope on February 20, 1870. Complaints were made of the way in which the discussions were protracted, and accordingly new arrangements were devised. In the discussion on any amended schema no one was to take part without giving notice beforehand of that particular portion of the said schema on which he meant to address the Council. Further, at the request of any ten Fathers, the presidents might ask the Council if they desired the discussion to proceed, and, if a majority said no, they might close it there and then. This led more than a hundred prelates to protest, in a document addressed to the presidents, that by these regulations "the freedom of the Council might seem in several respects to be impaired, nay, destroyed" ("minui imo tolli posse videatur"). They implored that nothing should be defined except with the moral unanimity of the Fathers, and appealed to the example of Pius IV. at the Council of Trent. Otherwise they feared that "the character of the OEcumenical Council might be exposed to doubt" ("oecumenici concilii character in dubium vocari possit." Text in Friedrich, Abth. i. P. 258 seq.) It must be remembered, however, that the whole discussion was extended over seven weeks. The points at issue must have been perfectly familiar to those with whom the decision lay, and the majority could not be expected to tolerate a protracted discussion which had no real influence on opinion, and only served to impede definition.

Early in May the schema "De Ecclesia," with the added clauses on Papal infallibility, was laid before the Council, and the conciliar discussion upon it began. On July 13, it was voted upon in general congregation; of the Fathers present 451 said "Placet," sixtytwo "Placet juxta modum" i.e. they were ready to accept the Constitution with modifications, but not as it stood; eightyeight said "Non placet;" seventy did not vote at all. In the last general congregation the Fathers protested against the calumnies of the press, especially against the report that the Council was not free. In a letter to the Pope fiftyfive bishops declared that their mind was unaltered, but that they meant to absent themselves from the public session. This was held on July 18. The bull "Pastor/Eternus," containing the Constitution "De Ecclesia," and the definition of Papal infallibility was read. Thereupon 535 answered "Placet," the two others viz. Bishop Riccio of Ajaccio and Bishop Fitzgerald of Little Rock "Non placet." The Pope then confirmed the decree by Apostolic authority. On that same day Napoleon III. declared war against Prussia. On September 20 the Italians possessed themselves of Rome, and by a brief of October 20 the Pope prorogued the Council. It has never been reassembled.

In the articles on FAITH and on the POPE, we have said something on the meaning of the Vatican decrees, and in that on OLD CATHOLICS we have spoken of the opposition made to them. No single bishop refused assent, and for that and other reasons a schism of any considerable magnitude was impossible.

(The histories of the Council by Cecconi and Friedrich resemble in more points than one those of the Tridentine Council by Pallavicino and Sarpi, with this notable difference, that Sarpi wrote before Pallavicino, while Friedrich takes care to write after Cecconi, and to use his materials. Neither historian has reached the actual assembly of the Council. Cecconi has access to the Vatican archives, so that his work [first part published 1873] will always be indispensable. But it has already exceeded 3,000 pages large octavo; it is filled with much irrelevant matter, is badly written and badly arranged. Friedrich's first volume [1877] is well arranged and interesting, and does not, as far as we can test it, alter the facts; but it is disfigured by a vehement invective against the Roman Court and Ultramontanism in general. For the actual history of the Council Friedrich's collection of documents [1871] was useful but incomplete and has been replaced by the fuller collections of Bishop Martin [1873] and the Protestant Friedberg [1871.] The Jesuit Father Schneemann [1871] has prefixed a short history of the Council to his edition of its decrees, and there is another brief history by the learned Protestant Frommann [1872].

1 So Schneemann, Kanonen und Beschlüsse des Vatikan Concils, Einleit. p. xv. The date in Cecconi viz. Tune 6. 1886 must be a slip.

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