Vatican Council, First
Vatican Council, First,1869–70, the 20th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church (see council, ecumenicalcouncil, ecumenical
[Gr.,=universal], in Christendom, council of church leaders, the decisions of which are accepted by some segment of the church as authoritative, also called general council.
..... Click the link for more information. ), renowned chiefly for its enunciation of the doctrine of papal infallibilityinfallibility
, in Christian thought, exemption from the possibility of error, bestowed on the church as a teaching authority, as a gift of the Holy Spirit. It has been believed since the earliest times to be guaranteed in such scriptural passages as John 14.16,17.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Convening and Meetings
The council was convened by Pope Pius IXPius IX,
1792–1878, pope (1846–78), an Italian named Giovanni M. Mastai-Ferretti, b. Senigallia; successor of Gregory XVI. He was cardinal and bishop of Imola when elected pope.
..... Click the link for more information. , who announced his intention in 1864. Because of the Italian political situation (the Papal States were the only bar to a united Italy), the advisability of having a council at all was questioned by the Catholic powers, who traditionally opposed strong action on the part of the church. In 1868 it was widely rumored in Europe that the enunciation of papal infallibility as a dogma was the purpose of the council and that it would confirm the papal denunciations of modernistic rationalism and liberalism. As a result there was a widespread attack on the prospective council in non-Catholic circles of France, Great Britain, and Germany. Within the church several prominent persons denounced the enunciation of infallibility as a dogma. Chief of these were Johann Joseph Ignaz von DöllingerDöllinger, Johann Joseph Ignaz von
, 1799–1890, German theologian and historian, leader of the Old Catholics. Ordained in 1822, he was subsequently professor of church history and ecclesiastical law at the Univ.
..... Click the link for more information. in Germany, Lord ActonActon, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, 1st Baron,
1834–1902, English historian, b. Naples; grandson of Sir John Francis Edward Acton and of Emmerich Joseph, duc de Dalberg.
..... Click the link for more information. in England, and the comte de MontalembertMontalembert, Charles Forbes, comte de
, 1810–70, French political leader and writer, b. London. He went to Paris (1830), where he became associated with Jean Lacordaire and Félicité de Lamennais in the Catholic liberal movement and served as editor of the
..... Click the link for more information. in France.
The council was convened Dec. 8, 1869, in St. Peter's, and it was attended by some 600 of the higher clergy (patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, abbots, generals of orders, and theologians) from all over the world. The Eastern Churches in schism were invited, and the Protestants were officially informed. Late in 1870 the council was brought to a halt by the entrance of Italian soliders into Rome, and a month later the pope prorogued the council indefinitely; it was never reconvened.
Constitutions of Faith and Infallibility
Two constitutions were promulgated by the Vatican Council and confirmed by the pope. The first was on the faith, consisting of four chapters holding chiefly that God is personal, that man knows God by reason and revelation, that faith is a supernatural virtue, and that faith and reason are complementary, never contradictory. The second constitution concerned the papacy; after defining the primacy of papal jurisdiction it goes on to enounce definitively the dogma of infallibility. This, the one official statement of the doctrine, reads in its significant part as follows: "The Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when he, in the exercise of his office of his supreme apostolic authority, decides that a doctrine concerning faith or morals is to be held by the entire Church, he possesses, in consequence of the divine aid promised him in St. Peter, that infallibility which the Divine Savior wished to have His Church furnished for the definition of doctrines concerning faith or morals; and that definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not in consequence of the Church's consent, irreformable." Past definitions are included in the statement.
In the council there was a long dispute over the enunciation. In the first vote it stood 451 in favor, 88 opposed, and 62 conditionally in favor; at the last vote 433 were in favor of the promulgation, two opposing, 55 abstaining. All the fathers of the council accepted the dogma as true. After the council a great deal of discussion of infallibility took place among non-Catholics; violent attacks were made on the pope, the church, and the council. Within the church the papal infallibility had been generally believed for many centuries. A few groups departed from the church. The most important was the Old CatholicsOld Catholics,
Christian denomination established by German Catholics who separated themselves from the Roman Catholic Church when they rejected (1870) the decrees of the First Vatican Council, especially the dogma of the infallibility of the pope.
..... Click the link for more information. in Germany, under Döllinger; in France a small group headed by Père Hyacinthe (Charles LoysonLoyson, Charles
, 1827–1912, French preacher, called Père Hyacinthe. He was successively a Sulpician, a Dominican, and a Carmelite. In 1869, when he was perhaps the best-known preacher in France, he opposed the calling of the Vatican Council.
..... Click the link for more information. ) also seceded. The political results were numerous: Otto von Bismarck gave the definition as the reason for the KulturkampfKulturkampf
[Ger.,=conflict of cultures], the conflict between the German government under Bismarck and the Roman Catholic Church. The promulgation (1870) of the dogma of the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals within the church sparked the conflict; it
..... Click the link for more information. , and Austria used it as an excuse to abrogate its concordat with the Holy See. The French government denounced it in a memorandum, which was acceded to by Britain, Spain, and Portugal. The anger of the states reflected the chief political effect of the enunciation of papal infallibility: since the doctrine made GallicanismGallicanism
, in French Roman Catholicism, tradition of resistance to papal authority. It was in opposition to ultramontanism, the view that accorded the papacy complete authority over the universal church.
..... Click the link for more information. and similar claims obsolete, governments could no longer use them to interfere in church affairs.
See E. C. Butler, The Vatican Council, 1869–1870 (1930, repr. 1962); A. Ryan, ed., Newman and Gladstone: The Vatican Decrees (1962).