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Vatican Council




VATICAN COUNCIL. The Vatican Council is the first and only plenary council of the Latin Church held since the close of the Council of Trent in 1563. But it bears very slight resemblance to that assembly in the cir-cumstances of its origin, objects, and proceedings. The Council of Trent was all but forced upon the Papacy by the demands of the principal Catholic states of Europe, and by the religious and political necessities of the time. It was convened for the purposes of endeavouring to secure the return of the Lutherans, Calvinists, and other revolted bodies to the Roman Church, and of applying stringent measures of reform to amend the numerous practical abuses and scandals which had mainly caused the revolt. And, while it failed conspicuously in the former of these objects, it did achieve a certain degree of success in the latter, by a variety of disciplinary enactments covering a large range of subjects, and was followed, in point of fact, by a marked improvement in clerical morals and diligence. The Vatican Council, contrariwise, originated with the Papacy alone, and was neither demanded nor desired by Roman Catholic Christendom. Its object was confined to securing the triumph of the hyper-Ultramontane school within the Roman obedience by establishing papal auto-cracy as divine and infallible; and it made no attempt whatever beyond a sterile discussion, not published in its Acts, to deal with any of the abuses and scandals which had either survived the Tridentine reforms or had sprang up since. While the Council of Trent did much to repair the damage done to the personal authority of the popes by tile incidents of the " great schism " and the character of the pontiffs who sat during the close of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century, it left several questions concerning the source and extent of papal authority un-decided, which proved a fruitful cause of debate between the Gallican and Ultramontane schools of theology, the former minimizing the papal claims as far as is compatible with acceptance of the tenet of the Petrine privilege, and viewing the Papacy as a constitutional monarchy under strict limitations, the latter holding it to be an autocracy resting on a divine charter, and incapable of restraint on the part of its subjects. But the French Revolution, by breaking up the old Gallican Church, led to the substitu-tion of a largely Ultramontane episcopate in France under the concordat between Pius VII. and Napoleon I., and thereby to the permanent declension of the moderate school, while, on the other hand, a variety of causes brought the Jesuits, recalled into corporate existence by the same Pius VII. in 1814, after forty years' suppression, again into the same position of chief influence in the Latin Church which they had occupied in the heyday of the counter-Reformation. They have always held steadily to the military ideas of their founder, and have therefore unceasingly striven to centralize and concentrate ecclesi-astical authority, to remove constitutional limitations upon its exercise, and to make it prompt, unfaltering, and trenchant in action. Clearly, if the Papacy could be con-verted into an absolute monarchy, this end would be attained at a single stroke, because the mere fiat of the supreme pontiff would thenceforward suffice as warrant for all ecclesiastical action, thus dispensing with cumbrous and dilatory machinery of every kind; and his delegated authority would enable any person wielding it to act with similar efficacy and despatch.

With the accession of Pius IX. to the papal chair in 1846 a favourable opportunity for carrying out this pro-gramme presented itself, for, weak in character and wholly unversed in theological learning, while strongly holding the very highest views of his own prerogatives and eagerly receptive of everything which tended to exalt them further, he was exactly the instrument suited for its execution. Two experiments, to test at once how far he was prepared to go, and how far Latin Christendom was prepared to submit in the matter of decrees on faith and morals issuing from himself singly, with no previous conciliar examina-tion or decision, were tried in 1854 by the promulgation of the tenet of the Immaculate Conception and in 1864 by that of the Syllabus of Errors. The former of these met with little resistance, the latter with none, and it was therefore judged safe to proceed with the bolder and more far-reaching scheme which they but foreshadowed. Its success appeared to be almost a foregone conclusion o for, not only could a compact and docile Italian majority be as surely reckoned on as it was at Trent, but the far larger number of Roman Catholic bishops all over the world had been virtually appointed by Pius IX. during his long pontificate, and that exclusively from the Ultramontane school. Nevertheless there was still a minority important enough to make some caution desirable in the earlier stages of the preliminaries, and the proposal to hold an oecumeni-cal council was first laid privately before the congregation of rites by the pope himself in December 1864, contemporaneously with the issue of the Syllabus, and im-mediately afterwards before all the cardinals then at Rome, who were desired to give their opinions as to the oppor-tuneness of convoking the council at all and as to the subjects it should discuss if convoked. Nineteen cardinals approved the proposal; two opposed it; and one remained neutral. In March 1865 a congregation of direction was formed to take further steps towards the desired end, and private communications were made to various bishops and to the nuncios at the different courts, who were asked to send competent theologians to take part in the preliminary congregations. Some communications were also made privately in 1866 to bishops of the Oriental rite. The first directly public intimation of the approaching council was made in June 1867, through a circular letter of Cardinal Caterini to the 500 bishops present in Rome at the 18th centenary festival of the martyrdom of St Peter and St Paul, inviting their reply to a schedule of inquiries. In September 1868 an invitation to attend was despatched to the Oriental bishops not in communion with Rome, and also to " Protestants and non-Catholics." But, as it was intended that no Oriental prelate should be admitted to a seat in the council till he had first made profession of the Roman Catholic system in its entirety, and as Pro-testants were merely to be referred to " experienced men " to convince them of their errors, the insincere invitation met -with no acceptance whatever. The bull, of convoca-tion was promulged on 29th June 1869, appointing 8th December 1869 as the day of meeting. A few days before this latter date, 27th November, Pius IX. issued the brief Multipliées inter, prescribing the mode of conciliar procedure and effectually fettering the council from the outset, so that it had never even the shadow of freedom which ostensibly was allowed to the Tridentine synod. This brief consists of a preamble and ten chapters, containing, amongst much else, the following provisions. Any member desiring to bring forward a proposal had to deliver it privately in writing to a special committee named by the pope (of which there were six for various departments), and it should contain nothing foreign to the traditions of the Roman Church. Unless the committee passed it, no further action could be taken upon it. Strict secrecy as to the proceedings of the council, and even as to the opinions of particular members, was to be observed towards all outsiders. All new decrees and canons were to be discussed in preliminary congregations before the public sessions, drafts being supplied some days previously, and those who desired to speak to the questions were obliged to give notice at least a day beforehand. Priority of speech was secured for these ; if others desired to speak afterwards they had to obtain the permission of the presi-dents, all of whom were cardinals of the court party. If little or no debate arose, the draft decrees were to be officially formulated ; if there were division of opinion, the question should be referred to the sub-committee (cleputatio) corresjionding to each congregation's subject of discussion, which should decide the matter if no further difficulty were raised. All the officers of the council were named directly by the pope, and in no case elected by the council itself, which was thus deprived of several conciliar rights held previously to be inherent and in-defeasible, and which had been exercised even at Trent.

The assemblage of the council was looked on with little favour by a large part of the Roman Catholic world, and in particular two German documents attested the alarm it aroused. In April 1869 Prince Hohenlohe, Bavarian foreign minister, sent a circular letter to the European courts, warning them of the political dangers likely to ensue ; and most of the German bishops, assembled at Fulda in September of that year, sent an address to the pope, anxiously deprecating the definition of papal infalli-bility which had been recommended in the Civiltà Cattolica of 6th February 1869, to be made by the sum-mary process of acclamation. This proposal drew forth two able books in opposition to the dogma,—one which appeared anonymously (Janus) in Germany, and Du Concile General et de la Paix Religieuse, by Maret, bishop of Sura and dean of theology at the Sorbonne, published in France; but they did not delay the measures being taken for its declaration.

The council assembled punctually on the appointed day, 8th December 1869, and owing to the modern facilities of intercommunication it was by far the largest gathering of the kind in history, no fewer than 749 bishops, cardinals, abbots, and generals of orders being present,—a number afterwards increased to 764,—and including nearly three-fourths of the whole Roman Catholic episcopate. Of these it has been estimated that the minority opposed to the infallibility dogma amounted to at least 160, while in the majority were reckoned 53 bishops in partibus, who, as having no real dioceses, and being thus unable to attest the historical belief of their flocks, had properly no right of suffrage upon dogmatic questions in a council, such attestation being the one function dischargeable by bishops assembled in synod when considering articles of 'belief.

To these are to be added about 125 bishops of sees too modern to have any ancient tradition to attest, such as those in North and South America, Australasia, and Oceania, who were thus for conciliar purposes on the same footing of incompetence to speak for any one save them-selves. And, besides these two large groups, there was a third, consisting of about 90 missionary bishops entirely under the control of the Propaganda, and thus not free agents, while their sees were in most cases of very recent origin, so that they also could allege only their personal opinion, having no ancient records to attest. By far the larger number in these groups were on the side of the court majority. The Italian bishops, numbering about 170, and the Spanish, 40 in number, were also infallibilists almost to a man, but included scarcely one theologian in their ranks. And no fewer than 300 of this majority were the personal guests of Pius IX., lodged, boarded, and maintained at his cost, and thus openly retained to do his bidding. The minority consisted chiefly of the German and Austrian bishops, a considerable section of Hungarian, French, and North-American prelates, and many of those Orientals of the Latin Church who occupied dioceses other than mere titular and paper ones. But this minority, though composed mainly of natives of the most highly educated and intellectual countries, and containing almost every bishop of note for ability and theological learning, was by no means so compact and united as were the bishops of the majority; and there was not even full agree-ment amongst its members as to the grounds for opposing; the new dogma, many going no further than its inoppor-tuneness, but not entertaining deeper objections to it. Thus, even apart from its numerical inferiority, the opposition was at a disadvantage in face of the curialists, and lost not a few members to them during the progress of the council. Not only were the efforts to obtain freedom from the fetters of the brief Multiplices inter vain, but no member of the opposition could secure a place on any of the commissions or sub-committees, which consisted exclusively of infallibilists.





The matter of most importance in the first congrega-tion, which was held on 10th December 1869, was the publication of a bull, decreeing that, if the pope should, die during the council, it should at once be prorogued and take no part in the election of a pontiff, which was to be restricted to the college of cardinals. The session which followed was little more than formal ; but two steps towards bringing about the intended result were taken before the next time of assembling. The " theo-logians " were forbidden to attend any meetings of the bishops, or even to meet among themselves to discuss any conciliar matters, being restricted each to private confer-ence with the particular bishop to whose person he was attached ; and various petitions for the definition of the new dogma were drawn up and signed, one being the result of a letter to the bishops of the council, issued by Archbishop Manning and the conductors of the Civiltà Cattolica, and signed by some hundreds, another from the Italian prelates, a third from those of the Franciscan order, and a fourth from the Uniat Armenians, besides several of less note. The opposition issued a counter-memorial with 135 signatures; but, as it is therein admitted that papal decrees ex cathedra on faith and morals are irreversible, even without the consent of the church being known in any way, and that true obedience to every decree of the see of Rome is due by all Christians, no weight could attach to it as a serious plea for rejecting, or even delaying, the definition. The second session (6th January 1870) was also formal only, so far as the direct transaction of business was concerned ; but by the adoption of a measure causing all the members present to recite the creed of Pius IV., containing a clause professing obedience to the pope (this clause being omitted by the pope himself), and then to renew the episcopal oath of feudal submission to the Papacy, powerful pressure was brought to bear upon the weaker of the opposition, who were thus reminded how far they had pledged themselves already, and how unreasonable it therefore was to haggle about taking but one step in advance on the self-same road. The time between the second and third sessions was mainly occupied in preparing the drafts (schemata) of constitutions on the faith and on the church, and also with discussions of sundry disciplinary measures (notably as regards clerical immorality) and the preparation of a new catechism ; but none of these last were proceeded with. By the pope's direct command the cardinal-presidents of the congrega-tions issued, on 20th February 1870, rules to check long debates, which drew yet tighter than before the cords that deprived the council of all freedom. Speakers were confined to touching upon such clauses only of any amendment as they had given previous notice of meaning to discuss, and were not allowed to take part otherwise in a debate, while the closure could be applied by the presidents at the demand of any ten members. This latter drastic measure drew out a protest from more than one hundred bishops, who urged that it was destructive of conciliar liberty (already much hampered by the noisy attempts of the infallibilists to stifle free discussion), and that the steps being taken disregarded the note of moral unanimity which should mark the decisions of a general council, thereby exposing the council itself to hostile criticism and even rejection. They pointed out several other serious faults in the new rules, but could obtain no modification of them. The oconstitution on the faith (usually cited now as Dei Filius), however,:—a long and far from clearly worded document,— _directed chiefly against modern rationalism, and enforced by 18 canons of anathema, was completed ; it passed the congregation without difficulty, was signed by all the 667 members present, and was published in the third session, 24th April 1870, with papal confirmation, or rather in the unprecedented form of a proclamation by the pope singly, " the sacred council approving,"—an innovation which was intended to mark it as solely his act, and to settle in this .summary manner the long-standing controversy as to the relative superiority of popes and councils. There were few, however, even of the opposition, who cared to contest such a point, and there was nothing of a contentious nature, as regards the two parties in the council, in the constitution itself, so that no debate was raised upon it.

The real struggle was yet to come, namely, over the constitution on the church, into which the new dogma was to be introduced. This constitution (now usually cited as Pastor JZternus) asserted the following propositions :—(1) that a proper primacy of jurisdiction over the whole church was conferred upon St Peter directly and singly, and not mediately through any delegation to him, as chief minister in the church, of a primacy held by the church corporately; (2) that this Petrine primacy vests by divine institution and right in the line of Roman pontiffs ; (3) that the pope's jurisdiction is immediate in all churches—i.e., he is the universal ordinary, the actual bishop of every see (all other bishops being merely his curates and deputies), and is not a remote or merely appellate authority—so that in questions not of faith and morals alone, but of discipline and government also, all the faithful, of whatever rite or dignity, both pastors and laity, are bound, individually and collect-ively, to submit themselves thereto ; (4) that it is unlaw-ful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an oecumenical council, as though to a higher authority; and (5) that the Roman pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, and defines a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the universal church, is infallible, and such definitions are accordingly irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the church. This document was voted upon in the congregation of 13th July 1870, consisting of 671 members. Of these 451 voted in the affirmative; 88 voted against it; 62 voted placet juxta modum, meaning that they would accept it if it were seriously modified ; and 70 did not vote at all. By the canonical theory of councils such a division of opinion as this voided the decision of the majority, and made it null. For, while a bare majority in a council suffices to pass a mere disciplinary canon, being a variable matter, contrariwise, to enact a dogmatic decree requires practical unanimity, since nothing can be imposed as of faith for which the two attesting notes of universal prevalence and historical continuity cannot be adduced. And, as the dissent of any appreciable number of members denotes that they do not know it as the local tradition of their several dioceses, it thereby destroys the claim to these notes. Not only so; but in view of the character in which bishops appear at councils, as represent-ing their laity, it is clear that the size and population of their several dioceses have to be taken into account when estimating the weight attaching to their individual testi-mony as to the reception of any dogma within their juris-dictions. Tried by this standard, the opposition was very much more important than its muster-roll seems to indicate, for it included the bishops from many of the most populous Roman Catholic dioceses, such as the archbishops of Paris, with 2,000,000 Catholics, Breslau with 1,700,000, Cologne with 1,400,000, Vienna with about the same number, and Cambrai with 1,300,000; whereas 62 bishops of the Papal States, for example, represented no more than 700,000 altogether, apart from the hundred and more titulars, who had no flocks at all. This matter may be summed up thus : every vote cast for the new dogma stood for 142,570 lay folks; but every vote cast against it stood for 492,520. Nor is this all: a council claiming to be oecumenical must speak with the consent of both East and West. But, even if the very large concession be made that the Uniat churches in communion with Rome are in truth the lawful representatives of the ancient Oriental Church, the fact remains that the number and rank of the Orientals in the minority was such as to make the vote at best only a Latin one. The Melchite and Syrian patriarchs of Antioch, the Chaldee patriarch of Babylon, the Melchite archbishop of Tyre, the Maronite archbishops of Tyre and Sidon, of Bey-rout, and of Aleppo, with several others, were in one or other of the three groups of dissentients, and thus nullified the Eastern suffrages in the majority. Immediately after this preliminary voting nearly all the bishops of the minority abruptly quitted Rome, after previously lodging a protest against the proceedings. Their flight was prompted by fears for their personal safety. They were given to under-stand that each of them would have two papers tendered to him for his signature in the ensuing session, one being a profession of adhesion to the infallibility dogma, the other a resignation of his diocese in case he refused such adhesion. And they had good reason to think that the pope, who had declared that he meant to be proclaimed infallible " without limitation " (senza condizione), and had shown open enmity to more than one of their number, would employ direct coercion in the event of continued resistance, bringing his temporal power as sovereign of Rome to bear on the rebels within his territory. Accord-ingly, when the public session was held on 18th July 1870, while 535 bishops voted for the constitution Pastor JZternus, only two, those of Ajaccio and of Little Rock, remained to utter their "non-placet." The pope thereupon confirmed the decree, and the proceedings virtually ended. By one of the most singular of historical coincidences, on that very day Napoleon III. proclaimed war against Prussia, and entered on that great conflict amongst the immediate results of which were the overthrow of the temporal power of the Papacy and the occupation of Rome by the troops of the king of Italy in two months' time from the last meeting of the council. It was formally prorogued by Pius IX. on 20th October, and is thus technically still in existence; but the prorogation is a virtual dissolution.

The opposition collapsed everywhere after the promulgation of the decree, as even the German bishops, who had been the main-stay of the minority, consented to publish it in their dioceses. This led to the genesis of the Old Catholic communion (see OLD CATHOLICS) as a refuge for such as were conscientiously unable to accept the new dogma, but equally unwilling to join any of the Protestant societies. But submission to the dogma is not identical with belief in it, at any rate in the sense wherein Pius IX. under-stood it and meant it to be received. The majority had, indeed, achieved their " triumph over history ": they had done what warn-ing voices had declared beforehand to be their purpose—annihilated the independence of the episcopate, abrogated the teaching and attesting functions of the dispersive church, and contracted the Roman Catholic creed into the single article of belief in the pope. But they had failed in three matters essential to the ultimate success of their plans. They had not even seemed to make any reply, save that of their superior voting strength in the council, to the destructive criticism which had established the falsehood and novelty of the infallibility dogma ; they were not able to pass it so as to be canonically or theologically binding ; and they could not secure its unqualified acceptance in its original form. Instead of terminating all controversy, the new dogma (as might have been anticipated by any one familiar either with the laws of the human intellect or the facts of ecclesiastical history) at once became itself a topic of debate, receiving contradictory interpretations, partly due to its vague and clumsy wording, and partly the expression of competing opinions, ranging from the wddest to the narrowest view of its scope and force. The " senza condizionc " of Pius IX. proved hopelessly unworkable, and it was soon found necessary to modify the decree so as to make it a not intolerable burden for intelligent consciences. Accordingly, Bishop Fessler of St Polten, secretary-general of the council, published in 1871, with a brief of approbation from the pope, his treatise Die wahre unci falsche Unfehlbarkcit der Pdpste, soon reproduced in French and English, which provides that " juxta modum " limitation vainly sought from the tyrannical majority in the council itself. Ostensibly a reply to an anti-infalli-bilist work by the learned canonist Von Schulte, it is in fact a studious minimizing of the incidence of the dogma, arguing that the occasions when the attribute of papal infallibility has been actually exercised and formulated in ex cathedra decrees have been, and must continue to be, of extremely rare occurrence, and further attenuating the dogma itself, so as to approach in some measure the old Gallican view of the pope's constitutional and limited authority as official spokesman of the church. In England, where the evidence collected by Pitt in the 18th century, and by the earl of Liverpool in the 19th, when aiming at the abolition of the penal laws, on the opinions held by Roman Catholic theologians as to the prerogatives and attributes of the popes, made their general repudiation of papal infallibility familiarly known, the question was even more trenchantly dealt with. For Dr Newman, wdio had anxiously deprecated the coming definition, speaking of it in a letter to Bishop Ullathorne as a " great calamity," wantonly forced on by "an aggressive, insolent faction," explained the manner of his own belief and acceptance of it in a letter to the duke of Norfolk, and that in terms which to less subtle (and, it may be, more practical) intellects are indistinguishable from disbelief and rejection. Not only does he limit the attribute itself, and the occasions of its exercise, within much straiter bounds than those set by Fessler, but he specifies a number of cases wherein he vould disobey a papal mandate, and, after saying that each such mandate must be decided on its own merits, adds : "I should look to see what theologians could do for me, what the bishops and clergy around me, what my confessor, wdiat friends whom I revered ; and if, after all, I could not take their view of the matter, then I must rule myself by my own judgment and my own conscience." That this deliverance is in effect a complete evacuation of the dogma will appear at once by supposing cognate language to be used in the civil sphere by the subject of an absolute temporal sovereign when defining the limits of his allegiance. But the subsequent eleva-tion of its author to the cardinalate proves that his view is regarded as fairly tenable in the Roman Church, and the infallibility dogma is thus, for the present at least, dismissed from the domain of practical action to that of speculative theory.

The bibliography of the Vatican Council is very copious, but the following works will suffice for most students to consult:—Cecconi, Storia del Concilio Vaticano, Rome, 1873 ; J. Friedrich, Geschichte dee vatikanischen Konzils, Bonn, 1877-87; Id., Tagebuch, während des vaticanischen Coneils geführt, Nördlingen, 1873 ; Id., Documenta ad Illustrandum Concilium Vaticanum, Nördlingen, 1S73 ; Quirinus, Römische Briefe vom Concil 1870 (also an English version) ; Pomponio Leto, Otto Mesi a Roma durante il Concilio Vaticano, Florence, 1873 (also an English version) ; Michelis, Kurze Geschichte des vaticanischen Coneils, Constance, 1875 ; Friedberg, Sammlung der Aktenstücke zum ersten vaticanischen Concil, Tübingen, 1S72 ; Frommann, Geschichte und Kritik des vaticanischen
Coneils, Gotha, 1872 ; Pius IX., Discorsi del Somme Ponteßce Pio IX. pronunziati in Vaticano, Rome, 1872-73 ; Frond, Actes et Histoire du Concile Œcuménique de Rome, Paris, 1S70-73, 8 vols, folio ; Arthur, The Pope, the Kings, and the People, Belfast, 1877. (R. F. L.)







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