Can We Learn Anything from the Critics of Vatican I? — By: OnePeterFive

Just before the First Vatican Council, a critic warned what would happen if the council defined papal infallibility as its Ultramontane supporters wished. “Ultramontanism, he wrote, “is essentially Papalism,” and for its adherents

the power of the Pope over the Church… neither knows nor tolerates any limits. He is to be sole and absolute master, and all beside him are his plenipotentiaries and servants, and are, in fact, whether mediately or immediately… On Ultramontane principles the Church is in a normal and flourishing condition in proportion as it is ruled, administered, supervised, and regulated, down to the minutest details… from Rome.

The consequence of defining the pope’s infallibility would be that it “will extend its dominion over men’s minds… till it has coerced them into subjection to every Papal pronouncement,” for it would encompass any subject. After theologians had abandoned their “adherence… to the ancient tradition,” then “every Pope, however ignorant of theology, will be free to make what use he likes of his power of dogmatic creativeness, and to erect his own thoughts into the common belief, binding on the whole Church.”

For traditionalists, this might sound like an apt description of the Church under pope Francis, and their situation under Traditiones Custodes. Several figures in the traditionalist sphere have  questioned the wisdom of ultramontanism and even the definition of papal authority enshrined by the First Vatican Council, as having been the origins of the current tyrannical exercise of papal authority. However, they might balk at the author of the above quotation: Ignaz von Döllinger (pictured above), the German theologian excommunicated for rejecting papal infallibility.[1]

Döllinger became a heretic when he rejected the anathemas of Vatican I. But in what was said in the above quotation, was Döllinger right? Is there a link between Vatican I and the papacy of Francis, who has governed in an authoritarian manner, often at the expense of Tradition? In this essay, I will examine the arguments made by opponents of infallibility leading up to and during the Council, as well as the conciliar definition. By understanding them in their context, I hope to shed light on the current plight of the Church, and what traditionalists in particular might learn from these critics.

1. The Papacy in a State of Emergency

First we must set the context. Ultramontanism was a 19th century movement within the Church which pushed for the centralization of authority in the papacy, as a response to the upheavals of the time. It gained strength as the Risorgimento (the unification of Italy) advanced, the Papal States dwindling to the area around Rome in 1860 when Italy became a unified kingdom. Both the Vatican and the Ultramontanist press thought the Church was in a death struggle with the godless modern nation state, and their solution was to concentrate power in Rome’s hands, as a means of shielding the episcopate from the various states that seemed to threaten them. Moreover, popular acclaim for the papacy in an age of mass media drove Romanization and centralization of papal authority as much as papal initiative.[2]

Internally speaking, the major target of the Ultramontanes were the remaining Gallicans. Gallicanism was a set of beliefs, largely French, which opposed the “liberties” of local churches and monarchs against papal authority, that had persisted since the Middle Age.[3] Ultramontanes benefited from the fact that the Revolutions of the 19th century swept away many of the old Gallican settlements in places like France, making much more direct Rome’s authority over bishops. Unsurprisingly, those of Gallican sentiments were prominent among the critics of papal infallibility and of centralization, both before and during the Council.

Such centralization predated the Council. Pius IX actively promoted centralizing authority into papal hands. While promoting Dom Guéranger’s efforts at renewing Gregorian Chant, he gave impetus to the campaign against the Gallican rite in France, ensuring that it died out there (this was one of several initiatives whose origins were popular and didn’t come from the papacy). Pius IX revived ad limina visits from Bishops, which had fallen into abeyance, and took greater control over their appointment, often ignoring candidates from Cathedral chapters. He imposed greater control over the selection of Eastern Catholic bishops with the bull Reversurus (1867). Pius defined the Immaculate Conception as a dogma (1854), taking advantage of popular piety, and canonized a much greater number of saints than his immediate predecessors, both highlighting papal authority.[4]

This extreme support for papal authority in the 1860s is sometimes called neo-Ultramontanism by historians, but drew on an older strand of thinking on papal authority, one that goes back to the Reformation. As Thomas Pink has noted, many theologians in the 19th and 20th centuries believed that the Holy Spirit prevented the pope from erring in his legislation, such that canon law could be said to be covered by infallibility. Such an idea was never given formal, magisterial approval but was widely held, and appalled Döllinger, who thought it based on beliefs in the so-called Decretals of Pseudo-Isidore, a medieval forgery.[5]

However, canonists in the High Middle Ages never saw these texts as relating to any idea of papal infallibility. Dominican theologians qualified the idea up through the fifteenth century, but in the 16th, with the trauma of the Reformation, such qualms were cast aside. The assurance that papal legislation would be guided by the Holy Spirit was a key part of Bellarmine’s apologetic. To be sure, by the nineteenth century, most acknowledged the decretals that espoused such ideas were forgeries, but many theologians still believed this about papal legislation. Some did not, such as John Henry Newman, but it remained part of the “official theology” of the Church and definitely influenced the fathers at Vatican I.[6]

The Vatican naturally drew upon this exalted notion of infallibility, facing what they saw as an emergency situation, a rebellion against the Church (the Risorgimento was popular among many priests in Italy, for example). Beyond its theologians, popular opinion amplified by an Ultramontane press went even farther in exalting papal authority, encouraging Pius IX to see a formal definition of his infallibility as a natural response to this emergency. How did critics of this exaltation of papal authority respond?

2. Gallicans, Historians & “Inopportunists”

The controversy among Catholics on the eve of the council largely pitted the Ultramontanists (or neo-Ultramontanists) against the Catholic Liberals, led by Döllinger. One should not exaggerate the level of criticism directed toward the pope, however; all of the critics under discussion accepted papal primacy, and nearly all accepted the doctrine of papal infallibility or would come to accept the definition after the council.[7]

The old style Gallicanism which denied papal infallibility in favor of councils and was nearly dead by the 1860s, and only Döllinger would go so far as to deny it altogether. “Theological Gallicanism” by then mostly meant that the pope could not make dogmatic pronouncements on his own without the consent of the Church, meaning the bishops, and that “the exercise of Apostolic power is… regulated by the canons of the Church.”[8] This appeal to the canon law and disciplinary legislation of the Church as a limit on papal power would be put forth by, among others, the French-born American bishop Augustin Verot (1805-1876) during the conciliar debates, one of the few true Gallicans at the council. Many who were not Gallicans feared proclaiming papal infallibility to be a dogma would virtually abolish the episcopate.[9]

Another powerful criticism came historians, especially from Germany. History came into its own as an academic subject in the 19th century, and the primary criticism of men like Döllinger and Lord Acton was that the idea of papal infallibility was historically incredible. Especially in Germany, influenced by secular and Protestant trends, a powerful current arose that depicted the neo-Scholastic approach to theology favored by Rome as ahistorical and out of step with contemporary emphasis on historical context. In fact, Döllinger and Acton were influenced deeply by German philosophical trends, including what they called historismus, the idea that “all human beliefs and ideas are historically conditioned and subject to change.”[10]

The leading figure in this group was unquestionably Döllinger, supported by Acton. Both appeared to have thought of the issue of infallibility as purely a matter of historical record, which in their minds disproved it. We have already seen that Döllinger thought the idea based on medieval forgeries, but others were quite aware of more substantial historical difficulties with the idea, without his philosophical baggage. Several cited the case of Honorius I, condemned by an ecumenical council and a pope, as proof against the doctrine, though most did not hold the historicist views of Döllinger. This included the distinguished Church historian of Tubingen, Karl Joseph von Hefele, whom Pius IX made bishop of Rottenberg just before the council and who would (along with many others) cite the case of Honorius during conciliar debates.

But the critics of the definition also had to contend with the Ultramontane press, whose rhetoric practically made the pope out to be a demigod. To give one example, Louis Veuillot (1813-1883), editor of the Ultramontane newspaper L’Univers, rewrote the sequence Veni Creator Spiritus with Pius IX as its subject: “To Pius IX, Pontiff King, / Father of the Poor, / Giver of Gifts, / Light of lights, / Send forth thy beam of Heavenly Light!”[11] It needs to be repeated that defining papal infallibility was very popular with most Catholics, and centralization of the papacy turned it into what is still today very much a populist institution. This populist dimension of support for infallibility partially explains why Döllinger and Acton went so much farther in their critique than many with similar concerns.

Both Dollinger and Acton believed that knowledge of the Church’s tradition could only be acquired by rigorous historical examination. Writing in 1864, Acton wrote that when it came to dogmas, “every decree… requires a preliminary examination” by historians.[12] Likewise, Döllinger would later claim that ecumenical councils were only “free” when they followed “the rules required by the ascertainment of tradition,” presumably by historians like himself.[13] They feared that on papal infallibility, the bishops were parroting the common folk’s corruption of tradition and ignoring historical experts who alone could make the Church’s beliefs credible to modern society.

The near blasphemous rhetoric of the Ultramontanes fueled another critique by those who feared the definition would be imprudent, whom history has dubbed the “Inopportunists.” These critics believed defining infallibility was “inopportune” because the governments of Europe and modern society more broadly would use it as an excuse to further impose upon the Church. This name derives from a group of fourteen German bishops that met at Fulda in 1869, and issued a public letter in which they argued that because of “the actual state of things in Germany, the definition would be inopportune.” The bishops (which included von Hefele) were responding to the furor that Döllinger’s articles in the newspaper Allgemein Zeitung caused and which he issued as a book, The Pope and the Council, in July 1869.[14]

The “inopportunists” included perhaps the most famous of those opposed to the definition, John Henry Newman. Newman thought the definition unnecessary because it countered no heresy, as in past councils. It would encourage the pope to act alone without the bishops more frequently, resulting in a practical “alteration of the elementary constitution of the Church.” He particularly feared a definition might result in an enlarged domain of infallibility that, combined with Ultramontane sentiment, could give to the pope an “enormous power… not restrained even by the Depositum.”[15]

Newman also feared it would also be a “retrospective doctrine,” meaning it would lead to scrutiny of past papal teachings and raise questions about them, such that it could throw “religion into confusion, make skeptics, encourage scoffers, and throw back enquirers.” Newman, like many critics, including Döllinger, feared the definition would prevent reunion with other Christian bodies such as the Anglicans and the Orthodox. He also suspected that Archbishop Manning’s disregard for the possible difficulties it might cause Catholics in the future was motivated by Manning’s conviction that “the world is soon coming to an end.”[16]

Finally, critics worried the definition might cause conflict with the civil authorities in countries like Germany, England and France. Save for concern about the authority of bishops (with regard to papal primacy), this concern animated many of the minority bishops at the council. Such fears were well founded: on their way to the meeting at Fulda, the bishops who issued the letter were insulted and nearly attacked by an angry mob, and the German Kulturkampf was in some ways a direct response to Vatican I.[17]

That civil governments threatened the Church across Europe played into Ultramontane hands, and they saw in a definition of infallibility a weapon to use against them. Newly formed nation-states like Italy and Germany feared the possible subversion of tenuous national unity by a united Catholic bloc, following directions from the pope. (It is noteworthy that Vatican I did not include representatives from any civil government.) Opponents feared that extreme Ultramontanes wanted to define the pope’s infallibility so they could insinuate that it extended to his actions in the temporal sphere. Some feared it was their “intention to declare the Pope infallible in matters of faith in order to give him the appearance of infallibility in other matters as well.”[18]

This concern made Döllinger apoplectic about papal infallibility. He accepted papal primacy, but feared proclaiming the pope infallible would naturally apply to his governance of the Church. Döllinger’s research on the history of the papacy convinced him that the idea the pope could not err in his legislation, as many believed, was false. As Acton wrote, “the history of Church government was the influence which so powerfully altered his position.”[19] Until the 1860s, Döllinger publicly supported papal infallibility, but his studies in history and the unhinged rhetoric of the Ultramontanes turned him against the doctrine, making him its most vocal critic.

3. The Debates at the Council

Even before debates on Pastor Aeternus commenced, the bishops had several exchanges concerning infallibility. A public exchange between Manning and Dupanlou just before the council centered on Manning’s assertion that the pope could define doctrine “apart from the episcopal body,” but also with Deschamps over the broader question of “separate infallibility.” Dupanlou and others criticized those who wanted infallibility defined for making the pope separate from the rest of the Church, particularly the bishop.

Deschamps’ reply anticipated the definition in Pastor Aeternus, claiming that the pope could never separate himself from “the faith of all centuries,” and that his infallibility only served to preserve the deposit of the faith and not promulgate “new revelations.”[20] Deschamps’ notion of infallibility was the moderate one, and during the council, those in the majority made clear they rejected the much more extreme ideas circulating in Ultramontane circles.

On the “infallibilist” side were the Archbishop of Malines, Deschamps, Arcbishop Manning of Westerminster, Cullen of Dublin, and Donnet of Bordeaux. Most of these opposed to the inanities of Veuillot and the press, but a handful, led by Manning, were more extreme, who felt their opponents were “heretics… to be heard and condemned.” Pius IX proclaimed neutrality, but as the council proceeded, he made clear his support for the majority and his hostility to the minority.[21]

Most critics hailed from Germany, France and Eastern Europe, those being keen on reconciliation with the Orthodox and opposed the definition as a stumbling block to that end. Almost all of these were “Inopportunists,” the most important were Archbishops Melechers of Cologne and Hefele of Rottenberg; two Austrian bishops were also prominent in opposing the definition, Schwarzenberg of Prague and Rauscher of Vienna. Among the French, the outstanding members of the Minority was Archbishop Darboy of Paris, who was murdered by Communists during the Paris Commune in 1871, and Dupanlou of Orleans, a favorite of Pius IX despite his opposition because of his support for the Papal States.[22]

But it was the Ultramontanes who determined the course of the council. The council opened on December 8 1869, and debates began in deputations over the nature of the documents to be presented to the bishops. These would be scrutinized by the bishops and then revised for final debate. This meant electing members to staff the deputations that drafted the documents was crucial. The most important of these was the congregation de Fide. The “infallibilists,” led by Cardinal Manning, organized an informal committee to draw up a list of candidates to fill the de Fide. All of twenty-four of them (save one by mistake) were strong supporters of infallibility. All twenty-four were elected.

This meant that the topic of infallibility, which was not originally supposed to be dealt with early on, and might not have been discussed before Italian troops besieged Rome in 1870, now became one of the first topics to be debated. Manning’s political maneuvering hardened the divisions already present, and led Döllinger to claim the council was not “free.” That a definition would be promulgated became an inevitability because of this.[23] (The reader should note the parallel between what the Ultramontanes did at Vatican I with what the European “progressives” did at Vatican II, changing the schema and committees at the outset. It is highly likely, in my opinion, the progressives at Vatican II remembered the precedent Manning and company set in 1870.)

Initial debates began on December 28 for the document on the Catholic Faith (that would become the constitution Dei Filius). While the deputation finalized it for the final debate, the Fathers debated disciplinary issues from January to March. The minority criticized several aspects of Roman centralization. Several Eastern bishops pleaded for the customs of their churches that had become Latinized recently, particularly their manner of choosing bishops, which the Vatican reversed in the Bull Reversursus of 1867. Pius IX gave the Latin rite Cardinal who spoke in their name a personal dressing down as a result. Another schema dealt with a proposal for a universal catechism for the whole Church. Several bishops objected to this, partly on account of their attachment to local catechisms but the proposal passed.

It was never promulgated, however, subsumed by debates on the primacy and infallibility.[24] Dei Filius was promulgated on April 24, and five days later, the presidents of the deputations announced that decrees on primacy and infallibility would be debated next, to the consternation of the minority. Debates on Pastor Aeternus began on May 13.

Debates on the primacy were not as fierce as those on infallibility but did bring out notable tendencies. Critics were more historically sensitive than their counterparts who favored the definition. In opposition to the idea that the pope possessed a plenitudo potestas they raised the specter of pope Honorius I, mentioned earlier, as the Second Council of Constantinople posthumously condemned him as a heretic, to argue otherwise. Much criticism focused on the way the definition construed papal jurisdiction, particularly the phrase “immediate, universal and episcopal.” Some bishops, especially the Germans, feared the terms would be misconstrued as a sort of papal absolutism, which men in modern society would reject. But on the whole, “there was no disposition on their part to minimize the nature and extent of the jurisdiction and powers inherent in the Primacy.”[25]

Some bishops, especially the more “Gallican” sort such as Verot of St Augustine and the Eastern bishops, argued that the pope had supreme power in the Church but that he had to “govern according to the canons.” But such a tainted, “Gallican” idea was interpreted as disloyalty to the pope – especially by Pius IX, who despite assurances of neutrality very much pushed for the definition of infallibility, denouncing members of the minority in private and deprecating them in public as the debate turned toward that subject.[26]

The debates on infallibility largely mirrored the divisions that had opened up prior to the council, with the majority defending infallibility as necessary to shore up the crumbling authority of society and reassure the faithful of the unchanging nature of the faith. The minority, by contrast, thought that modern society abhorred any kind of “absolutism” and argued that the exercise of the pope’s infallibility must take into account the “witness of the whole Church.” By this they meant consultation with the bishops of the world, a suggestion flatly rejected by the majority, who thought that in a time of emergency the pope could not wait to take the pulse of the entire Church, but must be able to act freely and quickly to squash heresy and restore the unity of the Church.[27]

Most bishops in favor were not as extreme as Cardinal Manning (perhaps because, as Dom Cuthbert Butler pointed out, Manning, unlike many in the majority, was not trained as a dogmatic theologian), and many made several efforts to find a compromise that would satisfy the minority. Famously, Cardinal Guidi, a Dominican, argued for a more moderate definition of infallibility, derived from St. Antonius of Florence (1389-1459), one that stipulated that the pope, while not bound legally in any way by the opinions of the bishops, must consult them, as his power was not arbitrary and willful.

This speech, which many on both sides of the debate received favorably, led Pius IX to scold Guidi in private that evening (Jun 18). Pius accused of him of siding with the enemies of the Church, and when Guidi pleaded that before a pope issued a definition he must study the tradition of the Church, Pius IX responded with his famous reply: “I, I am tradition! I, I am the church!” (Io, io sono la tradizione! Io, io sono la chiesa!).[28] Debate went on till July 4, but after the Guidi affair, it was clear no compromise would emerge, and the document became Pastor Aeternus on July 18 virtually unchanged.

Its final definition of papal authority looks different in significant ways when considering the primacy as opposed to infallibility. The definition of the primacy was fulsome, with hardly any sense of the limits of the pope’s authority to govern the life of the Church. By contrast, even though the minority did not get the clarity they wanted in terms of how exactly the pope was infallible, the definition is much more narrow and limited than that on the primacy.

Moreover, even though Pastor Aeternus does not explicitly state that the pope’s authority is limited by tradition, it can be said to have done so implicitly. In the preamble, it says the institution of the primacy must be believed “in accordance with the ancient and unchanging faith of the whole Church,” while the chapter on infallibility stipulates the popes exercise infallibility not to “might make known some new doctrine, but that by His assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith, transmitted by the apostles.”[29]

Even in the chapter on the primacy, the minority managed to have the text state that bishops have their authority “by the Holy Spirit,” an important qualification given the absolute sounding definition of papal primacy, and that after the Italian army captured Rome on September 20th, the planned schema on episcopal authority was permanently shelved.[30] Even if one has concerns about the misuse of the definition itself, one has to say that it is not nearly as problematic as it might have been. This owes something to the efforts of the minority, as well as the more moderate among the majority.

4. What Hath the Council Wrought?

So did Vatican I lead to the exaltation of papal authority we see today? The answer is a complicated one. At least in part, the answer is yes. The reason for this is that, much like the documents of Vatican II, when properly interpreted, Pastor Aeternus doesn’t allow for the destruction of things like the entire liturgical tradition before 1970. Taken in isolation, the conciliar definitions of primacy and infallibility don’t appear this way. The problem, as critics at Vatican I pointed out,[31] is that they can when ripped out of the context of the Church’s larger tradition, because they do not clearly specify limits to papal authority, especially his primacy.

Without this, it allows people to infer that it extends far beyond the actual terms of the definition itself. I suspect this was the hope of the more extreme Ultramontanists, to ensure obedience by making disobedience as psychologically costly as possible. Pairing an expansive definition of papal primacy with a less broad but still not completely defined though limited infallibility, allows one to believe (or to convince others) that the pope is some sort of spiritual dictator. As one bishop at Vatican I warned, “no matter how careful the decree was in its wording, ordinary people would conclude the council had made the pope a despot.”[32]

And for obvious reasons, the Vatican has rarely bothered to clear up the matter. The practical purpose of issuing the definition was to boost papal authority, not limit it. Ultramontanes hoped to frighten hostile governments with it, and critics feared it would provoke them. They were both right. In 1875, German bishops responded in a letter to the German government’s criticisms of the council, insisting the pope was “not a perfectly absolute monarch.” Pius IX gave his public approval to their missive in an apostolic letter, Mirabilis Illa Constantia, and that letter is the only magisterial document I am aware of that acknowledges limits on papal primacy. 1875 was the nadir of the Kulturkampf, with bishops being imprisoned or exiled. Perhaps this pressure helped the post-Vatican I papacy admit limits to its governing power.[33]

Having said this, Vatican I only partially explains our current, imperial papacy. The centralization Döllinger bemoaned would likely have happened without the council. The rise of modern media, the collapse of the Papal States, the elimination of Gallican settlements and royal privileges which meant there were fewer intermediary bodies between Rome and the bishops, all would have happened with or without the council. By the end of World War I, the Vatican became like a modern state, whose sovereignty runs unimpeded by mediating bodies, as witnessed by the compilation of the first universal code of canon law, promulgated in 1917. Vatican I was a product of centralization and Romanization, not its cause.

Moreover, belief in the near god-like powers of the papacy long preceded Pastor Aeternus and was a source for it. The belief, noted by Pink, that the pope was infallible as a legislator, long predated Vatican I. The role of the Jesuits should also be mentioned here. They of course were active in promoting it at Vatican I, but it was the Jesuits, and St. Robert Bellarmine in particular, who popularized this idea in the post-Reformation era. Bellarmine was one of the first to suggest the pope was not only infallible when proclaiming dogmatic definitions, but personally incapable of heresy. Bellarmine’s influence can be glimpsed in the conciliar debates on infallibility, as all sides appealed to his authority.[34]

The critics of Vatican I were correct that it was inopportune to define the pope’s infallibility in 1870. They recognized, as Newman did, that the Tradition was not clear as yet on how the pope’s infallibility should be exercised. They were also right about its potential for misunderstanding and abuse. Though to be fair to the “infallibilists,” no one in 1870 could have dreamed a pope would even hint his approval blessing of same sex “unions,” or that one might micromanage parish bulletins. The papacy of Francis is truly an unprecedented situation.

Still, Francis has not dared issue any dogmatic definitions to accomplish this. One reason why is that Pastor Aeternus is clear that popes cannot formulate dogmatic definitions for novel purposes. The Ultramontanist gambit has so far worked in that regard. Instead, Francis has exploited his powers as primate of the Church, governing in opposition to Tradition in the most “absolutist” manner possible. As several historians have noted, the pope’s primacy is a bigger problem for the Church than his infallibility.[35]

The difficulties with Pastor Aeternus are real, but the issue of what limits there might be to his authority, if only in moral rather than juridical terms, has still not been settled. Despite being treated unjustly, traditionalists can contribute to this development in the long run, as did the critics of Vatican I did, even if they were not entirely successful. God may be using this pontificate for that very purpose, though I claim no insight into the plans of the Almighty.

They should learn from the example of Döllinger, with whom we began this essay. If one could not tell, I have some sympathy for Döllinger, as did Newman. Döllinger was a fine historian and defender of the Church for many decades before the 1860s, and a man of exemplary character. His downfall began when Ultramontane newspapers attacked him as a heretic and a traitor, well before his opinions became heresy. He did not deserve such treatment from fellow priests, who should have treated him like his “true brethren,” in Newman’s phrase.[36]

Döllinger was correct that history disproves the infallibility of papal governance, but he conflated Ultramontane extremities with the more modest claims of Pastor Aeternus regarding his teaching authority. This is what the modern hyperpapalists do too. But Catholics are only bound – under pain of mortal sin – to accept with the assent of faith the minimum interpretation of Vatican I, not the extremist or even the maximum interpretation.[37]

Döllinger allowed his justifiable anger at his treatment to poison his view of the Church’s authority, a product of the modern press and its genius for conflict (which is now many times more toxic in the age of Twitter and Tik Tok). But more than this, his implicit assertion that only historians could determine what the Church’s Tradition allowed doomed him. As Acton put it, “it was said of him that he set the university in the place of the hierarchy.”[38]

Even if traditionalist critics of the Church are correct, most still have no authority to make good on their criticisms. They have every right to point out what is wrong, and should go on doing so, but they should do this in a way that does not consume them. They should heed the example of Newman, and not act as if their forays in print or online will somehow decide controversies that God will in time bring to an end. (We should also note that whatever faults Pius IX had in dealing with this issue, God Almighty vindicated his personal sanctity, as he is an incorrupt saint which John Paul II beatified.)[39]

Powerlessness in the face of injustice may be agonizing, but it also might be providential. As Thomas Pink has written, this means critics of Traditiones Custodes or Amoris Laetitia and other papal misdeeds have nothing but their integrity and the truth of their criticisms to justify themselves, rather than law or power. If they are one day vindicated, as I believe they will be, it will only be because their criticisms are true: “one must ultimately appeal to truth… and in a Church founded on truth, it must be truth that matters.”[40]


[1] Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council (London, Oxford and Cambridge: Rivington’s, 1869), pp. 40-41.

[2] John O’Malley, SJ, Vatican I: the Making of the Ultramontane Church (London, Cambridge MA: Belknap Press of Harvard UP), pp. 82-83, 101-102; Roger Aubert, “The Victory of Ultramontanism,” in History of the Church, Vol. VIII: the Church in the Age of Liberalism, eds. Roger Aubert, Johannes Beckmann, Patrick J. Cornish, Rudolf Lill, (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1981), pp. 304-307; Marvin O’Connell, “Ultramontanism and Dupanlou: the Compromise of 1865,” Church History, Jun., 1984, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Jun., 1984), pp. 201-205.

[3] O’Malley, Vatican I, pp. 26-40; C. Berthelot Du Chesnay, and J. M. Gres-Gayer, “Gallicanism,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 6, (Detroit,: Gale, 2003) pp. 73-78.

[4] O’Malley, Vatican I, pp. 76-79; O’Connell, “Ultramontanism and Dupanlou,” p. 203; Aubert, “The Victory of Ultramontanism,” pp. 308-309.

[5] Thomas Pink, “Papal Authority and the Limits of Official Theology,” The Lamp, 2022), pp. 4-10; Thomas Albert Howard, The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandry of the Modern Age (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2017), pp. 123-127.

[6] Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility, 1150–1350: A Study on the Concepts of Infallibility, Sovereignty, and Tradition in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 1972), pp. 12-13; Pink, “Papal Authority,” p. 10; Klaus Schatz, SJ, Papal Primacy: From its Origins to the Present (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996), pp. 132-133.

[7] Howard, Pope and Professor, pp. 117-130; Dom Cuthbert Butler, The Vatican Council: based on Bishop Ullathorne’s Letters (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1962), pp. 85-91.

[8] Butler, Vatican Council, p. 31.

[9] Ibid., pp. 113-114; Aubert, “The Vatican Council,” in History of the Church, p. 320.

[10] Perez Zagorin, “Lord Acton’s Orderal: The Historian and Moral Judgment,” The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 1998, Vol. 74, No. 1; Aubert, “The Backwardness of Religious Studies and the Controversy about the “German Theologians,”” in History of the Church, p. 239; George Iggers, “Historicism: the History an Meaning of the Term,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 56, No. 1, (1995), p. 133. Zagorin notes that Acton used the term “historicist” to describe his own views.

[11] O’Malley, Vatican I, p. 87.  For more examples, see my article “Has Modern Media Created the Ultramontane Papacy?Crisis Magazine, July 14, 2022.

[12] Lord Acton on Papal Power, ed. H.A. MacDougall (London: Sheed and Ward, 1973), p. 91.

[13] Ignaz von Döllinger, Declarations and Letters on the Vatican Decrees, 1869-1887 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1891), p. 97.

[14] Butler, Vatican Council, pp. 91-92; O’Malley, Vatican I, pp. 123-125; Howard, Pope and Professor, pp. 129-137.

[15] John Henry Newman, Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Volume 24; A Grammar of Assent: January 1868 to December 1869, eds. by Charles Stephen Dessain and Thomas Gornall, S.J (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 327, italics in the original. Ian Ker, John Henry Newman: a Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 633, 635.

[16] Newman, Letters, Vol. 25, pp. 377-79; Ker, Newman, p. 635.

[17] Butler, Vatican Council, p. 92.

[18] Aubert, “The Vatican Council,” p. 321.

[19] Howard, Pope and Professor, p. 128.

[20] “Why then do people speak of “separate infallibility,” as if the faith of the successor of ever could ever be exclusively personal or separate itself from the faith of all centuries?… It has for its object only the preservation of the deposit of the faith and to declare when necessary its content; and it is not by new revelations or by inspirations that the supreme doctrinal authority preserves the faith and declares it, but by the fidelity divinely promised to the employment of the means necessary to preserve and declare it,” Butler, pp. 127-28.

[21] O’Malley, Vatican I, p. 154.

[22] Butler, Vatican Council, pp. 112-117.

[23] O’Malley, Vatican I, pp. 156, 185; Butler, Vatican Council, pp. 140-44; Aubert, “The Vatican Council,” pp. 321-22.

[24] Butler, Vatican Council, pp. 190-98; O’Malley, Vatican I, p. 189; Aubert, “The Vatican Council,” pp. 323-24.

[25] Butler, Vatican Council, pp. 333-34, 336-37; O’Malley, Vatican I, p. 192.

[26] Butler, p. 338; O’Malley, pp. 188, 209-210.

[27] O’Malley,Vatican I, pp. 203-204; Schatz, Primacy, 158-161; Aubert, “Vatican Council,” p. 319.

[28] Butler, Vatican Council, pp. 352-356, 378; O’Malley, Vatican I, pp. 208-214.

[29] Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Volume Two: Trent to Vatican II, ed. Norman J. Tanner (London & Washington, DC: Sheed & Ward, Georgetown UP, 1990), p. 816.

[30] Decrees, p. 814

[31] O’Malley, p. 203.

[32] The bishop was Clifford of England. O’Malley, Vatican I, p. 205.

[33] For the German bishops’ letter and Pius IX, see Heinrich Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolon, ed. Peter Hünermann (Bologna: Edizione Dehonane, 1996), nos. 3112-3117.

The only other document that clearly states such limits comes from the Theological Commission at Vatican II. I am unsure of its magisterial weight. During the Second Vatican Council, the Theological Commission rejected an amendment proposed by Paul VI to Lumen Gentium, which in effect said the Pope was accountable to God alone, because “the Roman pontiff is also bound to revelation itself, to the fundamental structure of the Church, the sacraments, to the definition of earlier councils, and other obligations too numerous to mention,” Avery Cardinal Dulles, “Authority in the Church, in Civilizing Authority: Church, State, Society, ed. Patrick McKinley Brennan (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007), p. 44. The Commission, in rejecting the amendment, mentioned the concerns of Eastern Christians regarding papal authority, but also alluded to the debate at Vatican I over the phrase which declare papal definitions to be binding “of themselves and not by the consent of the Church” in chapter four of Pastor Aeternus, another point of heated debate during the council. See Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II: Periodus Tertia, Pars I (Rome: Typis Polyglotis Vaticana, 1973)  p. 247.

[34] On the Jesuit notion of obedience, see John R. Lamont, “The Catholic Church and the Rule of Law,” (Lecture, New York City, April 4 2014).

[35] Butler, Vatican Council, p. 330; Schatz, Primacy, pp. 162-163.

[36] Newman, Letters, Vol. 25, p. 308.

[37] On this important theological truth, see T. S. Flanders, “The Dubia of Vatican IOnePeterFive (Sep 15, 2022).

[38] Howard, Pope and Professor, p. 127.

[39] Madre Pascalina details this fact in Charles Murr’s book The Godmother (2017).

[40] Pink, “Papal Authority,” p. 16.

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