OUNCIL (1889-70)

 Vatican I

The following is adapted from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

VATICAN COUNCIL I. The Council held at Rome in 1869–70 and reckoned in the RC Church as the Twentieth Oecumenical Council. Convoked by Pius IX by a bull of Indiction dated 29 June 1868, it was planned to deal with a vast variety of subjects including faith and dogma, ecclesiastical discipline and canon law, religious orders, oriental Churches and foreign missions, and the relations between the Church and the civil powers. Even before the Council began, two bodies of opinion stood out clearly.

The majority party, usually designated the ‘Ultramontanes’, were in favour of the heightening of Papal authority and of the definition of Papal infallibility. They included such distinguished laymen as W. G. Ward in England and L. Veuillot in France, and, among members of the Council, Abps. H. E. Manning of Westminster and V. A. Dechamps of Malines, and Bps. L. Pie of Poitiers and I. von Senestrey of Ratisbon.

The liberal minority was represented by J. H. Newman in England and J. J. I. von Döllinger in Bavaria, and, among the members of the Council, by F. Dupanloup, Bp. of Orléans, and most German and many Austrian and American bishops.

Of the governments none except the Russian, which forbade the Catholic bishops to attend, interfered with the Council; the French attitude, one of benevolent neutrality, was largely influenced by E. Ollivier (1825–1913), the French premier, who later embodied his views in L’Église et l’État au concile du Vatican (2 vols., 1879).

After elaborate preparations the Council began with a pre-synodal congregation on 2 Dec. 1869 at which Pius IX nominated the presidents. It was followed by the issue of the brief ‘Multiplices inter’ which established the procedure, acc. to which the Pope had the right of proposing questions (ius proponendi), though bishops might suggest subjects for discussion to congregations set up for this purpose. Four Deputations—on dogma, on ecclesiastical discipline, on religious orders, and on the oriental Churches—were appointed.

The business of the Council was opened by Pius IX on 8 Dec. 1869 in the presence of nearly 700 bishops. It began with a discussion on the schema ‘De Fide’ which had been drawn up against rationalism, naturalism, materialism, pantheism, and kindred errors. While this schema, which was criticized as too cumbrous, was being revised by the Deputation on dogma, the Council discussed matters of ecclesiastical discipline with special reference to canon law and repeatedly listened to the desire for a reform of the Breviary.

In Feb. 1870 the procedure, which had proved very slow, was hastened by new regulations. Long debates were prevented by the application of closure and the quicker method of voting by standing up was adopted. Both measures were later much criticized by the minority. The revised constitution on Faith, ‘Dei Filius’, was laid before the Council on 1 Mar., and after detailed discussion was promulgated in its final form on 24 Apr. It consists of

a proemium deploring the pantheism, materialism, and atheism of the time,

followed by four chapters on

God the Creator of all things,

on Revelation,

on Faith,

and on Faith and Reason.

The respective spheres of reason and faith were defined, esp. with a view to excluding Traditionalism and other doctrines anathematized in the appended canons.

The public announcement that the question of Papal infallibility was to be discussed at the Council had been made on 6 Mar. After some controversy it was decided that this subject and the Primacy of the Pope, both of which divided the members of the Council, should be dealt with before the other points of the schema ‘De Ecclesia’. From 27 Apr. the Deputation on dogma worked on the schema ‘De Romano Pontifice’; and the debate on the ‘opportunity’ of the definition, which lasted from 13 May to 3 June, was ended by closure.

In the debate on the Primacy which followed, the point to which the minority esp. objected was the definition of the Pope’s jurisdiction as ordinary, immediate, and truly episcopal.

In the debate on infallibility, the minority party desired to see the Pope’s infallibility linked more closely with the infallibility of the Church by the use of some such expression as St Antoninus of Florence’s formula that the Pope ‘using the counsel and seeking for the help of the universal Church’ cannot err.

The infallibility debate was closed on 4 July. On 13 July the definition received 451 placets, 88 non-placets, and 62 placets juxta modum, and at the Fourth Public Session on 18 July the constitution ‘Pastor Aeternus’ was passed by 533 placets to 2 non-placets, the remainder of the minority having abstained from voting. The definition as finally accepted disappointed the extremists of both sides. It stated plainly the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff, affirming that his definitions are ‘irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church’, but it restricted this infallibility only to those occasions ‘when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church’.

On 19 July, the day after the promulgation, war broke out between France and Prussia, and the removal of the French troops from Rome and the Italian occupation of the city brought the Council to an end. It was formally suspended on 20 Oct. 1870.

The definitions of the Council, which were accepted by all the minority bishops, roused serious opposition only in Germany and Austria. In these countries some small groups organized themselves as the ‘Old Catholics’, and in Germany the opposition of Bismarck to the increased consolidation of Papal power issued in the Kulturkampf. J. J. I. von Döllinger, who had vigorously opposed the Council throughout, esp. in his articles in the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung and his book The Pope and the Council (1869), also refused to submit and was excommunicated, though he did not join the Old Catholic body. The chief result in Austria was the renouncing of the Concordat by the State.

In the RC Church itself, the result of the definition of the Papal primacy and infallibility was the final settlement of the controversies that began at the Council of Constance (1415) and had been sustained by Gallican theologians in later times, while the constitution ‘Dei Filius’ provided the principles on which Catholicism was soon to make its stand against the infiltration of Modernism into its own ranks.

Acta et Decreta Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani cum permultis aliis Documentis ad Concilium eiusque Historiam Spectantibus auctoribus Presbyteris SJ e Domo BVM sine Labe Conceptae ad Lacum (Collectio Lacensis Conciliorum Recentiorum, 7; Freiburg i.B., 1892); Mansi (continuation), 49–53 (Arnhem and Leipzig, 1923–7). Decrees, with Eng. tr., in Tanner, Decrees (1990), 2, pp. 800–16. E. Cecconi, Storia del concilio ecumenico vaticano (2 vols. in 4 parts, to end of second session, 1872–9; all pub.). J. Friedrich, Geschichte des vatikanischen Konzils (3 vols., 1877–87); T. Granderath, SJ, Geschichte des vatikanischen Konzils, ed. K. Kirch, SJ (3 vols., 1903–6). E. Campana, Il concilio vaticano (2 vols., Lugano, 1926). [E.] C. Butler, OSB, The Vatican Council: The Story Told from Inside in Bishop Ullathorne’s Letters (2 vols., 1930). R. Aubert, Vatican I (Histoire des Conciles Œcuméniques, 12; 1964). K. Schatz, Vaticanum I. 1869–1870 (Konziliengeschichte, Reihe A, Darstellung; 3 vols., 1992–4). F. J. Cwiekowski, SS, The English Bishops and the First Vatican Council (Bibliothèque de la Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique, 52; 1971); M. O’Gara, Triumph in Defeat: Infallibility, Vatican I, and the French Minority Bishops (Washington, DC [1988]). T. Mozley, Letters from Rome on the Occasion of the Oecumenical Council, 1869–1870 (1891; hostile). H. E. Manning, The True Story of the Vatican Council (1877). A. Vacant, Études théologiques sur les constitutions du concile du Vatican, d’après les actes du concile (2 vols., 1895). A. B. Hasler, Pius IX. (1846–1878), Päpstliche Unfehlbarkeit und 1. Vatikanische Konzil (Päpste und Papsttum, 12; 2 vols., Stuttgart, 1977). G. Thils, Primauté et infaillibilité du pontife romain à Vatican I et autres études d’ecclésiologie (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 89; 1989). J. Brugerette and É. Amann in DTC 15 (pt. 2; 1950), cols. 2536–85, s.v. ‘Vatican (Concile du)’.


Mann H. K. Mann, The Lives of the Popes in the (Early) Middle Ages (18 vols., bound in 19, 1902–32).

Pastor L. Pastor, The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages, Eng. tr. (40 vols., 1891–1954)

Tanner, N. P. Tanner, SJ (ed.), Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (2 vols., 1990).

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