Vatican I: A Look Back at an Unfinished Council (3)

April 22, 2020

150 years ago, the First Vatican Council opened under the leadership of Pope Pius IX: FSSPX.News is going back over the fascinating history of the Council which was the theater of opposition between liberals and ultramontanes, at the end of which the dogma of papal infallibility was proclaimed.

Even if it seemed to have been - temporarily - set aside in January 1870, the conciliar fathers seeming divided, the question of papal infallibility did not cease to be provoking during a winter of growing agitation.

As general congregations were held in the mornings on certain days of the week, many of the Council Fathers could meet to give as much feedback as possible to the position they were defending.

Thus, during the month of January, a petition in favor of infallibility collected nearly 380 signatures, and other similar ones, a hundred. Among the champions of the pontifical prerogatives, were some big names: the future cardinals Pie, Mermillod, Deschamps, and Manning.

Opponents of infallibility - a minority representing 20%​​of the Council, united around bishops like Msgr. Darboy, Archbishop of Paris, or Msgr. Dupanloup, Bishop of Orleans, presented a petition refusing any definition, deemed inappropriate, and proposing to remain status quo. It collected 136 signatures, a figure sufficient to paralyze the debate.

They also engaged in a press campaign. Doubtless in order to impress Roman circles, Msgr. Dupanloup called on his friends Albert de Broglie and Augustin Cochin, two great pens of the daily Le Français.

As unrest grew, the Council procrastinated, advancing rather on the grounds of ecclesiastical discipline, which was meant to precipitate less opposition. 28 schemas had been prepared by the Commission for Discipline and eighteen by the Commission for Religious.

But the first schemas distributed - which concerned the role devolved to bishops, vicars general, and synods - were not received with great enthusiasm. For instance, on the issue of infallibility, the Conciliar Fathers were divided into two groups, one made up of those who feared a new attempt to break up the rights of the Roman pontiff, the other defending the prerogatives of the diocesan bishops.

For his part, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholics, Msgr. Audo, underlined the danger of aligning the customs of the Eastern Churches with the discipline of Rome. Called to order a few days later by Pope Pius IX, due to a whole other matter unrelated to the Council, the high prelate then appeared - wrongly – to have been the victim of his honesty. This incident, anecdotal as it was, had the effect of further increasing the tension between the minority and the Roman party.

The schema on the life of the clerics and that providing for the replacement of the diocesan catechisms with a universal catechism were, on the other hand, adopted by a large majority on February 22, 1870, in spite of the opposition of Msgr. Dupanloup, who once again protested against what he judged to be an “excess of Roman centralization.”

The end of winter was approaching. While the Roman gardens were adorned with their first flowers, the Conciliar Fathers seem to be overwhelmed by weariness in the face of endless debates, even if, from time to time, an intervention helped to lighten up an increasingly heavy atmosphere. For example, the one about this Sicilian bishop justifying the wearing of the cassock by explaining that, according to the prophet Isaiah, that in heaven, the Lord wears a robe with a long train ...

Also, from February 22 to March 18, it was decided to suspend work in order to set up new debate rules for the council which seemed to settle down over time, and to reconfigure the conciliar hall built in the Vatican Basilica to improve the acoustics. Would they have gotten along any better for that? Nothing is less certain.