Vatican I: A Look Back at an Unfinished Council (5)

April 29, 2020

150 years ago, the first Vatican Council opened, under the leadership of Pope Pius IX. FSSPX.News recounts the fascinating history of a council that was the scene of opposition between liberals and ultramontanes, at the end of which the dogma of pontifical infallibility was proclaimed.

It was during the third public session on April 24, 1870, that the first of the two constitutions from the First Vatican Council, unanimously approved a few days earlier by the 667 members present, was promulgated.

Bishop Joseph Strossmayer, who was represented the line of German-speaking fathers opposed to the Roman party, if he - out of tactical concern - supported the proposed text, was, however, absent when the flabellas lowered, on the descent of the sedia gestatoria, before the sovereign pontiff, who came in person to sanction the new constitution.

Dei Filius - so designated from the beginning of the text - proposes a clear and definitive synthesis on God, Revelation, and the faith, in order to answer the errors of pantheism, materialism, and modern rationalism.

The first chapter deals with the existence of a personal God, free, creator of all things, absolutely independent of the material and spiritual world He created.

The second chapter recalls that every man can attain with certainty, by the light of natural reason, the knowledge of certain truths, such as the existence of God. Moreover, it is taught in the same place that divine revelation is indispensable in order to know other truths.

In a third chapter, Dei Filius insists on the reasonable character of the Catholic faith, and shows that the Church, guardian of the deposit of faith, carries within herself the guarantee of her divine origin.

The fourth and final chapter deals with the existing relationship between science and faith, which are not in opposition to each other, but which, on the contrary, call and answer each other, according to the distinction between their formal objects.

Dei Filius ends with a series of eighteen canons condemning as anathema the opposing errors, considered as heretical: in fact, since 1868, it had been decided that the canons would be reserved for heresies, while in the chapters, the Council would raise other errors.

The adoption of the constitution Dei Filius was a success for the Council in general and for Pope Pius IX in particular.

The respite, however, was short-lived. The schema De Ecclesia—a preparatory document on the Church, her relations with the state, and the prerogatives of the successor of Peter—“leaked” to the press at the end of January, caused much commotion within the European chancelleries, who feared a hardening of Roman positions.

Smelling the indefinite drawing out of discussions on complex issues, the Roman party asked itself if it would not be wiser to anticipate the debate on infallibility. Because one never knows, and time might run out. If only they knew how right they were.