HOW THE BAD GUYS WON.
Needless to say, the urbane, scholarly, serenely judicious Father O'Malley (now 91, a professor emeritus at Georgetown University, and perhaps best known for his Trent: What Happened at the Council, 2013) would never use the crude colloquialism "bad guys." But his precise, immaculate account of the events leading up to the official definition of papal infallibility by Pius IX (1792-1878) in the "Dogmatic Constitution" Pastor Aeternus (1870) shows that this was more than a dreadful theological-philosophical mistake. It was the signal triumph of a period of deeply conservative Vatican ideology and control that would continue until at least the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and is still far from over. The now canonized reactionary Pius X (1835-1914) waged war, most notably in his blasts (e.g., in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, 1907) against the secular hydra-heresy he called "modernism": any attempt to make any changes in church tradition (doctrine, liturgy, biblical interpretation), the land of concessions to the Enlightenment that Pio Nono assailed in his ferocious-ludicrous catalog Syllabus of Errors (1864). Vatican II reversed or qualified some features of this anti-intellectual piety, but strains of it could still be found in the reigns (that telling term!) of Paul VI (1963-1978), who famously condemned "artificial" contraception in 1968, and John Paul II (1978-2005) and Benedict XVI (2005-2013), who made life miserable for proponents of liberation theology and other innovative thinkers.
For liberals like O'Malley, the more than a century and a half from Pius IX up until Pope Francis must seem like a long series of missed opportunities for real reforms in the overclericalized, overcentralized, and overdogmatized Roman Catholic Church. To be fair, there have been some promising moments, as in 1943 when Pius XII, silent about the Nazis, put in a good word, in Divino Afflante Spiritu, for "Wissenschaft": the mostly Protestant-devised contemporary methods of scriptural explication. On the other hand, the horrific revelations of priestly pedophilia--acts typically concealed under the aegis of unchallenged church authority--have made it increasingly hard to have an optimistic view of the twenty-first-century R.C.C.
O'Malley knows all this, but barely adverts to it, sticking to his position of fair-minded ecclesiastical historian. He begins by noting the irony that the major impulse for defining papal primacy and infallibility came, not from prelates, but from conservative Catholic laymen like the powerful, zealous journalist Louis Veuillot (1819-1883), who saw it as a way to block the spread of post-French-Revolutionary culture. And before Veuillot and Co., there had been the influence of the far more gifted Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), whose On the Pope (1819) is still considered a classic of nineteenth-century French literature.
The Church in Pius' day was beleaguered by anticlerical regimes in France, Italy, and Germany, but the same time it witnessed a Romantic resurgence in Catholic sentiment, as seen in all sorts of medieval revivals, personal conversions, and crucially, from O'Malley's perspective, edifying books like Chateaubriand's The Genius of Christianity, or the Spirit and Beauty of the Christian Religion (1802), a kind of grand aesthetic apotheosis, glorifying the Catholic faith and its artistic splendors. The book was hailed as a masterpiece, though nowadays it's often disdained by critics as showy and superficial. In any case, Catholics were building churches, going on pilgrimages, and praying in public with old-fashioned fervor.
Skeptics and unbelievers may have been ruling academia and making the headlines, and they are certainly better remembered today than the religious apologists they attacked; but southern Europe was still a very Catholic continent, as seen in the visions of Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes (1858) and the cult of the Immaculate Conception, which was formally endorsed by Pius IX in the apostolic constitution Inejfabilis Deus (1854). This was the first time an individual pope had ever defined an article of faith (repeated in 1950, when another passionate Mario-later, Pius XII, declared that Mary "was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory").
The Church was going strong, popularly, if not politically; and a majority of bishops and theologians probably believed in some form of papal infallibility, so the final decision in favor of it may well have been eventually inevitable. But the clever, resourceful, and unscrupulous infallibilist partisans, like Cardinal Manning and Bishop Sensetrey, manipulated the proceedings by a) pushing up the vote on infallibility to July 18--otherwise, there would have been no vote all, since on the very next day the Franco-Prussian war broke out, followed by the Italian army's seizure of Rome and the dissolution of the Council, and b) by framing the dogma in the most autocratic way possible, severely minimizing the role of the bishops and church councils in the formulation of church teaching. The majority gerrymandered and packed key departments and commissions with their supporters, so that the anti-infallibilists never had a chance.
These men, mostly German and French theologians, were more distinguished--better-trained, broad-minded, and far more versed in church history--than their opponents; and nowadays they are held in higher regard--thinkers like Ignaz Dollinger, Josip Stross-mayer, and Felix Dupanloup--but they knew they have been outgunned, and along with almost all the other members of the defeated minority bishops, they left Rome before the vote, to avoid the scandal their dissent might have caused. In the end, only two obscure bishops voted "non placet" (no).
For all the bureaucratic fussing and finagling that led up to it, this was a major historical moment; and O'Malley does a brilliant job of tracking down all the arguments, maneuvers, and positions, both tentative and final, of the 744 cardinals, bishops, and abbots who spent at last some time participating in the Council. This sort of story (taken up with revisions of draft statements, parliamentary procedure, suppressed documents, etc.) doesn't exactly qualify as dramatic, but O'Malley's absolute mastery of the sources and his ability to stick to brisk summaries and vignettes keep the narrative flowing.
But where does all this leave us? O'Malley is clearly unhappy about Vatican I and relieved when he gets to talk about Vatican II, although for many liberal observers, it left a lot to be desired. There was much talk about ecumenism, but Protestant churches were still relegated to second-class "seekers" for the truth that Catholic Church had a virtual monopoly on. And next to nothing was done to improve the status of women in the Church. Still, Fr.
O'Malley was under no obligation to engage in polemics with either council and its protagonists. He clearly takes pleasure in demonstrating that in an era when religion is often portrayed as receding and reeling under the assaults from anticlerical intellectuals and media, it was also in many ways flourishing, with high rates of church attendance, enthusiastic response to new devotions like the Sacred Heart--and profound international esteem for Pius DC (seen as a benign, persecuted patriarch, not the suppressor of Roman liberties gained in 1848 or as the kidnapper of six-year-old Edgardo Mortara).
O'Malley dampens, but never hides his disappointment with the outcome of Vatican I. This is basically an old story: Papal infallibility has never gone unchallenged. See August Bernhard Hasler's How the Pope Became Infallible: The Politics of Papal Persuasion (1981) and Hans Kueng's Infallible? An Inquiry (1983). But no one in many decades has presented a well-rounded, detailed picture of how Vatican I actually worked, and readers who want to get such a picture will have to turn to O'Malley's lucid chronicle.
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|Title Annotation:||BOOK; Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2018|
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