Sunday, 27 February 2011

How the Pope became infallible

In this post, I want to gather together (and, where necessary, translate) some of the accounts of the promulgation of the dogma of papal infalliblity at the First Vatican Council.

The dogma was approved at a session of the Council held in St Peter's on 18 July 1870.  Famously, the bishops who did not support the promulgation of the dogma (and had voted accordingly at an earlier general congregation) had by now left Rome, leaving the floor to the dogma's proponents.  The dogma was contained in an apostolic constitution called Pastor Aeternus.

I will start with accounts from the Church and other Catholic sources.

1.  The account in the 1870 edition of the Acta Sanctae Sedis (the Vatican's official journal, now called the Acta Apostolicae Sedis)

When the reading [of Pastor Aeternus] was finished, the Bishop of Fabriano rose and added these words:

"Most Reverend Fathers, do you consent to the Decrees and Canons which are contained in this Constitution?"

Then he descended from the podium and the Reverend Sub-Secretary ascended it.  A roll call was commenced of all the Fathers who had been able to attend the council, unless they were accidentally prevented from doing so.

We believe that we will be providing here a valuable historical document if we indicate which of the Fathers attended the session and which of them were absent according to the roll-call that was undertaken on that day in the presence of the Pontiff in the council hall.

Although some of those who were called were absent by reason of some accidental obstacle, there were, however, many who had declined to cast a positive vote in the preceding general Congregation.  In truth, I do not know what the reason was for their absence.  Whatever they said, wrote or thought in the preceding general Congregations, those were what are termed private acts, their own personal views and academic opinions, and the general Congregations themselves were preparatory acts and nothing more than that.  In the public session before the Pontiff, who attends as the supreme head of the Church in order to give or deny his assent to the proceedings, the whole catholic Church is represented as teacher in the act of teaching.  What took place is the act of a lawfully convened ecumenical council, which by divine promise cannot err, whether all the Bishops participate or only a few: for wherever Peter is, there is the Church.  Therefore, the Bishops who expressed through their absence from this session a different opinion from that which the great majority of the general Congregation held did nothing more than allow (in the truest sense of the term) the opinion of the great majority of the Congregation to be the opinion of all the Fathers of the ecumenical Council, with only two exceptions whom I will indicate below.  The Fathers whose names were called in this public session, whether they were present or absent, are the following.

[There follows details of the Fathers, broken down by category.]

There were therefore 535 Fathers present at this Session, of which 533 replied "Placet".  However, two of them - namely the Bishop of Cajazzo and the Bishop of Little Rock - replied "Non placet".  Of the total number of Fathers who were called, 112 were absent.  This conciliar process of calling the roll and casting votes was completed around midday: the time was eight minutes to twelve.  The results of the voting were then relayed by the Reverend Secretary, accompanied by the Scrutineers, to the Roman Pontiff as he sat on the Throne.  Then the Pontiff, having heard the results, rose and confirmed the Constitution with his Apostolic Authority in these words:

"The Decrees and Canons which are contained in the Constitution which was just read have been approved by all the Fathers, with two exceptions; and We, with the approval of the sacred Council, define and confirm them, as they are contained in the Constitution which was just read, with our Apostolic Authority."

When this had been done, there was such a change in the proceedings that it can scarcely be described.  It would have to be described as an inward and lively joy in the minds of everyone present.  The Fathers burst into applause.  The people (1)... who, disregarding the heavy rain, had hurried to St Peter's in large numbers, had scarcely heard this applause when they added their own to it.  The unexpected novelty was such that you would not have known at that moment in time were you were.  The very temple of the Prince of the Apostles seemed to shake as it echoed with the applause of all the people....  The applause flowed spontaneously from joy - the joy not of human men who are slaves, but of sons of God who are called to true freedom....  Those two Bishops who had replied "Non placet" both now declared to the Fathers who were sitting in the vicinity that they believed in the dogma, and did so in such a way that words seemed to fail them in expressing from their hearts their firm faithfulness, now that Peter had spoken.  We do not doubt that such a sentiment would in the same way have touched the other Bishops who dissented from the view of the general Congregation if they had been present at the session.... 

(1) ...The great majority of the people were not foreigners, because foreigners do not travel to or stay in Rome at the time when summer is at its height....  The great majority of the people were locals who clearly understood that matters were being transacted at this session that were of the greatest importance for the entire Christian commonwealth.

[The Pope quietens the assembly and makes a short speech.]

"Venerable Brothers, this supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff does not mean oppression but help.  It does not destroy, but builds up....  May God enlighten the senses and hearts of [the opponents of the dogma]... may he enlighten their senses and hearts, so that they may all come to the bosom of their Father, the unworthy Vicar of Christ Jesus on earth, who loves them, cares for them, and hopes to be one with them....  May God bless you all."

With that, renewed applause broke out....

Then the Pontiff began to sing the hymn Te Deum....  At this point, the time was around seven minutes past midday, so that the Apostolic confirmation of the dogma took place at the moment of noon....  So it was that the hymn was sung through antiphonally to the end with great majesty.  Then, as if to crown the common joy, the solemn Apostolic Blessing followed, and the session was dissolved.  As the Bishops left, the faithful fought to kiss their rings and their sacred robes, giving thanks to them as they did so.  I have taken care to describe these events in detail, since they relate to a most solemn act of the catholic Church and one which has the greatest importance for the entire Christian commonwealth. 

2.  The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)

In the eighty-fifth general congregation held on 13 July a general vote was taken on the entire draft.  There were present 601 fathers.  Of these 451 voted placet, 62 placet juxta modum (conditional affirmative), 88 non placet....  On account of the war which threatened to break out between Germany and France, a number of fathers of both opinions had returned home.  Shortly before the fourth public session a large number of the bishops of the minority left Rome with the permission of the directing officers of the council.  They did not oppose the dogma of papal infallibility itself, but were against its definition as inopportune.  On Monday, 18 July, 1870, one day before the outbreak of the Franco-German War, 435 fathers of the council assembled at St. Peter's under the presidency of Pope Pius IX.  The last vote was now taken; 433 fathers voted placet, and only two, Bishop Aloisio Riccio of Cajazzo, Italy, and Bishop Edward Fitzgerald of Little Rock, Arkansas, voted non placet.  During the proceedings a thunderstorm broke over the Vatican, and amid thunder and lightning the pope promulgated the new dogma, like a Moses promulgating the law on Mount Sinai. 

3.  Article from the archconservative Catholic magazine The Angelus (December 1981) by 'Pastor Historicus'

At a general congregation held on 13 July 1870, the Fathers voted 451 placet, 62 placet iuxta modum and 88 non placet.  Many Fathers had left Rome, as war was brewing between France and Germany.  Before the final session, at which the Pope would make the confirmation of the decrees official, the leaders of the Minority asked for a statement that "the consent of the Church should be relied on by the Pope in making infallible pronouncements."  Such an insertion of course would have weakened the text considerably, and the final draft makes it quite clear that the Pope does not require either, before or after, the "official consent" of anyone.

The Minority Bishops decided to withdraw from the final session to avoid embarrassing the Pope.  They hoped that the consent of the Church would not in fact be forthcoming at all and that the whole matter might become a dead letter.

At the final session on Monday, July 18, 433 Bishops voted placet while two voted non placet.  These were Bishop Riccio of Cajazzo and America's Bishop Fitzgerald of Little Rock.  There is a rather spurious story that he actually voted nunc placet (now it pleases), and not non placet but the truth is that he was rather a loner and did not realize the other Minority Bishops would be absent.  As soon as the result was announced he at once submitted.  After the Council, all the Minority Bishops were rounded up and asked to submit in writing to the decrees of the Council.

We now pass on to accounts coming from a critical perspective.

4.  'Quirinus', Letters from Rome on the Council

All the Bishops from South and Central Italy who could be whipped up, or who had previously obtained leave of absence on account of illness or age, were peremptorily recalled for the Solemn Session of July 18.  Of the Cardinals, Hohenlohe was absent.  The rest appeared, including Antonelli, but only three, Patrizzi, Bonaparte and Pambianco, threw a certain spontaneity and energy of voice and manner into their Placet by standing up to deliver it.  Guidi was the one most observed; he sat there with an oppressed and abstracted air, and his scarcely audible Placet escaped with difficulty from his lips.  The two negative voters were Bishops Riccio of Cajazzo and Fitzgerald of Little Rock.  When the Monsignore who was repeating the names and votes had credited one of them with a Placet out of his own head, the Bishop shouted in a stentorian voice, "No; Non placet!".

As all the Bishops of the Opposition but two stayed away, and an abest was the answer to every name of the slightest note that was called, the Holy Ghost had no opportunity for working a miracle of conversion, and all went prosaically and smoothly as the wheels of a watch, without any sensation.  Each of the stipendiaries has discharged his obligation, and the Pope and Monsignori find that the Council has cost large sums, but think the money is well spent and will bring in abundant interest.  The most remarkable case of desertion was that of Bishop Landriot of Rheims.  Not one of the Bishops had been so open-mouthed, or had announced his fallibilist opinions with such copious flow of words to everybody he came across.  He now says, like Talleyrand, that he has only deserted before the rest.  Clerical Rome, so far as I can yet make out, is not in any very exalted state of enthusiasm; that is prevented by the political conjunctures, which give Antonelli and Berardi a good deal to think about....

During the voting and promulgation a storm burst over Rome, and made the Council Hall so dark that the Pope could not read the decree of his infallibility without having a candle brought.  It was read to an accompaniment of thunder and lightning.  Some of the Bishops said that heaven thereby signified its condemnation of Gallicanism, while others thought Pius was receiving a divine attestation, as the new Moses who proclaimed the Law of God, like the old one, amid thunder and lightning....  There were few but monks, nuns and Zouaves, during the session in the very empty-looking church.  When the Pope at last proclaimed himself the infallible and absolute ruler of all the baptized "with the approbation of the holy Council," some bravos shouted, several persons clapped, and the nuns cried in tones of tender rapture, "Papa mio!"  That was the only semblance of a demonstration. If any spark of enthusiasm really glimmered in the souls of the Romans, it was quenched by the downpour of rain....  All the most important members of the diplomatic bodies stayed away, in obedience to the instructions of their governments.  Neither the ambassadors of Austria, France, Prussia or Bavaria were present.  The Belgian and Dutch consuls and an agent of some South American Republic attended.

5.  Nielsen, The History of the Papacy in the XIXth Century

The public meeting on 18th July was, according to the testimony of all, characterized by “a majestic and earnest solemnity”, which made a great impression upon those who were present....  Only a small portion of the episcopate took part in the last vote.  Germany and Austria-Hungary were very thinly represented; the episcopate of France, England, Ireland, and the United States was divided, and even amongst the bishops of Northern Italy the opposition had adherents.  There was also division in the narrowest circle of the Vatican itself....  Not even all the Orientals could be compelled by the Propaganda to appear in the aula on 18th July.  There were then about 917 dioceses in the whole of Roman Catholic Christendom, but only 535 bishops were present at the decisive moment.  These did not in fact represent half of the Roman Catholic Church. Two hundred and thirty-four actual bishops were absent, and the Italian bishops, the cardinals, the officials of the Church, and the apostolic vicars made up about four-fifths of the majority.

The public session was opened as usual with a Mass, with the placing of the Holy Scriptures on the altar in the middle of the Council, and with the Veni Creator Spiritus.  When the hymn had been sung, the secretary of the Council delivered to Pius IX the text of the new dogmatic constitution Pastor Eternus [sic].  The Pope gave the document to Bishop Valenciani of Fabriano and Matelica, who then mounted the ambo and read the whole constitution, consisting of four chapters.  As soon as the reading was ended, Valenciani addressed the following question to the assembled fathers: “Reverend fathers, do you assent to the decrees and canons which are contained in this constitution?”  He then descended from the ambo, and the voting began by roll-call.  During the roll-call the storm broke out with violence to the joy of the ultramontane members, who in the thunder of heaven saw a divine confirmation of the condemnation of Gallicanism and Liberal Catholicism....

Five hundred and thirty-three of those present voted Placet, and only two, the Bishops Riccio of Cajazzo in Naples, and Fitzgerald of Littlerock in the United States, said Non placet.  The “scrutator” who collected the votes was so accustomed to everybody saying Placet, that he repeated Placet also on behalf of the Bishop of Cajazzo, but Riccio with a stentorian voice shouted out his Non placet over the assembly.  Evil tongues asserted, however, that this brand new bishop had only said Non placet in order to give a proof of the freedom of the Council, which Jesuitism might afterwards make use of.  Bishop Fitzgerald is said to have originally intended not to take part in the voting, but when it was pointed out to him that all the bishops present were to vote, he also said Non placet.  Mgr. Pie claims, however, to know that one of the two bishops who voted Non Placet submitted himself to the Pope on the evening of the same day, and confessed his faith in the decisions of the Council, and that the other did so the next morning....

After the voting was over, Pius IX rose to give the decisions of the Council the confirmation of his apostolic authority.  And then he delivered a speech, in which he expressed his hope that those who had voted against the constitution would come to a better understanding....

The interest in the important vote at Rome was not great.  Some houses from early morning, as was customary, were decorated with carpets hung out, but in the evening only the public buildings, the religious houses, and a very few private ones were illuminated.  Only the diplomatic representatives of Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Monaco, and a few South American States showed themselves in the hall; the great powers were conspicuous by their absence.  But the large space was filled with monks and nuns.  The monks clapped their hands and shouted Bravo at the Pope’s words; the nuns were touched and sighed: Papa mio.

6.  Bulgakov, The Vatican Dogma

When on July 13, 1870 the Vatican dogma was put to the vote, 88 members of the Council were against it (non placet) and 62 conditionally so (placet juxta modum); 84 out of the 88 and 41 out of the 62 were diocesan bishops representing such influential Catholic countries as Austria-Hungary, France and Ger­many.  When the dissenting bishops left the Council (of this more will be said later), 535 members remained for the final voting; 533 voted for the resolution and only two against.  By that time only 4 out of 24 German bishops were present, only 44 out of 86 French bishops, only 9 out of 60 from Austria-Hungary, 148 out of 264 from Italy and so on.  Among those who took part in the voting were 22 cardinals without dioceses, 3 Latin patriarchs in partibus, 4 abbots nullius dioceseos, 23 generals of Orders, 13 abbates generales, 88 episcopi in partibus infidelium, 30 of which had no diocese or flock whatever.  Such are the figures....

In spite of a number of protests and attempts at opposition on the part of the minority, the original pro­position, formulated even more strongly than before... was on July 12 put before the Council for deliberation.  On July 13, without any preliminary discussion (which was actually contrary to the Instructions) it was put to the vote at the general meeting.  After this, and also without any further discussion, it was submitted to the public assembly on July 18, accepted by the majority, with only two dis­senting votes, and immediately ratified by the pope....

But what had become of the opposing party?....  After voting against the resolution at the meeting of July 13, the opposition lost heart; it saw the necessity to preserve its unity, but was incapable of defending the common cause.  The dissenting members decided to leave the battlefield, with a parting gesture of respect for the pope.  On July 17, on the eve of the decisive voting; a declaration was sent to him by 56 diocesan bishops.... They reaffirmed their vote against the motion... but at the same time declared that they would not be present at the public meeting so as not to vote against the proposal in the presence of the Holy Father upon a matter which concerned him personally....

The signa­tories thus committed ecclesiastical suicide, and the Vatican dogma was adopted almost unanimously; only the two non placet testify that it was possible in spite of all to vote against the proposal at the last moment.

Contrary to the practice of former councils, the resolution was published by the autocratic decision of the pope in the form of a bull Pater aeternus [sic] on July 18, 1870, merely mentioning sancto approbante concilio.