Chapter VI : The Vatican Council


Mr. Woodhouse has omitted two of Salmon's lectures, devoted to General Councils, "because their claim to be the main organ of the Church's infallibility is no longer upheld." I do not know anything in the teaching of the modern Church which suggests that an Ecumenical Council (which requires papal acceptance as such for its claim to the title) is any less of a "main organ" than is the Pope, defining a doctrine (as recently that of the Assumption) without the formality of a Council. The country can be governed by Order in Council (a direct act of superior authority) or by Act of Parliament (and a Bill only becomes an Act when it receives the royal signature), but it would be rash to assume that the claim of Parliament to be the "main " organ of government is not upheld. Similarly, it is of course simply a mistake to say, as Salmon himself does, (S, page 109) that "modern Catholics seek to show that infallibility does not reside in Councils." The Church recognizes about twenty [now 21] Ecumenical Councils, and all their doctrinal definitions are accepted as infallible.

Chapter 10 of the Abridgement is devoted to the Vatican Council, at which the Pope's infallibility was defined and the old theological controversy between Gallicans (who thought a Council superior to a Pope) and Ultramontanes was thus terminated by a conciliar act. Salmon's main source for his sharply critical account of the Council was apparently "Quirinus," and this means that it was largely Dollinger, whom Mr. Woodhouse describes as "The great R.C. historian." It is true of course that Dollinger was a great historian, and that he had been a Catholic. But for ten years before the Council he had been moving towards what in modern jargon might be called the "left" of the theological world, and he left the Church as a result of the Council and its decisions. He is therefore a partial witness. Modern historians are very much alive to the need of allowing for the personal bias of historical authorities. In fact, it was at one fairly recent time almost in fashion to "whitewash" notorious historical figures, and the method has regularly been in large measure to show that the sources of the traditional account were from the first strongly biased against the figure in question -- whether Tiberius, or Caligula, or Alexander VI. Similarly the "Whig interpretation" of English history has been attacked as a partial view. And on the other hand, the late Lytton Strachey set a fashion of undermining established historical reputations.

The Vatican Council 1869-1870 by Cuthbert Butler

Mr. Woodhouse, in a note appended to this chapter of the Abridgement, refers to the late Cuthbert Butler's The Vatican Council (1930), which is a sober study by an acknowledged scholar of high intellectual integrity, based mainly on the six thousand columns of the full record, in Mansi's Collectio Conciliorum, of "everything official or semi-official relating to the Council," on Cecconi's Antecedente del Concilio (1873-4), on the Collectio Lacensis, vol vii (1892), and on Bishop Ullathorne's letters, Grandrath's History (1903-6), Ollivier's L'Englise et l' Etat au Concile du Vatican ("an eminently sane and sensible presentation...by an independent and understanding onlooker" -- by a non-Catholic French statesman, yet, says Cuthbert Butler, "it is the best apologia of the Council") (2 vols, 1877), and Mourret's Le Concile du Vatican (1919). Much of this material appeared too late for Salmon to use, and Butler writes: "In England, educated public opinion has hitherto been formed wholly" on sources hostile to the Council.

"The present work is the first attempt in English to present an account of the Vatican Council based on the Acta and other authentic documents, interpreted, it is hoped, with such objectivity and impartiality as may be possible in one who has clear and strong convictions." [117]

Butler characterizes his special source, namely Bishop Ullathorne, as a

"plain straightforward Yorkshire man, of high character, with wide experience of men and affairs, shrewd and intelligent. At the Council he took up and maintained a 'moderate' or middle position....yet closely in touch with leading bishops on both sides. Thus we have in him probably a witness as well informed, and as independent, impartial, and objective, as could well be found." [118]

Mr. Woodhouse gives references to various criticisms of Salmon made by Cuthbert Butler, but the whole two-volume work of the latter [re-published in 1962 as one volume The Vatican Council 1869-1870 by The Newman Press] is worth reading as an antidote to this chapter of Salmon's. Perhaps the most serious criticism to which Salmon lays himself open in this chapter is that the reader is allowed to assume that the "minority" in the Council which, as Cuthbert Butler says, became an "opposition," was composed of bishops who held that the Pope was not infallible in that sense, and under those conditions, which the Council eventually laid down. This is a very serious misapprehension, and I hope I shall be forgiven if I spend some time in correcting it.

Gallicanism and Ultramontanism

There had been in antiquity what amounted to a traditional recognition that the Church of Rome had always been a citadel of orthodoxy, that its "line" on any doctrinal issue might be presumed to be correct, and that the infallible Peter spoke in the official utterance of the bishop who, as Bishop of Rome, inherited his "apostolic chair" (sedes apostolica). There had further been, and especially in the West, a practical recognition of Rome's de jure leadership of the Catholic Church. Broadly speaking, these ideas met no serious and persistent opposition from orthodox ecclesiastical quarters either before 1054 (when, under Michael Caerularius, the Eastern Churches drifted into separation from the West) or, in the West, after that date, until the scandals of the Western schism and the period of the anti-Popes shook the prestige of the Roman See.

The Council of Constance (1414-17), in an endeavour to bring the Western schism to an end, declared that

"a General Council, as representing the Universal Church, held its power immediately from Jesus Christ...and that every one, even the Pope, was bound to obey the Council in matters concerning the faith, the extinction of the schism, and the reform of the Church in its head and members; and that the Council had authority over the Pope as well as over all Christians." [119]

This is the theory of theological (as distinct from political) Gallicanism, and the acts of this Council were approved by the Pope "saving the rights, dignity, and pre-eminence of the Apostolic See." Theological Gallicanism found a home in France, where the great Bossuet (17th century) was one of its spokesman, and though its famous "Four Articles" had in 1690 been declared by the Pope to be "null and void," it was taught "in France and elsewhere," [120] up to the Revolution; it had the support of the French Government, and our own English Benedictine superiors -- three of our monasteries being at that time in France -- undertook that it should be the doctrine taught by and to our monks. But though thus enjoying official favour, Gallicanism (which so great a French-speaking authority as St. Francis de Sales had eschewed) was a declining cause among the clergy, "whose Gallicanism" says Butler, "tended ever to grow more attenuated" (p. 34).

Meanwhile, the other, and ultimately victorious explanation of the relation of bishops (or Council) and Pope, had been systematically set forth by St. Robert Bellarmine in 1586. This is the theory known as Ultramontanism:

"The Pope is the supreme judge in deciding controversies on faith and morals. When he teaches the whole Church in things pertaining to faith, he cannot err." [121]

The nineteenth century, however, witnessed the rise of a movement of thought to which the name New Ultramontanism, or "Neo-Ultramontanism," has been applied. After the French Restoration in 1815 "there were now strong Ultramontane currents running among the younger clergy and the educated Catholic laity" in France, [122] and the "principal Catholic organ, the Univers," under the editorship of Louis Veuillot, became a mouthpiece of political and extreme theological Ultramontanism. Its intransigence "split the French Catholics into two vehemently opposed camps that lasted until the Council" [123] and the school of thought opposed to the New Ultramontanism came to be described as "Gallican." But, says Butler, "the liberal Catholics," that is to say the party opposed to the political intransigence of the Univers, "were not, as such, Gallicans" -- that is, they did not, as such, maintain the theological Gallicanism of Bossuet. Their great leader was Montalembert, who declared that he detested Gallicanism and its official forularies; "nor, as we shall see, was the foremost leader of the party, Bishop Dupanloup, a Gallican, though freely called such." [124]

Ullathorne, Newman, and W. G. Ward

In England, Ullathorne may be taken as a typical case of a man educated on the lines of the old theological Gallicanism who, by the date of the Vatican Council, had evolved into a supporter of the moderate Ultramontanism canonised in that Council's definition of faith. Cardinal Newman, the greatest of the Oxford converts, stated after the Council, as we have seen, that he had held this theological opinion ever since his conversion a quarter of a century earlier. But the great layman convert W. G. Ward, editor of the Dublin Review since 1863, was an ardent advocate of extreme theological Neo-Ultramontanism:

"He held that the infallible element of bulls, encyclicals, etc., should not be restricted to their formal definitions, but ran through the entire doctrinal instructions; the decrees of the Roman Congregations, if adopted by the Pope and published by his authority, thereby were stamped with the mark of infallibility, in short, 'his every doctrinal pronouncement is infallibly directed by the Holy Ghost'...Ward's attitude to encyclicals and allocations was much like the Protestant attitude to the Bible...He insisted...that his view was the only Catholic one...only invincible ignorance excusing [those who rejected it] from mortal sin." [125]

It can be well understood that such as extreme position, advocated with force and ability, by a theologian like Ward, "a man of great intellectual power, an original and profound thinker in matters of philosophy and ethics," [126] aroused the greatest anxiety in more moderate men such as Newman, with a deep knowledge of Christian history and a sense of those "fine distinctions" which looked like treachery to Ward, and like special pleading to Salmon. And Veuillot, a journalist without theological training, actually wrote from Rome during the progress of the Council: "Does the Church believe, or does she not believe, that her head is inspired directly by God, that is to say infallible in his decisions regarding faith and morals?" [127] He is further responsible for saying: "We must affirm squarely the authority and omnipotence of the Pope, as the source of all authority, spiritual and temporal. The proclamation of the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope has no other object." [128]

It will thus, I take it, be seen that it is altogether mistaken to suppose that the line which separates the minority at the Council from the majority must be the same as the line dividing those who held, from those who rejected, the opinion that the Pope as pastor of the flock of Christ is superior to any Council lacking his ratification, and that he is therefore infallible. There were those who held this opinion as theologically true, but feared either the extreme position of the Neo-Ultramontanes or the effect of even a moderate definition upon governments and upon non-Catholics, and the danger that it would lead to an undesirable "contralization" and a diminution of the rights and status of the other diocesan bishops. In fact, as we can now see, the Neo-Ultramontanes did not prevail at the Council, democratic governments have found it possible to maintain diplomatic reliations with the Holy See, and the bishops had their authority secured to them in the Canon Law of the Latin Church. Unfortunately, many non-Catholics continue, like Salmon, to imagine that Neo-Ultramontanism is now the official creed of the Catholic Church. But the future was hidden from the eyes of the bishops who assembled for the Council in the closing weeks of 1869, and it was natural that many who shared such fears, more or less, drifted together into a minority.

Dupanloup and the Minority were "Inopportunists" Not Anti-Infallibility

Dupanloup was, says Butler, "perhaps in a way the chief leader and driving force" of the minority bishops. [129] He had defended the thesis of "The Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff" at Rome in 1841-2, as the thesis of his doctorate of divinity, and "he never held any other theological opinion on that point, from first to last. He wrote in 1843: 'Gallicanism is inevitably dying out in France...There are not more than eight moderate Gallican bishops [left in France]'" (quotation from the Life of Dupanloup by Lagrange, i, p. 212). Similarly in 1861 he had written: "For us Catholics the Pope is the universal doctor, the judge in the last resort of questions of faith and of Christian morals." [130] Butler states that Dupanloup's position, on this theological point, "was the position also of nearly all the members of the opposition or minority at the Council," [131] and "Manning and Ullathorne both bear witness that there were not" at the Council "more than a half-dozen bishops who upheld the historical Gallican position and questioned the doctrine." [132]

It is possible that there were others who accepted papal infallibility as a theological opinion but doutbed whether it was "definable," doubted, that is, whether it was in any true sense part of the "deposit of faith." But such a position was hardly tenable -- it could hardly be that God had made the Pope infallible but, so to speak, as an afterthought. The word which probably covers best the important part of the elements at the Council opposed to the definition is not "Gallican" but "Inopportunist" : for reasons differing no doubt to some extent from man to man, they thought it expedient that the doctrine should be defined, yet, as in Dupanloup's case, this did not necessarily mean, even before the definition, that they rejected the doctrine. As Dupanloup wrote to the Pope some months after the Council's prorogation:

"I have no difficulty in this matter [of the definition]; I have written and spoken only against the opportuneness of the definition. As to the doctrine, I have always professed it, not only in my heart, but in public writings...And I adhere to it again." [133]

These being the facts, it appears that one could accept all Salmon's (and Mr. Woodhouse's) strictures on the proceedings at the Council and yet feel that the moral credit of the resultant definition of papal infallibility had suffered little hurt. But it may be worth while to examine a few of their criticisms.

Some of Salmon's Criticisms on the Vatican Council

Mr. Woodhouse (in a note: S, p. 114) refers to the "intrigue" described by Butler in his account of the election of the special deputation "on the faith." The function of these deputations was as folllows. Before the Council, commissions of theologians and canonists had prepared "schemata" on the topics which were to form the Council's agenda, [134] and on these schemata debate was to follow in the General Congregations of the Council.

"If no serious difficulty or discussion arose, the schema might be passed forthwith by the Congregation, but to meet the case of difficulties appearing, four Deputations, each of twenty-four Fathers, should be elected by secret ballot, for Faith, for Discipline, for Regulars, and for the Eastern Churches and Missions. Matters in controversy should be referred to the proper deuptation...whose deliberations and report should be circulated to all the Fathers, to be voted at another General Congregation after further discussion...." [135]

The procedural difficulties of electing such a deputation out of "a crowd of 700 bishops from all quarters of the globe, for the most part quite unknown to each other," leap to the eye. Both extremist sections began "to meet to take concerted action," and the inner circle of infallibilists thus formed drew up a list of twenty-four names, of men supposedly favourable to the definition of papal infallibility, and this list was distributed among the bishops "as being approved by the Cardinal de Angelis," a man of influence who was later (but not at the time of the "intrigue") a President of the Council.

"The result was that the whole list....was elected, the Minority not securing the return of a single representative to voice its views at the deputation de Fide, the most important committee of the Council. After going through the proceedings of the entire Council, I have to say that this appears to me as the one serious blot on its doings." [136]

It was certainly a blot. It had been the Pope's expressed wish "that representatives of the Minority, and Dupanloup by name, should be on the deputation de Fide, in order that the Minority might not feel aggrieved at having no advocate on it." It was in fact a "coupon" election, though the coupon was not supplied by the "Government" but by an influential party junta.

But a historian must keep the balance of his judgment, even where his sense of propriety is offended. The deputation "on the faith" was, as has been seen, a committee to consider issues of controversy that might emerge in a General Congregation and its findings were themselves subject to a vote of a subsequent Congregation. The Minority (which, as I have remarked above, should be regarded as on the whole "Inopportunist" rather than theologically "Gallican") did in fact have one representation on the deputation, since the Primate of Hungary had been included on the list, apparently in the mistaken idea that he was a Majority man. "Before leaving home he had issued a pastoral letter of strong Ultramontane tenor, but on arrival at Rome he went over to the Minority." [137]

Did this "intrigue" in fact facilitate the passage of the infallibility defintion? Lord Acton, a witness who may be supposed hostile to the Majority, was in Rome at the time, "in close touch with the Minority bishops, and knew their mentality well." His opinion is of some interest:

"A proposal was made on very high authority that the list should be drawn up so as to represent the different opinions fairly....If these sagacious counsels had been followed, the harvest of July might have been gathered in January, and the reaction that was excited in the long struggle that ensued might have been prevented." [138]

In other words, if Acton is right, the "intrigue" hampered the cause, and not merely tended to damage the credit, of the infallibilist party. The only thing that it can hardly be shown to have done is to cause the passage of a definition more "extreme" than might have resulted if "sagacious counsels" had been followed. It was an intrigue, but not one that has significantly changed the course of history.

Other matters may perhaps be dealt with more shortly. Salmon speaks of the presence at the Council of "some three hundred titular bishops"; the number is far in excess of truth, and of the titular bishops many in fact were vicars apostolic with pastoral jurisdiction. Only thirty-six were "mere titulars," and to them we may add sixty-four persons present who were not bishops but cardinals or superiors of religious orders -- this out of seven hundred and fifty persons present at a maximum. [139] The fact that the Italian bishops had each a far smaller flock than for instance the German bishops (and most of the German bishops were in the "Minority") is true, but this was not a state of affairs contrived for the sake of passing the infallibility definition. It goes back into the distant history of the Church. And it must be rememberd that a bishop in Council is not there as a mere deputy of his flock, nor even simply as a man of theological learning, but is there as a member of the "teaching Church."

The acoustics of the hall of the Congregation gave a great deal of trouble, but it would be absurd to suppose that this was intended, or to forget that microphones had not yet been invented. As Cuthbert Butler shrewdly points out, "It may safely be said, that unless the great body of bishops heard fairly well, there would not have been six hundred of them in regular attendance at the lengthy Congregations." [140] The fact that the speeches were in Latin, "which all the bishops did not pronounce in the same way" is, I think, even more trivial than it looks. Probably most of the bishops had done their theological studies under Latin lecturers. I did not have that advantage, but I have found, in an international congress of abbots, that one rapidly accustoms oneself to taking an intelligent interest in Latin speeches. As for the suggestion that the speeches might have been printed and circulated, Butler comments: "This seems reasonable until we look at the reports in Mansi; if this great volume of speeches had come out day by day bishops and deputations would have been snowed under." [141]

Bishops on the Pope's Payroll?

The three hundred bishops who were "the Pope's pensioners" is an argument drawn directly by Salmon from Quirinus, and Butler's reply seems justified:

"The fact was that the Pope offered hospitality to bishops from missionary lands or from poor dioceses, maintaining them at his own cost. The insinuation...that this interfered with their liberty...and that it was of the nature of a bribe or intimidation, seems unworthy of all credence."

Similarly, he stigmatises the idea of the vacant cardinalates being a bait "to reward the obedient" as "grotesque," and in fact no new cardinals were appointed for three years after the Council. [142] Ullathorne's letters do not give the impression of a cowed and subservient collection of time-servers, and indeed those who had spent months in preparing "schemata" for the consideration of the Council found that the assembled bishops tore their proposals into shreds and demanded (and obtained) substantial revision before matters were brought to a vote. It is true that the length and number of speeches led to the institution of the "closure," but "as a matter of fact, though often called on to do so, the Presidents applied the closure only once, June 3, and...Ullathorne considered their action to have been justified and proper." [143]

Crucial Debate: The Opportuneness for Definition of Papal Infallibility

The subject of this "crucial debate," as Butler names it, was the opportuneness of defining papal infallibility, and according to Ullathorne, in his Pastoral Letter on the Council, "it had been so completely exhausted that nothing seemed to remain that was not in repetition of what had already been adduced." [144] "The debate had gone on during fifteen congregations of some four hours each" during which thirty-nine speeches had been made in favour of the definition, and twenty-six against. "This would surely be deemed a very ample Second Reading debate in the House of Commons -- for this in effect was what it was." Butler remarks that it has usually been found necessary to make provision for resort to the closure in parliaments, "and whenever the closure is applied, the minority...always makes protests that it has been improperly muzzled"; and in fact such a protest was made on this occasion by eighty of the Minority, headed by three cardinals. All this is from Butler, who adds:

"Anyone who reads the speeches at this debate, the most controversial and crucial of all, cannot fail to be impressed by the high level that was maintained; the dignity and courtesy and temper and restraint; and also the learning displayed; above all, the patience of the Fathers [i.e. the members of the Council] and the forbearance of the Presidents." [145]

In reference to Salmon's amusing remark that "two or three times the greatest uproar was excited, and it really appeared as if there was danger that the scene at Trent would be reenacted, when one bishop pulled out another bishop's beard" (p. 112), the following from a letter of Ullathorne, dated May 1, is of interest:

"Free and friendly are the two qualities which more and more distinguish the bishops both in their general and in their particular assemblies...and you see those who are considered the leading antagonists on even the greatest points, talking as cheerily with each other, and having their pleasant jokes, as those who are the most closely allied in sentiments...It is certainly a most edifying assemblage...The reverence for the episcopal character [i.e. sacramental status] is deep in all minds alike...The world could not produce such another assembly." [146]

One further point: Salmon says that in a Council, "the moment the decision is pronounced, [the minority] are bound...from the bottom of their hearts to believe that to be true which the moment before they had been protesting as false" (p. 113). In view of what has been said above as to the nature of the Vatican Minority's objections (i.e. that they were rather against the opportuneness of a definition than against the truth of papal infallibility) it must I think be conceded that this statement of Salmon is a grave suggestio falsi.

We may conclude with the following from Cuthbert Butler:

"I submit that what has gone before in these volumes, based on the collective records and documents, justifies us in taking as substantially true Bishop Ullathorne's account of what took place in the Council Chambers; and consequently rejecting the picture of violence, disorder, and unseemly behaviour that has been the popular Protestant tradition, based on Quirinus, Pomponius Leto, and the correspondents of the newspapers who were not admitted to the Council Chamber." [147]

Salmon did not have access to much of the material drawn on by Butler, and there is therefore some excuse for the false picture presented by him which was largely due to his use of hostile partisan authorities -- which, however, he seems to have accepted in an unduly uncritical spirit. It would, I venture to suggest, have been better if Mr. Woodhouse had omitted, or wholly rewritten, this chapter of the Abridgement. The truth is surely that, if General Councils are desirable at all (and it is one of Salmon's ad hominem charges against the definition of papal infallibility, that it makes them unnecessary), then the Vatican Council, for all the deficiencies of organization and procedure that marred it, as such defects must have marred any comparable assembly in that century, may take its place with credit in the long roll of the Councils of the Church.

END OF CHAPTER SIX


ENDNOTES for Chapter VI: The Vatican Council

[117] Butler, The Vatican Council (1930 in two volumes), vol i, p. xix. [118] ibid, vol i, v f. [119] ibid, vol i, 24f. [120] ibid, 28. [121] ibid, 37. [122] ibid, 58. [123] ibid, 63. [124] ibid, 63. [125] E.C. Butler, Life of Bishop Ullathorne, ii, 41-4, quoted in The Vatican Council, vol i, p. 73f. [126] ibid, 72f. [127] ibid, 75f. The answer is that the Church does not believe in this simple identification of infallibility and inspiration. [128] ibid, 76. [129] ibid, 16. [130] quoted in ibid, 117. [131] ibid, 116. [132] ibid, 119. [133] quoted in ibid, 119. [134] The Council had a great deal of other business to consider besides the question of defining the Pope's infallibility. Much of this business never "came on" owing to the length of the discussions and the proroguing of the Council in 1870. [135] ibid, 158. [136] This quotation and the substance of this paragraph are from Butler, i, 158-75. [137] ibid, 175. [138] quoted in ibid, 174. [139] ibid, 262f. [140] ibid, 261. [141] ibid, 253. [142] ibid, 266. [143] ibid, 250. Hence Salmon's remark "And so in the first stage of the Infallibility discussion a premature stop was put to the speech-making" (p. 113), gives a misleading impression. [144] quoted in Butler, The Vatican Council, vol ii, p. 57. [145] ibid. [146] ibid, ii, 58f. [147] ibid, ii, 237.

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