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The Politics of Infallibility at Vatican I (Part 5)

April 19, 2007

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The Infallibility Debates

The subsidiary committees had anticipated the question of papal infallibility despite their intention to exclude it from the Council agenda. Therefore, they drafted a short schema on papal infallibility which could be made available to the Council. It was subsequently added as a fourth chapter to the schema on the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and distributed to the Council Fathers on March 6 when the announcement was made by the Presidents that papal infallibility would eventually be coming before the Council. Nearly 140 comments and suggested amendments were submitted to deputation de Fide by March 25. The deputation digested and summarized the submissions on the primacy in a 104-page folio for distribution on April 29. The next day, a 242-page folio on infallibility was given to each Council member. Because the question on papal primacy and infallibility was to be considered immediately, the deputation was forced to work daily until May 8 to provide a revised schema to be discussed by the Council.[1]

The original infallibility schema from the subsidiary committee read: “The Roman Pontiff cannot err when, exercising the office of supreme teacher of all Christians, he defines with authority what in matters of faith and morals is to be held by the universal Church: And this prerogative of inerrancy or infallibility of the Roman Pontiff reaches to the same object as the infallibility of the Church extends to.” The comments of the Fathers flailed upon the dry and vague nature of the schema, and requested a more plausible and tangibly sound reworking of the text. The revised schema was distributed to the Council Fathers on May 9, and the first official debate on papal infallibility commenced on May 13 after an introduction of the new text by Bishop Pie representing the mind of the deputation.

Pie spent the majority of his speaking allowance dispelling certain myths that were prevalently surrounding the conception of papal infallibility. He unequivocally asserted that the doctrine would not effectively empower the Pope to exercise his teaching office apart from the Church. The new text clarified that the subject of infallibility must be public, that is, infallibility does not extend to the Pope as a private person, but only as a teaching the official faith of the Church, which is also the object of the Church’s own infallibility,[2] a quite variant understanding than that of Manning, Ward, and Veuillot.

At the following General Congregation on May 14, the first speaker was Cardinal Patrizi, the Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. He argued strongly in favor of the doctrine, and was echoed by the following three speakers, the Archbishop of San Francisco and two Italian archbishops. The first Minority speaker, Bishop Rivet of Dijon, followed. He gave a long, elegant speech, claiming that the new schema in fact did teach the personal infallibility of the pope, and that such a notion would cause grave suffering both within and without the Church. He was followed by a Hungarian who argued on the same grounds. The Congregation of May 14 concluded with two other short statements in favor of the doctrine.[3]

On May 17, Dechamps, representing 35 other bishops, approached the floor to deliver a highly anticipated argument that would be indicative of the infallibilist position. He directly addressed Rivet’s statement and insisted that papal infallibility cannot be a personal or absolute since it belonged to the office of the papacy, not immediately to the pope. The pope only teaches infallibly what was already explicit or implicit in the deposit of faith. He rejected the notion that the text bespoke of the extreme neo-ultramontane facets of infallibility, but instead was buttressed by the more moderate teachings of Aquinas, Liquori and Bellarmine.[4] No new dogma was being presented at the Council, but merely an affirmation of the implicit tradition of the Church, and the infallibility of the Pope was no form of inspiration or revelation. Two other bishops followed Dechamps, each rejecting the doctrine’s definability. It was the fourth speaker of the day that the Minority bishops were waiting for.

Hefele, the great historian, argued against the doctrine by appealing to the acts of previous Ecumenical Councils. He noted that if there was a time that a pope could be said to have spoken infallibly, it was St. Leo the Great in his Tome to Flavian. The Council of Chalcedon adopted the tome as conveying the true apostolic faith, but not before submitting it to a rigorous test of orthodoxy. Thus, even the doctrinal teaching of the Pope was subjected to a test. Hefele also mentioned the condemnation of Pope Honorius as evidence against the definition. He declared that the historical evidence argues loudly against papal infallibility as a revealed doctrine of the faith.

The following day, the Archbishop of Saragossa argued against Hefele’s historical assertions. It was not a matter of whether or not Leo’s tome was scrutinized, but that it was accepted in its entirety and that Leo permitted no change whatsoever to it at Chalcedon. Schwarzenberg and Rauscher also spoke later in day against the definition. Schwarzenberg argued that it was impossible to discuss the papacy without the Council first considering the Church itself, for there was no context present to situate papal infallibility in its relation to the episcopacy.

On May 19th, Archbishop Cullen of Dublin delivered a soaring speech in favor of the definition. He was followed by the first Eastern Rite prelate, Jussef of Antioch, who argued the definition would obliterate any chance of reunion with the Orthodox Church. He suggested that the Council should simply reiterate the papal decress of the Council of Florence and drop infallibility altogether. The following day was won by the Minority bishops, as Simor, the Primate of Hungary and Darboy made their case before the Fathers. Darboy noted that there was conciliar unanimity on the primacy of the papacy, but that a substantial body objected to infallibility. Considering that infallibility was absent from both Pius’ Allocution and the Council agenda, it was the bastard child of unruly force. Darboy posited that papal infallibility would simply bolster the person of the pope and do no service to the Church or the world. He declared that if the doctrine was approved, that the Council’s validity would be severely doubted due to the considerable size of the Minority. On May 23, the Patriarch of the Uniat Armenians affirmed the definition, instilling confidence in the infallibilist party. However, the following day, a Spanish bishop reiterated the fact that the Council was proposing a personal, absolute infallibility of the pope, but was then contradicted by a Chilean bishop arguing on opposite lines.

Manning delivered his argument on May 25, prefacing it by noting that he was the only convert present at the Council. He then proceeded to claim that papal infallibility was a doctrine of the faith and that to deny it is “at least material heresy, for it is not an open theological opinion but a doctrine contained in divine revelation.” It had been explicitly in practice since the Third Council of Constantinople, he asseted, and had gone relatively unchallenged until the Syllabus. However, Manning failed to note the historical instances when papal infallibility was actually called into question, such as at the Council of Constance. Then he argued from contemporary events, pointing to the success of Catholicism in England and how many Protestants sought refuge in the paternal arms of an infallible pope protecting them from “the confusion and chaos of the innumerable sects, and the lack of any tribunal able to teach with authority.”[5]

Even the opponents of the doctrine admired Manning’s words, including the fiery Kenrick. Bishop MacEvilly of Galway, while in support of the definition, posed a more moderate position by challenging Manning’s claim that papal infallibility was already an article of faith.

If Dupanloup was the prince of the Minority, than Bishop Verot of St. Augustine, Florida was the jester. On May 28, Verot proceeded to present a crash-course on the historicity, or lack there of, of papal infallibility. He began with the Acts of the Apostles and steadily moved through the centuries, drawing unappreciative murmurs and even laughter from the Fathers. He concluded “that the pontifical infallibility is not an apostolic tradition, but an opinion introduced by piety and zeal not according to knowledge. Therefore for me to give my vote for it would be a sacrilege—yes a sacrilege.” The patience of many of the bishops had run thin with Verot’s two-hour lesson, and he was called down by President Cardinal Capalti.

Strossmayer launched an aggressive attack against the definition on June 2, repeating the problems the definition would pose to the Orthodox Church. The debates closed on June 3 after Maret had expressed Gallican tendencies in his speech, when the Secretary of the Council, Bishop Fessler, announced that a petition from over 150 bishops had been submitted to end debate. It claimed that the terms of the schema had been exhaustive.y debated by sides, and that the Council should be spared from redundancy and disinterested repetition. The Presidents asked all the Fathers to stand who desired closure, and the vast majority of them rose, bringing an end to the general debate.[6] Predictably, a protest of 80 Minority signatures occurred—“an act of violence,” cried Rauscher[7]—and it was this closure that gave rise to the criticisms of the Council’s lack of freedom and suppression of the rights of bishops to speak. However, out of 65 bishops who spoke during those fearsome fifteen days, thirty-nine spoke in favor of the definition, and twenty-nine against, which reveals that proportionately, the Minority had the advantage.

During the general debates on the papal infallibility schema, Kenrick published his speech in Naples. It proved to be the most lucid and compelling case against the definition. He was not allowed to deliver it (it would have run four hours in duration!), but successfully distributed it to many of the Council Fathers. While he upheld the primacy and jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, he adamantly maintained that the doctrine of infallibility is not a doctrine of faith, that it is clearly lacking in the Creeds, and that the Church had never taught it as binding on the faithful.[8]

The deputation de Fide was to take into account every criticism and suggestion posited during the debates and to again revise the schema to coincide with any general wishes. The debates on the new text commenced on June 15, and were intended strictly for proposing amendments. Mathieu and Rauscher began the discourse. Mathieu referenced back to the general debates, and attacked the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem’s argument that Gallicanism was implicitly tied to Monothelite tendencies. He reminded the Council of the faithfulness of the French episcopacy during the French Revolution that was predominately Gallican. Rauscher then proposed that the formula of St. Antoninus which states: “The successor of St. Peter using the counsel and seeking for the help of the universal Church, cannot err.”[9] The great leader of the Minority was willing to compromise on the definition if it somehow tied the pope’s infallibility to the episcopal college.

At the next meeting, June 18, Cardinal Pitra, a scholar of Greek and Slavonic theology, gathered together the numerous tributes to St. Peter and his successors from Greek Christian writings to show a deep continuity between the pre-schism traditions of the East and West and the doctrine of papal infallibility. However, the next speaker proved to be one of the most influencial of the Council. Cardinal Guidi of Bologna, a theological expert, agreed fully with the schema, but suggested that its title, “The Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff,” be struck out. He argued that the divine assistance of infallibility does nothing to change the person who is pope, but it does make certain actions infallible. He advocated the addition of a clause outlining the pope’s obligation to diligence in study and prayer before an infallible pronouncement may be uttered. The Pope need not be dependent upon the other bishops of the Church, but he ought to ascertain the traditions of Rome’s sister churches.[10] Upon hearing this, the Minority was reinvigorated, and Strossmayer embraced Guidi as he descended from the ambo.

Cullen then gave an equally powerful speech, calling for a new form of the definition. It turned out that Cullen’s proposal was the one adopted by the Council with a few modifications. Cullen asserted that the infallibility of the pope is given to him by Christ and not the Church. When Peter exercises his office as the head of the earthly Church, he receives his direct authority from Christ, but he acts with the Church and for her.

Later that day, Guidi was reprimanded by Pius for his speech, which conflicted with the Pope’s wishes, not because he dissented, but because he happened to be a bishop from the Papal States who opposed the Bishop of Rome. While Guidi was being scolded, Dechamps met with Darboy and Ketteler to see whether Guidi’s speech could serve as the basis of a compromise between parties. Darboy advised Cardinal de Luca that a new schema be drawn based upon Guidi’s speech, but it seemed to be more appropriate not withdraw the schema being debated.

As the debates raged on, it became apparent that the speakers were no longer proposing amendments, but returning to the very issue of papal infallibility as a legitimate doctrine. The Presidents had to continually remind them that the general debates over the opportunness or validity of the doctrine had ended. Typically, it was members of the Majority bishops who violated the procedures in beating a dead horse. The Latin Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem incessantly argued for the validity of the definition, and had to be called to order, the latter of whom had to be called down by the Fathers. The Vicar of Apostolic of Asia Minor, who happened to be titular Archbishop of Smyrna, relied upon Sts. Polycarp and Irenaeus to prove papal infallibility was intergral to the second-century tradition of Asia Minor. He too was stopped by the Presidents. Meanwhile, many of the Minority bishops stayed on track, and pushed for the incorporation of the formula of St. Antonius.

On June 28, the patience of the Fathers over the bludgeoning repetition and the Roman summer heat had worn thin. Moriarty submitted that if the schema was reworked to include the words of Dechamps and Pie, the Council would produce a unanimous ‘placet’ on the definition. By July 4, bishops from both parties, including Manning and Haynald, motioned to convince all those left on the speaker’s list to relinquish their right to address the Council so that the schema could be sent back to the deputation de Fide. All agreed, and the Presidents declared the discussion on papal infallibility closed to a roar of applause.
——
[1] Butler, vol. 2, 44.
[2]Thomas A. Caffrey, “Consensus and Infallibility: The Mind of Vatican I,” Downside Review 88 (1970), 109-110.
[3] Butler, vol. 2, 46.
[4] Cafrey, 111-112.
[5] Butler, vol. 2, 49.
[6] Ibid., vol 2, 55.
[7] Quoted in Aubert, 125.
[8] Geddes MacGregor, The Vatican Revolution (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957) 46-47.
[9] Quoted in Butler, vol 2., 94.
[10] Caffrey, 116.

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