First Vatican Council

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Concilio ecumenico Vaticano I
Date 1869-1870
(formally closed in 1960 prior to Vatican II)
Accepted by Catholicism, with exception of Old Catholic Church
Previous Council Council of Trent
Next Council Second Vatican Council
Convoked by Pope Pius IX
Presided by Pope Pius IX
Attendance 744
Topics of discussion rationalism, liberalism, materialism; inspiration of Scripture; papal infallibility
Documents and statements Dei Filius, Pastor Aeternus
chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The First Vatican Council was summoned by Pope Pius IX by the bull Aeterni Patris of June 29, 1868. The first session was held in Saint Peter's Basilica on December 8, 1869. It was the 20th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic church. Nearly 800 church leaders attended.

The pope's primary purpose was to obtain confirmation of the position he had taken in his Syllabus of Errors (1864), condemning a wide range of positions associated with rationalism, liberalism, and materialism.

The purpose of the council was, besides the condemnation, to define the doctrine concerning the church. In the three sessions, there was discussion and approval of only two constitutions: Dei Filius, the Dogmatic Constitution On The Catholic Faith (which defined, among other things, the sense in which Catholics believe the Bible is inspired by God) and Pastor Aeternus, the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, dealing with the primacy and infallibility of the bishop of Rome.

The definition of papal infallibility was not on the original agenda of topics to be discussed (Pius IX felt it would be improper for him to introduce the topic), but was added soon after the council convened. It was controversial, not because many did not believe the pope to be infallible when defining dogma, but because many who did so believe did not think it prudent to define the doctrine formally. John Henry Newman, for instance, thought such a formal definition might push away potential converts. Some feared it might lead to renewed suspicion of Catholics as having a foreign allegiance. Such a view was taken by two-thirds of the bishops from the United States and many from France and Germany.

About 60 members of the council effectively abstained by leaving Rome the day before the vote. Archbishop (later canonized) Antonio Maria Claret, confessor to the Spanish royal court and founder of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretian Missionaries), strongly condemned the "blasphemies and heresies uttered on the floor of this Council," and was one of the strong defenders on the issue of papal infallibility. He was the only member of the council to be canonized as saint (beatified in 1934 and canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950). He later died in a Cistercian monastery in Fontroide, France, in October 24, 1870. The discussion and approval of the constitution gave rise to serious controversies which led to the withdrawal from the church of those known as Old Catholics.

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War interrupted the council. It was suspended following the capture of Rome and never resumed. It was not officially closed until decades later, when it was formally brought to an end as part of the preparations for the Second Vatican Council. The results of the council marked the triumph of the Ultramontanism movement.

See also

External link

Further reading

  • The Catholic Church in the Modern World by E.E.Y. Hales (Doubleday, 1958)
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