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Vatican Council, First

Constitutions of Faith and Infallibility

Two constitutions were promulgated by the Vatican Council and confirmed by the pope. The first was on the faith, consisting of four chapters holding chiefly that God is personal, that man knows God by reason and revelation, that faith is a supernatural virtue, and that faith and reason are complementary, never contradictory. The second constitution concerned the papacy; after defining the primacy of papal jurisdiction it goes on to enounce definitively the dogma of infallibility. This, the one official statement of the doctrine, reads in its significant part as follows: "The Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when he, in the exercise of his office of his supreme apostolic authority, decides that a doctrine concerning faith or morals is to be held by the entire Church, he possesses, in consequence of the divine aid promised him in St. Peter, that infallibility which the Divine Savior wished to have His Church furnished for the definition of doctrines concerning faith or morals; and that definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not in consequence of the Church's consent, irreformable." Past definitions are included in the statement.

In the council there was a long dispute over the enunciation. In the first vote it stood 451 in favor, 88 opposed, and 62 conditionally in favor; at the last vote 433 were in favor of the promulgation, two opposing, 55 abstaining. All the fathers of the council accepted the dogma as true. After the council a great deal of discussion of infallibility took place among non-Catholics; violent attacks were made on the pope, the church, and the council. Within the church the papal infallibility had been generally believed for many centuries. A few groups departed from the church. The most important was the Old Catholics in Germany, under Döllinger; in France a small group headed by Père Hyacinthe (Charles Loyson) also seceded. The political results were numerous: Otto von Bismarck gave the definition as the reason for the Kulturkampf, and Austria used it as an excuse to abrogate its concordat with the Holy See. The French government denounced it in a memorandum, which was acceded to by Britain, Spain, and Portugal. The anger of the states reflected the chief political effect of the enunciation of papal infallibility: since the doctrine made Gallicanism and similar claims obsolete, governments could no longer use them to interfere in church affairs.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


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