First Vatican Council

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First Vatican Council
ROME 8 DECEMBRE 1869 cropped.jpg
Accepted by Catholic Church
Previous council
Council of Trent (1545 to 1563)
Next council
Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)
Convoked by Pope Pius IX
President Pope Pius IX
Topics Rationalism, liberalism, materialism; inspiration of Scripture; papal infallibility
Documents and statements
Dei Filius , Pastor aeternus
Chronological list of ecumenical councils

The First Vatican Council (Latin : Concilium Vaticanum Primum) was convoked by Pope Pius IX on 29 June 1868, after a period of planning and preparation that began on 6 December 1864. [1] This, the twentieth ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, held three centuries after the Council of Trent, opened on 8 December 1869 and adjourned on 20 October 1870. [2] Unlike the five earlier general councils held in Rome, which met in the Lateran Basilica and are known as Lateran councils, it met in the Vatican Basilica, hence its name. Its best-known decision is its definition of papal infallibility. [3]

Pope Pius IX 255th Pope of the Catholic Church

Pope Pius IX was head of the Catholic Church from 16 June 1846 to his death on 7 February 1878. He was the longest-reigning elected pope in history, serving for over 31 years. During his pontificate, Pius IX convened the First Vatican Council (1869–70), which decreed papal infallibility, but the council was cut short owing to the loss of the Papal States.

Ecumenical council conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice

An ecumenical council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice in which those entitled to vote are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) and which secures the approbation of the whole Church.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration is the Holy See.


The council was convoked to deal with the contemporary problems of the rising influence of rationalism, liberalism, and materialism. [4] Its purpose was, besides this, to define the Catholic doctrine concerning the Church of Christ. [5] There was discussion and approval of only two constitutions: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith ( Dei Filius ) and the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ ( Pastor aeternus ), the latter dealing with the primacy and infallibility of the Bishop of Rome. [5] The first matter brought up for debate was the dogmatic draft of Catholic doctrine against the manifold errors due to rationalism. The Council condemned rationalism, liberalism, naturalism, materialism and pantheism. The Catholic Church was on the defensive against the main ideology of the 19th century. [6]

In philosophy, rationalism is the epistemological view that "regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge" or "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification". More formally, rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive".

Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights, capitalism, democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Yellow is the political colour most commonly associated with liberalism.

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism that holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions. According to philosophical materialism, mind and consciousness are by-products or epiphenomena of material processes, without which they cannot exist. This concept directly contrasts with idealism, where mind and consciousness are first-order realities to which matter is subject and material interactions are secondary.


This council was summoned by Pope Pius IX by a bull on 29 June 1868. [1] The first session was held in St. Peter's Basilica on 8 December 1869. [7] Preliminary sessions dealt with general administrative matters and committee assignments. Bishop Bernard John McQuaid complained of rainy weather, inadequate heating facilities and boredom. [8] Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley of Newark, New Jersey, noted the high prices in Rome. [8] When Lord Houghton asked Cardinal Manning what had been going on, he answered:

St. Peters Basilica Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City

The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, or simply St. Peter's Basilica, is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome.

Bishop in the Catholic Church ordained minister in the Catholic Church (for other religious denominations, use Q29182)

In the Catholic Church, a bishop is an ordained minister who holds the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders and is responsible for teaching doctrine, governing Catholics in his jurisdiction, sanctifying the world and representing the Church. Catholics trace the origins of the office of bishop to the apostles, who it is believed were endowed with a special charism by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Catholics believe this special charism has been transmitted through an unbroken succession of bishops by the laying on of hands in the sacrament of holy orders.

Bernard John McQuaid Catholic bishop

Bernard John McQuaid was an American Catholic priest, the first Bishop of Rochester, U.S.A. and the first president of Seton Hall University. McQuaid Jesuit High School is named in his honor.

“Well, we meet, and we look at one another, and then we talk a little, but when we want to know what we have been doing, we read the Times”. [9]

<i>The Times</i> British daily compact newspaper owned by News UK

The Times is a British daily national newspaper based in London. It began in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register, adopting its current name on 1 January 1788. The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers, since 1981 a subsidiary of News UK, in turn wholly owned by News Corp. The Times and The Sunday Times do not share editorial staff, were founded independently, and have only had common ownership since 1967.

Papal infallibility

The doctrine of papal infallibility was not new and had been used by Pope Pius in defining as dogma, in 1854, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus. [10] [ failed verification ] However, the proposal to define papal infallibility itself as dogma met with resistance, not because of doubts about the substance of the proposed definition, but because some considered it inopportune to take that step at that time. [10] Richard McBrien divides the bishops attending Vatican I into three groups. The first group, which McBrien calls the "active infallibilists", was led by Henry Edward Manning and Ignatius von Senestréy. According to McBrien, the majority of the bishops were not so much interested in a formal definition of papal infallibility as they were in strengthening papal authority and, because of this, were willing to accept the agenda of the infallibilists. A minority, some 10 per cent of the bishops, McBrien says, opposed the proposed definition of papal infallibility on both ecclesiastical and pragmatic grounds, because, in their opinion, it departed from the ecclesiastical structure of the early Christian church. [11] From a pragmatic perspective, they feared that defining papal infallibility would alienate some Catholics, create new difficulties for union with non-Catholics, and provoke interference by governments in ecclesiastical affairs. [12] Those who held this view included most of the German and Austro-Hungarian bishops, nearly half of the Americans, one third of the French, most of the Chaldaeans and Melkites, and a few Armenians. [12] Only a few bishops appear to have had doubts about the dogma itself. [12]

Papal infallibility

Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church that states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error "when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church." Infallibility is, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, "more than a simple, de facto absence of error. It is a positive perfection, ruling out the possibility of error".

Immaculate Conception Catholic doctrine that Mary was conceived free from original sin

In Christian theology, the Immaculate Conception is the conception of the Virgin Mary free from original sin by virtue of the merits of her son Jesus. The Catholic Church teaches that God acted upon Mary in the first moment of her conception, keeping her "immaculate".

Mary, mother of Jesus Mother of Jesus, according to the Christian New Testament

Mary was a first-century BC Galilean Jewish woman of Nazareth, and the mother of Jesus, according to the New Testament and the Quran.

Dei Filius

On 24 April 1870, the dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith Dei Filius was adopted unanimously. The draft presented to the council on 8 March drew no serious criticism, but a group of 35 English-speaking bishops, who feared that the opening phrase of the first chapter, "Sancta romana catholica Ecclesia" (the holy roman catholic Church), might be construed as favouring the Anglican branch theory, later succeeded in having an additional adjective inserted, so that the final text read: "Sancta catholica apostolica romana Ecclesia" (the holy catholic apostolic roman Church). [13] The constitution thus set forth the teaching of the "Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church" on God, revelation and faith. [14]

Dei Filius is the incipit of the dogmatic constitution of the First Vatican Council on the Catholic faith, which was adopted unanimously, and issued by Pope Pius IX on 24 April 1870.

Anglicanism The practices, liturgy and identity of the Church of England

Anglicanism is a Western Christian tradition which has developed from the practices, liturgy, and identity of the Church of England following the English Reformation.

Branch theory

Branch theory is a ecclesiological proposition within Anglicanism and Protestantism that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church includes various Christian denominations whether in formal communion or not. Some Anglican proponents of the theory usually only include the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Communion churches, while others may also include the Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East, Old Catholic and Lutheran churches. The theory is often incorporated in the Protestant notion of an invisible Christian Church structure binding them together.

Pastor aeternus

Ecclesiastics of several countries gathered in Rome for the council Eclesiasticos de varios paises reunidos en Roma con Motivo del Concilio.jpg
Ecclesiastics of several countries gathered in Rome for the council

There was stronger opposition to the draft constitution on the nature of the church, which at first did not include the question of papal infallibility, [4] but the majority party in the council, whose position on this matter was much stronger, [10] brought it forward. It was decided to postpone discussion of everything in the draft except infallibility. [10] The decree did not go forward without controversy; Cardinal Filippo Guidi  [ Wikidata ], Archbishop of Bologna, proposed adding that the Pope is assisted by "the counsel of the bishops manifesting the tradition of the churches." The Pope rejected Guidi's view of the bishops as witnesses to the tradition, maintaining that "I am the tradition." [15]

On 13 July 1870, a preliminary vote on the section on infallibility was held in a general congregation: 451 voted simply in favour (placet), 88 against (non placet), and 62 in favour but on condition of some amendment (placet iuxta modum). [16] This made evident what the final outcome would be, and some 60 members of the opposition left Rome so as not to be associated with approval of the document. The final vote, with a choice only between placet and non placet, was taken on 18 July 1870, with 433 votes in favour and only 2 against defining as a dogma the infallibility of the pope when speaking ex cathedra. [4] The two votes in opposition were cast by Bishop Aloisio Riccio and Bishop Edward Fitzgerald. [17]

The dogmatic constitution states that the Pope has "full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church" (chapter 3:9); and that, when he

speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals [chapter 4:9]

None of the bishops who had argued that proclaiming the definition was inopportune refused to accept it. Some Catholics, mainly of German language and largely inspired by the historian Ignaz von Döllinger, formed the separate Old Catholic Church in protest; von Döllinger did not formally join the new group. [18]


Drawing showing the First Vatican Council Engraving of First Vatican Council.jpg
Drawing showing the First Vatican Council

Discussion of the rest of the document on the nature of the church was to continue when the bishops returned after a summer break. However, in the meanwhile the Franco-Prussian War broke out. With the swift German advance and the capture of Emperor Napoleon III, French troops protecting papal rule in Rome withdrew from the city.

Consequently, on 20 September 1870, one month after the Kingdom of Italy had occupied Rome, Pope Pius IX, who then considered himself a prisoner in the Vatican, issued the bull Postquam Dei munere, adjourning the council indefinitely.[ citation needed ] While some proposed to continue the council in the Belgian city of Mechlin, it was never reconvened. [19] The council was formally closed in 1960, prior to the formation of the Second Vatican Council. [20]

See also

Related Research Articles


Ultramontanism is a clerical political conception within the Catholic Church that places strong emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the Pope.

The temporal power or jurisdiction of the Holy See designates the political and secular influence of the Holy See, that is jurisdiction of the pope of the Catholic Church, as distinguished from spiritual and pastoral activity.


The magisterium of the Catholic Church is the church's authority or office to give authentic interpretation of the Word of God, "whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition." According to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, the task of interpretation is vested uniquely in the Pope and the bishops, though the concept has a complex history of development. Scripture and church tradition "make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church", and the magisterium is not independent of this, since "all that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is derived from this single deposit of faith."

The infallibility of the Church is the belief that the Holy Spirit preserves the Christian Church from errors that would contradict its essential doctrines. It is related to, but not the same as, indefectible, that is, "she remains and will remain the Institution of Salvation, founded by Christ, until the end of the world." The doctrine of infallibility is premised on the authority Jesus granted to the apostles to "bind and loose" and particularly the promises to Peter in regard to papal infallibility.

<i>Munificentissimus Deus</i> apostolic constitution by Pope Pius XII,  promulgated on 1 November 1950, defining ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Munificentissimus Deus is the name of an apostolic constitution written by Pope Pius XII. It defines ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was the first ex-cathedra infallible statement since the official ruling on papal infallibility was made at the First Vatican Council (1869–1870). In 1854 Pope Pius IX made an infallible statement with Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was a basis for this dogma. The decree was promulgated on 1 November 1950.

<i>Ineffabilis Deus</i> 1854 papal bull by Pope Pius IX that defines the Immaculate Conception of Mary as dogma

Ineffabilis Deus is an apostolic constitution by Pope Pius IX. It defines the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The decree was promulgated on December 8, 1854, the date of the annual Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and followed from a positive response to the encyclical Ubi primum. Mary's immaculate conception is one of only two pronouncements that were made ex cathedra and is therefore considered by the Catholic Church to be infallible through the extraordinary magisterium.

<i>Pastor aeternus</i>

Pastor aeternus, was issued by the First Vatican Council, July 18, 1870. The document defines four doctrines of the Catholic faith: the apostolic primacy conferred on Peter, the perpetuity of the Petrine Primacy in the Roman pontiffs, the meaning and power of the papal primacy, and Papal infallibility – infallible teaching authority (magisterium) of the Pope.

Our Lady of the Good Event

Our Lady of the Good Event is the English translation of the Spanish-language Catholic Marian title Nuestra Señora del Buen Suceso, often mistranslated as Our Lady of Good Success due to the superficial similarity between the Spanish word "suceso" and the English false friend "success."

Josef Fessler Catholic bishop

Josef Fessler (1813–1872) was Roman Catholic Bishop of Sankt Pölten in Austria, a secretary of the First Vatican Council and an authority on patristics.

Paul Melchers Catholic cardinal

Paul Melchers was a Cardinal and Archbishop of Cologne. At the height of the Kulturkampf he took refuge in the Netherlands.

<i>Deiparae Virginis Mariae</i> encyclical

Deiparae Virginis Mariae is an encyclical of Pope Pius XII to all Catholic bishops on the possibility of defining the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a dogma of faith.

Dogma in the Catholic Church definitive articles of faith (de fide) according to the Roman Catholic Church

A dogma of the Catholic Church is defined as "a truth revealed by God, which the magisterium of the Church declared as binding." The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Church's Magisterium asserts that it exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging Catholics to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.

Mariological papal documents

Mariological papal documents have been a major force that has shaped Roman Catholic Mariology over the centuries. Mariology is developed by theologians on the basis not only of Scripture and Tradition but also of the sensus fidei of the faithful as a whole, "from the bishops to the last of the faithful", and papal documents have recorded those developments, defining Marian dogmas, spreading doctrines and encouraging devotions within the Catholic Church.

Gregory II Youssef Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch

Patriarch Gregory II Youssef, also known as Gregory II Hanna Youssef-Sayour, was Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church from 1864 to 1897. Gregory expanded and modernized the church and its institutions and participated in the First Vatican Council, where he championed the rights of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

The doctrines of Petrine primacy and papal primacy are perhaps the most contentiously disputed in the history of Christianity. Theologians regard the doctrine of papal primacy as having developed gradually in the West due to the convergence of a number of factors, e.g., the dignity of Rome as the only apostolic see in the West; the tradition that both Peter and Paul had been martyred there; Rome's long history as a capital of the Roman Empire; and its continuing position as the chief center of commerce and communication.

The doctrine of the primacy of the Roman Bishops, like other Catholic Church teachings and instructions, has gone through a development. Thus the establishment of the Primacy recorded in the Gospels has been gradually more clearly recognized and its implications developed. Clear recognition of the consciousness of the Primacy of the Roman Bishops, and of the recognition of the Primacy by the other churches appear at the end of the 1st century…St. Ignatius elevated the Roman community over all the communities using in his epistle a solemn form of address. Twice he says of it that it is the presiding community, which expresses a relationship of superiority and inferiority.

The theology of Pope Pius IX was very aware and convinced about the pontiff's role as the highest teaching authority in the Church.

The modern history of the papacy is shaped by the two largest dispossessions of papal property in its history, stemming from the French and its spread to Europe, including Italy.



  1. 1 2 Kirch 1912, p. 303.
  2. Kirch 1912, p. 303; Nobili-Vitelleschi 1876, p. 1.
  3. "Vatican Council, First" 2001.
  4. 1 2 3 "First Vatican Council" 2014.
  5. 1 2 Tanner 1990.
  6. Kirch 1912, p. 304.
  7. Nobili-Vitelleschi 1876, p. 1; Tanner 1990.
  8. 1 2 "The First Vatican Council". America. 8 September 1962. Archived from the original on 15 September 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2018 via Conciliaria.
  9. Augustus Hare, The story of my life, Volume II (Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, 1896), at page 504
  10. 1 2 3 4 Burton & Woodruff 2014.
  11. McBrien 1995, p. 1297.
  12. 1 2 3 Kirch 1912, p. 305.
  13. Lacoste 2004, p. 1666.
  14. De Mattei 2004, p. 137.
  15. Duffy 2014, loc. 5428–5439.
  16. Hughes 1961, pp. 342, 362.
  17. Hughes 1961, pp. 364, 381; Kirch 1912, p. 307.
  18. Hennesey 2009.
  19. Kirch 1912, p. 307.
  20. "Vatican I". 22 May 2018. Retrieved 25 February 2019.


Burton, Ivor F.; Woodruff, Douglas (2014). "Pius IX". Encyclopædia Britannica . Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
De Mattei, Roberto (2004). Pius IX. Translated by Laughland, John. Leominster, England: Gracewing.
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McBrien, Richard P., ed. (1995). The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism . New York: HarperCollins. ISBN   978-0-06-065338-5.
Nobili-Vitelleschi, Francesco (1876). The Vatican Council: Eight Months at Rome during the Vatican Council. London: John Murray. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
Tanner, Norman P., ed. (1990). "First Vatican Council (1869–1870)". Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Retrieved 2 March 2018 via EWTN.
"Vatican Council, First". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. 2001. Archived from the original on 18 June 2001. Retrieved 3 March 2018.

Further reading

Catalogo alfabetico degli eminentissimi cardinali, patriarchi, primati, arcivescovi, vescovi, abati generalí e generalí degli ordini religiosi presenti in Roma che hanno sede nel Concilio I° Ecumenico Vaticano aperto l'8 decembre 1869 con l'indicazone de' respettivi domicili aggiuntivi in fine i nomi degli officiali del concilio (in Italian). Rome: L'Osservatore Romano. 1869. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
De Cesare, Raffaele (1909). The Last Days of Papal Rome. Translated by Zimmern, Helen. London: Archibald Constable & Co.
Hales, E. E. Y. (1958). The Catholic Church in the Modern World: A Survey from the French Revolution to the Present. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Hasler, August Bernhard (1981). How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion . Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Mirbt, Carl Theodor (1911). "Vatican Council, The"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 27. New York: Encyclopædia Britannica. pp. 947–951.
Prusak, Bernard P. (2004). The Church Unfinished: Ecclesiology through the Centuries. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN   978-0-8091-4286-6.