Last updated

An image of Pope Alexander I. Ultramontane Catholics emphasized the authority of the pope over temporal affairs of civil governments as well as the spiritual affairs of the Church. Pope Alexander I.jpg
An image of Pope Alexander I. Ultramontane Catholics emphasized the authority of the pope over temporal affairs of civil governments as well as the spiritual affairs of the Church.

Ultramontanism is a clerical political conception within the Catholic Church that places strong emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the Pope. It contrasts with Gallicanism, the belief that popular civil authority—often represented by the monarch's or state's authority—over the Church is comparable to that of the Pope.



The term descends from the Middle Ages, when a non-Italian pope was said to be papa ultramontano – a pope from beyond the mountains (the Alps). [1] Foreign students at medieval Italian universities also were referred to as ultramontani.

After the Protestant Reformation in France, the concept was revived but with its directionality reversed to indicate the man "beyond the mountains" in Italy: the Pope. The term ultramontain was used to refer to Catholics who supported papal authority in French affairs as opposed to the Gallican and Jansenist factions, who did not and was intended as an insult implying lack of patriotism. [1] From the 17th century, ultramontanism became closely associated with the Jesuits. [2]

In the 18th century the term came to refer to supporters of the Church in any conflict between church and state. In Austria ultramontanists were opposed to Josephinism, and in Germany to Febronianism. In Great Britain and Ireland ultramontanists resisted Cisalpinism, which favored concessions to the Protestant state in order to achieve Catholic emancipation.

In eighteenth-century Spain, the Bourbon monarchs began implementing policies of regalism, which expanded the power of the monarchy and sought to bring the Catholic Church under its jurisdiction in all matters except the spiritual sphere. Charles III of Spain's ministers, Count of Floridablanca and the Count of Campomanes rejected the arguments of the ultramontanists that the Church had inalienable rights in the secular sphere. [3] The regalist reforms that the Spanish crown sought to implement were not completely successful, and the resistance to them were attributed to support for the Society of Jesus, which had been expelled from the Spanish Empire in 1767, but prior to that were educators. [4]

In Canada, the majority of Catholic clergy despised the French Revolution and its anti-clerical bias and looked to Rome for both spiritual and political guidance. There were many laymen and laywomen who supported these ideals as key to preserving Canadian institutions and values. For this reason they were called ultramontanists. The ultramontanes distrusted both the Protestant anglophone and francophone politicians, but the Church found it easier to deal with British governors, who appreciated the role of the Church in containing dissent, than with the francophone liberal professionals who were secularists. [5]

First Vatican Council

Pope Pius IX called the First Vatican Council G.P.A.Healy, Portrait of Pope Pius IX (1871).jpg
Pope Pius IX called the First Vatican Council

According to Catholic academic Jeffrey P. von Arx,

The threat to the Catholic Church and the papacy through the 19th century was real, and the church’s reaction to that threat was understandable. Indeed, the church remained threatened on all sides. On the left, secular liberals sought to reduce or eliminate the role of the church in public life and civil society (by suppressing church schools, for example, and expelling religious congregations). The more radical heirs of the revolution and the socialists and communists into whom they evolved remained committed to the church’s utter destruction. But the threat was also from the nationalist right. Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf was aimed directly at the Catholic Church, imposing state supervision of Catholic schools and seminaries and government appointment of bishops with no reference to Rome. [6]

The response was a condemnation of Gallicanism as heretical:

[W]e condemn and reject the opinions of those who hold that this communication of the supreme head with pastors and flocks may be lawfully obstructed; or that it should be dependent on the civil power, which leads them to maintain that what is determined by the apostolic see or by its authority concerning the government of the church, has no force or effect unless it is confirmed by the agreement of the civil authority. [7]

Cardinal Henry Edward Manning Kardinal Edward Manning JS.jpg
Cardinal Henry Edward Manning

The Council also asserted papal primacy. In July 1870, it issued the Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus , defining four doctrines of the Catholic faith: the apostolic primacy conferred on Peter, the perpetuity of this primacy in the Roman pontiffs, the meaning and power of the papal primacy, and Papal infallibility.

[W]e teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world." [8]

Von Arx compares this to "...the great empires and national states of the 19th century, which used new means of communication and transportation to consolidate power, enforce unity and build bureaucracies." [6] "Cardinal Henry Edward Manning in Great Britain thought unity and discipline within the church were of the utmost importance in protecting the church and advancing its interests in a liberal, democratic state, and so he was one of the strongest advocates of the ultramontane position." [6] The English bishops at the Council were characterized by their ultramontanism and described as "being more Catholic than the Pope himself". [9]


Other Christian groups outside the Catholic Church declared this as the triumph of what they termed "the heresy of ultramontanism". It was specifically decried in the "Declaration of the Catholic Congress at Munich", in the Theses of Bonn, and in the Declaration of Utrecht, which became the foundational documents of Old Catholics (Altkatholische) who split with Rome over the declaration on infallibility and supremacy, joining the Old Episcopal Order Catholic See of Utrecht, which had been independent from Rome since 1723. [7]

As with previous pronouncements by the pope, liberals across Europe were outraged by the doctrine of infallibility and many countries reacted with laws to counter the influence of the church. The term "ultramontanism" was revived during the French Third Republic (1870–1940) as a pejorative way to describe policies that went against laïcité , a concept rooted in the French Revolution. The French philosopher Jacques Maritain noted the distinction between the models found in France and the separation of church and state in the United States in the mid-twentieth century. He considered the US model of that time to be more amicable because it had both "sharp distinction and actual cooperation" between church and state, what he called "an historical treasure" and admonished the United States, "Please to God that you keep it carefully, and do not let your concept of separation veer round to the European one." [10]

After Italian Unification and the abrupt (and unofficial) end of the First Vatican Council in 1870 because of the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, the ultramontanist movement and the opposing conciliarism became obsolete to a large extent. However, some very extreme tendencies of a minority of adherents to ultramontanism – especially those attributing to the Roman pontiff, even in his private opinions, absolute infallibility even in matters beyond faith and morals, and impeccability – survived and were eagerly used by opponents of the Catholic Church and papacy before the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) for use in their propaganda. These extreme tendencies, however, were never supported by the First Vatican Council's dogma of 1870 of papal infallibility and primacy, but were rather inspired by erroneous private opinions of some Roman Catholic laymen who tend to identify themselves completely with the Holy See.

At the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium , the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on the authority of the pope, bishops and councils was further elaborated. The post-conciliar position of the Apostolic See did not deny any of the previous doctrines of papal infallibility or papal primacy; rather, it shifted emphasis from structural and organizational authority to doctrinal teaching authority (also known as the magisterium ). Papal magisterium, i.e. papal teaching authority, was defined in lumen gentium No. 25 and later codified in the 1983 revision of Canon Law.


1881 illustration depicting papal infallibility Illustration for Papal Infallibility page 131 Christ in His Church by Lucas Caspar Businger.jpg
1881 illustration depicting papal infallibility

Some, such as the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, claim the Catholic Social Teaching of subsidiarity can overrun ultramontanism and has the potential to decentralize the Roman Catholic Church, [11] whereas others defend it as merely a bureaucratic adjustment to give more pastoral responsibility to local bishops and priests of local parishes. [12]

Challenges to ultramontanism have remained strong within and outside Roman jurisdiction. [13] Ultramontanism has particularly overshadowed ecumenical work between the Roman Catholic Church and both Lutherans and Anglicans. [14] The joint Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation published The Gift of Authority in 1999, highlights agreements and differences on these issues. [15]

Position of other traditional churches

Ultramontanism is distinct from the positions adopted by the other traditional churches, particularly the Anglican communion, Eastern Orthodox communion, the Oriental Orthodox communion, the Old Catholic Church, or the Church of the East. These churches regard the pope as having been primus inter pares when the churches were united in full communion, and generally still acknowledge that status today, albeit in an impaired form due to disunity; similarly they do not recognize the doctrines of infallibility or the pope's alleged universal jurisdiction over patriarchates and autocephalous churches other than that of Rome itself, except insofar as this is part of the concept of primus inter pares. [16]

In the joint agreed statement "The Gift of Authority" (1999) the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic church were agreed on the collegial nature of the life and work of bishops. [17] :148 Similarly both churches acknowledged the role of episcopal primacy within the college of bishops. [17] :151 On the question of the universal primacy of the Pope, the joint report found common ground, and stated that a "particular conclusion" of their discussions had been "that Anglicans be open to and desire a recovery and re-reception under certain clear conditions of the exercise of universal primacy by the Bishop of Rome"; [17] :159 nonetheless a clear distinction remained between the Anglican view of a universal primacy exercised within a universal collegiality, and the Roman Catholic view of a universal primacy with actual universal jurisdiction.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First Vatican Council</span> Synod of the Catholic church (1869–1870)

The First Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, commonly known as the First Vatican Council or Vatican I was convoked by Pope Pius IX on 29 June 1868, after a period of planning and preparation that began on 6 December 1864. This, the twentieth ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, held three centuries after the Council of Trent, opened on 8 December 1869 and was adjourned on 20 October 1870 after the revolutionary Capture of Rome. Unlike the five earlier general councils held in Rome, which met in the Lateran Basilica and are known as Lateran councils, it met in Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, hence its name. Its best-known decision is its definition of papal infallibility.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pope</span> Head of the Catholic Church

The pope, also known as supreme pontiff, Roman pontiff or sovereign pontiff, is the bishop of Rome, head of the worldwide Catholic Church, and has also served as the head of state or sovereign of the Papal States and later the Vatican City State since the eighth century. From a Catholic viewpoint, the primacy of the bishop of Rome is largely derived from his role as the apostolic successor to Saint Peter, to whom primacy was conferred by Jesus, who gave Peter the Keys of Heaven and the powers of "binding and loosing", naming him as the "rock" upon which the Church would be built. The current pope is Francis, who was elected on 13 March 2013.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Temporal power of the Holy See</span> Political and secular governmental activity of the popes of the Roman Catholic Church

The temporal powerof the Holy See designates the political and secular influence of the Holy See, the leading of a state by the pope of the Catholic Church, as distinguished from its spiritual and pastoral activity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ignaz von Döllinger</span> German Catholic priest, theologian and historian (1799–1890)

Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger, also Doellinger in English, was a German theologian, Catholic priest and church historian who rejected the dogma of papal infallibility. Among his writings which proved controversial, his criticism of the papacy antagonized ultramontanes, yet his reverence for tradition annoyed the liberals.

Gallicanism is the belief that popular civil authority—often represented by the monarch's or the state's authority—over the Catholic Church is comparable to that of the Pope. Gallicanism is a rejection of ultramontanism; it has something in common with Anglicanism, but is nuanced, in that it plays down the authority of the Pope in church without denying that there are some authoritative elements to the office associated with being primus inter pares. Other terms for the same or similar doctrines include Erastianism, Febronianism, and Josephinism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Magisterium</span> Authority of the Roman Catholic Church to give authentic interpretation of the Word of God

The magisterium of the Roman 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 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."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">East–West Schism</span> Split of Eastern and Western churches

The East–West Schism is the break of communion since 1054 between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Immediately following the beginning of the schism, it is estimated that Eastern Christianity comprised a slim majority of Christians worldwide, with the majority of remaining Christians being Western. The schism was the culmination of theological and political differences which had developed during the preceding centuries between Eastern and Western Christianity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Papal primacy</span> Christian ecclesiological doctrine concerning the respect and authority that is due to the Pope

Papal primacy, also known as the primacy of the bishop of Rome, is a Roman Catholic ecclesiological doctrine concerning the respect and authority that is due to the pope from other bishops and their episcopal sees. The doctrine is accepted at a fundamental level by both the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church, though the two disagree on the nature of primacy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Febronianism</span>

Febronianism was a powerful movement within the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, in the latter part of the 18th century, directed towards the nationalizing of Catholicism, the restriction of the power of the papacy in favor of that of the episcopate, and the reunion of the dissident Churches with Catholic Christendom. It was thus, in its main tendencies, the equivalent of what in France is known as Gallicanism. Friedrich Lauchert describes Febronianism, in the Catholic Encyclopedia, as a politico-ecclesiastical system with an ostensible purpose to facilitate the reconciliation of the Protestant bodies with the Catholic Church by diminishing the power of the Holy See.

College of Bishops, also known as the Ordo of Bishops, is a term used in the Catholic Church to denote the collection of those bishops who are in communion with the Pope. Under Canon Law, a college is a collection of persons united together for a common object so as to form one body. The Bishop of Rome is the head of the college.

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, indefectibility, 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 in particular the promises to Peter in regard to papal infallibility.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Papal supremacy</span> Doctrine that the Pope has supreme power over the whole Church

Papal supremacy is the doctrine of the Catholic Church that the Pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, the visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful, and as pastor of the entire Catholic Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered: that, in brief, "the Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls."

<i>Pastor aeternus</i> Dogmatic constitution of the First Vatican Council about the papal ministry

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 definition of the papal primacy as a papal supremacy, and Papal infallibility – infallible teaching authority (magisterium) of the Pope.

Neo-ultramontanism is the belief of certain Roman Catholics, primarily during the period immediately prior to the First Vatican Council, that papal infallibility was not restricted to a small number of papal statements but applied ipso facto to all papal teachings and statements.

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 gradually developed 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Papal infallibility</span> Dogma of the Catholic Church

Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the pope when he speaks ex cathedra is preserved from the possibility of error on doctrine "initially given to the apostolic Church and handed down in Scripture and tradition". It does not mean that the pope cannot sin or otherwise err in most situations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theology of Pope Pius IX</span>

The theology of Pope Pius IX championed 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 Revolution and its spread to Europe, including Italy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ecclesiastical differences between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church</span> Catholic–Orthodox ecclesiastical differences

Catholic–Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical differences are differences between the organizational structure and governance of the Eastern Orthodox Church and that of the Catholic Church. These are distinguished from theological differences which are differences in dogma and doctrine. A number of disagreements over matters of Ecclesiology developed slowly between the Western and Eastern wings of the State church of the Roman Empire centred upon the cities of Rome and New Rome/Constantinople respectively. The disputes were a major factor in the formal East-West Schism between Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I in 1054 and are largely still unresolved between the churches today.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eastern Orthodox opposition to papal supremacy</span> Religious disagreement

The Eastern Orthodox Church is opposed to the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy. While not denying that primacy does exist for the Bishop of Rome, Eastern Orthodox Christians argue that the tradition of Rome's primacy in the early Church was not equivalent to the current doctrine of supremacy.


  1. 1 2 Benigni, Umberto. "Ultramontanism." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 6 January 2019
  2. Unterburger, Klaus, “Ultramontanism”, Religion Past and Present. 2006, ISBN   9789004146662
  3. Farriss, N.M. Crown and Clergy in Colonial Mexico 1759-1821. London: The Athlone Press 1968, p. 97.
  4. Farriss, Crown and Clergy, p. 105.
  5. Belshaw, John Douglas. "Ultramontanism and Secularism", Canadian History: Pre-Confederation, B.C. Open Textbook project
  6. 1 2 3 Von Arx S.J., Jeffrey. "How did Vatican I change the church?", America Magazine, June 10, 2015
  7. 1 2 O’Neill, Taylor Patrick. "A Defense of Ultramontanism Contra Gallicanism", Church Life Journal, October 12, 2018, University of Notre Dame
  8. "Paster aeternus", Const. de Ecclesia Christi, July 18, 1870
  9. Nobili-Vitelleschi, Francesco (1876), The Vatican Council; Eight Months at Rome, During the Vatican Council, London: John Murray, p. 28
  10. Carson, D. A. (2008), Christ And Culture Revisited, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, p. 189, ISBN   9780802831743 , retrieved 2012-02-10
  11. John L. Allen, Pope Benedict XVI: A Biography of Joseph Ratzinger (London: A&C Black, 2001), 308-309. ISBN   0826413617, 9780826413611
  12. See e.g. Vinzenz Gasser, trans. James Thomas O'Connor, The Gift of Infallibility: The Official Relatio on Infallibility of Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser at Vatican Council I (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986/2008). ISBN   1681494914, 978168149491
  13. e.g. Derek Hastings, Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism (Oxford University Press, 2009), 17-22. ISBN   0199741417, 9780199741410
  14. Russel T. Murray, Anglicans and Catholics in Dialogue on the Papacy: A Gift for All Christians (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2017). ISBN   0809149605, 9780809149605
  15. Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission, The Gift of Authority: Authority in the Church III (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1998). ISBN   1551262460, 9781551262468
  16. "Anglicanism and the Papacy". Anglican Catholic. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  17. 1 2 3 "Looking towards a Church fully reconciled" (PDF). SPCK (2016). Retrieved 16 June 2018.