Radicals and Gallicans Split From the Liberals, Ensuring Ultramontane Victory at the Vatican Council

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Radicals and Gallicans Split From the Liberals, Ensuring Ultramontane Victory at the Vatican Council
Radicals and Gallicans Split From the Liberals, Ensuring Ultramontane Victory at the Vatican Council

By early 1869, the controversies preceding the Vatican Council were fierce. At that point, Most Rev. Henri Maret, Bishop of Sura and Dean of the Faculty of Theology in Paris, announced the publication of a book condemning Papal infallibility. He had spent many years writing Du concile général et de la paix religieuse (Of the General Council and Religious Peace). Prior to publication, several bishops and eminent theologians examined and approved the book.

Bishop Maret belonged to the small group that defended the Gallican position, which diminished the Papal role in favor of expanding the French Government’s influence over the Church. Throughout the mid-nineteenth century, this coterie had consistently supported the Liberals’ anti-papal policies. Bishop Maret formed this tiny faction from members of the Faculty of Theology in Paris. It also included some bishops elevated to the episcopate thanks to the friendship between Bishop Maret and Emperor Napoleon III. Its members included the archbishop of Paris, Most Rev. Georges Darboy, sadly famous for his systematic opposition to the Holy See.

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Yet, while Archbishop Darboy was the most active, brilliant and impetuous of Gallicans, he lacked the academic prestige of the Bishop of Sura. Henri Maret was seen as one of the few French bishops worthy of being called a theologian. His reputation, position as dean of the Faculty of Theology, and the Emperor’s support made him the Gallicans’ leader.

Always close to the Gallicans because of their longstanding support, liberal Catholics panicked when Bishop Maret announced the publication of his book. The Bishop of Sura defended the Gallican theses against infallibility. This renewed debate imperiled Bishop Felix Dupanloup’s conciliatory policy. The Bishop of Orléans wanted to prevent any discussion of infallibility at the Vatican Council. Liberal French Catholic leaders moved to prevent this publication.

Meanwhile, the famous German academic and virulent anti-infallibilist, Father Ignaz Döllinger, insisted that the book be released. Bishop Maret’s book would be the first sign of episcopal support for Döllinger’s ideas. In a letter to Bishop Maret, the German theologian stated: “Since I attach great importance to your work, I could not help feeling immense pity when I heard that you are hesitating to publish it. God will bless you if you overcome this temptation. If you succumb, you will have deprived the Church of your work’s powerful help in the most critical situation she has ever found herself in three centuries.”

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The Archbishop (and future Cardinal) Charles Lavigerie of Algiers and Bishop Guillaume-René Meignan of Châlons tried to convince Bishop Maret that his book was untimely. Bishop Dupanloup and Father Charles-Émile Freppel (later Bishop of Angers) tried to dissuade him from publishing it. All these efforts were in vain.

As a good Gallican, Bishop Maret submitted his project to Napoleon III. The Emperor approved it, promised to print it at the state’s expense and distribute it free of charge. With that offer, the prelate’s last resistance crumbled. His book appeared in September 1869, and it caused great scandal.

Bishop Henri Maret was the first bishop to combat infallibility publicly. He represented only a small part of the French episcopate. His arguments were much less advanced than Döllinger’s. He nevertheless denied the pope’s infallibility without the bishops’ concurrence in a council. He only recognized the pope’s right to convene a council and to play a dominant role in setting conciliar definitions.

Nonetheless, this thesis, publicly defended by a bishop, had huge and mostly unfavorable repercussions. Some prelates who still leaned toward conciliation saw that avoiding division was no longer possible. For example, Archbishop Joseph-Hippolyte Guibert of Tours (later Archbishop of Paris) had intended to invoke extenuating circumstances for Gallicanism during the Council. “I would have reminded my colleagues,” he told a friend, “of the services that the Church of France rendered to the [universal] Church and would have asked at least to shroud Gallicanism with honor. After that book’s publication, there is nothing more to say: we will follow the coffin in silence.”

Bishop Dupanloup advocated his prudent tactics to erect a wall around Catholic liberalism. He saw all those defenses gradually destroyed. Consternation among the movement’s leaders was general. On September 30, Bishop Freppel wrote to a friend: “Bishop Maret’s book has appeared despite our efforts.” On September 17, Bishop Dupanloup wrote in his Journal du Concile: “The publication of Bishop Maret’s book has caused a complication of the worst kind—perhaps a calamity. I had built a council shining with charity, zeal and love. Behold, by this truly blind imprudence, a council of unpleasant quarrels suddenly appears.”

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In a last-ditch attempt to separate Catholic liberalism from the troublesome company of the Gallicans, Bishop Dupanloup sought to distinguish Bishop Maret’s person from the ideas he professed. In his newspaper, Le Français, he defended Bishop Maret against attacks from all countries. At the same time, Bishop Dupanloup conveyed his disapproval of Bishop Maret’s arguments by withdrawing an invitation to have the Bishop of Sura preach retreats to the clergy of his diocese. Bishop Dupanloup’s strategy further increased confusion in liberal Catholic ranks. Some of the liberals’ more coherent members defended Bishop Maret’s theses.

Seeking damage control, Lord John Acton, Döllinger, the Count de Montalembert, and others insisted that the Bishop of Orléans end the confusion. Bishop Dupanloup should, they argued, openly declare Bishop Maret’s theses inopportune. More lucidly, Count de Falloux advised against such a publication, claiming that public debate would diminish the bishop’s authority during the Council. On November 11, 1869, Dupanloup published Observations sur la controverse soulevée relativement à la definition de l’infaillibilité, au futur Concile [Observations on the Controversy Concerning the Definition of Infallibility at the Future Council].

Indeed, the Observations were not well received, and Louis Veuillot could criticize them to his heart’s content. Dupanloup lost his temper and answered the journalist with a violent and unfair article titled “Avertissement à M. Veuillot [A Warning to Mr. Veuillot]. In it, he accused the editor of l’Univers of dividing the faithful and insulting the most illustrious defenders of the Catholic cause. The bishop charged Veuillot with creating parties within the Church in France, Belgium, Germany, Hungary and elsewhere. Dupanloup declared the entire editorial staff of l’Univers vile and poisonous. He referred to his opponent as an accusator fratrum, an expression the Scriptures use to designate the devil.

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Veuillot responded calmly, stating: “Let us talk as little as possible lest we risk losing all the advantages that a highly irritated adversary has given us.”

Bishop Dupanloup’s “Warning to Mr. Veuillot” made a terrible impression. After reading it, the Duke de Broglie was aghast. A liberal Catholic, the Duke said to his son: “The bishop has erred. By taking a position before the meeting, he will be seen as biased as he arrives at the Council; that will take away all his authority.” Father Joseph-Henri Icard, director of the Saint-Sulpice Seminary and theologian to Most Rev. Victor-Felix Bernadou, Archbishop of Sens, commented upon arrival in Rome: “As for the Bishop of Orléans, the general opinion is that he has undermined himself and lost the position he could have at the Council.”

The liberal minority at the Vatican Council was utterly divided. Bishop Dupanloup, its undisputed leader, no longer had a cohesive party defending his ideas. Alongside the opportunists, a small anti-infallibilist group fought alongside the Bishop of Orléans. However, they were undisciplined. Bishop Dupanloup lost that serenity that had been his great strength until the Vatican Council. Father Icard reports that he often tried to calm him down but failed. This troubled state of mind eroded Dupanloup’s usual ability to deflect the blows struck against Catholic liberalism. Indeed, it was one of the great causes of the liberal minority’s defeat when infallibility came up for a vote at the Vatican Council on July 13, 1870.

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