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§ 32. The Vatican Decrees. The Constitution on the Catholic Faith.

Three schemes on matters of faith were prepared for the Vatican Council—one against Rationalism, one on the Church of Christ, and one on Christian Matrimony. The first two were revised and adopted; the third was indefinitely postponed. There was also much discussion on the preparation of a small popular Catechism adapted to the present doctrinal status of the Roman Church, and intended to supersede the numerous popular Catechisms now in use; but the draft, which assigned the whole teaching power of the Church to the Pope, to the exclusion of the Episcopate, encountered such opposition (57 Non Placet, 24 conditional Placet) in the provisional vote of May 4, that it was laid on the table and never called up again.288288   Cardinal-Archbishop Matthieu of Besançon, who voted Non Placet, is reported by Quirinus to have said on this occasion: 'On veut jeter l’église dans I’abîme, nous y jeterons plutôt nos cadavres.' Comp. Frommann, l.c. p. 160.

I. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith (Constitutio Dogmatica de Fide Catholica).

It was unanimously adopted in the third public session, April 24 (Dominica in albis), 1870.

The original draft laid before the Council embraced eighteen chapters—on Pantheism, Rationalism, Scripture and tradition, revelation, faith and reason, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the primitive state, original sin, the Christian redemption, the supernatural order of 148grace; but was laid aside.289289   Friedrich, Docum. II. pp. 3–23. Archbishop Connolly, of Halifax, recommended that it should be decently buried.290290   'Censeo schema cum honore esse sepeliendum' (Quirinus, p. 122). Rauscher also spoke against the schema, which made much impression, because he had brought its chief author, the Jesuit Schrader, to the University of Vienna.

In its present form, the Constitution on the Catholic faith is reduced to four chapters, with a proemium and a conclusion. Chap. I. treats of God as the Creator; Chap. II. of revelation; Chap. III. of faith; Chap. IV. of faith and reason. Then follow 18 canons, in which the errors of Pantheism, Naturalism, and Rationalism are condemned in a manner substantially the same, though more clearly and fully, than had been done in the first two sections of the Syllabus.

The decree asserts, in the old scholastic terminology, the well-known principles of Supernaturalism as held by orthodox Christians in all ages, but it completely ignores the freedom and progress of theological and philosophical science and learning since the Council of Trent, and it forbids (in Chap. II.) all interpretation of the Scriptures which does not agree with the Romish traditions, the Latin Vulgate, and the fictitious 'unanimous consent of the Fathers.' Hence a liberal member of the Council, in the course of discussion, declared the schema de fide a work of supererogation. 'What boots it,' he said, 'to condemn errors which have been long condemned, and tempt no Catholic? The false beliefs of mankind are beyond the reach of your decrees. The best defense of Catholicism is religious science. Encourage sound learning, and prove by deeds as well as words that it is the mission of the Church to promote among the nations liberty, light, and true prosperity.'291291   Quoted in Latin by Lord Acton in the North British Review, Oct. 1870, p. 112, and in Friedberg, p. 102. Acton attributes this speech, not to Strossmayer (as Friedberg says, l.c.; comp. pp. 28 and 102), but to a 'Swiss prelate,' whom he does not name. On the other hand, the Univers calls the schema a 'masterpiece of clearness and force;' the Civiltà cattolica sees in it 'a reflex of the wisdom of God;'292292   'Un riverbero della sapienza di Dio,' VII. 10, p. 523, quoted by Frommann, l.c. p. 383. and Archbishop Manning thinks that its importance 'can not be overestimated,' that it is 'the broadest and boldest affirmation of the supernatural and spiritual order ever yet made in the face of the world, which is now more than ever sunk in sense and heavy with Materialism.'293293   Petri Privilegium, III. pp. 49, 50. Whatever be the value of the positive principles of the schema, 149its Popish head and tail reduce it to a brutum fulmen outside of the Romish Church, and even the most orthodox Protestants must apply to it the warning, Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.

The preamble, even in its present modified form, derives modern Rationalism and infidelity, as a legitimate fruit, from the heresies condemned by the Council of Trent—that is, from the Protestant Reformation; in the face of the fact, patent to every scholar, that Protestant theology has been in the thickest of the fight with unbelief, and, notwithstanding all its excesses, has produced a far richer exegetical and apologetic literature than Romanism during the last three hundred years.294294   The objectionable passage, as finally adopted, reads thus: 'No one is ignorant that the heresies proscribed by the Fathers of Trent, by which the divine magisterium of the Church was rejected, and all matters regarding religion were surrendered to the judgment of each individual, gradually became dissolved into many sects, which disagreed and contended with one another, until at length not a few lost all faith in Christ. Even the Holy Scriptures, which had previously been declared the sole source and judge of Christian doctrine, began to be held no longer as divine, but to be ranked among the fictions of mythology. Then there arose, and too widely overspread the world, that doctrine of Rationalism which opposes itself in every way to the Christian religion as a supernatural institution.' See the different revisions of the schema de fide in Friedrich's Monum. Pt. II. pp. 3, 65, 73. The boldest testimony heard in the Council was directed against this preamble by Bishop Strossmayer, from the Turkish frontier (March 22, 1870). He characterized the charge against Protestantism as neither just nor charitable. Protestants, he said, abhorred the errors condemned in the schema as much as Catholics. The germ of Rationalism existed in the Catholic Church before the Reformation, especially in the humanism which was nourished in the very sanctuary by the highest dignitaries,295295   Allusion to Pope Leo X. and bore its worst fruits in the midst of a Catholic nation at the time of Voltaire and the Encyclopedists. Catholics had produced no better refutation of the errors enumerated in the schema than such men as Leibnitz and Guizot. There were multitudes of Protestants in Germany, England, and North America who loved our Lord Jesus Christ, and had inherited from the shipwreck of faith positive truths and monuments of divine grace.296296   See the principal part of Strossmayer's speech in Latin in Lord Acton's article in the North British Review, Oct. 1870, pp. 115, 116, and in Friedberg, pp. 104–106. Although this speech was greeted with execrations (see page 145), it had at least the effect that the objectionable preamble was somewhat modified.297297   The words in the first revision (Friedr. Docum. II. p. 65), systematum monstra, mythismi, rationalismi, indifferentismi nomine designata, etc., together with some other offensive expressions, were omitted; but, after all, the substance remained. Lord Acton relates that the German Jesuit Kleutgen hastily drew up the more moderate form. Comp. Quirinus, Letter XXXIII. p. 394 sq. Political influence was also brought to bear indirectly upon the Council, as appeared afterwards from Italian papers. Bismarck directed the German Embassador at Rome, Count Arnim, to inform Cardinal Antonelli that, unless the charge against Protestantism was withdrawn, he would not allow the Prussian Bishops on their return to resume their functions in a country whose faith they had insulted. Friedrich, Tagebuch, pp. 275, 292; Frommann, Geschichte des Vat. Concils, p. 145; Hase, Polem. p. 34. The latter overestimates the influence of Prussia on the Papal court when he says: 'If France complains of the Council, Antonelli makes three bows, and all remains as before; but if Prussia comes with her mustache and cavalry boots, Rome understands that the word is quickly followed by the deed, and wisely yields. Strossmayer and von Arnim were in doubt which one of them had been most instrumental in saving the Council from an impropriety.'

150The supplement of the decree binds all Catholics to observe also those constitutions and decrees by which such erroneous opinions as are not here specifically enumerated have been proscribed and condemned by the Holy See. This can be so construed as to include all the eighty errors of the Syllabus. The minority who in the General Congregation had voted Non Placet or only a conditional Placet, were quieted by the official assurance that the addition involved no new dogma, and had a disciplinary rather than a didactic character. 'Some gave their votes with a heavy heart, conscious of the snare.' Strossmayer stayed away. Thus a unanimous vote of 667 or 668 fathers was secured in the public session, and the Infallibility decree was virtually anticipated. The Pope, after proclaiming the dogma, gave the Bishops his benediction of peace, and gently intimated what he next expected from them.298298   'Videtis,' he said, 'Fratres carissimi, quam bonum sit et jucundum ambulare in domo Dei cum consensu, ambulare cum pace. Sic ambuletis semper. Et quoniam hac die Dominus Noster Jesus Christus dedit pacem Apostolis suis, et ego, Vicarius ejus indignus, nomine suo do vobis pacem. Pax ista, prout scitis, expellit timorem. Pax ista, prout scitis, claudit aures sermonibus imperitis. Ah! ista pax vos comitetur omnibus diebus vitæ vestræ; sit ista pax vis in morte, sit ista pax vobis gaudium sempiternum in cœlis.'

 


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