In the past week and a half since I posted on CAF, I have been inundated by e-mail requests to explain the Absolutist, High, and Low Petrine views I have proposed in the past. In particular, there have been requests for clarification and for my sources. So I thought I would take the time to post again on this matter (to save people the time from searching for my past posts on it - and obviously, since people are asking me directly, they really don’t have the time to do the search in the first place). This is also, particularly, for the benefit of Fr. John Morris who has expressed interest in the matter of papal infallbility and primacy in a few threads.
From my experience as an apostolic Christian, I have encountered three distinct ecclesiologies which I refer to as the Absolutist Petrine view, the High Petrine view, and the Low Petrine view. As the High Petrine view is the middle ground between the extremes of the Absolutist and Low Petrine views, it shares features of both positions, yet obviously has differences. The following explanation will enumerate these similarities and differences:
The Absolutist and High Petrine views exist in the Catholic Church. The Absolutist Petrine advocates are historically referred to as neo-ultramontanists. Neo-ultramontanism (the Absolutist Petrine view) was an undercurrent in the Catholic mentality for centuries, but finally found formal expression in the early 19th century (two of the more popular names connected with this movement were William George Ward and Louis Veuillot). It had several causes (overreaction to Gallicanism, protection of Catholic interests in Protestant states, belief that the social turmoil of the day could only be healed by the Church with a strong leader, etc.). Ultramontanism was considered the Traditional position of the Latin Catholic Church, while NEO-ultramontanism, as the name implies, was a novelty. There were two types of neo-ultramontanists:
(1) POLITICAL neo-ultramontanism stressed the deposing power of the Pope and related prerogatives in the politicial sphere. This was a normal belief among Catholics for centuries, but what distinguished many neo-ultramontanists was the attribution of infallibility for all the Pope’s formal acts. Though “papal” infallibility was not a formal teaching of the Church, this is what “papal” infallibility was believed to mean in many quarters. This being so, secular governments formally expressed their deep concerns during the Council (about 3 months after the Council began) about the rumors that “papal” infallibility was going to be defined (though it was not at that point even on the agenda of the Council), and that this would lead to a dogmatization of the deposing power of the Pope in the political sphere. Several threatened to forcefully march on the Council to end it (France threatened to withdraw its troops from Italy - historians will understand why withdrawing their troops would be considered a threat to the Vatican Council). This was the immediate impetus for the decision to finally include “papal” infallibility on the agenda, to tell the world what was and what was not “papal” infallibility. The secular governments in fact had a reasonable basis for their fears, as the two prime movers behind the Council (Archbishop Manning of England and Pope Pius IX) had neo-ultramontanist leanings.
(2) THEOLOGICAL neo-ultramontanism focused on the prerogatives of the Pope within the Church, and included such notions as: (i) The Pope is infallible in matters even beyond what was defined at V1 (neo-ultramontanists described the infallibility of the Pope as “absolute”); (ii) the Pope’s infallibility is separate from the Church’s infallibility; (iii) The Pope is the one who grants the Church her infallibility through his own infallibility that he obtains directly from God; (iv) the Pope is ABOVE an Ecumenical Council, instead of being a member of it; (v) The Pope can impede the authority of any bishop at his sole discretion; (vi) the Pope is not bound by Canon law at all; (vii) Even the Pope’s canonical decrees are infallible; etc…basically, the Pope is the absolute monarch of the Church.
Vatican 1 rejected these innovations. Dom Cuthbert Butler, in his seminal work on Vatican 1 (1930), commented:
“Of course, no trained theologian would accept such aberrations. Still, the excesses of the New Ultramontantists…did exercise a profound influence on the atmonsphere in which the Council was held. It is to be understood that they were not the isolated extravagances of a few extremists. The Univers wielded a widespread influence in France and had a great backing among the clergy. Ward’s views were upheld in England by theologians as Fr. Knox; and Archbishop Manning was more than disposed to accept them. In other countries too, Italy and Germany, the New Ultramontanism was a very living force. This it was principally that caused the bitter hostility of the whole non-Catholic world, and the fears of the Governments of the Catholic States. This too was one real cause of the action of the Minority bishops in opposing the definition - they were afraid of the kind of infallibility that might be defined.”
Detractors of V1 who are ignorant of what went on behind the scenes at the Council think that the only debates at Vatican 1 were between the “Majority Party” and the “Minority Party.” Few are aware that within the “Majority Party,” there was also a debate the was brewing between the extremists (the neo-ultramontanists) and the moderates (the ultramontanists). An entry in the journal of one of the stiffest opponents among the Minority Party, Bishop Moriarty of Kerry:
“As our adversaries are aggressive we hope they may be divided in their counsels. There are some signs of this…My mission is to talk to every man I meet-cardinal, bishop, or monsignor. I try to frighten our opponents and to encourage our friends.”