THE HISTORICAL/CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF VATICAN I

ECUMENICAL COUNCIL VATICAN I

In 1868 Pope Pius 9 convened Vatican I to register his protest over the occupation by a military invasion of Rome, the locus of the Vatican bureaucracy as well as the Church’s imperial power and grandeur. The old and supposedly neurotic pope of some 86 years reacted to losing control of power and privilege to Italy’s movement for national unity with a salvo of divine privilege: papal infallibility and supreme and unhindered control over people’s spiritual life imposing a century of almost total cultural blindness on millions of his flock.

After his explosive gesture of protest the CC under his watch went into a cultural holding pattern for close to a hundred years up to Vatican II. His gesture turned out to be an official period of cultural and intellectual hibernation to insulate the CC from new unfamiliar cultural horizons regrettably confused by the church with menacing “worldly” knowledge. Emboldened by the official infallible authority new inventions, blossoming bold politico/social institutions as well as theories in the more exact sciences, medicine, man-sciences and especially the social sciences, were publicly declared off limits to individual Catholics and educational centers and mind control measures were imposed. (See link: Papal Supremacy).

Modernism was the catchall term for this world-wide pervasive evil, unfortunately at a moment in history when previously unimaginable rapid advances were preparing the human race for a take-off into a new vision for human living. Deep and vast changes in social values as well as the expansion of our universal knowledge reservoir had been generated as products of scientific, technological, economic, social and institutional development. In scholarly jargon this type of change is referred to as a paradigmatic change, a new paradigm  or a leap to a new stage in history.

The Ecumenical Council Vatican I was convoked in 1868 shortly after the forced unification of Italy and other parts of Europe were in turmoil, some on the brink of war.   Despite the turbulent circumstances that brought Vatican I to pass Josef Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict 16, in his post-Vatican II commentary accepted it as the death knell of conciliarism, the theory by which ultimate authority in the CC rests in Ecumenical Church Councils above that of the pope(See link: Conciliarism). His conservative opinion ignored a longer period of history where previous councils had declared differently.

CULTURAL WALLS

Historical honesty demands we recognize the cultural force of the political-religious environment that lead up to Vatican I’s formal declaration of infallibility and supremacy. Until the convocation in 1870 of the Ecumenical Council Vatican I the  pope buttressed by his Roman bureaucracy had functioned for centuries as an all-powerful monarchical figure in religious matters for millions of Catholic believers.

The renowned American historian of the CC, the Sulpician Fr. Raymond Brown in his signature work, THE CHURCHES THE APOSTLES LEFT BEHIND intimated that the nascent movement of Jesus’ followers establishing its identity in the post-apostolic period had adopted the imperial organizational model of Rome. In the gospel of Matthew Peter the Rock whose commands appear to have a force similar to demanded political obedience of the time, would insure similar fidelity to the message of Jesus. It’s ironical that some three centuries later the CC did accept to be part of the imperial Roman system, an understandable event in cultural history but an egregious betrayal of Jesus’ total repudiation of the Roman and any other political and economic domination system.

It had been an historical given for centuries that political sovereignty required an official religion and the CC in Europe had exercised that function basing its religious claims to control truth through tradition or what had been handed down(Link: Science History). The legitimization of the pope’s authority over truth came to include exercising the power of the sword with his army to defend against so-called dangers to the official state religion. Unfortunately, but historically understandable, the CC’s most notable response to the Protestant Reformation was the Hundred Year War.  During centuries of its total religious power without the printing press or more modern instruments of rigorous documentation and especially no outside organizations to question or accredit papal claims passed down by over 250 popes, Rome’s means of maintaining institutional memory were weak if not impossible. More than one critical primitive document proven by modern historians to be a falsification were successfully used to justify claims by Rome to power (Link: Falsifications)

According to Rome TRADITION provided interpretation for Scripture the exercise of religious sovereignty through political power gradually morphed into a divine religious supremacy beyond questioning. At its height the social and intellectual environment of the CC generated the then highly praised intellectual contributions: the “Divine Right of Kings” doctrine and St. Robert Bellarmine’s  Perfect Society, works that today would be attributed to marginal thinking at bestIn the papal system, however, unquestioned political authority over mind and body was equated with its perceived religious right to possess the truth and consequently the obligation to exercise strict control over the minds and consciences of the obedient faithful. A lesson from the history books of culture: An all too human papacy interpreted and imposed beliefs and obligations as if they were unchanging divine truths and laws emanating from God. Jesus foresaw this type of cultural blindness when he cried to his followers “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”