The Pope and the Professor


In our preparation to enter the Catholic Church, some of our members struggled with accepting some of the later Marian dogmas and that of papal infallibility.  So, I found myself reliving some of the internal debates we had had back then while reading The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignas von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age by Thomas Albert Howard.

After the dogma was proclaimed at Vatican I (1869-1870) most  critics such as Cardinal Newman assented. Dollinger, however, refused to recant and he was eventually excommunicated.

Dollinger  became involved in ecumenical efforts that included Old Catholics, who rejected Vatican I,  many Anglo-Catholics and Orthodox who were seeking a restoration of Christian unity.  It seemed some were searching for a pristine time in the Church’s history when a pure version of the Catholic faith and practice existed.

The author points out how Dollinger’s case represented some of the perennial conflicts in the Church—individual conscience vs. ecclesial authority; the magisterium of university theologians vs. the magisterium of the Pope and bishops;  and the role of historical criticism vs. the truths of the faith.  He also concludes that while Dollinger’s influence on the ideas of the Second Vatican Council cannot be directly traced to him—since he was excommunicated—they can be linked to people influenced by him.   While I was reading the book, I could see how ideas once condemned played a big role in Vatican II, especially concerned ecumenism.   You also saw in Vatican II the movement to ressourcement—to find renewal of the faith in the Early Church Fathers and in Scripture similar to what some of the Anglo-Catholics had been doing, though during Dollinger’s time that Anglo-Catholic pursuit often carried with it a negative attitude towards Rome.

Today, we have Catholics who stand on conscience against Vatican II, or against the new Mass, or against Pope Francis’ teachings.  On the other hand, we have people who see Pope Francis as an oracle of the Holy Spirit who is not bound by Scripture or Tradition—taking the ultramontanist view to an extreme that would have horrified even Cardinal Manning.  We still have people both inside and outside the Catholic Church who want to find that pure faith before this or that council, or this or that pope.

From the author’s conclusion:

While theologians and historians have incessantly debated whether the Second Vatican Council represented “discontinuity” or “continuity” in the history of Catholicism, practically all agree that Vatican I’s prior treatment of the papacy was “one-sided,” “provisional,” or even “distorted” and today should only be properly understood in light of the complementary insight provided by Vatican II’s aforementioned Lumen gentium.69 This key Constitution of the Council defined the Church less juridically and more mystically, less exclusively and more ecumenically. It also curtailed reading any papalist overreach into Pastor aeternus (1870) by fleshing out the vital roles of the episcopate, councils, and, not least, the laity in the life of the Church—the sensus fidelium.70 It “trim[med] the boat,” as Newman, weary of ultramontane glosses on Vatican I, predicted would be required of a future Council.71  (from “The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Döllinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age” by Thomas Albert Howard)

I  highly recommend the book, if at the very least to show how complicated things were in the Church before and after the First Vatican Council and how many of the same tensions remain after the Second Vatican Council, though in different guises.


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