Baltimore, Councils of
BALTIMORE, COUNCILS OF
Although the Council of Trent (1545–63) decreed that diocesan synods were to be held everywhere each year and that provincial councils should meet every three years, this regulation was rarely, if ever, followed to the letter in any part of the world. The Code of Canon Law (1918) prescribes the holding of diocesan synods every ten years and of provincial councils every 20 years. Provision is also made in the Code for plenary councils, in which the bishops of more than one ecclesiastical province meet. In a plenary council, laws are promulgated that bind the dioceses in the area represented in the council; the decrees of a provincial council are binding within the territory of the province; and in a synod, diocesan statutes are laid down.
Regulations have been made for the Church in the United States in all three types of assembly. From 1789 to 1808, the whole territory of the United States belonged to the Diocese of Baltimore, Md., and from 1808 to 1846, the Province of Baltimore was the only one in the country. Although Oregon City became a metropolitan see in 1846 and St. Louis in 1847, the bishops who met in 1849 for the Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore represented the entire nation. Since that time, three plenary councils of the U.S. Church have been held, all at Baltimore. Before the establishment of the first U.S. diocese in 1789, the clergy had met also in several general chapters at Whitemarsh, Md. Although these meetings did not fall within the strict canonical categories of synod and council, brief mention of them will be included in this article, which is divided as follows: (1) general chapters of the clergy (1783–89); (2) Baltimore diocesan synod (1791); (3) meeting of the American bishops (1810); (4) first seven provincial councils of Baltimore (1829–49);(5) the three plenary councils of Baltimore (1852–84).
General Chapters of the Clergy (1783–89). Until 1773 care of the Church in the English colonies on the Eastern Seaboard of the present United States was left almost entirely to missionaries of the Society of Jesus. There was no ecclesiastical organization except that which the internal Jesuit structure provided. From 1721 on, the colonies came under the tenuous supervision of the English vicar apostolic of the London district, a supervision that became more formal after 1757 but was never really effective. In 1773 the Society of Jesus was suppressed, but most of its missionaries in the English colonies continued their work there under the direction of the last superior of the mission, Rev. John Lewis. The American Revolution ended all possibility of ecclesiastical government from England, and for ten years no attempt at formal organization of the U.S. Church was made.
In 1782, Rev. John Carroll, one of the former Jesuits, proposed the creation of a provisional chapter of the clergy in order to preserve the property that had belonged to the Jesuit order and also to see to other problems of ecclesiastical administration. Three meetings of the General Chapter were held at Whitemarsh: in 1783–84, 1786, and 1789. Decisions were made touching on the preservation of the Jesuit estates, the foundation of an academy at
Georgetown (later Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.), the need for educating a native clergy, and the erection of the Diocese of Baltimore. In 1784, the chapter voted against the creation of a bishopric in the United States, but two years later the members changed their minds and petitioned the Holy See for the foundation of a diocese and the right to elect the first bishop. This was conceded by Rome. In 1789, Carroll, who had been superior of the mission by papal appointment since 1784, was chosen by the clergy as the first bishop in the United States. With the creation of the Diocese of Baltimore on Nov. 6, 1789, the general chapters of the clergy ceased to perform their quasi-conciliar function in the U.S. Church.
Synod of Baltimore (1791). When John Carroll was consecrated first bishop of Baltimore on Aug. 15, 1790, his jurisdiction extended over the entire area of what was then the United States. From Nov. 7 to 10, 1791, Carroll held a diocesan synod in St. Peter's procathedral, Baltimore. It was the only such formal meeting in his 18 years as bishop and seven years as archbishop (1790–1815). Twenty-two priests attended, most of them from Maryland and Pennsylvania. Boston was represented, but there were no delegates from New York, Philadelphia, Kentucky, the Northwest, or the South.
Twenty-four statutes were promulgated. The Blessed Virgin Mary was declared patroness of the diocese and August 15 was fixed as its principal feast day. In the remaining regulations, the administration of the Sacraments was standardized, the precept of paschal Communion was emphasized, mixed marriages were discouraged, and non-Catholic partners in such marriages were to be required to promise in the presence of witnesses that they would not oppose the education of their children in the Catholic faith. An order of Sunday services also was prescribed. Mass was to be preceded by the Litany of Loretto and followed by recitation of the prayer for the civil authorities that Carroll had composed, the Gospel of the day in the vernacular, notices, and a short sermon. Vespers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament were to be held in the afternoon. Provision was made also for catechism classes, to be conducted after Mass.
One of the principal problems confronting the infant U.S. Church was that of trusteeism. Although the decrees of the Baltimore Synod made no explicit reference to the efforts of some laymen to usurp control of various congregations, regulations were laid down concerning the collection and distribution of parish funds, and it was made clear that no priest could function in the diocese or change his place of residence without authorization from the bishop. Carroll also discussed with his priests the method to be adopted for electing future bishops. He issued two letters, one dealing with Christian marriage and the other a pastoral (May 28, 1792) that treated Catholic education, priestly vocations, support of pastors and the Church, Mass attendance, prayers for the dead, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The synodal statutes were submitted to Rome and, in 1794, were approved, with only minor changes, by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.
Meeting of American Bishops (1810). On April 8, 1808, Pius VII made Baltimore a metropolitan see with suffragans at Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Bardstown, Ky. Bp. Richard L. Concanen, OP, who was consecrated in Rome as first bishop of New York, died in Naples without ever reaching the United States. The three other bishops were consecrated in Baltimore between October 28 and November 4: John Cheverus, of Boston; Michael Egan, OFM, of Philadelphia; and Benedict J. Flaget, SS, of Bardstown.
After the consecration ceremonies, the new bishops met for two weeks with Archbishop Carroll and his coadjutor, Leonard Neale. Two series of resolutions were issued and made binding throughout the province. The bishops decided to defer calling a provincial council until 1812, and they resolved to advise the Holy See that the canonical prescriptions of annual synods and diocesan visitations were impractical in the United States and should be left to the discretion of each bishop. They also warned pastors and the faithful not to allow unauthorized priests to exercise the sacred ministry; discouraged frequent theater-going, dancing, and uncontrolled reading, particularly of novels; forbade the Sacraments to known Freemasons; ordered that Baptism should, as far as possible, be administered in church and not in private homes; and recommended that the same be done for Matrimony.
The bishops suggested to the Holy See that future episcopal nominations for their country be made by the U.S. hierarchy; they urged religious superiors not to transfer those of their subjects who held parochial offices without the consent of the local ordinary; and they ordered that the Douay Bible be used as the English version of Scripture in public worship and in devotional books. Although as early as 1787 Carroll had advocated introduction of a complete vernacular liturgy, the bishops' meeting of 1810 decreed that Latin should be used in the Mass and for the form of the Sacraments; all other prayers in the sacramental ceremonies might be in English. They promised to publish a ritual that would standardize liturgical practice. No pastoral letter was issued.
First Seven Provincial Councils. The War of 1812, the imprisonment of Pius VII by Napoleon, the difficulties of travel, and the lack of any outstanding problems demanding conciliar action were some of the factors that combined to postpone the council scheduled for 1812. Carroll had summoned the bishops to Baltimore in a letter sent out in June 1812, but the following September they were notified that the council would not be held. The archbishop died in 1815, and his successor, the ailing Leonard Neale, succumbed in 1817 without taking any action in regard to a council.
First Provincial Council (1829). Ambrose Maréchal, SS, third archbishop of Baltimore (1817–28), was unwilling to call a provincial council despite the insistent demands of Bp. John England of Charleston, S.C., that one be held. Maréchal remained convinced that there were no compelling reasons for a council; he also objected to the growing Irish influence in the U.S. Church and had no intention of giving Irish-born prelates like England a wider forum for their opinions.
Abp. James Whitfield succeeded Maréchal in 1828, and on December 18 of that year he announced that a provincial council would meet in October of 1829. After a preparatory meeting on September 30 in the archbishop's house, 13 private, 13 public, and three solemn sessions were held in the Baltimore cathedral (Oct. 3–18, 1829). Six bishops and the apostolic administrator of Philadelphia attended; three bishops were absent and Bishop Conwell was not admitted to a vote, a fact that he protested to the Congregation of the Propaganda. Three lawyers, including the future chief justice of the United States, Roger B. Taney, were invited as guests of the Council to advise on legal matters. Thirty-eight decrees were promulgated and sent to Rome for approval. The bishops also sent two letters to Pius VIII and another to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at Lyons. These letters of gratitude to mission societies were to be a regular feature of all the Baltimore councils.
The first eight decrees of the First Provincial Council dealt with the stability of priests in the parishes assigned to them and with various aspects of trusteeism. Other decrees ordered the use of the Douay Version of the Bible and the Roman Ritual, although vernacular translations might be employed in administering the Sacraments after the Latin had been read. Several decrees called for a tightening of discipline in the administration of the Sacraments and in the life of the clergy. It was announced that a uniform catechism and ceremonial would be prepared, and the bishops asserted that it was "absolutely necessary" that Catholic schools be established. A tract society for publication of Catholic literature was established. Two pastoral letters were signed by the fathers of the Council, one to the clergy and one to the laity. Both were composed by Bishop England. The decrees of the Council were sent to Rome, where Bp. John Dubois of New York and Rev. Anthony Kohlmann, SJ, former administrator of the same diocese, were charged with their examination by the Propaganda. The decrees were finally approved by Pius VIII in 1830 and promulgated in 1831. The net result of the First Provincial Council was a strengthening of ties with Rome and greater uniformity of practice among the several American dioceses.
Second Provincial Council (1833). The next council should have been held in 1832, but Whitfield was reluctant to issue the necessary summons. England, Bp. Joseph Rosati, of St. Louis, and Francis P. Kenrick, coadjutor of Philadelphia, enlisted the support of the Congregation of the Propaganda, and the archbishop was finally forced to call a council that met from Oct. 20 to 27, 1833, in the Baltimore cathedral. Nine bishops and the archbishop were present. Eleven decrees were adopted. Three of these dealt with the territorial distribution of the dioceses, another proposed that the selection of future bishops be kept in the hands of the hierarchy, and two assigned to the Jesuits the native American missions and the mission that it was hoped would be founded in Liberia. The presidents of St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore; Mt. St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Md.; and Georgetown College were appointed to supervise publication of Catholic textbooks, and the bishops were encouraged to establish seminaries along the lines prescribed by the Council of Trent.
The bishops revoked an agreement made in 1810 according to which priests who had faculties in one diocese also had them in neighboring dioceses. A new edition of the Roman Ritual for the use of missionaries was also commissioned. England's suggestion of an American national seminary to be located in Ireland was not adopted. The pastoral letter of the Council, again composed by England, contained an appeal for a more vigorous sacramental life. It dealt also with Catholic education, priestly vocations, the laws of fast and abstinence, and, for the first time, with attacks that were being made on Catholics as the great tide of immigration to the United States began.
Third Provincial Council (1837). This was the first of five provincial councils presided over by Abp. Samuel Eccleston, SS. It met (April 16–23) at a time when Nativist anti-Catholic agitation was at its height. Nine of the fourteen American bishops participated. Eleven disciplinary decrees were enacted, including regulations on ordinations, provision for the care of aged and infirm priests, directions for safeguarding legal ownership of church property, and prohibitions against bringing ecclesiastical cases before civil courts and collecting alms without written permission from the bishop. In liturgical matters, the Ceremonial commissioned by the first provincial council (and approved in 1841 by the Holy See) was made normative. Sacred music was to be regulated, and vernacular hymns were forbidden at Mass and solemn Vespers.
The bishops also petitioned the Holy See for abrogation of the obligation to hear Mass on Easter and Pentecost Mondays, and of the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays in Advent. In a letter to Gregory XVI, the fathers asked that new dioceses be erected to cope with the flow of immigrants and that Rome support their requests for bishops from religious orders when it was found necessary to nominate them. The lengthy pastoral letter of 1837 outlined the persecution to which Catholics were being subjected, counseled patience and attention to religious duties, and included a ringing assertion of the loyalty of Catholics to the civil government. It also discussed trusteeism, the need for religious and clerical vocations, Catholic publications, education, and the support of the clergy.
Fourth Provincial Council (1840). John England, the father of the conciliar tradition in the U.S. Church, attended his last council in Baltimore from May 17 to 24, 1840. (He died in 1842.) The 12 U.S. bishops present at the Council admitted to their deliberations Bp. Charles de Forbin-Janson of Nancy and Toul, France, who was in the United States at the time. International affairs were given considerable attention. An unsuccessful plea was made that the prelates interest themselves in the educational controversy that was then occupying the Irish hierarchy. Gregory XVI's apostolic letter condemning the slave trade, In supremo apostolatus, was read. Letters of sympathy were sent to Archbishops Clemens von Droste Vischering of Cologne and Martin von Dunin of Gnesen-Posen, who were then engaged in the dispute with the Prussian government over mixed marriages. Previous conciliar decrees on Matrimony, preaching, and the catechism were reiterated, and temperance societies were commended.
The Protestant orientation of U.S. public schools was stressed, and Catholics were urged to assert their civil rights in the matter. Nothing was said about the establishment of parochial schools. Membership in secret societies was forbidden to Catholics. The final decree of the Council was an exhortation to the clergy to lead lives worthy of their vocation. The pastoral letter of 1840 touched upon the usual topics of anti-Catholicism, religious education, vocations, and marriage, but also included an exhortation to conscientious exercise of the right to vote in civil elections, and sections on secret societies, intemperance, and the dangers of wealth.
Fifth Provincial Council (1843). Sixteen bishops and the apostolic administrator of Charleston, S.C., met for the Fifth Provincial Council at Baltimore, from May 14 to 21, 1843. The Province of Baltimore then included 15 suffragan sees. Among those who attended the Council was the vicar apostolic of the Republic of Texas, Bp. Claude Dubuis. The 11 decrees dealt with matrimonial legislation, financial arrangements, ownership of church property, encouragement of Catholic printing houses, visitation of the sick, and the obligation to use the Latin prayers of the Roman Ritual, although prayers in English might be added. The pastoral letter treated Catholic education, secret societies, temperance, the missions in Liberia and among the native peoples, obedience to the civil government, the fruits in both England and the U.S. of the Oxford Movement, and the evils of divorce. One of the decrees of the Council imposed excommunication on those who attempted marriage after civil divorce.
Sixth Provincial Council (1846). Archbishop Eccleston and 23 bishops met in Baltimore from May 10 to 17, 1846. Although these were the peak Nativist years, neither the decrees nor the pastoral letter of the Council made any reference to the fact. Only four decrees were issued. The Blessed Virgin was declared patroness of the U.S., under the title of the Immaculate Conception; the Holy See was asked to forbid clerics in Sacred Orders from entering religious orders without the permission of their bishop; the proclamation of the banns of Matrimony was insisted upon; and priests were forbidden to administer Baptism and Matrimony to those who were not their proper subjects. The pastoral letter dealt with the same topics as in previous years, with the addition of a paragraph announcing the Council's action in naming the Mother of God, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as patroness of the United States.
Seventh Provincial Council (1849). Oregon City had been made a metropolitan see in 1846, and one year later the same was done for St. Louis. By 1849 there were 29 U.S. dioceses. At the Council that met in Baltimore from May 6 to 13, 1849, Archbishops Eccleston and Peter R. Kenrick, of St. Louis, and 23 bishops were present. The archbishop of Oregon City and his suffragans did not attend. Despite the presence of Kenrick, Eccleston presided; the Council was not plenary in nature.
The fathers petitioned Pius IX to define the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. They drafted regulations concerning the destination of alms, transfer of priests from one diocese to another, and the method of selecting bishops. They also asked permission to hold a national council in 1850 and petitioned the Holy See, unsuccessfully, to grant to the archbishop of Baltimore the title of primate. The pastoral letter dealt with only two topics: the pope and his office and the Immaculate Conception. Pius IX was at the time in Gaeta, a refugee from the Roman Revolution of 1848, and Bp. Michael Portier of Mobile, Ala., was commissioned to carry the acts and decrees of the Council to him there and to visit Lyons also to thank the Society for the Propagation of Faith for its help to the U.S. Church.
Three Plenary Councils. Although a plenary council had been planned for 1850, it did not meet until May 9, 1852.
First Plenary Council (1852). Six archbishops and twenty-seven U.S. bishops attended this Council, as did the Canadian bishop of Toronto. Its sessions lasted from May 9 to 20, with Francis P. Kenrick, the new archbishop of Baltimore, serving as apostolic delegate. Twenty-five decrees were promulgated. The first was a formal acknowledgment of the pope as successor of St. Peter, Vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church, and father and teacher of all Christians, with universal authority to rule and govern. The second decree expressly declared that the legislation of the seven Provincial Councils of Baltimore extended to all the dioceses of the United States. Some provisions of that legislation were explicitly restated in the decrees of the Plenary Council. Bishops were also urged to organize chancery offices and to appoint consultors and censors of books, and it was recommended that there be at least one major seminary in each province. The Council likewise urged the erection of parochial schools. The 19th decree included a tribute to the wise noninterference of U.S. civil authority in religious matters and urged bishops to see to it, prudently, that members of the Army and Navy were not required to attend non-Catholic services. Although the national crisis over slavery was mounting, the fathers made no statement on the subject. They petitioned once more that the primacy be granted to Baltimore, but it was not until 1858 that "prerogative of place" was granted to the occupant of that see.
The decrees of the Council were approved in Rome on Sept. 26, 1852, but a private letter was sent to Archbishop Kenrick in which he was warned that the asking of exceptions to general Church law should be kept to a minimum, lest the U.S. church take on the appearance of a national church. The pastoral letter of 1852, written by Kenrick, began with an explanation of the nature of episcopal authority and its relation to the papacy. Passages then followed on the administration of church property, obedience to ecclesiastical authority, the needs of the Church in the United States, Catholic education, vocations, and civil allegiance. The letter ended with separate exhortations to priests, sisters, and laity.
Second Plenary Council (1866). In the interim between the first two Plenary Councils, the slavery crisis had come to a head and the nation had undergone the Civil War. Martin J. Spalding had succeeded Archbishop Kenrick in Baltimore, and nearly half of the U.S. bishops had been appointed since 1852. There were in all seven metropolitan sees and 40 suffragan dioceses. On March 19, 1866, Spalding, as apostolic delegate, announced the forthcoming council and gave as the principal reason for it "that at the close of the national crisis, which had acted as a dissolvent on all sectarian ecclesiastical institutions, the Catholic Church might present to the country and the world a striking proof of the strong bond of unity with which her members are knit together."
An instruction on the agenda for the Council had been sent by the Propaganda on Jan. 31, 1866. It proposed as topics the care of the recently freed African Americans, the method of selecting bishops, the problem of unattached priests, the erection of seminaries, feasts, fasts and holy days of obligation, legal arrangements for the holding of church property, and the relation of bishops to religious orders in the same matter. The Congregation of the Propaganda asked the fathers to take up also the question of an increase in the number of dioceses. Spalding, one of the leading scholars in the Church, saw the 1866 assembly as an opportunity to include, for the first time in U.S. conciliar decrees, a doctrinal exposition on current heresies and errors, and to codify existing disciplinary legislation.
The Council met (Oct. 7–20, 1866) in the Baltimore cathedral and was the largest such meeting in the history of the U.S. Church to that time. Thousands of onlookers gathered for the opening procession, in which seven archbishops, 38 bishops, three abbots, and 120 theologians participated. The first order of business after the opening solemnities was the cabling of a greeting and good wishes to Pius IX.
The legislation of the Council was set down in 14 titles: on orthodox faith, hierarchy and government of the Church, ecclesiastical persons, church property, Sacraments, divine worship, promotion of disciplinary uniformity, regulars and nuns, education of youth, more efficacious promotion of the salvation of souls, books and newspapers, secret societies, erection of new sees and choice of episcopal candidates, and the more effective execution of the decrees of the Council. The decrees resumed previous U.S. legislation and included directives received from the Holy See, as well as ideas taken from other provincial councils that had been held in the U.S. and elsewhere. An entire chapter was devoted to the care of Negroes, and it was stated that segregated churches might be provided for them if the local situation demanded it. Although Spalding had hoped that a Catholic university might be authorized by the Council, the decree contented itself with a velleity on the point. Secret societies were condemned, but labor unions were specifically excluded from this prohibition. President Andrew Johnson attended the final solemn session of the Council.
The usual letters were sent by the fathers; the one to Pius IX was so phrased that it was later used at Vatican Council I (1869–70) in arguing that the Second Council of Baltimore had at least implicitly affirmed papal infallibility. This was denied by several of the signers, including Archbishops Kenrick and Purcell. The conciliar decrees were not approved until 1868, partly because several bishops, including Kenrick, had protested to Rome that insufficient time had been allowed for discussion, and that the text as adopted did not reflect accurately the wishes of the fathers. Nevertheless, the Council became a model for similar assemblies in other countries. A lengthy pastoral letter explained the conciliar legislation to the clergy and laity.
Third Plenary Council (1884). By 1884 the Church in the United States was increasing by about two million members every decade, largely as a result of immigration. The impetus for a council came chiefly from the West. The archbishops of the country were called to Rome in 1883 to plan the assembly. Since Cardinal John McCloskey of New York was too feeble to preside, Roman authorities intended to send an Italian archbishop as apostolic delegate. They were, however, persuaded to substitute Abp. James Gibbons of Baltimore, and it was he who organized and directed the Council.
Seventy-two prelates attended the sessions, which lasted from November 9 to December 7. The 12 titles of the conciliar decrees included Catholic faith, ecclesiastical persons, divine worship, Sacraments, clerical education, education of Catholic youth, Christian doctrine, zeal for souls, church property, ecclesiastical trials, and Christian burial. Much of the legislation repeated previous law, and it was stated that enactments of the Second Plenary Council remained in force unless revoked. In the first title, the decrees of Vatican Council I were explicitly accepted, and mention was made of errors condemned in the encyclicals of the reigning Pope, Leo XIII. Priests were given a voice in the choice of bishops, through diocesan consultors. One of a series of regulations on clerical discipline made the Roman collar obligatory. Relations between bishops and regulars were to be governed according to the constitution Romanos pontifices (1881). The Council once more urged erection of parochial schools, and a committee was set up to arrange for the creation of a Catholic university. Other committees were commissioned to prepare what became the Baltimore Catechism, to look after missions among African Americans and Native Americans, and to pass upon secret societies.
The Council had wide influence in the English-speaking world, especially because of the way in which it set up diocesan organization. The 1884 pastoral letter explained the decrees of the Council and exhorted clergy and laity to fulfillment of them. It was remarkable as a clear assertion of the fathers' belief that American institutions were most propitious to the growth of the Catholic Church.
From the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore until the formation of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the archbishops of the United States met annually, but their discussions were not conciliar in form.
Bibliography: p. guilday, ed., A History of the Councils of Baltimore, 1791–1884 (New York 1932); The National Pastorals of the American Hierarchy, 1792–1919 (Washington 1923). Collectio Lacensis: Acta et decreta sacrorum conciliorum recentiorum, ed. jesuits of maria laach, 7 v. (Freiburg 1870–90). j. d. barrett, A Comparative Study of the Councils of Baltimore and the Code of Canon Law (Washington 1932). Concilia provincialia, Baltimori habita ab anno 1829, usque ad annum 1840 (Baltimore 1842). t. f. casey, The Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide and the Revision of the First Provincial Council of Baltimore, 1829–30 (Analecta Gregoriana 88; Rome 1957). Concilium plenarium totius Americae Septentrionalis Foederatae Baltimori habitum anno 1852 (Baltimore 1853). j. t. ellis, "The Centennial of the First Plenary Council of Baltimore," Perspectives in American Catholicism (Baltimore 1963). Concilii plenarii Baltimorensis II… acta et decreta (Baltimore 1868). j. l. spalding, The Life of the Most Reverend M. J. Spalding (New York 1873), for the Second Plenary Council. Acta et decreta concilii plenarii Baltimorenis III (Baltimore 1884, 1886). j. t. ellis, The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, 1834–1921 (Milwaukee 1952), for the Third Plenary Council. t. w. spalding, The Premier See: A History of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, 1789–1989 (Baltimore 1989).
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