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Vatican Council I


The 20th of the general councils, and the first to be held in st. peter's basilica, solemnly opened December 8, 1869, and suspended sessions September 1, 1870, after four solemn public sessions and 89 general congregations. About 800 cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, abbots, and religious superiors general participated.

It promulgated two doctrinal constitutions. Dei Filius (April 24, 1870) dealt with faith, reason and their interrelation; Pastor aeternus (July 18, 1870) defined the jurisdictional primacy and the infallibility of the pope.

Preparation. Pius IX announced (December 6, 1864) at a meeting of the Congregation of Rites that he intended to summon a general council to deal with the problems of the times. The cardinals in Rome approved the Pope's project; and further support came from a select group of about 40 bishops whose opinions were sought.

Preparatory Commissions. The first important preparatory step was the appointment (March 1865) of the Central Preparatory Commission, composed of one Bavarian, reisach, and four Italian curial cardinals. Five more commissions were later added: Faith and Dogma, Politicoecclesiastical Relations, Eastern Churches and Missions, Ecclesiastical Discipline, and Religious Orders. These five subordinate commissions were assigned the task of preparing draft constitutions (schemata ) in their various fields.

Following the plan proposed (March 9, 1865) by Cardinal Giuseppe Bizzarri, the commissions were built around members of the Roman Curia. Of the 96 consultors, or members, 61, mostly Italians, were regularly domiciled in Rome. Thirty-five theologians were invited from outside Italy. Almost all were well-known ultra-montane sympathizers. John Henry newman was asked to come, but refused. At the request of the German bishops, however, several prominent figures from German universities were summoned, including hefele, but not dÖllinger. Only two English-speaking theologians participated in the preparatory phase: Dr. William Weathers, of England, and Dr. James A. corcoran of Charleston, South Carolina. Corcoran did not arrive in Rome until the end of 1868.

The preparatory commissions did not begin to function until the summer of 1867 because of the Austro-Prussian War, and the withdrawal of the French garrison from Rome. The dogmatic commission adopted (September 27, 1867) as its primary guide Pius IX's quanta cura and the syllabus of errors. As matters turned out, only schemata prepared by the dogmatic commission were ever brought to a final vote in the council. In the preparatory phase its consultors covered a wide range of topics, from Church-State relations, indifferentism, and latitudinarianism to the errors of semirationalists like gÜnther.

Infallibility Question. During the early months of 1869, this commission studied at length the possibility of a definition of papal infallibility. The need for a definition was strongly urged by upholders of ultramontanism. Some Catholics believed that infallibility could not be defined as revealed doctrine or at least that the moment was not opportune for a definition. In Germany, Döllinger, writing under the pseudonym of "Janus," strongly opposed the idea, but 5 days before the dogmatic commission began discussing the topic, La Civiltà Cattolica in Rome published an article (February 6, 1869) declaring that all true Catholics wanted infallibility defined by acclamation at the coming council.

Church-State Question. Another issue that occupied the commission was Church-State relations. Despite the efforts of Corcoran, the final schema reflected a preoccupation with medieval politicoecclesiastical concepts. The preparatory commissions did not complete their work until the end of 1869.

Convocation. Pius IX formally announced the convocation of the council to the nearly 500 bishops who attended the commemoration of the 18th centenary of the martyrdom of SS. Peter and Paul at Rome (June 29, 1867). Exactly a year later, the bull of convocation, Aeterni Patris, was published. Briefs were sent to the Eastern Orthodox patriarchs and to Protestant groups to announce the council, but no provision was made for their representation at its meeting. Unlike previous general councils, secular rulers were not invited to send representatives. The entire preparatory phase of Vatican I had been something new in conciliar history. Never before had a similar effort been made to prepare an agenda. The work had been done by theologians. No bishops shared in the work, except for curial officials.

The Council in Session. The world episcopate began to gather in Rome only in the late fall of 1869.

Membership. Approximately 1,050 were eligible to participate; of these, about 700 attended the first solemn session (December 8, 1869). Five hundred came from Europe. Most of the missionary bishops who represented Asia, Africa, and Oceania were also Europeans. The U.S. was represented by 48 archbishops and bishops, and one abbot.

Procedures. The parliamentary handbook of the gathering was the apostolic letter Multiplices inter (December 2, 1869). Five cardinals had already been named by the pope as council presidents. The apostolic letter reserved to the Pope the right of proposing questions for discussion, but it also provided for a special committee to entertain proposals from the fathers.

Two types of meetings were described: the ceremonial solemn sessions, and the general congregations in which the schemata prepared by the preliminary commissions would be debated. If the debates revealed that schemata had to be amended, this was to be done by one of four deputations to be elected by the council. These were the deputations on faith, ecclesiastical discipline, Eastern Churches, and religious orders. Each commission numbered 28 members. Every father had the right to speak in general congregations.

Voting. When a constitution was ready for a vote, a preliminary test occurred in general congregation. At this stage three votes were possible: placet (approval), placet juxta modum (conditional approval) and non placet (rejection). Members casting conditional ballots had to submit their reasons to the secretary, who transmitted them to the appropriate deputation. When a constitution was finally prepared, it was voted upon in solemn session, in the papal presence, with only a "yes" or a "no" ballot possible. Written ballots were allowed in the preliminary stage; the final vote was by roll call. The apostolic letter also commanded secrecy with regard to conciliar affairs but failed in practice to gain it. Members were also forbidden to depart from Rome without explicit permission.

Other Regulations. A second decree, Apostolicis litteris (February 20, 1870), later modified the rules and required that all amendments be submitted in writing; that discussion of schemata as a whole precede discussion of individual chapters; that deputation members be allowed to speak out of turn; and that cloture be imposed on a given debate by a simple majority vote. These procedures were intended to speed the activity of the council. Like the creation of the preparatory commissions they were an innovation in conciliar practice. Up to and including the Council of Trent, councils had prepared their own agenda and made their own rules.

Agenda. Of the 51 schemata prepared in advance, only six came before the council. Debates took place concerning bishops, vacant sees, the life and morals of the clergy, and the preparation of a universal primary cathechism. Of these constitutions, only that on the catechism received even preliminary approval. A shortened version of the schema on faith and reason was approved as the constitution Dei Filius. The schema on the Church was replaced by one that defined the primacy and infallibility of the pope; it was promulgated as the constitution Pastor aeternus.

Choice of Commission. Business proceeded in four phases, after a preliminary organizational stage. The first general congregation met on December 10, 1869. The first order of business was the selection of deputation members and members of lesser commissions. With few exceptions, only fathers known to favor a definition of papal infallibility were chosen for the deputations. This was achieved by the activity of a self-appointed committee that included Cardinal Filippo de Angelis, Archbishop manning of Westminster, Archbishop Victor dechamps of Mechelen, Bishop senestrÉy of Regensburg, and Auxiliary Bishop mermillod of Lausanne and Geneva.

Opposing Groups. These prelates and others formed the nucleus of the "infallibilist" party. In opposition to them grew up the so-called "international committee" of the minority. The infallibilists represented about four-fifths of the fathers, although there were also small groups that tried to mediate between the opposing parties. Minority leaders were Archbishop darboy of Paris, Bishop dupanloup of Orléans, Cardinal Jacques Mathieu of Besançon, Cardinal schwarzenberg of Prague, Cardinal rauscher of Vienna, Archbishops simor and haynald of Hungary, Bishop strossmayer of Croatia, Archbishop Peter kenrick of St. Louis, and Archbishop Thomas connolly of Halifax. Prominent among those who attempted to find a middle-of-the-road solution were Cardinal bonnechose of Rouen and Archbishop Martin spalding of Baltimore. The minority group objected to the way in which the deputation elections were handled. Both Archbishop Kenrick and Bishop Strossmayer presented protests at the first congregation. During the following several weeks other protests on procedural matters were made, but almost without exception they were disallowed.

Early Debates. The first phase of actual debate lasted from December 28, 1869, until January 10, 1870. The topic was the schema on Catholic faith, an 18-chapter document that condemned materialist, rationalist, and pantheistic errors and enunciated orthodox doctrine on the subjects of revelation, faith, motives of credibility, interrelation of faith and science, the Trinity, creation, the Incarnation, original justice, original sin, eternal punishment, and grace. Most of the fathers objected to the original draft of the constitution as too technical, too long and diffuse, too negative, too apodictic in matters hitherto left to free discussion among theologians, and lacking in pastoral tone. Among Americans who commented on it, Kenrick suggested that it be shortened; Vérot of Savannah asked that it be made more pastoral, less hostile to modern science, and Connolly suggested that it be "buried with honor." The schema, largely the work of Johannes franzelin, SJ, was returned to the deputation on faith for revision.

The next stage of the debate (January 10February 22) considered schemata on bishops, vacant sees, clerical life, and the primary catechism. Discussion was inconclusive on all these matters save the last. Authorization for Roman authorities to compose such a catechism was asked, and granted (May 4) after further debate. The constitution, however, was never approved in solemn session.

The council recessed (February 22 to March 18) to allow acoustic modification of the council hall (the chapel of SS. Processus and Martinian in St. Peter's), and to permit the conciliar deputations to catch up on their work.

The prelates discussed (March 18 to April 24) a new and shorter version of the schema on Catholic faith that included only material from the first half of the document given them in December. This revision, the work of Joseph kleutgen, SJ, was solemnly promulgated as the constitution Dei Filius on Low Sunday, April 24. The vote was 667 to 0. The council resumed debate (April 29 to May 4) on the elementary catechism, but by that time the attention of all was taken up with the major question of the council, that of papal infallibility.

Infallibility and Primacy. One of the chief issues dividing Catholics on the eve of the council was that of a possible definition of papal infallibility.

Preconciliar Views. Most Catholics favored it, but a good deal of confusion existed as to its exact meaning. Overzealous partisans like William George ward wanted all papal pronouncements considered infallible; bishops such as Manning and Mermillod spoke of the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, or of the Son of God in the pope. Manning confused infallibility with inspiration; Louis veuillot revised the Breviary hymn of None so that it applied to Pius IX instead of to God.

On the other hand, in the U.S. papal infallibility had not been generally taught as a revealed doctrine. Among its bishops, John england, John hughes, John purcell, and Michael domenec had explicitly and publicly denied that it must be believed. In August 1869, Archbishop Spalding informed the Prefect of the Propaganda Congregation that he considered a definition inopportune.

Fourteen German bishops who met at Fulda (September 1869) sent a memorandum to the pope in the same sense. In France, the dean of the Paris theological faculty, Bishop maret, opposed the definition strongly, while Dupanloup was an inopportunist. Similar opinions existed in other countries. Thus all the Hungarian hierarchy and most of the Austrian and German bishops were out-right opponents or inopportunists. Among others present in Rome, Lord acton and the theologian of the Bavarian Cardinal Hohenlohe, Johann friedrich, strongly contested a definition. They supplied information to Döllinger that he used in the "Quirinus" letters, a running critique of the council.

Petitions and Counterpetitions. The first test of the relative strength of the opposing parties came early in January when the infallibilists mustered some 500 signatures to petitions for the definition. The opposition was able to get only 136 signers for its counterpetitions. On February 9, the congregation on petitions acceded to the majority request and asked that a chapter on infallibility be added to the schema on the Church. With papal approval, the text already drawn up by the preparatory commission was distributed to the fathers and they were asked for written comments (March 6). In March and April extraconciliar controversies enlivened the scene. Kenrick published two pamphlets attacking the definition. He and Purcell sided with Dupanloup in an epistolary exchange with Spalding. On the other side, Manning, Senestréy, and others had been successful in persuading the Pope to allow the question to be brought to the floor.

Conciliar Action. A new constitution incorporating definitions of the primacy and infallibility of the pope, was announced April 29. Debate on it followed (May 13 to July 13). Over 150 fathers spoke, most of them favoring the definitions. Opponents based their arguments mainly on historical difficulties and on the inopportuneness of raising the question. Finally, a formula proposed by Cardinal cullen of Dublin was accepted by a majority of the fathers for expressing the nature and extent of infallibility. In a test vote (July 13), 451 approved the two definitions, 88 rejected them, and 62 gave conditional approval. In the last group were some who wanted the definitions made stronger and others who wanted them somewhat attenuated. At the solemn session on July 18, with Pius IX presiding, the constitution Pastor aeternus was adopted, 433 to two.

Both bishops who voted negatively accepted the definitions immediately. They were Luigi Riccio of Caiazzo, Italy, and Edward fitzgerald, of Little Rock, Ark. Sixty-one fathers had submitted written protests against the definitions and left Rome on the eve of the solemn session. All of them eventually gave their adherence, as did all bishops in the world. No bishop left the Church as a result of the council. Döllinger was excommunicated for refusing to accept infallibility. Friedrich, and others of his followers, formed the schismatic group called old catholics.

Nothing important was done in the three summer sessions attended by about 100 fathers after the above definitions. The 89th and final congregation was held on September 1. A week later the Italian invasion of the states of the church began. Rome surrendered on September 20. The Franco-Prussian War, which had erupted in July, distracted attention and cost the Pope possible French military support. Pius IX suspended the Council indefinitely on October 20. Sessions never resumed.

Results. Controversies continued, but they were not such as to disturb the Church greatly. Secular powers were too concerned with political problems to worry about theological issues. Within the Church the definitions of primacy and infallibility strengthened the spiritual power of the papacy at a time when it was losing the temporal authority it had held for a millennium. The council demolished the remnants of conciliarism and gallicanism. These were its most important results. It also prepared the way for theological developments of the subsequent century by establishing the position of the pope firmly and unequivocally. Some questions were left unresolved, for example, the status of bishops in relation to the pope.

Bibliography: Sources. j. d. mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 31 v. (Florence-Venice 175798); reprinted and continued by l. petit and j. b. martin, 53 v. in 60 (Paris 18891927; repr. Graz 1960) v.4053. Collectio Lacensis: Acta et decreta sacrorum conciliorum recentiorum, ed. jesuits of maria laach, (Freiburg 187090) v.7. j. friedrich, Documenta ad illustrandum Concilium Vaticanum anni 1870 (Nördlingen 1871). Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta (Bolgna-Freiburg 1962) 777792. h. denzinger, Enchiridion symolorum, ed. a. schÖnmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 300075. Literature. j. fessler, Das vatikanische Concilium (Vienna 1871). l. veuillot, Rome pendant le Concile, 2 v. (Paris 1872). e. ollivier, L'Église et l'état au Concile du Vatican, 2 v. (Paris 1879). t. granderath, Constitutiones dogmaticae Concilii Vaticani (Freiburg 1892); Geschichte des vatikanischen Konzils, 3 v. (Freiburg 190306). j. gibbons, A Retrospect of Fifty Years, 2 v. (Baltimore 1916). f. mourret, Le Concile du Vatican d'après des documents inédits (Paris 1919). e. campana, Il Concilio Vaticano, 1 v. in 2 (Lugano 1926). c. butler, The Vatican Council, 2 v. (New York 1930; abr. ed. Westminster, MD 1962). j. r. beiser, American Secular Newspapers and the Vatican Council (Washington 1942). j. brugerette and É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 15.2:253686. r. aubert, Le Pontificat de Pie IX (Fliche-Martin 21; 2d ed., 1964). u. betti, La costituzione dommatica "Pastor Aeternus" del Concilio Vaticano I (Rome 1961). j. j. hennesey, The First Council of the Vatican: The American Experience (New York 1963).

[j. j. hennesey]

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