Sunday, 20 March 2011

Bishop Strossmayer - An incident at the First Vatican Council

In this post, I want to disinter some of the sources for a remarkable incident involving the Croatian churchman Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer that took place at the First Vatican Council in 1870.

Lord Acton, The History of Freedom and Other Essays

On the 22nd of March Strossmayer raised both questions. He said that it was neither just nor charitable to impute the progress of religious error to the Protestants. The germ of modern unbelief existed among the Catholics before the Reformation, and afterwards bore its worst fruits in Catholic countries. Many of the ablest defenders of Christian truth were Protestants, and the day of reconciliation would have come already but for the violence and uncharitableness of the Catholics. These words were greeted with execrations, and the remainder of the speech was delivered in the midst of a furious tumult. At length, when Strossmayer declared that the Council had forfeited its authority by the rule which abolished the necessity of unanimity, the Presidents and the multitude refused to let him go on.(1) On the following day he drew up a protest, declaring that he could not acknowledge the validity of the Council if dogmas were to be decided by a majority, and sent it to the Presidents after it had been approved at the meeting of the Germans, and by bishops of other nations.

Note (1) quotes from Strossmayer's speech in Latin and states that, when he reached a passage praising Leibnitz, there were "[l]oud cries of 'Oh! Oh!'.  The President de Angelis rang the bell and said, 'Non est hicce locus laudandi Protestantes'."  [This is not the place to praise Protestants]  At another point, the note reports, "there was a long interruption and ringing of the bell, with cries of "Shame! shame!" "Down with the heretic!".

"Quirinus" (Lord Acton), Letters from Rome on the Council

Lastly, Strossmayer ascended the tribune, and then followed a scene which, for dramatic force and theological significance, almost exceeded anything in the past history of Councils. He began by referring to that passage at the opening of the Schema, where Protestantism is made responsible for modem unbelief.... He blamed the perversity and injustice of these words, referring to the religious indiflference among Catholics which preceded the Reformation, and the horrors of the Revolution, which were caused by godlessness among Catholics, not among Protestants. He added that the able champions of Christian doctrine among the Protestants ought not to be forgotten, to many of whom St. Augustine's words applied, "errant, sed bona fide errant;" [they err, but they err in good faith] Catholics had produced no better refutations of the errors enumerated in the Schema than had been written by Protestants, and all Christians were indebted to such men as Leibnitz and Guizot.

Each one of these statements, and the two names, were received with loud murmurs, which at last broke out into a storm of indignation. The President, De Angelis, cried out, "Hicce non est locus laudandi Protestantes". And he was right, for the Palace of the Inquisition is hardly a hundred paces from the place where he was speaking. Strossmayer exclaimed, in the midst of a great uproar, "That alone can be imposed on the faithful as a dogma, which has a moral unanimity of the Bishops of the Church in its favour." At these words a frightful tumult arose. Several Bishops sprang from their seats, rushed to the tribune, and shook their fists in the speaker's face. Place, Bishop of Marseilles, one of the boldest of the minority and the first to give in his public adhesion to Dupanloup's Pastoral, cried out, "Ego illum non damno." [I do not condemn him] Thereupon a shout resounded from all sides, "Omnes, omnes illum damnamus." [All, all of us condemn him] The President called Strossmayer to order, but he did not leave the tribune till he had solemnly protested against the violence to which he had been subjected. There was hardly less excitment in the church outside than in the Council Hall. Some thought the Garibaldians had broken in: others, with more presence of mind, thought infallibility had been proclaimed, and these last began shouting "Long live the infallible Pope!" A Bishop of the United States said afterwards, not without a sense of patriotic pride, that he knew now of one assembly still rougher than the Congress of his own country.

This memorable day has already become the subject of myths, and so it is no longer possible to define with certainty how many prelates were hurried into these passionate outbreaks. Some speak of 400, some of 200; others again say that the majority disapproved of the interruption.

Jean Hugon, Ce qui se passe au concile

In the general congregation of 23 March, Mgr Strossmayer demanded that certain violent expressions in the schema De fide, which made Protestants responsible for atheism, materialism and rationalism, be softened.  In support of his views, he cited Leibnitz in the 17th century and M. Guizot in the 19th century, who were useful helpers of the Church.  When he said these words, passionate interruptions and terrible murmurings broke out.  They were redoubled when the speaker said that Protestants of good faith could exist.  But the tumult reached its height when Mgr Strossmayer demanded that dogmatic questions should not be decided except by moral unanimity.

The president, who had already interrupted him, called him to order and forbade him to continue.

Confused cries broke out from all parts of the hall: "Get down from the rostrum!  Get down!  Heretic!  Heretic!  We condemn him!  We condemn him!"

One bishop said: "But I don't condemn him!", but the others repeated with increased violence: "We condemn him!  We condemn him!"  Mgr Strossmayer was forced to descend from the tribune without finishing the remarks that he had in mind, but he repeated three times with vigour: "I protest!  I protest!  I protest!"  The noise of the tumult reached into the interior of St Peter's.  Some people, believing that the issue at hand was that of infallibility, cried "Long live the infallible Pope!", while others cried "Long live the Pope, but not the infallible!".

Raffaele De Cesare, The Last Days of Papal Rome

It suffices to recall the memorable plenary sitting of March 22, when the anti-Infallibilist, Cardinal Schwarzenberg, maintained that moral unanimity in dogmatic matters must be placed against the right of the majority. The intransigents cried, "Sileat, sileat!" [Let him be silent!] and the uproar was getting beyond control when Monsignor Strossmayer rose to support the thesis, which aimed indirectly at getting rid of the Infallibility. He spoke freely, and in the heat of argument went so far as to say that some of the best confutations of the errors in the proposed scheme of the new dogma were written by Protestants, and he cited Leibnitz and Guizot. He had reason to repent his temerity. The assembly was transformed into a howling, menacing mob. The President interrupted: "Hic non est locus laudandi protestantes," and a group of Spanish bishops, screaming and shaking their fists, cried: "Descendat ab ambone, descendat haereticus! Damnamus eum! eum damnamus!" which excited the bishops of the majority to still louder roars of "Omnes illum damnamus! descendat! descendat!" Strossmayer did not lose his head, but, unable to proceed, he left the tribune crying three times, "Protestor! Protestor! Protestor!" The tumult was such that the police guarding the Basilica proposed to force the doors of the hall.