Catholicism in the 19th Century
In the 19th Century, we see develop a new, direct relationship between individual Catholics and the Papacy. The Roman Catholic Church now sought freedom from the power of the State. It realized that state privileges came with strings attached that tied its hands. Christian Democracy was now in vogue, and the Church of Rome would align itself with democracy by the end of the century, after decades of opposition.
New forms of mass devotion appeared that were associated with the Sacred Heart, the Virgin Mary, and the Eucharist. Late medieval ideas regained prominence and the 19th Century was a time of Catholic visions, visitations, and the ecstasies of mystics. The Madonna made appearances twice in Paris (1830 & 1836), in Savoy (1846), and from 1858 at Lourdes.
The most celebrated religious figures of the age were both sensational: Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney and Bernadette. St Theresa of Lisieux (1873-1897) wrote the marvelous best-selling autobiography The Story of a Soul.
CATHOLICISM IN THE 19TH CENTURY
Pope Gregory XVI (1765-1846) was not the man to usher in any sort of progress for the Church of Rome. He was a crudely superstitious, old-fashioned, embittered monk. That people had rights was a foreign concept to him.
Gregory flatly refused to support or even to sympathize with the Catholics of Poland when they rose up against their oppressors of Orthodox Russia and demanded national and religious freedom.
The Potato Famine hit Ireland in 1845. One million Irish people died and twice as many immigrated to America. This greatly enlarged the number of Catholics in the United States. In Boston and New York, the Irish came to dominate whole sections of the cities.
The Catholic presence in America also expanded in the South. New dioceses were established in Charleston in 1820, Mobile in 1829, Little Rock in 1843, and Galveston in 1847. A multitude of Convents sprang up in America as well.
Catholic missionaries had achieved their greatest and longest-lasting success in South America. Even after all its countries won their independence within a 15 year span, the entire continent remained loyal to the Catholic Faith.
Catholic missionaries ventured into Japan in 1859, for the first time since being banned by the Japanese 200 years earlier. They were amazed to find more than 200,000 Japanese Christians worshiping in underground churches.
THE AFTERMATH OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Vicomte Rene de Chateaubriand published an extraordinary book in 1802, entitled The Genius of Christianity. Chateaubriand is considered the father of Romanticism. He was a statesman, novelist, historian, and political scientist. The Genius of Christianity was an apologia for Catholicism against the godless ideas of the French Revolution.
The Catholic Church had been shaken to its core by the French Revolution. In the book by Chateaubriand, we see every topic touched by religious sentiments: the arts, history, government, society, nature, daily life, and the inner self. Chateaubriand covers the Deluge, the earth, living creatures, astronomy, patriotism, the conscience, immortality, saints, angels, demons, Judgment Day, Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven.
The Papacy appeared to be in trouble before it was resuscitated by Napoleon. The French Revolution had not diminished the strength of Catholicism among the masses, which led Napoleon to reinstitute the French Church. But a rift developed that resulted in Napoleon annexing the Papal States. For this, Pope Pius VII excommunicated him; so Napoleon arrested the Pope.
After Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and sent into exile for good, the Pope was freed and the Papal States restored. In 1861, the fledging Kingdom of Italy took the Papal States away from the Catholic Church. Italy freed the Jews from the ghettos where they had been consigned by various Popes.
The Jesuits were reborn in 1814, but they were to be expelled again from Germany in 1872 and from France in 1880.
The French Revolution destroyed Christianity as a total society. The Catholic Church was reborn as a huge and vocal conservative movement against the pernicious effects of modernity; against reason and so-called progress; fighting with the weapons of romance and tradition. Catholicism made the fewest concessions to egalitarianism, and made a powerful appeal to ineradicable emotions of the human heart. The fact that the Pope refused to compromise with sin attracted Protestant converts back to the Mother Church.
The French Revolution opened people's eyes to the fact that liberty, equality, fraternity, reason, progress, and ideology can be tyrannical and dangerous. Even Voltaire wrote: "I like my lawyer, my tailor, my servants, and my wife to believe in God because I can then expect to be robbed and cuckolded less often." In 1819, conservative French philosopher Joseph de Maistre published Du Pape, a remarkable celebration of the Papacy.
The Falloux Laws were passed in France in 1850 whereby the state supported both secular and Christian schools, with parents having the choice of where to send their children. (This is exactly what the United States should do.)
By the 1860s, the Catholic Church was operating more schools and other institutions than ever before in France, Italy, Germany and Belgium. All of the religious orders were growing, especially those involved with teaching. The state schools in these countries seemed filled with radical socialist or communist teachers (the teaching profession seems to inordinately attract such types even today). This was repellent to working families and so the Catholic schools became very popular.
Louis Veuillot published the popular Catholic newspaper l'Universe. He was the autodidact son of a cooper, who remained working-class in his manner and outlook despite his rise in the world. Veuillot studied journalism and went on to write magnificent prose. He was aggressively enthusiastic about Catholicism, and possessed a remarkably sharp eye for the sensational. Veuillot was "not trying to convert unbelievers but to rouse the passions of believers," according to Ozanam.
The Archbishops of Paris were murdered in 1848, in 1857, and in 1871. Speaking for the Republic of France, Jules Ferry said, "My aim is to organize humanity without God and without kings."
Hugues LaMennais (1782-1854) was a priest from France who made a distinctively Catholic case against the philosophers of the French Enlightenment. But LaMennais also blasted Pope Gregory XVI as "a cowardly old imbecile" and wrote that Rome was "a huge tomb in which there are nothing but bones." He described the Vatican thus: "I saw there the most dreadful cesspit that it has ever been the lot of man to look upon."
New attention was focused on what Lamennais called "the foundation of faith in God and faith in Christ, the Kingdom of God, as the rule of justice in the human spirit and the rule of law in the human heart."
THE OXFORD MOVEMENT
The Oxford Movement was created by a group of Anglicans who wished the Church of England to move away from Protestantism and closer to Catholicism. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was the most famous founder of the Oxford Movement. His compadre, John Kebel (1792-1866), wrote a book called The Christian Year, which sold an astounding 375,000 copies.
What these men wanted was for the Church of England to reintegrate beauty and mystery. Keble said, "New truth, in the proper sense of the word, we neither can nor wish to arrive at."
Another member of the Oxford Movement, Catholic convert Edward Pusey (1800-1882), wrote: "People risk too much now. They would risk everything, if they did not dread an eternity of suffering."
JOHN HENRY NEWMAN
John Henry Newman joined the Church of Rome in 1845. He became a Cardinal, though it appears Rome did not care for his theology. Newman drifted away from Anglicanism while working on his book about Arianism. He got the idea that history was a threat to Protestantism but an asset to Catholicism, since the latter has an incredibly rich history. Newman converted to Catholicism in a "quest for authority."
John Henry Newman wrote: "The times are very evil, yet no one speaks against them." Newman defined religion as "an intimate and constant persuasion of the existence of a God, creator of the universe, lawgiver and supreme judge of humanity," and as "the knowledge of God, of his will, and of our duties towards him."
John Henry Newman warned that pantheism was "the religion that is of beauty, imagination, and philosophy, without constraint moral or intellectual, a religion speculative and self-indulgent," that was "the great deceit which awaits the age to come." The Christian worldview is that the Creator is distinct from the world He created.
John Henry Newman wrote: "That the Church is the infallible oracle of truth is the fundamental dogma of the Catholic religion." Catholics believed that God had "actually set up a society," which was his Church, according to John Henry Newman.
John Henry Newman defined the word dogma: "A dogma is a proposition; it stands for a notion or for a thing; and to believe it is to give assent of the mind to it."
In 1858, a malnourished waif by the name of Marie-Bernarde Soubirous saw a series of eighteen remarkable apparitions near Lourdes, France. She saw a beautiful young girl with golden roses at her feet, wearing a white dress with a blue sash. It was the Virgin Mary. Townspeople who doubted her story fell ill. A nearby fountain proved to have healing powers.
Lourdes became the largest center of Christian faith-healing in Europe. A huge basilica was eventually built to receive pilgrims to the site where the visions occurred. A Catholic medical center popped up next door to test the veracity of miraculous cures.
Saint Bernadette (1844-1879) was asthmatic, barefoot, and covered with lice. But she was remarkably consistent and spent long hours on her knees in ecstasy. Everybody who saw her believed her.
POPE PIUS IX
Pope Pius IX became the longest reigning Pope in history (1846-1878). He had a background as an aristocrat and a soldier. Pius was known to visit prisons, and he released political prisoners. He excused Rome's Jews from compulsory church service, relaxed censorship of the press, reformed the criminal code, installed gas-lighting, and built a railway. Pius became the most popular Pope in centuries.
In 1854, Pope Pius IX issued a Papal Bull Ineffabilis Deus that decreed the Virgin Mary one of two persons ever born without the stain of Original Sin: "From the beginning and before all the ages," God elected the Virgin Mary to be the mother of Christ, and therefore "the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception was, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all the stain or original sin." The Catholic masses loved it. Protestants reacted with hostility.
Eastern Orthodox and Protestantism continued to oppose this teaching on the grounds that the biblical statement "all have sinned" has no exception except Jesus Christ.
The fervent wish of Pope Pius IX was that "opinions and sentiments contrary to this Holy See may disappear, so that darkness of error may be dissipated and the minds of men flooded with the blessed light of truth." The blessed light of truth being the Pope himself, "Christ on earth." Bishop Mermillod gave a sermon on the three incarnations of Christ—in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in the Eucharist, and in the person of Pius IX.
In 1864, the Encyclical Quanta Cura was published by Pope Pius. It asserted the supremacy of the authority of the Church over all forms of civil authority. Quanta cura was a defiant manifesto against socialism, communism, and modernity in general. Catholics were prohibited from accepting secular education since "the Catholic religion was the sole religion of the state to the exclusion of all others." Freedom of speech was condemned as causing "corruption of manners and minds." The very idea that the Pope should compromise with "progress" was lambasted.
This syllabus was received with astonishment and incredulity by Protestants. And liberal Catholics, most prominently Lord Acton, were dismayed by this encyclical. They thought it essential that the Catholic Church adjust to the modern world.
FIRST VATICAN COUNCIL
In 1868, the First Vatican Council convened. This was the first ecumenical Church Council in 300 years. It had a vast agenda but the main pronouncement was Papal Infallibility. This means that all Popes—past, present, and future—have been, are, and will be incapable of making an error when speaking in their official capacity about faith and morals. Not all Catholics agreed and some German, Dutch, and Swiss clerics broke away to form the Old Catholic Church.
The First Vatican Council explicitly claimed for the Pope "that infallibility by which the divine Redeemer wished his Church to be instructed when it defines doctrine concerning faith or morals."
Johann Dollinger (1799-1890) was a Catholic priest and theologian of immense reputation from Bavaria. He led the opposition to the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Dollinger wrote: "As a Christian, as a theologian, as a historian and as a citizen, I cannot accept this doctrine." A few academics who agreed with him formed the Old Catholic Church.
There was, according to Dollinger, no instance in Church history when a simple majority at a council had promulgated dogma in opposition to the views of a significant minority of those attending. Most Catholics did not argue these points. But the last of the first seven councils had been over a thousand years earlier (787) and Catholics argued that the infallible authority of the Church did not simply cease. It continued in the Papacy.
Johann Dollinger warned that "a dogma of papal infallibility would open up an immense chasm between the Roman Catholic Church and the separated churches—the Greek and Russian Orthodox and the Protestant." Dollinger wrote that in the past doctrinal disputes had been decided by ecumenical councils, not by an individual even if he was the Bishop of Rome.
POPE LEO XIII
Pope Leo XIII was elected in 1878. He was known as the "Pope of Peace," and was one of the few modern popes to write in elegant Latin.
Leo issued the Encyclical Libertas in 1888, which affirmed the positive aspects of democracy, liberalism (not what it means today but what it meant in the 19th Century), and freedom of conscience.
Pope Leo XIII reigned longer than any Pope before him except his immediate predecessor, Pope Pius IX. He also lived to be 93 years old, which makes him the oldest Pope ever.
In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued his Encyclical Rerum Novarum ("Of New Things"). He expressed a new Catholic social doctrine in regard to the working classes. The Pope pronounced that private property was essential to freedom, and a "classless society" was against human nature. Therefore, communism and socialism are wrong. He also condemned usury—and even capitalism if it degrades workers and impoverishes them.
The Pope was mostly concerned with “The misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.” For this reason he supported labor unions if they did not resort to violence. Leo wrote that "Christian morality, when adequately and completely practiced, leads to temporal prosperity."
All Christians of all branches agreed that, as the people of God, the Church was charged with the mission of proclaiming the Word of God, and that there was no salvation outside the Church. Eastern Orthodox writers would agree with that sentence but they objected to subordination to the Church of Rome, which was only one of the "sees" of Christendom. Eastern Orthodox teachers maintained their belief that the Holy Spirit and the Church as the Kingdom of God were inseparable.
To the Eastern Orthodox, as well as to Protestants, the promise of Christ to Peter that He would build His church on the rock—meant not the person of Peter but his confession. Christ was the only head of the Church, and in Christ—not the Pope or any other man—all Christians would one day come together in unity and harmony.
To Eastern Orthodox theologians, no man was infallible—but the first seven Church Councils were infallible. Of course, these were councils held in the East and not under any papal authorization. Objection to papal infallibility was historically grounded in the Third Council of Constantinople in 681, which condemned Pope Honorius as a heretic. As pointed out in the 1870 book The Case of Pope Honorius by Karl Josef von Hefele, since any dogma of papal infallibility must necessarily be retroactive in its implications, it would be historically dishonest in the face of a Pope condemned as a heretic by a legitimate council of the Church. The Catholic response was that the council in question was not legitimate.
Eastern Orthodox theologians denied the legitimacy of the First Vatican Council—and all other councils held by the Latin Church since the schism between East and West—to speak for the universal Church on matters of faith and doctrine. They denied that the Pope was infallible and insisted that only Christ and the Holy Spirit were "infallible witnesses of the truth." Protestants joined them in their dissent, and proclaimed that only the Word of God in the Bible could claim infallibility.
Many Protestants doubted that St Peter had ever set foot in Rome, nonetheless been its first Bishop. They quoted the New Testament that errors were "the traditions of men" in opposition to the "commandments of God." But the great Catholic professor Johann Drey countered that Christian traditions had been handed down by the "ordinary means" of "oral tradition, written language, and symbol." All traditions in human history are handed down the same way. Protestants responded that many traditions of the Catholic Church were corruptions and gross forgeries. "Divine tradition" continued to hold a special place in Eastern Orthodoxy.
Roman Catholic theology distinguished "the state of pure nature" before the Fall, which was lost, and the divine image, tarnished by sin. The image of God in man implies the uniqueness of the human soul among all earthly creatures. God "adorned man with the most capable body of any creature, endowed him with reason, free will, conscience, and an immortal soul." Only in the case of man, had God "individually made him His own, impressing on him His seal, His image." And God had instituted divine marriage in the Garden of Eden.
The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox identified the institutional Church as the Kingdom of God. Johann Drey taught that the Kingdom of God was an eschatological summons to repentance, faith and obedience.
The fundamental issue preventing all Christians from coming together as one unified body was authority. Protestants believed in the authority of the Bible—Scripture as the Word of God—alone. The Catholic Church at Rome insisted that all Christians must submit to and venerate the Pope.
THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION
To Catholics, their traditions and Scripture were equal, both being revealed by the Holy Spirit, and to be treated "with an equal feeling of piety and reverence." Protestants continued to believe that traditions not based on Holy Scripture were merely human constructs. As Lamennais noted "The Bible only is the religion of the Protestants."
Protestants used writings by Irenaeus, Augustine, and Athanasius in their theology. Roman Catholics could point out that all three confirmed the Church at Rome as the head of the Christian Church, and all three had served the Church in both East and West.
Irenaeus was from Smyrna in the East, wrote in Greek, became Bishop of Lyons in the West, and attested to the authenticity of the biblical canon. Athanasius had been Bishop of Alexandria before moving to Rome, and he attested to the continuity of Catholic traditions from the first age of the Church to the Nicene Creed.
Thus Roman Catholics had good reason to assert that Jesus Christ had constituted the Catholic Church as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture and teacher of the truth—as it was stated by Augustine, a person revered by Protestants.
Montalembert wrote that "in the [Catholic] Church's liturgical practice there resides the formal doctrine of the Church, its continuous practice from age to age." "From earliest times, there had existed one definite system of both faith and worship in the Church."
Adolf Harnack expressed strong doubts about this: "The exceptional nature of Christianity had manifested itself in an absence of ritual. The history of dogma during the first three centuries is not reflected in the liturgy."
CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE IN THE 19TH CENTURY
Novelty had always been the mark of heresy. This is different from a creed or confession simply making explicit what is implicit by explaining an already existing belief to give it greater precision and understanding. Protestant and Eastern Orthodox critics charged the Catholic Church as "novelty-mongering," especially through the "new" dogma of Immaculate Conception.
But the Eastern Orthodox theologians did not object to the high position given to the Virgin Mary—as do Protestants. She had always been celebrated more anciently and more consistently in the East as "the all-holy Theotokos (Mother of God) and Ever-Virgin Mary."
The Church Fathers at the Council of Nicea had not revealed truth unrevealed before; they were explaining old truth—eternal truth.
In the Gospels, Christ never hints at any doubt about the eternal punishment of the wicked, as if it might be some kind of injustice or overly severe.
Protestantism was becoming more liberal in the 19th Century, and so beat a retreat from doctrines and sermons about Hell. Some decided that a loving God could not send human beings to perish and certainly not to eternal torment. Many Protestant preachers still believed in Hell but never spoke of it, as it was a subject that could make people "uncomfortable."
The Catholic Church stood firm in its insistence on eternal punishment. Rome had never wavered on the importance of Hell. While Protestants pushed Hell to the sidelines, Catholics brought it to the foreground.
One Catholic writer wrote that in Hell "the unhappy wretch will be surrounded by fire like wood in a furnace. He will find an abyss of fire below, an abyss of fire above, and an abyss of fire on every side. If he touches, if he sees, if he breathes—he touches, sees, and breathes only fire. He will be in fire like a fish in water."
Father Joseph Furniss even wrote a scary book about hell for children called The Sight of Hell, which sold an incredible four million copies.
By the end of the 19th Century, the Papacy had achieved an unprecedented position of total control of the Catholic Church and Catholics. The overwhelming majority of Catholics were not only willing but eager to accord the Holy See this new paramountcy. The Papacy emerged as a force against the perils of modernity.
Intellectual advances in the 19th Century were turning some Protestants into agnostics, and others into Fundamentalists. Thus, the Church of Rome began to attract converts from Protestantism by the very characteristics that had once made it seem repellent, described by Cardinal Manning, a convert from the Anglicans, as "antiquity, system, fullness, intelligence, order, strength, unity."
The Church of Rome stood like a fortress against the encroaching darkness of unbelief. European Protestantism was being eaten away by forces from within—apostates. The Catholic Church offered a safe, secure refuge for those who did not believe that reason or intellect should overrule the authority of the Church—but did believe that spiritual considerations should permeate all affairs of men.
The Catholic Church offered a moral theology that prescribed thoughts and actions for every minute aspect of human life. The Church of Rome was a repository of certitudes, homogeneity, and a unified worldview that appealed to intellectuals in England and on the Continent who were tired of splitting theological hairs until there was nothing left of the Christian Faith.
More by this Author
William Wilberforce and the Clapham Circle of Evangelical Christians abolished slavery in the British Empire and sparked a reformation of morals which ushered in the Victorian Age of England.
Evangelical Social Reformers combined Social Work with Evangelism. They provided food, clothes, shelter, education, medical care, jobs and much more for the downtrodden while sharing the Gospel.
Laura Ingraham, whom I met once, appears often on Fox News as a political commentator. She is a breast cancer survivor. Laura Ingraham is a bestselling author and the sixth most popular radio talk show host in...