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Pope Pius IX and the First Vatican Council

Church History, Unit 6

After the ravages of the French Revolution, the Church experienced a renewal in the form of new religious orders and a new emphasis on religious practices, reception of the Sacraments, and piety. However, the nineteenth-century philosophies that emerged from the Enlightenment continued to challenge the Church’s beliefs and traditions.

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Pope Pius IX (1792–1878) was truly devoted to God and the Church. He reigned as Pope for thirty-two years—the longest of any Pope in history. During his papacy Pius IX sought to protect the Church from philosophical attacks that challenged traditional morality and the faith of the people. Pius IX is credited with greatly strengthening the spiritual authority of the Church. He was beatified in 2000, making him Blessed Pius IX.

Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be a dogma of the Church. • A dogma is a teaching recognized as central to Church doctrine. It is defined by the Magisterium and is accorded the fullest weight and authority. • The dogma of the Immaculate Conception affirms that Mary, chosen by God to be the Mother of his Son, was redeemed from the moment of her conception and born ―full of grace,‖ completely free from Original Sin. • The Immaculate Conception is commonly misunderstood as referring to the virgin conception of Jesus, but this is incorrect. It refers to Mary’s own conception without sin.
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Pius IX also issued a Syllabus of Errors to condemn several propositions argued by secular philosophers after the Enlightenment. These propositions pertained to fideism, pantheism, rationalism, socialism, liberal capitalism, and the question of the state’s authority over the Church.

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The United States as well as several Protestant European countries conflicted with the Pope over his Syllabus of Errors, which appeared to condemn religious pluralism and the rights of the individual. However, Pius IX sought to protect and defend the rights of the Church in the face of philosophical and social challenges of the time.

At the same time, Pius IX also encouraged the renewal of spiritual devotion in the lives of Catholics: • Several new religious orders were founded. • The Pope also promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and established a new feast day for the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart devotion had begun with Christ’s appearance to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque nearly two hundred years before, in the seventeenth century.

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Blessed Pius IX also called the First Vatican Ecumenical Council. He convened Vatican I to discuss lay spirituality, devotional practices, and the challenges to the Church that were posed by secular philosophies. More than seven hundred bishops gathered at Saint Peter’s Basilica for the Council, including forty-six bishops from the United States.

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On April 24, 1870, the Council unanimously approved Dei Filius, a dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith: • affirmed the existence of a personal God known by reason and through Revelation—a response to fideism, a philosophy that argued that religious truth cannot be established by reason • emphasized that there can be no conflict between faith and reason • asserted the Church’s spiritual authority in resolving questions of faith
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On July 18, 1870, the Council approved Pastor Aeternus, a constitution affirming papal primacy and infallibility. • The Council asserted that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, his teaching is infallible. • Ex cathedra literally means ―from the chair‖— that is, the chair of Peter. Ex cathedra refers to pronouncements on faith or morals made by the Pope when he acts with full Apostolic authority. • This infallibility applies to teachings about the Deposit of Faith and all doctrine.

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The Council adjourned in late July 1870, seven months after it opened, when war broke out between France and Prussia, causing France to withdraw its forces that were protecting the Pope from Italian revolutionaries. When the revolutionaries occupied Rome, the Pope suspended the Council. The bishops never reconvened to discuss the other items on the agenda. The Vatican officially closed the First Vatican Council in 1960.

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