Concilio ecumenico Vaticano I
Date 1869-1870
(formally closed in 1960 prior to Vatican II)
Accepted by Catholicism, with exception of Old Catholic Church
Previous CouncilCouncil of Trent
Next Council Second Vatican Council
Convoked byPope Pius IX
Presided byPope Pius IX
Topics of discussionrationalism, liberalism, materialism; inspiration of Scripture; papal infallibility
Documents and statements Dei Filius, Pastor Aeternus
chronological list of Ecumenical councils
Part of a series on the
Catholic Ecumenical Councils
Council Trent

Nicaea I • Constantinople I
Ephesus  • Chalcedon
Constantinople II
Constantinople III • Nicaea II
Constantinople IV

Middle Ages

Lateran I  • Lateran II
Lateran III  • Lateran IV
Lyon I  • Lyon II  • Vienne


Constance  • Basel • Lateran V


Trent • Vatican I • Vatican II


The First Vatican Council was summoned by Pope Pius IX by the bull Aeterni Patris of June 29, 1868. The first session was held in Saint Peter's Basilica on December 8, 1869. It was the 20th ecumenical council of the Catholic church. Nearly 800 church leaders attended.

The pope's primary purpose was to obtain confirmation of the position he had taken in his Syllabus of Errors (1864), condemning a wide range of positions associated with rationalism, liberalism, and materialism.

The purpose of the council was, besides the condemnation, to define the doctrine concerning the church. In the three sessions, there was discussion and approval of only two constitutions: Dei Filius, the Dogmatic Constitution On The Catholic Faith (which defined, among other things, the sense in which Catholics believe the Bible is inspired by God) and Pastor Aeternus, the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, dealing with the primacy and infallibility of the bishop of Rome when solemnly defining dogma.

The definition of papal infallibility was not on the original agenda of topics to be discussed (Pius IX felt it would be improper for him to introduce the topic) but was added soon after the council convened. It was controversial, not because many did not believe the pope to be infallible when defining dogma, but because many who did so believe did not think it prudent to define the doctrine formally. John Henry Newman, for instance, thought such a formal definition might push away potential converts. Some feared it might lead to renewed suspicion of Catholics as having a foreign allegiance. Such a view was taken by two-thirds of the bishops from the United States and many from France and Germany.

About 60 members of the council effectively abstained by leaving Rome the day before the vote. Archbishop (later canonized) Antonio Maria Claret, confessor to the Spanish royal court and founder of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretian Missionaries), strongly condemned the "blasphemies and heresies uttered on the floor of this Council," and was one of the strong defenders on the issue of papal infallibility and the primacy of the See of Rome. He was the only member of the council to be canonized as saint (beatified in 1934 and canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950). He later died in a Cistercian monastery in Fontroide, France, in October 24, 1870. The discussion and approval of the constitution gave rise to serious controversies which led to the withdrawal from the church of those who became known as Old Catholics.

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War interrupted the council. It was suspended following the capture of Rome and never resumed. It was not officially closed until decades later in 1960 by Pope John XXIII, when it was formally brought to an end as part of the preparations for the Second Vatican Council. The results of the First Vatican Council marked the triumph of the Ultramontanism movement, which supported a central Vatican-based government of the Church. An increasing awareness of their own identity among Roman Catholics worldwide was detected, and the numbers of converts to Catholicism as well as the numbers of vocations to the religious and priestly life increased, along with clearly pro-Catholic political activity of Catholics in their native countries. Along with this, a stronger involvement of laymen in the outward working of the Catholic Church evolved, and the council would indirectly lead to the stimulation of the Liturgical Movement, which would particularly flourish under Pope Pius X.

A detailed analysis of the First Vatican Council, and how the passage of the infallibility dogma was orchestrated, is contained in the book by the Catholic priest August Bernhard Hasler: HOW THE POPE BECAME INFALLIBLE: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuation, Doubleday (1981) [translation of WIE DER PAPST UNFEHLBAR WURDE: Macht und Ohnmacht eines Dogmas, R. Piper & Co. Verlag (1979)].

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

Further reading Edit

  • Raffaele De Cesare, The Last Days of Papal Rome, Archibald Constable & Co, London (1909)
  • The Catholic Church in the Modern World by E.E.Y. Hales (Doubleday, 1958)
  • August Bernhard Hasler: HOW THE POPE BECAME INFALLIBLE: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuation, Doubleday (1981) [translation of WIE DER PAPST UNFEHLBAR WURDE: Macht und Ohnmacht eines Dogmas, R. Piper & Co. Verlag (1979)].
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