The Roman Question : Of Errors and Anathemas
A Brief 'Il Duce'

Papal Bull

 
Before taking our leave of the "prisoner of the Vatican," and moving on with our series on Rome and European Fascism, we must take a closer look at the two major documents issuing from Vatican I - The Dogmatic Constitution On The Catholic Faith and The First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, which latter proclaimed the Dogma of Papal Infallibility.
 
Vatican I was summoned by Pope Pius IX by the bull Aeterni Patris of 29 June 1868 and its first meeting was held on 8 December 1869. Its major purpose was to condemn contemporary "errors."
 
The Roman atmosphere of late 1869 was so heavy with revolutionary fervour that bishops attending Vatican I were forced to arrive in disguise wearing business suits instead of their clerical garb. They feared for their lives and so did the Pope fear for his.
 
It was in this atmosphere of fear and trembling that the products of Vatican I came to the birthing. The Pope's opening salvo was to declare himself to be in possession of a divine source of knowledge, truth and goodness - 
 
"If anyone says that a human being [himself] cannot be divinely elevated to a knowledge and perfection which exceeds the natural, but of himself can and must reach finally the possession of all truth and goodness by continual development: let him be anathema." *
 
Since he was the repository of all this elevated knowledge, truth and goodness, it naturally followed that his judgement must be "infallible" -


"Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals [which neatly covers every conceivable condition]. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

"So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema." ** 

These heavenly blasts were supposed to turn aside the swords of the enemy. Pius declared that he was the earthly representative of Jesus through the "Blessed Apostle Peter" and, as such, all authority was vested not in the Catholic church as an institution, but in his very person and in his person alone. To touch one hair of his head would be sacrilege. A veritable re-crucifixion of the Nazarene. At least that was the message he attempted to convey albeit couched in the usual pious language.
 
Although the use of the term "anathema" has fallen out of fashion today, it was meant to inject abject fear into the hearts of the hearers in 1870. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia -
 
"In passing this sentence, the pontiff is vested in amice, stole, and a violet cope, wearing his mitre, and assisted by twelve priests clad in their surplices and holding lighted candles. He takes his seat in front of the altar or in some other suitable place, amid pronounces the formula of anathema which ends with these words: "Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive ....... himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment." Whereupon all the assistants respond: "Fiat, fiat, fiat." 

Notwithstanding all his desperate attempts, the Pope did not succeed in saving his papal territories but he may just have succeeded in saving his own life. We will never know.

* Vatican 1: Session 3, 24 April 1870, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Canon 2.
** Vatican 1: Session 4, 18 July 1870, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Chapter 4, verse 9.

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