Church History

The First Vatican Council

Posted April 09, 2024

by Kairos Kobayashi

Photo by Chris Czermak for Unsplash

The First Vatican Council showed the relationship between the Catholic Church and the modern world while expressing similar behaviors the Church does today, like responding to the rise of secularism.

It all started in the 19th century when the Vatican noticed the growing secular influences like rationalism, liberalism and materialism in the Vatican, according to Britannica. In response to these modern, conflicting influences, as well as the topic of papal infallibility, the Vatican decided to hold the First Vatican Council to confront these contemporary issues.

These topics were rising as a byproduct of Europe undergoing major industrialization, according to Commentary.

The first session of the First Vatican Council commenced on Dec. 8, 1869, according to New Advent. Pope Pius IX summoned the council, which comprised cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and several other leadership positions from around the world, totaling close to 700 people per session or over 66% of all high-ranking positions in the Catholic church.

First Three Sessions

The first session took place on Dec. 8, 1869, which focused solely on the agreement to open the council officially and to choose the date of their next session, according to the Eternal World Television Network.

The second session occurred on Jan. 6, 1870, where the Pope gave a Profession of Faith, which meant a public declaration of the Catholic faith in Christ or intent to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior, according to Got Questions.

The importance of the Profession of Faith lies in publicly expressing one's faith through making an agreement in the declaration to God, according to St. Benedict the African.

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The third session started on April 24, 1870, and it focused on the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, according to Papal Encyclicals Online. The constitution contained four chapters with the Pope speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church in agreement with three cannons following after.

The chapters focused on their commitment to the Catholic Church’s faith in God, believing in God’s plan for the future and upholding the belief of viewing faith and reason as mutually supportive. These decrees would set the Catholic Church’s modern-day stance in facing the world.

The three canons focus on the first three chapters’ topics and accompany each chapter with a warning — those who do not believe in the agreements are “anathema,” someone or something that is heavily detested or despised, according to Merriam-Webster.

Fourth Session

The fourth session took place on July 18, 1870, according to Catholic Library. The Catholic Church Institution and the topic of papal infallibility were the focus of this session. The institution is made up of four different chapters.

Papal infallibility means that the Pope cannot be wrong when giving a definition relating to faith or morals, according to American Magazine. This infallibility extends to the Catholic Church as a spiritual gift that remains to this day.

Chapter one of the fourth session reinforces the Catholic Church’s belief that Apostle Peter was given the authority to have primacy of jurisdiction over the Church since the Pope and the bishops are viewed as Peter’s successors. Primacy of jurisdiction refers to the authority to exercise jurisdiction, power and functions over other entitled authorities, according to Law Insider.

Chapter two states that those who sit on Peter’s chair, the pope's position, have the authority of papal primacy over the Catholic Church.

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Chapter three defines papal primacy as the pope’s authority to be the executive judge over all Catholic churches around the world. The pope also can communicate freely to any individual church as long as it is used to help guide them.

The last chapter declares the Pope officially has papal infallibility when speaking ex-cathedra on doctrines relating to faith and morals, according to Catholic Planet. Ex-cathedra means from the seat of authority, according to Dictionary.

After approving papal infallibility, a group of Catholic Churches split out of disagreement to form the Old Catholic Church, according to Oikoumene. The Old Catholics would and continue to be used as a broad term to encompass various Catholic Churches that separated from Rome.

Pope Pius IX suspended the First Vatican Council on July 19, 1870, because of the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, according to Vatican News. On Sept. 20, 1870, Italian troops captured Rome, ending the council’s meetings, but the council was never officially dismantled.

The Council affected both the Catholic Church and the Church as a whole through its actions in response to secular movements. The Pope’s authority to appoint local bishops led to the Catholic Church gaining more independence from secular governments, according to ACBC MediaBlog.

The council, while cut short, demonstrated the Church’s ability to overcome the challenges of society and form agreements that still last to this day, according to Today’s Catholic.

The Church can approach today’s obstacles by uniting ourselves in faith and facing these new challenges with the guides provided by the past, like the First Vatican Council.

Kairos was born and raised in Hawaii as the son of a pastor. In 2023, he graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Journalism: News & Storytelling. He aims to write insightful, unbiased and truthful stories on the Body of Christ.