1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ultramontanism

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4121571911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 27 — Ultramontanism

ULTRAMONTANISM (Lat. ultra, beyond, montes, the mountains), the name given to a certain school of opinion in the Roman Catholic Church. The expression ultramontane was originally no more than a term of locality, characterizing the persons so described as living—or derived from—“beyond the mountains.” The “mountains” in this case are the Alps, so that, from the Italian standpoint, Germans and French for instance were “ultramontane.” In this sense the word was applied in the later middle ages to the Germans studying at Italian universities and—to take a particular example—to the French cardinals at the election of Clement V. (1305). North of the Alps, however, the term seems never to have been restricted to the sense implying locality; for from the very beginning we find it used as a party appellation to describe those who looked “beyond the mountains” in order to obtain a lead from Rome, who represented the papal point of view and supported the papal policy. Thus, as early as the 11th century, the partisans of Gregory VII. were styled ultramontanes, and from the 15th century onwards the same name was given to the opponents of the Gallican movement in France.

It was not until the 19th century that “ultramontane” and “ultramontanism” came into general use as broad designations covering the characteristics of particular personalities, measures and phenomena within the Roman Catholic Church. At the present time they are applied to a tendency representing a definite form of Catholicism within that Church; and this tendency, in spite of the individual forms it has assumed in different countries, everywhere displays the same essential features and pursues the same ends. It follows, to be sure, from the very nature of Ultramontanism, and from the important position to which it has attained, that the official organs of the Church and all the people interested in the continuance of the actual state of affairs deny that it exists at all as an independent tendency, and seek to identify it with any proper interpretation of Roman Catholicism. Numerous Catholics, on the other hand, well qualified to form a judgment, themselves protest against this obliteration of the dividing line. It is indisputably legitimate to speak of Ultramontanism as a distinct policy, but it is very difficult to define its essential character. For, true to its nature, it has itself drawn up no complete programme of its objects, and, in addition to its avowed aims, its subsidiary effects claim attention. There is something chameleon-like in its appearances; its genuine views are kept in the background from tactical considerations, and first one aspect, then another, comes into prominence. It is evident, therefore, that the request for a definition of Ultramontanism cannot be answered with a concise formula, but that the varied character of its manifestations necessitates a more detailed examination of its peculiar objects.

The indications given by the late Franz Xaver Kraus—himself a Catholic—may well serve for a guide (Spectator, ep. 2). He classes as Ultramontane: (1) Whoever places the idea of the Church above that of religion; (2) whoever confounds the pope with the Church; (3) whoever believes that the kingdom of Heaven is of this world, and maintains, with medieval Catholicism, that the power of the keys, conferred on Peter, includes secular jurisdiction over princes and nations; (4) whoever holds that religious conviction can be imposed by material force, or may legitimately be crushed by it; (5) whoever is always ready to sacrifice a clear injunction of his own conscience to the claims of an alien authority.

The first and fundamental characteristic of Ultramontanism is its championship of a logical carrying out of the so-called “papalistic system,” the concentration, that is, of all ecclesiastical power in the person of the Roman bishop. This tendency among occupants of the Roman see to exalt themselves above other bishops, and to usurp the part of a superior authority as compared with them, may be traced even in antiquity. No later than the end of the 2nd century Bishop Victor made an attempt to establish this position during the discussions regarding the date of the Easter festival. But he met with a sharp rebuff, and Bishop Stephen fared no better when, in the middle of the 3rd century, he came into collision with Cyprian of Carthage and Firmilian of Caesarea in the dispute concerning heretical baptism. How the Roman bishopric rose in status till it became the papacy, how the individual popes—in spite of these and similar repulses—advanced steadily on their path, how they succeeded in founding their primacy within the Church, and in re-establishing and maintaining that primacy notwithstanding severe defeats and long periods in which their prestige sank to the vanishing point, is told elsewhere (see Papacy). A characteristic peculiarity of the process is that the claims of the Roman see were always in advance of the actual facts and always encountered opposition; though there were many periods—at the height of the middle ages, for instance—when the voices raised in protest were only timid and hesitating. To the curial system, so evolved, and continually fortifying its position in the domains of theology, ecclesiastical law and politics, the episcopal system stands in diametrical opposition. This system admits that the pope represents the unity of the Church, and acknowledges his primacy, but only in the sense that he is primus inter pares; while at the same time it claims on behalf of the bishops that, in virtue of the divine ordinance, they possess an inalienable right to a share in the government of the Church (see Episcopacy). This theory of the independence of the episcopate with regard to the Roman bishop was first propounded by Cyprian, in his treatise De unitate ecclesiae. In the 15th century it received its classical expression in the resolutions of the ecumenical council at Constance; its principles were developed and amplified by Gallicanism, and, finally, in the 18th century, was restored in a modernized form by “Febronius” (Nikolaus von Hontheim, q.v.) and in the Punctation of Ems (see Febronianism). The struggle between these two systems continued well into the 19th century; and, though episcopalism was not infrequently proscribed by the curia, it still survived, and till the year 1870 could boast that no ecumenical council had ventured to condemn it. This was done for the first time, in 1870, at the Vatican Council (q.v.), whose decrees, recognizing the universal episcopate and the infallibility of the pope, marked the triumph of that ultramontane doctrine by which they had been long anticipated.

In 1865 Döllinger wrote: “The Ultramontane view can be summarized in a single, concise, and luminous proposition; but out of this proposition are evolved a doctrine and a view that embrace not merely religion and the Church, but science and the state, politics, morals and the social order—in a word, the whole intellectual life of men and nations. The proposition runs: The pope is the supreme, the infallible, and consequently the sole authority in all that concerns religion, the Church, and morality, and each of his utterances on these topics demands unconditional submission—internal no less than external.” History, since the Vatican Council, has shown this judgment to have been correct. The Roman Catholic Church, in all countries, has become more and more dependent on the Curia: the bishops have lost their autonomous standing, and their position is little more than that of papal delegates, while all important questions are referred to Rome or settled by the nuncios.

A second peculiarity of Ultramontanism is its confusion of religion with politics; it claims for the Roman Catholic Church the functions of a political power, and asserts that it is the duty of the secular state to carry out its instructions and wishes. Ultramontanism regards the state, not as a divinely established order but, like its ancient prototype, as a profane institution and, for that reason, not co-ordinate with, but subordinate to the Church.

Since the conditions of the age no longer allow the pope to depose a temporal sovereign, the practical application of this conception of the relationship between the spiritual and temporal powers has taken other forms, all of which, however, clearly show that the superiority of the Church over the state is assumed. This may be seen in the attitude of Ultramontanism towards secular law. It assumes that God has conferred on the individual and on society certain rights and competences as inalienable possessions. This “natural law” ranks above all secular law, and all state legislation is binding only in so far as it is in harmony with that law. As to the provisions of this natural law, and the consequences they entail in individual cases, these can be decided only by the Church, i.e. the last resort, by the pope. This is to assert the principle of the invalidity of all legislation conflicting with ecclesiastical interests and rules. This was the attitude of Innocent III. when he annulled the English Magna Charta; of Innocent X. when he pronounced the treaty of Westphalia null and void; of Pius IX. when he condemned, the Austrian constitution (1868) and the ecclesiastical laws of Prussia so far as they affected the circumstances of the Roman Catholic Church (1875). Thus, too, even at the present time, the opinion is very clearly expressed in Ultramontane quarters that, in the event of the state issuing laws contravening those of nature or of the Church, obedience must be refused. The attitude of Ultramontanism, for instance, towards the right claimed and exercised by the state to make laws concerning marriage is wholly negative; for it recognizes no marriage laws except those of the Church, the Church alone being regarded as competent to decide what impediments are a bar to marriage, and to exercise jurisdiction over such cases. Thus Ultramontanism disclaims any moral subjection to secular authority or law, and will recognize the state only in so far as it conforms its rules to those of the Church. An instance of this interference with the duties of the individual citizen towards the state may be found in the fact that, till the year 1904, the Catholics of Italy were prohibited by the pope from taking part in any parliamentary election.

Since Ultramontanism cannot hope to realise its political ambitions unless it succeeds in Controlling the intellectual and religious life of Catholic Christendom, it attempts to extend its sphere of influence in all directions over culture, science, education, literature and the forms taken by devotion. This endeavour is the third great characteristic of Ultramontanism. Wherever its operations can be traced, they are dominated by the conviction that all stirrings of independence must be repressed, and any advance beyond the stage of immaturity and nonage checked at the outset. That science must be left free to determine the aims of her investigation, to select and apply her own methods, and to publish the results of her researches without restraint, is a postulate which Ultramontanism either cannot understand or treats with indifference, for it regards as strange and incredible the fundamental law governing all scientific research—that there is for it no higher aim than the discovery of the truth. This ignorance of the very nature of science leads to under-estimation of the elemental force which science possesses; for only thus can we explain the pertinacity with which Ultramontanism, even at the present day, strives to subject her work to its own censorship and control. Nor are its criticisms limited to theology alone: its care extends to philosophy, history and the natural sciences. Even medicine has not escaped its vigilance, as is proved by the prohibition of certain surgical operations. The development of these efforts may be easily traced from decisions of the Congregation of the Index and the Holy Office in Rome. Ultramontanism, too, labours systematically to bring the whole educational organization under ecclesiastical supervision and guidance; and it manifests the greatest repugnance to allowing the future priest to come into touch with the modern spirit. Hence the attempts to train its growing manhood in clerically regulated boarding-schools and to keep it shut out from the external world in clerical seminaries, even in places where there are universities. Again, it works zealously to bring the elementary schools under the sway of the Church. Since it regards the training and instruction of childhood as inseparable, and holds that the former is essentially the work of the Church, it contests the right of the state to compel parents to send their children to the state schools and only to the state schools. In logical sequence to these tenets it seeks to divorce the school from the state—a proceeding which it terms educational freedom, though the underlying motive is to subordinate the school to the Church. In the domain of religion, Ultramontanism tends to foster popular superstitions and to emphasize outward forms as the essence of religious life, for it can only maintain its dominion so long as the common people remain at a low spiritual level. If any one desires to appreciate the intellectual plane— and the power—of this Ultramontane habit of thought, he will find ample material in the performances of the notorious swindler Leo Taxil under Leo XIII., and in the acceptance of his blasphemous effusions by the highest ranks of the clergy.

In the fourth place, Ultramontanism is the embodiment of intolerance towards other creeds. The general presupposition involved is that a man cannot be saved except within the Catholic Church. Since, however, on the one hand—in virtue of a theory advanced by Pius IX. against the emperor William I. of Germany, in a letter which has since become famous—every Christian, whether he will or no, belongs to that Church by baptism, and is consequently pledged to obey her, and, on the other hand, since the state lies under the obligation to place the “secular arm” at her disposal whenever one of her members wishes to secede, the most far-reaching consequences result. In the past this principle led to the erection of the Inquisition (q.v.) and, even at the present day, there exists in the Curia a special congregation charged with its application (see Curia Romana). On the Roman Catholic side the employment of compulsion against heretics has never been acknowledged as a blunder; and this method of silencing opposition has found champions in the bosom of the Church down to the most recent years. But the development of modern culture has rendered these exploits of an unbridled fanaticism impossible, and no government would consent to enforce the once obligatory sentences of ecclesiastical courts. As a result of this situation, the Catholic condemnation of heresy—though as stringent as ever in principle—has assumed less dangerous forms for the heretic. Nevertheless, it proved capable, even in the 19th century, of imposing onerous restrictions on the heterodox, and practical exemplifications of this hostile attitude persist to the present day. The embittering influence of Ultramontanism may be further traced in its attitude towards the baptism of non-Catholics, for it seeks to establish the rule that baptism conferred by Protestants is invalid through defect of form or matter, or even of intention, and that, consequently, the rite must be readministered, at least conditionally, to proselytes joining the Roman Church. Finally, ample scope for the display of tolerance—or intolerance—is found in the mixed marriages between Protestants and Catholics, which, as a result of the modern facilities for intercommunication and the consequent greater mobility of the population, have shown a large increase during the last few decades—in Germany, for instance. Here, again, Ultramontanism has done much to aggravate the pernicious feud between the two creeds, by exacting a promise before marriage from the Roman Catholic party that all the children shall be brought up as members of the Roman Catholic Church (see Marriage: Canon Law). A like result has been produced when, in response to Ultramontane agitation, interdicts have been placed on churchyards in which non-Catholics have found their last resting-place.

Lastly, Ultramontanism is the foe of the nationalization of Catholicism. This peculiarity is connected, though not identical, with the above-mentioned tendency towards the Romanization of the Church. Just as in Protestant countries there has often been an amalgamation of evangelical belief with national feeling, to the great gain of both, Catholics demand that Catholicism shall enter into the sphere of their national interests, and that the activities of the Catholic Church should rest on a national basis. These aspirations have been proclaimed with especial emphasis in France, in Germany (Reformkatholizismus) and in the United States (Americanism; see Hecker, I. T.) but are everywhere met with a blank refusal from the Ultramontane side. For Ultramontanism fears that any infusion of a national element into ecclesiastical life would entail the eventual independence of the people in question from papal control, and lead to developments opposed to its papalistic mode of thought. It endeavours, therefore, to undermine all aspirations of this nature and, its own tendency being essentially international, strives to ensure that national sentiment and national interests shall not find over-zealous champions among the clergy.

The relationship of Ultramontanism to Catholicism is a much-disputed problem. The Ultramontane, indeed, maintains that there is no justification for distinguishing between the two: but the motives underlying this attitude are obvious. For, by representing the prosecution of its party-political objects as a championship of the Catholic Church, Ultramontanism seeks to acquire the support of the official organs of that Church, and the good will of all circles interested in her welfare; while at the same time it strives to discredit any attempt at opposition by branding it as an assault on the orthodox faith. But, even within the pale of the Roman Church, this identification provokes emphatic dissent, and is repudiated by all who are shocked by the effects of a one-sided accentuation of political Catholicism on the inner life of the church, and are reluctant to see the priest playing the part of a political agitator. It was on these grounds that Count May, in January 1904, proposed in the chamber of the Bavarian Reichsrath that the clergy should be deprived of the suffrage. In Germany, again, the last few years have witnessed a growing aversion from Ultramontanism on the part of those Catholics who cannot reconcile its tenets with their patriotic sentiments, and are disinclined to submit to a limitation of their share in the intellectual life of the times, particularly in art, science and literature. It may be admitted that, in many cases, the distinction between Ultramontanism and Catholicism cannot be clearly traced; and it is impossible to draw a sharp line of severance between the two, which could be absolutely valid under all circumstances and in relation to all questions. For there are many almost imperceptible stages of transition from the one to the other; and, for all the principal contentions of Ultramontanism, analogies may be found in the past history of the Catholic Church. Thus, in the middle ages, we find extremely bold pronouncements with respect to the position of the papacy in the universal Church; while political Catholicism had its beginnings in antiquity and found very definite expression, for instance, in the bull Unam sanctam of Boniface VIII. Again, the attempt to subordinate all intellectual life to ecclesiastical control was a feature of the medieval Church, and the fundamental attitude of that Church towards heresy was fixed during the same period. But since then much has been altered both in the Church and her secular environment. The state has become independent of the Church, legislates on its own sole authority, and has recognized as falling within its own proper sphere the civilizing agencies and social questions formerly reserved for the Church. Again, education, science, art and literature have been secularized: the printing-press carries knowledge into every house, the number of illiterates diminishes from year to year in every civilized country, and the clergy are no longer the exclusive propagators of culture, but merely one factor among a hundred others. Finally, the Roman Catholic Church has long forfeited the privileged position formerly accorded as her due. The days when she was the Christian Church are past: and now the civic rights of a man in a modern state are not curtailed, though he may neglect his duty to the Church or flatly refuse to acknowledge the existence of any such duty. The struggle for religious freedom has suffered no intermission since the beginning of the Reformation; and the result is that to-day its recognition is considered one of the most precious trophies won in the evolution of modern civilization; nor can these changes be reversed, for they stand in the closest connexion and reciprocity one with another, and represent the fruits of centuries of co-operation on the part of the European peoples. But Ultramontanism ignores this latest page of history and treats it as non-existent, aspiring to the erection of a new order of society, similar to that which Rome created—or, at least, endeavoured to create—in the halcyon days of medievalism. For the justification of this enterprise, it is considered sufficient to point out that the several elements of its programme once enjoyed validity within the Church. But Cyprian of Carthage said long ago, Consuetudo sine veritate vetustas erroris est; and the bare fact of previous existence is no argument for the re-introduction of obsolete and antiquated institutions and theories. But, under the guise of a restoration on conservative lines, Ultramontanism—notwithstanding the totally different conditions which now obtain—girds itself to work for an ideal of religion and culture in vogue during the middle ages, and at the same time holds itself justified in adopting the extreme point of view with respect to all questions which we have mentioned. Thus Ultramontanism is not to be conceived as a theological movement, but as the programme of a party whose principles are in fundamental opposition to modern culture, modern education, modern tolerance and the modern state—a party which seeks to carry out its campaign against the society of to-day, not by bridging the gulf betwixt creed and creed, but by widening it, by awakening religious fanaticism, and by closing the way to a peaceful co-operation of Catholics and non-Catholics in the highest tasks of culture and human civilization. The hierophants of this Ultramontane system are to be found in the Society of Jesus (See Jesuits). In fact, the terms jesuitical and ultramontane may, in numerous cases, be regarded as equivalent.

The origin of modern Ultramontanism is preceded and conditioned by the collapse of Catholicism in the period of the French Revolution. Pius VI. and Pius VII. were expelled from Rome, deprived of the papal states, and banished to France. In that country the Church almost completely lost her possessions; in Germany they were at least considerably curtailed; in both the hierarchical organization was shattered, while the Catholic laity surveyed the catastrophe in complete passivity. But from this severe fall the Roman Church recovered with comparative readiness, and the upward movement is contemporaneous with the rise of Ultramontanism. The birth of that system, however, cannot be fixed as a definite event by the day and the hour; nor was it created by any single personality. Rather it was the product of the first post-revolutionary generation. Neither is it merely fortuitous that the reaction proceeded from France itself. For in no other country had hostility to religion attained such a pitch or assumed such grotesque forms; and consequently in no other country did the yearning for religion manifest itself so unequivocally, when bitter experience had demonstrated the necessity of a return to law and order. And in the other states of Europe there existed, more or less, a similar desire for peace and an equal dread of a fresh outbreak of revolutionary violence. In contrast to the struggle for an ideal freedom, which was at first hailed with tempestuous delight only to reveal itself as a dangerous tyranny, men became conscious of the need for a firmly established authority in the reconstruction of society. After the violent upheaval in the political world during the last few decades, the existent—as such—increased in value, and the high estimation in which the old régime was now held led to a policy of restoration. At the same time, the repression of idealism and sentiment during the period of “illumination” was amply revenged, and the barren age of reason gave place to Romanticism. These tendencies in contemporary opinion favoured the renovation of the Roman Catholic Church. But the papacy signalized its reinstation by restoring the Society of Jesus (1814) and re-establishing the index. Even before this, the earliest germs can be traced back into the revolutionary period itself—the movement characterized above had begun working in France on the same lines; and, as it showed great zeal for the increase of the papal authority, it received the support of the Curia. True, the principles of Bonald, Lemaître, Lamennais and Lacordaire, were not carried through in the French Church without opposition; but, about the year 1850, they had become predominant there. In Germany Ultramontanism had to contend with great difficulties; for here ecclesiastical affairs were not in so desperate a case that the most drastic remedies possessed the most powerful attraction; while, in addition, the clergy were too highly educated to be willing to renounce all scientific work. The result was that a series of violent struggles took place between the old Catholicism and the new Ultramontane species (Hermes, Baader, Döllinger, &c.). But even here Ultramontanism gained ground and derived inestimable assistance from the blunders of government after government—witness the conflict of the Prussian administration with Archbishop Droste-Vischering (q.v.) of Cologne, 1837. Additional impetus was also lent by the revolution of 1848.

The growth of the Jesuitical influence at Rome more especially after the return of Pius IX. from exile implied a more definite protection of Ultramontanism by the papacy. The proclamation of the dogma of the immaculate conception in 1854 was more than the decision of an old and vexed theological problem; it was an act of conformity to a pietistic type especially represented by the Jesuits. The Syllabus of 1864, however, carried with it a recognition of the Ultramontane condemnation of all modern culture (see the articles Pius IX., and Syllabus). Finally, in the Vatican Council, the Jesuits saw another of their favourite theories—that of papal infallibility—elevated to the status of a dogma of the Church (see Vatican Council and Infallibility).

Ultramontanism, again, though essentially averse from all forms of progress, had displayed great dexterity in utilizing the opportunities presented to it by modern life. Where it appeared advisable, it has formed itself into a political party, as for instance, the Centre Party in Germany. It has shown extreme activity in the creation of a press devoted to its interests, and has consolidated its influence by the formation of an extensive league-system. In the episcopacy it has numerous adherents; it has made progress in the universities, and most of the learned and theological reviews are conducted in its spirit.

Whether the powerful position of this movement within the Roman Catholic Church be an advantage for that Church itself cannot be discussed here. The answer to the problem will mainly depend on the estimate which we form of the Society of Jesus and its whole activity. The outstanding event in the latest history of Ultramontanism is the separation between Church and state in France (1904), by which the republic has endeavoured to break the influence of this party. Similarly, the dissolution of the German Reichstag in December 1906 was a weapon directed against Ultramontanism; and, though the elections of 1907 failed to diminish the numbers of the Centre, they rendered possible the formation of a majority, in face of which that system forfeited the influence it had previously possessed.

Bibliography.—F. v. Döllinger, Das Papstium (revised by Janus, Der Papst und das Concil, Leipzig, 1869, edited by Friedrich, Munich, 1892); idem. Kleinere Schriften, edited F. H. Reusch (Stuttgart, 1890); F. Friedrich, Geschichte des vatikanischen Konzils (3 vols., Bonn, 1877–1882–1887); F. X. Kraus, “Spectator” letters in the Münchener allgemeine Zeitung (1895, &c.); Hauviller, F. X. Kraus (3rd ed., 1905); Count v. Hoensbroech, Der Ultramontanismus, sein Wesen und seine Bekämpfung (2nd ed., Berlin 1898); idem. Das Papsttum in seiner sozial-kulturellen Wirksamkeit (2 vols., 3rd ed., Leipzig, 1901–1902); C. Mirbt, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums und des römischen Katholizismus (2nd ed., Tübingen, 1901); L. K. Goetz, Der Ultramontanismus als Weltanschauung auf Grund des Syllabus (Bonn, 1905).

A collection of the further literature will be found in Benrath’s article “Ultramontanism” in the Realencyclopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche (3rd ed., 1908, vol. xx. p. 213 seq.). Also, for the history of the rise of Ultramontanism in Germany, see C. Mirbt, Die katholisch-theologische Fakultat zu Marburg. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der katholischen Kirche in Kurhessen und Nassau (Marburg, 1905).  (C. M.)