Mere Ultramontanism

23 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2015

See all articles by Matthew Cavedon

Matthew Cavedon

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: December 14, 2013


"[W]e teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world."

The 90 words above are some of the most important ever dogmatized by the Catholic Church. They were the culmination of 75 years of Catholic deliberation about the changes in the world brought about by the French Revolution, even though they did little to provide an approach for the Church to take toward the modern social and political order. Emerging out of both reactionary and liberal responses to the Revolution, the First Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution gave form to a sort of “mere ultramontanism” that endorsed neither of the schools whence it arose.

This paper will explain where ultramontanism—the idea that the Church must be free from compromises with the state, and that its head is the sovereign pope—came from, how it was proclaimed at the Council, and how that formulation differed from early proposals. It will begin with a section introducing the comprised situations brought about by state intervention into ecclesiastical affairs from the years immediately preceding the Revolution up through the Restoration. Then, it will consider the early reactionary and liberal ultramontanisms proposed by Maistre and Lamennais, and their rejections by the popes. Next, this paper will turn to the strong assertion of papal authority in Pope Pius IX’s Quanta Cura and the dogmatization of the powers associated with papal primacy by the First Vatican Council. This paper will close by arguing that the Council’s mere ultramontanism avoided the dangers of reaction and liberalism. Though it decided little about how the Church would engage with modernity, it declared the independence of the Church from the compromises of earlier eras, providing a sounder basis for social and political engagement than reactionary or liberal ultramontanism would have allowed.

Keywords: ultramontanism, pope, papacy, papal, revolution, 19th century, modern history, Catholic Church, liberalism, reactionary, Pope Pius IX, First Vatican Council, Lamennais, de Maistre, infallibility, Second Vatican Council, France, state, Quanta Cura

Suggested Citation

Cavedon, Matthew, Mere Ultramontanism (December 14, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Cavedon (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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