The Pope and the Council


The book, The Pope and the Council by Janus, which was first published in 1869, is a very important document relative to the Roman Catholic dogma of papal infallibility, decreed by the Roman Catholic Council, Vatican I, in 1870. It was written under the pseudonym of Janus by the most important and influential Roman Catholic historian within the Roman Catholic Church of the 19th century, Johannes Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890). Döllinger taught church history for 47 years. It is a fully documented historical repudiation of the dogma of papal infallibility from the pen of the leading Roman Catholic historian at the time of Vatican I.

The pdf copy of The Pope and the Council can be accessed here.

The following is a brief summary and overview of the life and history of Döllinger and his book The Pope and the Council.

Historical Overview

In 1870 the Roman Catholic Council of Vatican I passed the decree of papal infallibility whereby it created a new dogma for the church. A dogma which bound men upon pain of excommunication to embrace and submit to the teaching that the bishop of Rome was infallible whenever he spoke authoritatively on any subject related to doctrine or morals and that men and women were bound on pain of the loss of salvation to submit to such teaching. It taught that this teaching had been the belief and practice of the ancient church and that it was therefore not a novel teaching but a reaffirmation of the tradition and belief of the church historically. However, it is interesting to note that at the time of the Council, the leading historians within the Roman Catholic communion opposed the doctrine based on the facts of history. One such historian was Johannes Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890).

Döllinger was a German theologian and church historian. He began teaching church history in 1825 and in 1827 he accepted the chair of Church History at the University of Munich and was professor of church history and ecclesiastical law, a position he held until 1872. He was also chief librarian of the university and a member of the Academy of Sciences. He taught church history as a Roman Catholic for 47 years and was the leading Roman Catholic historian of the 19th century. At the beginning of Vatican I (1869), which convened to pass decrees on the issues of papal rule and infallibility, he co-authored a book under the pseudonym, Janus, titled The Pope and the Council. The Catholic Encyclopedia says:

Scarcely had the first detailed accounts of the council’s proceedings appeared, when Döllinger published in the Ausburg “Allgemeine Zeitung” his famous “March articles”, reprinted anonymously in August of that year under the title: “Janus, der Papst, und das Konzil”. The accurate knowledge of papal history here manifested easily convinced most readers that only Döllinger could have written the work (Catholic Encyclopedia,

Döllinger was opposed to the doctrine of papal infallibility on historical grounds. It was a teaching that could find no validation in the history and tradition of the Church. The book was written as a historical defense of the supremacy of the general council. It is an impassioned appeal to the council, in light of the facts of history, not to pass decrees that would contradict the truth of history and tradition, and to create and impose a dogma upon Roman Catholics that would bind men’s souls in error. In decreeing papal infallibility to be Dogma, Vatican I was decreeing that it was necessary for salvation that individuals fully embrace and submit to this teaching.

Written as it is from the most authoritative church historian within the Roman communion at the time of Vatican I it is an important document. For it is a witness first of all to the well reasoned and articulated opposition of those knowledgeable of church history to the teaching of papal infallibility. And it is secondly a testimony to the integrity of Döllinger himself. Döllinger was a man of intellectual integrity and heartfelt conviction. His pleas to the council fell on deaf ears. When the decree was enacted making papal infallibility a dogma of the church, he refused to commit intellectual suicide as others did by repudiating his opposition to the dogma and submitting to the Church. He was subsequently excommunicated and he remained outside the communion of the Roman Church until his death, true to his conscience. His commitment to truth exacted an enormous price. When asked why he would not repudiate his intellect and reason for the sake of communion with Rome he stated:

Because…if I did so in a question which is for the historical eye perfectly clear and unambiguous, there would then be no longer for me any such thing as historical truth and certainty; I should then have to suppose that my whole life long I had been in a world of dizzy illusion, and that in historical matters I am altogether incapable of distinguishing truth from fable and falsehood (Cited by W. J. Sparrow Simpson, Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility (London: John Murray, 1909), 324).

The following overview of Döllinger and his opposition to the dogma of papal infallibility is provided by W.J. Sparrow Simpson from his book Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility.

Döllinger: Overview of his Life and Circumstances that Led to the Writing of The Pope and the Council

It is curious to reflect that Döllinger began life as an Ultramontane, under the influence of the works of that paradoxical extremist Joseph de Maistre…Döllinger’s change from the Roman to the Catholic standpoint was the outcome of independent critical and historical study. Cold and critical by nature, essentially intellectual, he was endowed with enormous vigour and insati­able desire for learning. His intention was to write a history of the Papacy. He found the approaches choked with legend. “Many of these were harmless, others were devised for a purpose; and he fixed his attention more and more on those which were the work of design” (Lord Acton, History of Freedom, p. 418). The question raised by the mediaeval fables of the Papacy became theologically of grave concern: “How far the persistent production of spurious matter had permanently affected the genuine constitu­tion and theology of the Church?” From the fables, Döllinger advanced to the forged decretals. He studied “the long train of hierarchical fictions which had deceived men like Gregory VII, St Thomas Aquinas, and Cardinal Bellarmine”(Lord Acton, History of Freedom, p. 420). “And it was,” says Acton, “the history of Church government which so profoundly altered his position.” Existing ecclesiastical develop­ments had to be tested by the past; their value disentangled from the fictitious elements which con­tributed to produce them. The famous Canon of St Vincent of Lerins, the appeal to antiquity, uni­versality, and consent, came to have increasing worth in Döllinger’s mind. “He took the words of St. Vincent,” says Acton, “not merely for a flash of illumination, but for a scientific formula and guiding principle” (Lord Acton, History of Freedom, p. 388). At first insensibly, but more and more definitely, Döllinger diverged from the axioms of the Ultramontanes. Catholic he continued to be throughout, and to the very last; but historical knowledge seemed to him impossible to combine with the popular Roman theories of the day…(At the convening of the Vatican I, Döllinger was not asked to participate)…But he was by no means unoccupied. He was engaged in writing the five articles, criticising and condemning the Infallibility doctrine from an historical point of view, which appeared anonymously in March 1869 in the Augsburg Gazette. These articles attracted a great attention, and were regarded with profound disgust in Rome. In three months’ time appeared the volume entitled The Pope and the Council, by Janus. Janus, as the preface assured the reader, was the production of several writers; but, as Friedrich (Friedrich, Döllinger, iii. p. 485) tells us, under Döllinger’s control. Janus was an expan­sion of the five articles in the Augsburg Gazette. The purpose of Janus was to demonstrate that, accord­ing to ancient Catholic principles, the chief exponent of the faith in Christendom was the Collective Episcopate; and therefore that the Council stood supreme above the Pope. Leo himself acknowledged that his treatise could not become a rule of faith until confirmed by the assent of the Episcopate. The process by which these principles were reversed is ascribed partly to the ever–increasing ascendancy of the papal power, to which in the long development of centuries many things contributed. The historical evolution was not without protests and reactions, but forged documents, accepted by uncritical ages as correct misled even such theologians as St Thomas.

Various influences tended to advance the conception of the Pope’s Infallibility. There was the influence of the theologians after St Thomas, whose great authority seemed sufficient, but whose opinion was founded on fictitious documents. There was the influence of the Inquisition, which, wherever it was dominant, rendered instruction in the ancient conception impossible. There was the influence of the Index which meant the suppression of criticism and the conversion of historical literature into partisan productions for the maintenance of Ultramontane opinions. The publication of certain books, such as the Liber Diurnus, containing historic statements impossible to reconcile with Papal Infallibility was prevented, and impressions already printed were destroyed, confessedly because they could not be utilised in the controversial interests of the Italian theories. Alterations were made in the Breviary in the direction of Papal Infallibility. The fact that Pope Honorius had been condemned as a heretic by Councils was now left out. But more than many influences, the powerful Order of the contributed to the advancement of the theory. It was congenial to their whole spirit. Accustomed to the principle of blind obedience; themselves exhorted and in turn exhorting others to the sacrifice of the intellect; they identified themselves with this doctrine, protected it, and promoted it with tremendous effect. Since the days of Bellarmine, their theologian, they gave it the benefit of their entire concurrence.

So then, according to Janus, through the co-operation of many foreign elements, the ancient principle is found completely reversed; and whereas in primitive centuries the Council, the Collective Episcopate, was the supreme exponent, in the later it was the Pope. This, says Janus, is no true development. It is rather a trans­formation. The verdict of History is against this doctrine entirely.

For thirteen centuries an incomprehensible silence on this fundamental article reigned throughout the whole Church and her literature.To prove the dogma of Papal Infallibility from Church History nothing less is required than a complete falsification of it.

Döllinger insisted that the principle by which the church had been hitherto controlled in matters of faith was the principle of immutability. To demon­strate that a doctrine was not the conviction of the entire Church, that it was not logically included as an undeniable sequence in the original Deposit of Revealed Truth, was hitherto regarded as a conclusive demonstration that such doctrine could never be raised to the dignity of a dogma of the Church. Döllinger contended that on this principle the case for Papal Infallibility was already adversely determined. In the Eastern Church no voice had ever been heard to ascribe dogmatic Infallibility to the Pope. The doctrine did not arise within the West until the thirteenth century. It renders the history of Christen­dom for the first thousand years an incomprehensible enigma: for history exhibits Christendom toiling by painful, circuitous methods to secure what, if the Popes were infallible, might have been gained in the simplest way, from the utterances of a solitary voice in Rome.

Nor is it possible, argued Döllinger, to account for the transference of infallible authority from the Church to the Pope, as a process of legitimate development. The new theory is the negation of the old. The ancient doctrine was that the Divine guidance is given to the Church collectively. It is the Church, as a whole, which cannot fall away. But the Ultramontane theory reverses this. It asserts that Divine guidance is given not to the Church collectively, but to one individual person; that Infallibility is his alone—a prerogative in which the Collective Episcopate has no share; that from him alone the Church receives light and truth. This is not development. It is negation (W.J. Sparrow–Simpson, Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility (London:John Murray, 1909) pp. 188-193, 205-206).