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Lord Acton and the First Vatican Council1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011


During the First Vatican Council Lord Acton stayed in Rome as a private observer and sent to his friends Gladstone and Döllinger lengthy reports on the proceedings of the Council. Some of his letters to Döllinger were published in the prominent liberal newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung under the pseudonym ‘Quirinus’. These sensational reports, which are said to have won to the Allgemeine the considerable number of ten thousand new subscribers, were published afterwards in a single volume. An English translation by H. N. Oxenham appeared in 1870 from Rivingtons. The importance of the Quirinus letters, of which Döllinger was the main contributor, lies in the fact that they were the most detailed and best informed reports on the Council's proceedings. Though journalistic in style and approach they were qualitatively far beyond average since both contributors, Acton and Döllinger, were trained historians of international respectability. Since the publication of Acton's private correspondence with Döllinger it has been possible to distinguish more clearly in the Quirinus letters between journalism and historical fact. We will deal in what follows with Lord Acton's contribution to these letters in order to reach a better understanding of his interpretation of infallibility.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1969

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page 267 note 2 The most recent and complete history of Vatican I is Aubert, R., Vatican I (in Histoire des conciles œcuméniques publiée sous la direction de Gervais Dumeige S.J., xii), Paris 1964Google Scholar; the best exposition in English is Butler, C., The Vatican Council: the story told from inside in Bishop Ullathorne's letters, 2 vols., London 1930Google Scholar; the acts of the Council were published by Petit, L. and Martin, J. B. in Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, xlix–liii, Arnhem 192319277Google Scholar; other important documents in Collectio Lacensis (Acta et decreta S. Conciliorum recentiorum), vii, Freiburg i. Br., 1890.

page 267 note 3 Ignaz v. Döllinger—Lord Acton: Briefwechsel, 1850–90, ed. Conzemius, V., 3 vols., Munich 1963–9Google Scholar; for the share of Acton and Döllinger in the Quirinus letters see Conzemius, V., ‘Die Verfasser der Römischen Briefe vom Konzil’, in Festschrift Hans Foerster, Fribourg (Switzerland) 1964, 229–56Google Scholar. For a more detailed investigation of Döllinger's and Acton's contribution see id., ‘Die “Römischen Briefe vom Konzil”: eine entstehungsgeschichtliche und quellenkritische Untersuchung zum Konzilsjournalismus Ignaz v. Döllingers und Lord Actons’, in Römische Quartalschrift lix (1964), 186–229 and lx (1965). 78–119.

page 268 note 1 The best short biography of Acton is Butterfield, H., Lord Acton (Historical Association Pamphlets), London 1948Google Scholar; among other studies are Himmelfarb, G., Lord Acton: a Study in conscience and politics, London 1962Google Scholar; MacDougall, H., The Acton-Newman relations: the dilemma of Christian liberalism, New York 1962Google Scholar; Altholz, J. L., The liberal catholic movement in England: the Rambler and its contributors, 1848–1864, London 1962Google Scholar. Himmelfarb and MacDougall, both from different viewpoints, fail to understand Acton's peculiar brand of liberal Catholicism. Miss Himmelfarb's book, moreover, is full of misunderstandings of Acton's views on infallibility.

page 268 note 2 Cardinal Carlo Acton (1803–47) was a brother of his father. On cardinal Acton see Dizionario biografico degli Italiani, i, Rome 1960, 204.Google Scholar

page 269 note 1 For Acton's and Döllinger's relationship with Dupanloup see St. Lösch, , Döllinger und Frankreich, Munich 1955, 251 ff.Google Scholar

page 269 note 2 The Rambler, July 1860, 159–70.

page 269 note 3 The references to Acton's relations with the bishops are taken from the second volume of his correspondence with Döllinger, covering die period from 1869 to 1870, and quoted in the following as Döllingerbriefe, ii.

page 270 note 1 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 59–60.

page 270 note 2 Gladstone had encouraged Acton to stay in Rome during the Council as a kind of private observer of the British government. Acton had access, therefore, to official documents and dispatches. On the other hand, Acton kept Gladstone informed about the proceedings of the Council. Some of his letters to the Prime Minister were read by queen Victoria. Cf. Selections from the correspondence of the first Lord Acton, ed. Figgis, and Laurence, , London 1917, 84115Google Scholar; The political correspondence of Mr. Gladstone and Lord Granville 1868–1876, ed. Ramm, Agatha, London 1952, passim.Google Scholar

page 271 note 1 See Blakiston, Noel (ed.), The Roman Question: extracts from the dispatches of Odo Russell from Rome 1858–1870, London 1962, 387, 398, 409, 423.Google Scholar

page 271 note 2 Döllinger had obtained free access to the correspondence of the Bavarian Government concerning the Council. See Albrecht, D., ‘Döllinger, die bayerische Regierung und das erste Vatikanische Konzil’ in Spiegel der Geschkhte, Festgabefur Max Braubach, Münster 1964, 795815.Google Scholar

page 271 note 3 For Acton's appreciation of Tauffkirchen cf. Döllingerbriefe, ii. 125; 233; of Arnim, 269; of Trauttmansdorff, ibid., 287; of Banneville; ibid., 211.

page 272 note 1 In this way Strossmayer read to Acton his famous speech of 22 March 1870 [Mansi, op. cit., li, col. 72–7], see Döllingerbriefe, ii. 259; afterwards he handed his speech over to Acton and requested him to forward it to Döllinger so that he might obtain a true picture of the situation in Rome. In like manner, Darboy gave to Acton his speech in the Council of 20 May; this speech was later published in an appendix to the German and English editions of Quirinus: Döllingerbriefe, ii. 380.

page 272 note 2 Connolly's speech of 31 May was reported with Latin quotations in Acton's letters; one may conclude from this that he either saw the original or had abundant extracts from it. Döllingerbriefe, ii. 392 ff.

page 272 note 3 In June 1870 archbishop Kenrick pointed out to Acton that in his opinion the pope had incorrectly imposed an oath of secrecy on the bishops. Only the Council would have been entitled to do this and in fact it refrained: ibid., 422.

page 273 note 1 See Döllingerbriefe, ii. 209; 255.

page 273 note 2 Ibid., 190.

page 273 note 3 It could happen that Acton worked all night through on one of his letters. ‘The enclosed letter though written hastily is the result of three sleepless nights and of a very exact knowledge of the state of things’: Döllingerbriefe, ii. 156.

page 274 note 1 Blakiston, op. tit, 385.

page 274 note 2 Ibid., 441.

page 274 note 3 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 156.

page 274 note 4 Römische Quartalschrift, lx (1965), 118.

page 274 note 5 Butler, op. cit., ii. 3; a complete list of the Council documents forwarded by Acton to the press is to be found in the above quoted article, 118–19.

page 275 note 1 See, e.g., Roloff's, E. A. article on the Roman Letters in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, xxxv (1914), 204–54.Google Scholar

page 275 note 2 Quirinus Letters from Rome, London 1870, nos. 12, 20, 21, 28, 32, 33, 34, 37, 39, 44, 48, 51 52, 53, 54.

page 277 note 1 Quirinus Letters from Rome, 166–70.

page 277 note 2 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 50.

page 278 note 1 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 76.

page 278 note 2 Ibid., 76.

page 278 note 3 Ibid., 106.

page 278 note 4 Ibid., 142.

page 279 note 1 Cf. Hofinann, G., ‘Papato, conciliarismo, patriarcato (1438–1439) Teologi e deliberazioni del concilio di Firenze’, in Miscellanea Historiae Pontificiae, ii, Rome 1940, 65–8Google Scholar; see also Döllingerbriefe, ii. 140, n. 2.

page 279 note 2 Quirinus, Nr. 20, pp. 252–8; Nr. 21, pp. 259–65.

page 280 note 1 Réponse de Mgr l'éuêque d'Orléans à Mgr Dechamps, archevêque de Malines, Paris 1870; for an appraisal of Dupanloup's role in the Council, cf. R. Aubert, ‘Mgr Dupanloup au debut du concile du Vatican’, in Miscellanea historiae ecclesiasticae, Congris de Stockholm, août 1960.

page 280 note 1 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 205–6.

page 282 note 1 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 153.

page 282 note 2 Vigener, F., ‘Ketteler und das Vatikanum’, in Festschrift fur Dietrich Schdfer (Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit), Jena 1915, 652746Google Scholar; for a reappraisal of Ketteler's relationship with Acton and Döllinger see Conzemius, V., ‘Acton, Döllinger und Ketteler. Zum Verstandnis des Kettelerbildes in den Quirinusbriefen und zur Kritik an Vigeners Darstellung Kettelers auf dem Vatikanum I’, in Archiv für mittelrheiniscke Kirchengeschichte, xiv (1962), 194238.Google Scholar

page 282 note 3 Aubert, Vatican I, 140–3.

page 282 note 4 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 167

page 283 note 1 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 194.

page 283 note 2 Quirinus, 330–8, esp. 337.

page 284 note 1 See the list of the amendment proposals in Mansi, op. cit., li. col. 731–930.

page 284 note 2 Quirinus, 379–92.

page 284 note 3 Ibid., 396.

page 284 note 4 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 278.

page 285 note 1 Quirinus, 409–10.

page 285 note 2 Döllingerbrufe, ii. 279.

page 285 note 3 Ibid., 204.

page 286 note 1 Quirinus, 435–48

page 286 note 2 Ibid., 442–3.

page 286 note 3 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 314 ff. It is interesting to note that Döllinger did not publish the second part of this phrase because he did not understand what Acton meant. The divergence of views between Acton and his tutor in the question of moral judgments in history, which reached its climax in the years 1881–5, thus goes back to the year 1870 and crops up for the first time in the discussion on infallibility. The examples which he gives in 1870 in order to show the subversive influence of ‘ultramontanism’ within liberal Catholicism are the same which he gives in 1880–5 in his correspondence with Lady Blennerhassett and Döllinger: see Selections, 50–3.

page 287 note 1 Acton's special situation as an English Catholic partly explains his vehemence. Above all else, he wanted to renounce the views with which vulgar Protestantism reproached Catholicism and which he saw embodied in infallibility. ‘According to the current theory of the ordinary Englishman, the Catholic today still believes that the persecution of heretics by the Inquisition, and the dominance of Rome in politics are, in principle, right and proper. Therefore, they cherish the belief that Catholics cannot achieve greater freedom or self determination. And not only are they uncomfortable and a nuisance in a state that is well developed according to modern standards; they are hostile to it’: draft of an unpublished Quirinus letter, 10 April 1870; Döllingerbriefe, ii. 300–7

page 288 note 1 Acton had already criticised Döllinger's ‘Janus’ for an insufficient ‘moral’ basis of anti-infallibilism, as well as deploring the lack of a clear statement on the relationship between doctrinal development and infallibility. See Acton ‘The Pope and the Council’, The North British Review, ci (1869), 133.

page 289 note 1 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 290.

page 289 note 2 Ibid., 346–7.

page 290 note 1 ‘For all who openly declared the doctrine to be an enormous error would be declaring the Pope to be an innovator; and he must appear to every decided opponent of infallibilism no common innovator either, like any “doctor privatus”, but the most fearful and dangerous enemy of revealed truth and the pure doctrine of the Church, since he abuses his supreme authority to impose a false doctrine on consciences by terrorism, anathema and excommunication’: Quirinus, 512; it is easy to see that Döllinger, who has left out the second half of Acton's original draft, smothered Acton's rigorism and transferred it from the moral to the dogmatic sphere.

page 290 note 2 Acton writes to Döllinger that he would not interfere with technically theological questions. Infallibility was for him no theological question in the technical sense (!). He summed up in English an important speech of patriarch Valerga of Jerusalem because he thought that his German was not sufficient. He gave the following comment in his summary: ‘I wish I could give it better for it is the first time that an idea has appeared on their side’: Döllingerbriefe, ii. 391.

page 291 note 1 Döllingerbriefe, ii. 428.

page 291 note 2 Quirinus, 614–25.

page 293 note 1 For the American scene, cf. Beiser, J. Ryan, The Vatican Council and the American secular newspaper, 1869–1870, Washington 1940Google Scholar; for further evidence see Röm. Quartalschrift, lx (1964), 114 n. 164.Google Scholar

page 294 note 1 See above, 325 n. 1.

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