Every artifact that is a part of this Collection comes with a story uniquely its own, and this letter, acquired by the Curator of Papal Artifacts, is no different. The letter was written in Rome and signed by Pope Pius IX on July 16, 1870. It was written to Bishop Pierre de Dreux-Breze, Bishop of Moulins. The most intriguing part of this special recognition by the Pope is the timing: it was written the day before the Dogma on Papal Infallibility was pronounced at the First Vatican Council.
Known to be a controversial topic that was not supported by all Council participants (among them, Cardinal John Henry Newman), the Pope needed bishops to come to his aid, and the Bishop of Moulins is one who did. There is speculation he may have given a speech, during the time leading up to the vote, encouraging those in attendance to be in support of this dogma. Consequently, it is surmised the Bishop was rewarded with this communication, signed by Pope Pius IX, on the day before the dogma of infallibility became the law of the Church.
Unlike today, when information is dispersed in such a timely manner, at that time, there must have been frantic activity to reproduce individualized copies of the dogma for each bishop to read. Having key bishops campaigning was a necessary component of its successful passage.
Having access to such a communication is an incredible addition to this Collection.
Translation of Pope Pius IX’s Timely Letter to the Bishop of Molines:
1 PIUS P P IX
2 Venerable Brother, greeting and apostolic blessing. Never
3 can the piety of our children not be a matter of gratitude for us, (our children) who,
4 motivated by pure feelings do not forget to express and witness to them openly to us.
5 And so, Venerable Brother, we willingly receive the letter (which is) proof of your
6 and most of your Clergy’s outstanding piety and loyalty,
7 thereupon declaring to Us Your and their adherence and veneration toward Us
8 and this Apostolic Chair and the authority of its Supreme magisterium,
9 as well as Your and their burning zeal;
10 and the new splendor attaches to the prerogatives of that Chair assigned to it by Divine will from
11 the Authority of the Oecumenical Vatican Council.
12 Demonstrations of this sort are all the more pleasing to Us because,
13 as you point out, We are able to seize upon a certain argument of those which we have received
14 (an expression) of that singular devotion which the entire Clergy of Malines
15 exhibits toward Us and this Seat of truth. And so, when we offer praises to
16 Your episcopal zeal and virtue, Venerabile Brother, from You
17 we also make known that you should indicate the paternal feeling of Our soul to Your
18 Clergy : nor do We omit to entreat the Most Clement God that
19 He pour out over You and Your Clergy the rich bounty of his grace,
20 amd that he may generously grant that the examples of the good and their piety at this time
21 may help to preserve and increase the faith of the weak. To You moreover
22 Venerable Brother, bearing witness to and confirming the distinguished good will with which
23 We embrace You in the Lord, We very lovingly impart the generous Apostolic Benediction of all
24 the heavenly host to You yourself and to all your Clergy, and Faithful Laity
25 entrusted to your care.
27 Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, on the 16th day of July, in the year 1870
28 in the twenty-fifth year of our Pontificate.
29 Pius PP. IX.
Papal Artifacts is grateful to Professor John Adams for his generosity in both the translation of this letter and his research into the probable reasons why this bishop was given such special treatment by the Pope.
About the First Vatican Council:
This council was summoned by Pope Pius IX by the bull Aeterni Patris of 29 June 1868. The first session was held in St. Peter’s basilica on 8 December 1869 in the presence and under the presidency of the Pope.
The purpose of the council was, besides the condemnation of contemporary errors, to define the Catholic doctrine concerning the Church of Christ. In fact, in the three following sessions, there was discussion and approval of only two constitutions: Dogmatic Constitution On The Catholic Faith and First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, the latter dealing with the primacy and infallibility of the bishop of Rome. (It is the controversy surrounding the dogma on the infallibility of the Pope that is the concern of the artifact featured here.)
The discussion and approval of the latter constitution gave rise, particularly in Germany, to bitter and most serious controversies which led to the withdrawal from the Church of those known as “Old Catholics”.
The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war led to the interruption of the council. It was in fact never resumed, nor was it ever officially closed. As in other councils at which the Pope was present and presided, the decrees were in the form of bulls, at the end of which was the clear declaration: “with the approval of the sacred council”. Very large numbers attended this council, including, for the first time, bishops from outside Europe and its neighboring lands. Bishops from the eastern Orthodox Churches were also invited, but did not come.
The decrees of the council were published in various simultaneous editions. Later they were included in volume 7 of Collectio Lacensis (1892) and in volumes 49-53 of Mansi’s collection (1923-1927). The collection which we use is that entitled Acta et decreta sacrosancti oecumenici concilii Vaticani in quatuor prionbus sessionibus, Rome 1872. Comparison with other editions reveals no discrepancies, indeed absolute agreement.