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Ultramontanisms: Reply to Ureta, De Mattei and Solimeo

Since the publication of our editorial stance a little over a year ago, I have been pleased to read the contributions to the fraternal debate about Ultramontanism here at OnePeterFive as well as with our friends over at Rorate Caeli. Reflecting on the year’s contributions, I intend in this and subsequent articles to reply to the debate in general and a few men in particular, namely Mr. José Antonio Ureta, Professor Roberto de Mattei, and most recently, Mr. Luiz Sérgio Solimeo.

In accordance with the spirit of our editorial stance, we have published critical essays like theirs, written by our friends and allies in the traditional movement, in the hopes of further sharpening our analysis of Ultramontanism and the problems facing the Church. I am grateful for the work of these good men (both here and in their other books and articles) and offer this treatment below in the spirit of fraternal debate and Christian zeal for both charity and truth.

I hope that this and following articles will move the debate into new areas in the coming year, and will be followed by a more formal editorial statement on this subject in the coming weeks. As such, not everything I say here may reflect the opinions of all members of our editorial board, but I say them having in mind a formal editorial position.

The Godfathers of the Trad Movement

In response to the new regime of Iconoclasm unleashed by Traditionis Custodes, our editorial stance sought to re-ignite the zeal of our forefathers in the Trad movement, as Kwasniewski powerfully exhorted us to do shortly after the release of the motu proprio—a message he repeated with further elaboration last weekend. Our forefathers already fought the fight we now face and won a critical (albeit incomplete) victory in Summorum Pontificum. Thus we must revisit our forefathers and emulate their zeal, their erudition and, by the prayers of Our Lady, their piety.

At the same time, our editorial stance sought to contextualize post-Vatican II Traditionalism as one part of an overall Catholic Counter-Revolutionary movement in response to the Liberal Revolution of modernity. We seek to “unite the clans” not just to restore the Latin Mass that stands at the heart of Latin-rite Catholicism, but, by God’s grace, to rebuild Christendom in souls and society. So we revere and honor the Counter-Revolutionaries who have gone before us.

This seems to be the main concern raised in the critical remarks above. The Comte de Maistre and Louis Veuillot were Counter-Revolutionaries fighting with the pen while the Ninth Crusaders fought with the temporal sword. As such they are indeed our godfathers in the modern Trad movement against Liberalism and we do well to study their lives and imitate their virtues. They were men of God fighting against the machinations of the fallen angels in their time.

These Counter-Revolutionaries were Ultramontanes. So it is true that we cannot dismiss the Ultramontane movement as a whole or seek to disparage it or these great men.

Yet further we see in the discussion and sources from Mr. Ureta an important theological consideration from some of the leading figures of the Ultramontane movement such as Cardinal Edouard Pie. He was no advocate of hyperpapalism but of a true and orthodox Ultramontanism which passed into the dogmatic definitions of Holy Church with the Vatican Council of 1870.

Ultramontanism as a Historical Term

At the same time, as Mr. Stuart Chessman noted in his initial reply to Mr. Ureta, there seems to be a difference of definition evinced in the usage of the term “Ultramontanism.” Here I wish to introduce a few distinctions into the definition of the term which I hope will help us move into a deeper territory in this conversation.

For Ultramontanism, broadly understood, is primarily a historical term. Dr. Kwasniewski notes this on the first page of the first volume of his recent treatise on the topic. The term used in a historical sense simply means the movement that arose in the 19th century to defend, promote, and rally around papal Monarchy and centralization.

The term used in a historical sense would include everyone from de Maistre and Veuillot to Cardinal Pie and Bl. Pius IX, as well as the common lay faithful who were affected by the Ninth Crusade and the whole movement. But the broad historical use of the term would also include Leo XIII’s hyperpapalism—critiqued by Mr. Ureta—as well as that of de Lammenais, who “insist[ed] on a highly exaggerated ultramontane concept of papal infallibility” even in opposition to reason itself.[1]

Ultramontanism used in a historical sense would simply include all those who exalted papal authority in the 19th century. This emphasizes the fact that history is filled with numerous factors of causality. A single idea promoted by this or that man can have all sorts of effects in this or that context, or upon this or that man. When we are thinking historically, we can attribute layers of causality to a phenomenon like Ultramontanism, saying it became the cause, historically speaking, of both good and bad results, according to its application in any given context by any given man.

Yet we can also narrow the historical use of the term Ultramontanism to refer only to the faithful Catholic Counter-Revolutionaries. This usage would then include Veuillot and exclude de Lammenais. We might then add an adjective and call this Counter-Revolutionary Ultramontanism.

But in the mess of history, this Counter-Revolutionary Ultramontanism is not unrelated to the broader historical term (“Ultramontanism” without a modifier), which encompasses all papal centralisation whatsoever as a historical, interconnected mass movement of the times.

In the tumultuous and bloody century in which it arose, Counter-Revolutionary Ultramontanism was a mass movement using mass media and fiery rhetoric, with good reason, in order to combat the violence of the Liberals and Communists destroying souls and society. Our forefathers were fighting a war, and collateral damage does not make their cause unjust, but illustrates the bitterness of the struggle, the glory of the combat, and the nobility of the fighting men. Not all collateral damage is the fault of the soldier, nor can all collateral damage be prevented. But all collateral damage is lamentable, no matter what the cause. We shall return to this in a moment.

Ultramontanism as a Theological Term

As we noted above, Ultramontanism can also be understood in view of dogma, and herein it acquires a far more strict sense. Hence we introduce here the term Theological Ultramontanism. Here this would refer specifically to:

1.) the theological party at the Vatican Council promoting the definition of Papal Monarchy before the definition and

2.) after the solemn promulgation of Pastor Aeternus, the theological definition itself of Papal Monarchy to which all Catholics are bound to assent with the assent of faith.

It is in this strict sense that we can say truthfully that every pious Catholic is a theological Ultramontanist.

When we consider “Ultramontanism” as theological terminology, we cannot ascribe to it (or equate with it) hyperpapalism, since the latter would of course be nothing other than a perverse use of the orthodox doctrine of the Papal Monarchy for the sake of Modernism, Liberalism or whatever else the hyperpapalists may be trying to achieve. It is a trick of the Devil to use what God has established in order to discredit the Papacy itself, as is being done acutely in our day, and that is the serious concern here.

Theological Ultramontanism Against Gallicanism

When used theologically and not historically, the term comprises the condemnation of certain articles of Gallicanism, which were formally condemned at Vatican I: namely, the denial of the universal jurisdiction of the Papacy and the heresy that infallible definitions obtain their infallible status only via the consent of the Church (as well as Conciliarism and its associated heretical propositions).

These more narrow sententiae were anathemitized at Vatican I.

Yet we must be careful here too, because Gallicanism can also be understood historically or theologically, and not all theological positions forwarded by such groups were condemned at Vatican I.

For example, if a Catholic were to say that the temporal authority of the Church (emperors, kings, princes and nobility) has some role in ecclesiastical governance as the vicar of Christ’s Kingship in the Christian world (as Mr. James Bogle recently argued), he is merely repeating the traditional doctrine of the Two Swords (a doctrine which is, at most, de fide non definite).[2] He is not a Gallican. By no means was this condemned at Vatican I.

(We refer the reader to the work of our contributing editor Mr. Charles Coulombe in his opening chapters on the doctrine of Christian kingship narrating the life of one of our patrons, Bl. Emperor Karl.)

Gallicanism can be charged only to a Catholic who has proposed one of the condemned propositions excluded by the definitions of ecclesiastical authority. All other questions (to which we will return in a subsequent article) have yet to be resolved, and hence remain open for discussion and debate. It is indeed clear from the work of such scholars as Bronwen McShea that something has gone seriously wrong in the progressive denaturing and exclusion of temporal authority and lay co-responsibility in the modern Church. Even the modern clericalist corrupt clergy are forced to hand over abusers to the lay, temporal sword, as they themselves promulgate policies to report abuse to the lay authority (that is, the police).

The Interplay Between the Historical and Theological

Here we must return to the subject of “collateral damage.” For the great Counter-Revolutionary men of letters and the heroes of the Ninth Crusade who shed their blood in the defence of the Papal Monarchy are indeed a “grace like the Counter-Reformation” as Mr. Solimeo contends.

Aye, brother! Deus Vult!

Yet in our zeal for truth, let us ask a historical question of these great lay heroes of Counter-Revolutionary Ultramontanism: did they all understand Papal Monarchy in the strict orthodox sense given by Vatican I and enunciated by Cardinal Pie? Probably not. Did Louis Veuillot’s invocation of Bl. Pius IX in the place of the Holy Spirit achieve the theological precision necessary for a definition of doctrine? Of course not. It was a rhetorical device employed by a lay fighter in the Ultramontane Counter-Revolution. Yet this rhetoric had consequences (perhaps unintended).[3]

In the mess of history a single cause can have multiple layers of effects. And that brings us to the most difficult conversation.

The Incorrupt, Saintly Ultramontane Popes

We must soberly evaluate Bless Pius IX’s statement “I am Tradition!” Was this truly meant as a nuanced theological statement, or an outburst of rage, or both, or more? We are obliged to interpret him as sympathetically as possible, but if the historical data convincingly shows us he lost his temper here and said something dangerously imprecise, there is a limit to how much can be explained, and that limit is the same that reason affords us. As our contributing editor Kennedy Hall wrote last year, “Piously thinking the best about the pope [and, a fortiori, a saintly pope] can turn to excess which goes beyond reason.” The “I am Tradition” episode requires a much larger historical treatment than I can give in this article. (I’m happy to publish a submission that does just that.)

What about when the saint broke with Tradition by refusing to invite lay nobility to Vatican One? This broke with fifteen centuries of Tradition and helped to create the clericalist imbalance in the Church we have today. French prime minister Émile Ollivier said, quite rightly I fear, that by this act the pope formalised the separation of Church and state, which he had formerly condemned.[4] This was as bad as, if not worse, than Leo XIII contradicting his anti-Liberal writing by his pro-Liberal stance vis-à-vis Third Republic France.

Yet the saint also formally confirmed the nuanced interpretation of Vatican I, against a hyperpapalist distortion. The German bishops clarified that “the opinion according to which the Pope is ‘an absolute sovereign because of his infallibility’ is based on a completely false understanding of the dogma of Papal Infallibility” and that the pope “is restricted to the contents of Holy Scripture and Tradition and also to the dogmas previously defined by the teaching authority of the Church.”[5] Pope Pius IX called this “the true meaning of the Vatican decrees” and approved the same for the Swiss bishops.[6]

But can we say that some of the Pontiff’s actions nevertheless led to some of these distortions? Or some of the rhtetoric of the Ultramontanes? Indeed, it would be reasonable to think that this climate created these distortions, and this is the false spirit of Vatican I, which we will return to in a subsequent article.

St. Pius X, another incorrupt saint, confirmed the clericalist Church and the de facto suppression of the traditional Two Swords doctrine by revoking the right of papal veto for the Holy Roman Emperor. He himself proclaimed hyperpapalism by promoting blind obedience to the pope (which Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val had to qualify), and created a break with Tradition by his radical breviary reform.[7] Pius X’s treatment of the Eastern Catholics in the United States by Latinisations directly contradicted Leo XIII’s explicit assurances of safeguarding the rites of the East, and with his breviary reform created a dangerous precedent of papal power over the rights of Tradition in the liturgy, which are painfully obvious Anno Domini 2022 (see Mr. Campbell’s recent work on the danger of papal precedents).[8]

Yet whatever faults may have been the result of acts or omissions by Blessed Pius IX and Saint Pius X, intended or unintended, it is certain that they not only achieved a great degree of holiness (evidenced by their incorrupt relics and miracles), but their pontificates were among the greatest in the post-Tridentine period, and indeed the whole of Church history.[9] Perhaps in our own day, where historical data is readily available for the saints in a way unheard of in history, we have the lamentable burden of finding these faults in the saints since we cannot deny our reason and the investigation of history and theology. But faults such as this are small and slight compared to the great good that these popes and other men aforementioned did to combat the Revolution in their day. Counter-Revolutionary Ultramontanism was indeed a movement of grace.

Dr. Plinio’s Statement on the Papacy

Now let us turn to another godfather of the Trad movement, the great “crusader of the twentieth century,” Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Professor De Mattei relates in his article:

Love for the Roman Pontiff, his prerogatives and rights, has characterized authentically Catholic spirits throughout twenty centuries of history, because, as Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira states, “after love for God this is the highest love taught to us by religion [dopo l’amore per Dio questo è il più elevato amore insegnatoci dalla religione].”

Of course, this statement seems entirely fitting for the truly Catholic veneration for the office and the man. But at closer inspection, it appears rather dangerous as well as theologically imprecise. For the Catholic Faith teaches us that after God, Our Lady receives hyperdulia, and St. Joseph receives protodulia, and then all the angels and saints follow.

When speaking about our obligations of veneration to the persons of the Church Militant, it would seem to be an open theological question whether the Fourth Commandment binds us to venerate our parents before any other person of the Militant Church, or the Sovereign Pontiff before our parents. If some theological authority has resolved this question, I know not. But I venerate with all my heart Our Lady directly after God, and then St. Joseph, and no human person will take their place after God.

Therefore I ask: what was the context of Dr. Plinio’s statement? Was it merely a rhetorical hyperbole, like M. Veuillot? Or was it a dangerously imprecise statement which, taken out of context, could lend itself to hyperpapalism? Professor De Mattei is also translating this statement presumably from Portuguese to Italian, and this article was then translated (by Kennedy Hall) into English. Is there are translation difficulty here?

I’m sure there’s a perfectly orthodox interpretation of the statement, I just don’t have all the context and linguistic information to provide that. As it stands, it might be a prudentially inappropriate thing to say.

In any case, if it is true (and I’m not saying it is) that Dr. Plinio was imprecise here, by using the same piety with which we forgive or excuse excesses of saints and the godfathers of the Trad movement, we do not forsake Dr. Plinio or foolishly dismiss his entire movement, but recognise the grace filling the movements of Tradition in every place, and venerate our forefathers and their zeal.

Thus the streams of Ultramontanism, stretching back to the Europe-wide veneration of Servant of God Pius VII, that pope who withstood the tyrant, are indeed grace-filled and good movements against the Revolution.

The Grace-Filled Movement and the Providence of God

Yet like the Counter-Reformation, even the grace-filled movement had certain unintended consequences or blind spots that may or may not be attributable to individuals in the movement but that we can see in hindsight.[10] Further, no man can foresee how his words or actions – sometimes perfectly executed for the time – will have consequences in history. Noting and correcting some excess into which our forefathers fell or which they did not foresee is not any dishonour to their memory, but rather a taking up of the same mantle for the new generation.

In heaven, these forefathers look down on us to gird us on to the battle, and are not concerned about any faults that we reluctantly find in them, if only we join them in the heavenly Kingdom.

The grace which raises up a movement does not endow the same with infallibility or impeccability, for we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us (II Cor. iv. 7). If the Blessed Apostle said these words of himself and his ministry, how much more is this true concerning the rest of us sinners?

With this reflection on Ultramontanism in the broadest historical sense, we can see deeper roots of our current problems, and the grace that raised up men of God like Veuillot and Bl. Pius IX will also fortify us sinners to fight the same fight with the fallen angels in our day, yet sharpened by the harmonising of nuanced truths that the Devil wants to twist and oppose into excess and heresy.

In a theological sense, we know that the Holy Spirit is working and guiding the Church, and leading her into all truth according to the infallible promise of His Majesty (Jn. xvi. 13). At the same time, in a historical sense, we can see certain issues arising in the 19th century that are connected to our own problems today.

In a further treatment next week, we will discuss the dubia of Vatican I and the “false spirit” of the same.

Read part 2 here.


Some links in this article earn affiliate income for OnePeterFive.

[1] Michael D. Greaney, “New Things,” forward to Thomas P. Neill, They Lived the Faith: Great Lay Leaders of Modern Times (Mediatrix Press, MMXX), xvi.

[2] This doctrine was enunciated by Pope Gelasius, Gregory VII, Boniface VIII, among many others, but has never been formally defined, and hence de fide non-definita.

[3] John C. Rao has an important contextualisation of this rhetoric here.

[4] Sir Rowland Blennerhassett, “The Hohenlohe Memoirs,” The Eclectic Magazine, vol. 148 (University of Iowa, 1907), 236.

[5] Gerhard Ludwig Müller, “By What Authority: On the Teaching Office of the Pope,” First Things, Jan. 16, 2018. See also Ibid., “Statement on the Limits of Papal Authority,” in Roman Encounters: The Unity of the Faith and the Holy See’s Responsibility for the Universal Church, translated by Susan Johnson (Irondale, AL: EWTN Publishing, Inc., 2019), 230-31.

[6] Olivier Rousseau, “Le vraie valeur de l’épiscopat dans l’Église d’après d’importants documents de 1875,” Irénikon, 29 (1956): 131-150, in Patrick Granfield, The Limits of the Papacy (Crossroad, 1987), 116, n21. Granfield references Denzinger 3112-17 which also has Pius IX’s letter to the German bishops. Cf. Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council, trans. Mary John Ronayne and Mary Cecily Boulding, Denis Minns, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012), 97, n3. The Swiss bishops said that dogma “in no way depends upon the caprice of the Pope or upon his good pleasure, to make such and such a doctrine the object of a dogmatic definition: he is tied up and limited to the divine revelation, and to the truths which that revelation contains; he is tied up and limited by the Creeds already in existence, and by the preceding definitions of the Church; he is tied up and limited by the divine law and by the constitution of the Church.” The pope “wrote to the Swiss Bishops that nothing could be more opportune or more worthy of praise, or cause the truth to stand out more clearly.” Dom. Cuthbert Butler, The Vatican Council (1869-1870): Based on Bishop Ullathorne’s Letters, ed. Christopher Butler, Abbot of Downside (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1962), 464-465.

[7] “When we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey – that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; one does not oppose to the Pope’s authority that of others, however learned they may be, who differ from him. For however great their learning, they must be lacking in holiness, for there can be no holiness in dissension from the Pope” Pope St. Pius X, allocution of 18 November 1912, AAS vol. 4 (1912), 695. Meanwhile, his secretary of state said this in The Truth about Papal Claims: “Great as our filial duty of reverence is towards whatever he may say, great as our duty of obedience must be to the guidance of the Chief Shepherd, we do not hold that every word of his is infallible, or that he must always be right. Much less do we dream of teaching that he is infallible, or in any degree superior to other men, when he speaks on matters that are scientific, or historical, or political, or that he may not make mistakes of judgment in dealing with contemporary events, with men and things.”

[8] “That a pope could discard ancient liturgical tradition by sole virtue of his own authority,” writes Reid, “is found nowhere in liturgical history before Saint Pius… Lamentably, in a period where the prevalent ultramontanism led to the assumption that even the prudential judgements of popes were unquestionably correct, Saint Pius X contravened that part of the principle of liturgical reform that obliges even popes to respect objective liturgical Tradition and to develop it organically.” Alcuin Reid, Organic Development of the Liturgy (Ignatius, 2005), 74-78.

[9] On the incorrupt relics of Bl. Pius IX, see the witness of Madre Pascalina in Charles Murr, The Godmother (2017), 75-80. She also relates a story (which impeded his beatification) about how the saint definitely lost his temper with profanity when he was fleeing the Freemasons (p. 67-74).

[10] Among other things, we can point to the harm of Latinisations in the Eastern Rite and the failure to resolve the De Auxiliis controversy as possible harmful blind spots in the Counter-Reformation.

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