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1869-1870 decrees issued by the Vatican Council declared the Pope infallible in matters of faith. Once again, the challenge to the main trends of Victorian liberalism was considerable and in England Papal Infallibility was feared as a possible doctrinal springboard for further "Papal Aggression." Comments such as the following from Dublin's Canon Thomas Pope were hardly calculated to allay that fear:

The [Papal] Council will vindicate its authority over the world and prove its right, founded on a divine commission, to enter most intimately into all the spiritual concerns of the world, to supervise the acts of the king, the diplomatist, the philosopher, and the general - - to circumscribe the limits of their speculative inquiries . . . to subjugate human reason to the yoke of faith -- to extinguish liberals, rationalists, and deists by one stroke of her infallibility. (Quoted in Norman 87).

Not surprisingly, the Vatican decrees provoked most anger and attendant anti-Catholic feeling from intellectuals. They "failed to provoke the vulgar wrath, as the Maynooth Grant question of 1845 and the 'Papal Aggression' episode in 1850 had done. It was to men of 'enlightened opinion' that the Council's work seemed most distasteful." (Norman 80.) Among those who abhorred the challenge to the progress of the liberal state was none other than the leader of the Liberal party, and Prime Minister when the principle of Papal Infallibility was announced, Gladstone himself. Gladstone kept his silence while he was Prime Minister, partly for fear of jeopardizing his {Irish policy}. But as so as he was out of office, Gladstone, who had a good "record of righteous opposition to anti-Catholic bigotry and intolerance" (Norman 81) gave angry vent to his feelings in a powerful criticism The Vatican Decrees in their bearing on Civil Allegiance: A Political Expostulatio (1874} , in which he raised the old anti-Catholic spectre of the inability of English Catholics to be good English citizens.

Although the reaction in England was by no means as far-reaching as the {Kulturkampf in Bismarck's Germany} it exacerbated old anti-Catholic and especially anti-Roman feeling and tested the degree of tolerance of the normally well-disposed liberals. To Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, 1865-1892), writing in 1877, Gladstone's Liberal party "have put off their former nature, and have changed places with persecutors."(H. E. Manning, The True Story of the Vatican Council, p. 176, quoted in Norman 104.) Certainly Gladstone's fiery pamphlet won the applause of many liberals as well as extreme Protestants and served to allay fears that Gladstone, both politically and religiously, was far too sympathetic towards Catholics.


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Last modified 4 April 2002