(p. A13) In his 2015 remarks to a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis was the picture of a modern pontiff. He noted that “the contemporary world . . . demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it.” He cheered the future technological contributions of “America’s outstanding academic and research institutions.” He saw it as his papal duty “to build bridges” and, departing the Capitol, asked for the good wishes of those “who do not believe or cannot pray.”
This was a far cry from his 19th-century predecessor Pius IX, who in 1864 issued a “Syllabus of Errors” to correct some of the alarming social and intellectual trends that had proliferated over the previous decades. Among the errors that “Pio Nono” condemned were the notions that “every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true” and that “the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.”
Those seeking to understand this dramatic transformation of the modern papacy would do well to read Thomas Albert Howard’s “The Pope and the Professor.” Mr. Howard, a professor at Valparaiso University, explains in captivating detail the circumstances of the papacy’s historical conservatism. He also resurrects the plucky scholar who sought to calibrate papal authority for modern times, the German theologian Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890). The conflict between Döllinger’s critique of papal supremacy and Pius IX’s defense makes for a riveting story that goes well beyond church history and explores the key intellectual and political developments of 19th-century Europe.
For the full review, see:
D.G. Hart. “BOOKSHELF; Infallibility and Its Discontents.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 30, 2017): A13.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 29, 2017.)
The book under review, is:
Howard, Thomas Albert. The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz Von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017.