This important work of the lamented Dr. Fessler, Bishop of St. Polten, or more properly St. Hippolytus, in Austria, who was Secretary-General to the Vatican Council in the year 1870, and who, worn out with the fatigues of the Council, died two years afterwards, is now for the first time brought before the notice of English Catholics.   

Entitled by the good Bishop himself The True and False Infallibility of the Pope, it presents to the reader a perfect ‘repertorium’ of all the stock objections and erroneous representations, both as regards the doctrine itself, and as regards the history of previous Papal rescripts and acts, that the fertile mind and extensive reading of Dr. Schulte, Professor of Canon and German Law in the University of Prague, could ingeniously pile together and misconstrue, in order to bring odium upon all Papal Bulls and Papal acts from, as he says, the time of Pope Gregory VII.

These misstatements and misconstructions Bishop Fessler, with extraordinary labour and patience, has met and refuted one by one.  The refutations remained unanswered during the Bishop’s lifetime, nor have we heard of Dr. Schulte having attempted any answer since his death, although he has gone on reiterating his former statements.  It is the old story of ‘mumpsimus.’  Nevertheless, as this particular mumpsimus is of German extraction, it has been thought that it would not be amiss, while German meets German in this strife of the True and of the False Infallibility, they should carry on the battle in English, that we, who have an equal interest in the issue of the contest, may hear both sides, and judge for ourselves which is the true and which the false.

And it is this which constitutes the special merit of Bishop Fessler’s work, that, in this properly German quarrel, it states fairly all that Dr. Schulte has to say on his own side, so that although we have not actually his book before us, we can hear him speak both in the titles of the chapters and in the propositions brought forward, all of which are given in Dr. Schulte’s own words; thus the reader, be he Catholic or be he Protestant, may see for himself what has been said on the part of those who have tried to make Infallibility impossible, by the process of reductio ad absurdum, and what by those who calmly and dispassionately have endeavoured to bring it back to its true significance.  

It is strange that considering the general interest of the subject, the comprehensive character of the work, its general acceptation in Germany, and, lastly, the author’s thorough knowledge of his subject, which his peculiar position during the Council, as its Secretary-General, enabled him to obtain, that so valuable a work should have remained so long untranslated.  And this becomes the more remarkable when we consider that after the first edition had been sent to Rome, and there thoroughly examined and approved, the second and third editions were published after the Pope himself had written to Bishop Fessler commending him for having, by means of this work, ‘as a good pastor done good service to our holy religion,’ and exhorting him to go on ‘bringing back Christian people from poisoned pastures;’ the particular ‘poisoned pastures’ indicated by the Pope being evidently those false and exaggerated notions of Infallibility which Dr. Schulte and others of his tamps have been engaged in propagating.  

Father Ambrose Maria St John
(Translator of this Work)

It will be a further good result of the present controversy if it brings us to see the danger of all exaggerated statements, even when made with good intentions, for it is precisely to these statements that the now open adversaries of the Church appeal, in order to place the true doctrine before their dupes in an odious form.  And this good result has already followed from the French translation, edited by M. Emmanuel Cosquin, editor of the Français.  It has ‘put the question before many, who has been made anxious by exaggerated statements, in a way which rendered it quite easy of acceptance.’  The existence of this translation was, I regret to say, not known to me until my own translation from the original was completed; in fact the editor kindly sent me a copy when he say my advertisement of the pamphlet in the newspapers, accompanied with the obliging permission to make use of his prefatory matter, his valuable notes from the ‘Pastoral Instruction’ of the Swiss Bishops, and the useful and comprehensive indices at the end of his edition.  As a most valuable confirmation of the position assumed by Bishop Fessler, I would prefer my readers to M. Cosquin’s two notes, which I have translated from the French, and appended to the second chapter of this work.

That Bishop Fessler was really the exponent of the mind of most of the German Bishops, and in particular that his work exercised a special influence on the learned historian of the Councils, Mgr. Hefele, Bishop of Rothenburg, will be sufficiently shown by the following letter, translated from the Germania, the organ of the Catholics of Berlin, whose editor, Herr Majunke, although a deputy in the German Assembly, is now undergoing his sentence, as a confessor for the Faith, in a  common German prison.

            Extract from the Roman correspondent of the Germania of Berlin, of Nov. 3, 1872:

‘Rome, Oct. 26

‘The letter of Bishop Hefele, which has lately been published, gave rise to an explanation on the part of this prelate; as a result of which the following information came to my knowledge, which, on account of its high importance, I think I ought not to withhold from your readers, and so much the more as it concerns our lately deceased and universally honoured Bishop of St. Polten.  Mgr. Fessler, who was on very intimate terms with Dr. Hefele, the Bishop of Rothenburg, sent to him, accompanied with a most affectionate letter, expressive of all those feelings which he entertained towards him as a brother in the Episcopal office, a copy of the work which he had composed On the True and False Infallibility of the Popes, then just published by Sartori of Vienna.  At the same time he had forwarded his pamphlet to all the other Bishops, no matter what opinion they might have held before the 18th of July 1870.  From most of the Bishops Mgr. Fessler received the most sincere congratulations in respect of the work which he had just composed.  The Bishop of St. Polten had also previously forwarded it to Pius IX.  The Pope had thereupon directed a translation of it to be made into Italian, and instructed a commission of learned theologians of different nationalities to examine it, and report upon it.  Both of these commands were put into execution without delay.  The Pope made himself thoroughly acquainted with the contents of Bishop Fessler’s work, and as his own judgment of it fully corresponded with the judgment of the commission, he wrote a letter with his own hand to the Bishop of St. Polten, praising him for this highly valuable work, and begging him to persevere in the laborious task he had undertaken of correcting the erroneous opinions which had been spread abroad in various directions.  Upon the receipt of this Brief Bishop Fessler published a second and third edition of his pamphlet.  The Bishop of Rothenburg, however, had declared that although after a thorough examination he perfectly agreed in principle with Fessler’s defence of the Vatican definition against Dr. Schulte’ pamphlet, still he doubted if the views there maintained would be accepted as sound at Rome.  Hereupon the Bishop of St. Polten told him what had happened at Rome about his work, and mentioned that he had received from the Pope himself a letter avowing his satisfaction with it; he also gave Mgr. Hefele this further consoling assurance, that both he himself and many other bishops who gave their votum in favour of Infallibility had held this view of the Infallibility of the Pope.  The deceased prelate was, however, too simple and too modest to allow this Brief of the Holy Father to be printed in the preface to the second edition of hi work.’

The same journal, the Germania, adds the following editorial comment on the above: ‘The Pastoral Letter of the Bishop of Rothenburg of April 10, 1871, in which he published the Vatican Decree, testifies to the correctness of our Roman correspondent, by the frequent quotations it makes of Bishop Fessler’s work On the True and False Infallibility.’[1]

It has been the apparently inevitable result of all Councils that whilst they have settled and confirmed the faith of many, they have left some still anxious as to the exact meaning of the definitions of the fathers there assembled, viz. whether they were to be interpreted with this or that limitation; the question with such persons being, not whether god had spoken by the Council, but whether in what the Council had said, He had meant this or that.  The Vatican Council has been no exception to this rule.  But how soon and how readily difficulties have been made up since the definition of the Infallibility of the Pope in his teaching office!  The chief country of these difficulties was Germany, and what has been the spectacle presented to our view since the definition of Infallibility, and the publication of Bishop Fessler’s pamphlet upon its true meaning?  Those Bishops who doubted the opportuneness of the definition, or who in other ways hesitated to receive it, and who, for conscience’ sake, absented themselves from the final and decisive session,[2] have since become the chief confessors and witnesses of the doctrine, before a cruel and persecuting government!  Nor has any word of reproach against the Council or the Holy See escaped them in their many trials.  Never has any Episcopate been more unanimous, or more patiently endured persecution for the faith.  On the other side, viz. of those who have denied the authority of the living Church, speaking in her last and most numerous assembly, what is the spectacle which is presented to us by Dr. Schulte and his friends at the present moment?  Not content with assailing the Vatican Council and Pope Pius IX, they assail all Councils, all sayings and doings of Popes since the first eight centuries, differing therein in nothing but name from other Protestant and heretical sects, whose principle is really identical with their own.  Both the one and the other have their reward: the one, the Archbishop of Cologne, is earning a martyr’s crown in the common goal, condemned like a felon to forced labour;[3] the other, Dr. Schulte, has been rewarded with a professorship at the University of Bonn!

Here I will conclude this Introduction with a short notice of this gentleman, Bishop Fessler’s opponent, Dr. Schulte, whose name has so much prominence in the following pages; it is taken from M. Cosquin’s introduction to the French translation.

‘Dr. Schulte is a Westphalian by birth, up to the present time (1873) Professor of Canon and German Law at the University of Prague, and a short time since appointed by the Prussian Government to a chair at the University of Bonn.  For a long time he enjoyed a well-earned reputation as a canonist, not only by reason of his erudition and the originality which distinguished his works, but also by his strict orthodoxy.  The only reproach brought against his writings was their incompleteness, and the obscure form into which they were thrown.  About the year 1862, tendencies to unsound doctrines manifested themselves in him, and from the year 1868 these tendencies became more and more pronounced.  In 1869 his hand was thought to be seen in the odious compilation, the Pope and the Council, published under the assumed name of “Janus.”  Finally, at the commencement of 1871 he published under his own name the first of a number of pamphlets, by which he has gained for himself a sad renown amongst the enemies of the Church.  This pamphlet, published at Prague, has the interminable title: “The Power of the roman Popes over Princes, Countries, Peoples, and Individuals examined by the Light of their Doctrines and their Acts since the Reign of Gregory VII., to serve for the appreciation of their Infallibility, and set face to face with contradictory doctrines of the Popes and the Councils of the first Eight Centuries.”

‘On the appearance of this pamphlet there was a burst of admiration from all the “free-thinking” journals of Austria and imperial Germany.  One Vienna newspaper, the Press, declared that all the attacks which had been hitherto directed against the doctrine of Infallibility were but as the prickings of a pin in comparison with the terrible blows dealt by the mace of Dr. Schulte.

‘This pamphlet Mgr. Fessler though it his duty not to leave unanswered, which gave rise to the composition of the work which is now presented to our readers.

‘In this refutation the able prelate follows step by step, chapter by chapter, the reasoning of his opponent, pointing out the unfair treatment which the instruction given by the Council meets with at his hands; explaining at the same time the true doctrine, re-establishing the true import of the facts adduced, and cautioning his readers against false interpretations of them.  When, with a somewhat slow, perhaps, but sure, progress he has arrived at the end of his elucidations, he draws his inevitable conclusions, and of this whole work of Dr. Schulte there remains – NOTHING.

  ‘Dr. Schulte had asserted that the definition of the Infallibility of the Pope has completely altered the relations between the spiritual and the temporal power.  The object of his work was, as he says, “to show governors and governed what a Catholic is in conscience obliged to believe if he admits the Infallibility of the Pope.”  So he drew up from the declarations and acts of the Popes of the Middle Ages a catalogue of what he called doctrinal propositions, which he presented to his horror-stricken readers as the decision of the Infallible teaching office of the Sovereign Pontiffs, and so, of course, since the Council of the Vatican, as Catholic dogmas.  If it can be shown that all that Dr. Schulte so laboriously quotes has nothing whatever to do with Infallibility, his book is answered, and falls as a dead letter.  This feat it is that Mgr. Fessler has so victoriously performed.  The result of an investigation of passage after passage, quoted by Dr. Schulte, shows that they none of them can be regarded as infallible definitions on faith and morals.  Accordingly, Catholics when they accept, as is their duty, the constitution of the Council no the Infallible teaching office of the Roman Pontiff, are in no wise bound to believe what Dr. Schulte asserts they are, in regard to these assumed doctrinal propositions of Popes.

  ‘Mgr. Fessler might have confined himself to this reply.  But in behalf of those of his readers who might possibly have been perplexed regarding certain acts and declarations of Popes quoted by Dr. Schulte, although those acts and declarations do not constitute an object of the Catholic faith, the prudent Bishop has not neglected to indicate in a few short remarks at the end of his work the principal points of view, from which a right appreciation of these acts, &c., may best be obtained.  Such in the abstract is the work of Mgr. Fessler, in which he has refuted by anticipation the theories which, with so much assurance, M. de Bismarck brought before his audience in the discourse which he pronounced in the Prussian Upper House on the 10th of March last, 1873.  Important documents well known in France, the collective declaration of the German Bishops of May 1871, the “Pastoral Instruction” of the Swiss Bishops, have already set the principles drawn out in form by Mgr. Fessler before the eyes of such of my readers who are not theologians.  People have seen in a general way how these principles have to be applied to Bulls and other Papal documents, of which the adversaries of Infallibility endeavour to avail themselves.  But the great advantage of this work of Mgr. Fessler, and that which gives it a particular interest, is the application this author makes of these principles to such numerous examples.  All that the adversaries of the doctrine have drawn from history in order to assail it has furnished the illustrious prelate with the opportunity of placing these very facts in their true light.  Thus has he been able to show to men of good-will, but hitherto imperfectly instructed in the matter, that the doctrine against which their understanding rebelled is not the true Infallibility defined by the Council of the Vatican, but the creation of ignorance and of passion—in fact, “a false Infallibility.”’

With these concluding words of the distinguished editor of the Francais the work of Bishop Fessler is presented to the reader, in the hope that he will derive the same comfort and edification which it has afforded to many others.

Edgbaston, Jan. 10, 1875  


[1] Note.  As Bishop Hefele published his Pastoral in April 10, 1871, and the Pope’s Brief to Mgr. Fessler is dated April 27 of the same year, it is evident that Bishop Hefele had become satisfied that Bishop Fessler’s pamphlet expressed the true sentiments of the Holy See on the subject of Infallibility before the Pope’s Brief reached its author.

[2] See the account given by Bishop Fessler of their conduct, in the first chapter of his work.

[3] See Tablet newspaper, Dec. 26.  Paul Melchers (the Archbishop) entered on the prison books as ‘strawplaiter.’