In the previous posting on this subject, we saw to what extent “the New Christianity” had infiltrated the mainstream Christian denominations, especially the Catholic Church. Pope Pius IX called the First Vatican Council in part to deal with the problem, and two key doctrines were defined as part of the effort. These were papal infallibility to rein in the exaggerated claims being made for papal authority by fideists, Neo-Catholics, and reactionaries, and the primacy of the Intellect to put faith on a solid foundation consistent with reason.
|Pope Pius IX|
The Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) brought the First Vatican Council to an abrupt end. French troops had been posted in Rome to ward off efforts to seize the city as the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy. With the French withdrawal, Italy occupied Rome, confining the pope to the Vatican for the next fifty-nine years.
Efforts of varying intensity would continue to be made to abolish the papacy and the Catholic Church. The loss of temporal sovereignty, however, was not the deathblow many people anticipated. Freed of responsibility as a political entity, the Church made tremendous gains as a religious institution.
This naturally required a change in the tactics employed by the socialists. The “vast wealth” of the Church would continue to be a target of both liberals and conservatives of course. Liberals wanted to seize it for the people but control it indirectly, the conservatives for themselves directly.
Without a political entity as a base of operations, however, factions had to contend for administrative control of the Church to be able to change essential doctrines as well as disciplines (i.e., applications of doctrine). In the case of the liberals, they would be able to hide their efforts to change doctrine under the guise of necessary changes in discipline contingent upon the loss of the Papal States. Conservatives would insist on returning to outdated disciplines in order to impose spiritual power in place of the lost temporal power.
|Pope Leo XIII|
On the death of Pius IX in 1878 the way appeared to open up for a liberal “re-purposing” of the institution that would redefine religion, or a conservative return to Good Old Days that never existed. The only question was the selection of the right pope.
As it happened, no one was able to decide on a candidate acceptable to the various factions. A compromise candidate, the elderly, frail, and possibly terminally ill Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, Cardinal Archbishop-Bishop of Perugia, was elected as a stopgap. This, it was hoped, would allow the factions to buy time to strengthen their respective positions and when Pecci died elect a pope who would implement the agenda of the faction that backed him.
Pecci, who took the name Leo XIII (1810-1903, elected 1878), proved a serious disappointment to both liberals and conservatives for not having the decency to die on schedule. Instead, stymieing plans to turn the Church modernist or lock it into a Medieval fantasy, he went on to have the second-longest pontificate in history up to that time back-to-back with the longest to date.
|De Lamennais, New Things champion|
Leo XIII’s great accomplishments were to recapture Christianity from the socialists, modernists, and New Agers, and to bring the Church up to date without sacrificing truth. By taking the high road of developing doctrine and reforming discipline instead of adopting modernist and socialist innovations and expedients, the new pope laid the groundwork for building a just and humane future for every child, woman, and man.
Early Leonine encyclicals were predominantly reiterations of standard Catholic teaching. The pope warned of the dangers of socialism, modernism, and other new things of the modern world. Consistent with the Canons of Vatican I, he also gave the standard prescription to combat these evils: applications of faith and reason through prayer and the study of “the philosophy of common sense”: Aristotelian-Thomism.
Significantly, Leo XIII never used the term “social justice.” By the time of his election, it had been captured by the socialists. It was much more important and immediate to take back the terms Christian and Catholic. Recovering the term “social justice” could wait.