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An image of Pope Alexander I. Ultramontane Catholics emphasized the authority of the Pope over temporal affairs of civil governments as well as the spiritual affairs of the Church.

Ultramontanism is a religious belief found within the Catholic Church that places strong emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the Pope.


  • History 1
  • Controversy 2
  • Position of other Apostolic Churches 3
  • See also 4
  • External links 5


The term originates in ecclesiastical language from the Middle Ages: when a non-Italian man was elected to the papacy, he was said to be papa ultramontano, that is, a Pope from beyond the mountains (referring to the Alps). Foreign students at medieval Italian universities were also referred to as ultramontanes.

The word was revived but the meaning reversed after the Protestant Reformation in France, to indicate the 'man beyond the mountains' located in Italy. In France, the name ultramontain was applied to people who supported papal authority in French political affairs, as opposed to the Gallican and Jansenist factions of the indigenous French Catholic Church. The term was intended to be insulting, or at least to imply a lack of true patriotism.

From the 17th century, ultramontanism became closely associated with the Jesuits, who defended the superiority of Popes over councils and kings, even in temporal questions.

In the 18th century the word passed to Germany (Josephinism and Febronianism), where it acquired a much wider significance, being applicable to all the conflicts between Church and State, the supporters of the Church being called Ultramontanes. In Great Britain and Ireland, it was a reaction to Cisalpinism, the stance of moderate lay Catholics who sought to make patriotic concessions to the Protestant state to achieve Catholic emancipation.

The word ultramontanism was revived in the context of the French Third Republic as a general insulting term for policies advocating the involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in the policies of the French government, in opposition to laïcité.

In the above cases, the ultramontanist movement acted as a counterbalance to growing power of the state in Europe. Roman Catholic apologists argued that if the Pope has ultimate authority in the Church, then national churches would be more immune to interference from their governments.

Within the Roman Catholic Church, Ultramontanism achieved victory over conciliarism at the First Vatican Council with the pronouncement of papal infallibility (the ability of the pope to define dogmas free from error ex cathedra) and of papal supremacy, i.e., supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary jurisdiction of the Pope. Other Christian groups outside the Catholic Church declared this as the triumph of what they termed "the heresy of Ultramontanism." It was specifically decried in the Declaration of the Catholic Congress at Munich, in the Theses of Bonn, and in the Declaration of Utrecht, which became the foundational documents of Old Catholics (Altkatholische) who split with Rome over the declaration on infallibility and supremacy, joining the Old Episcopal Order Catholic See of Utrecht, which had been independent from Rome since 1723.

Italian unification under the leadership of Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi dissolved the political entity of the Papal States in 1870. Thus, as a result of the 1929 Lateran Treaty which established a Concordat between the Holy See and the nation of Italy, the secular power of the Bishop of Rome, i.e., the Pope, was reduced to the one square mile of Vatican City, the smallest sovereign nation on earth. Prior to the demise of the Papal States, the First Vatican Council had been convened by Pope Pius IX.

After Italian Unification and the abrupt (and unofficial) end of the First Vatican Council in 1870 because of the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, the Ultramontanist movement and the opposing Conciliarism became obsolete to a large extent. However, some very extreme tendencies of a minority of adherents to Ultramontanism—especially those attributing to the Roman Pontiff, even in his private opinions, absolute infallibility even in matters beyond faith and morals, and impeccability—survived and were eagerly used by opponents of the Catholic Church and papacy before the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) for use in their propaganda. These extreme tendencies, however, were never supported by the First Vatican Council's dogma of 1870 of papal infallibility and primacy, but are rather inspired by erroneous private opinions of some Roman Catholic laymen who tend to identify themselves completely with the Holy See.

At the Magisterium). Papal Magisterium, i.e., Papal teaching authority, was defined in Lumen Gentium #25 and later codified in the 1983 revision of Canon Law.


Some may claim the Catholic Social Teaching (see Distributism) of subsidiarity contradicts Ultramontanism and accuse it of decentralizing the Roman Catholic Church, whereas others defend it as merely a bureaucratic adjustment to give more pastoral responsibility to local bishops and priests of local parishes. However, subsidiarity involves the distribution of authority in structures outside of the Church's clergy and thus does not contradict Ultramontanism.

Challenges to Ultramontanism have remained strong within and outside of Roman jurisdiction. Ultramontanism has particularly overshadowed ecumenical work between the Roman Catholic Church and both Lutherans and Anglicans. The joint Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation published The Gift of Authority (see external links below) in 1998 and highlights agreements and differences on these issues.

Position of other Apostolic Churches

Ultramontanism is not recognised by either the Eastern Orthodox communion, the Oriental Orthodox communion, or the Church of the East, which view it as an innovation unsupported by Scripture and Tradition. These Churches regard the Pope as having been primus inter pares when the two churches were in communion, and do not recognize the doctrines of infallibility or the Pope's alleged universal jurisdiction over patriarchates and autocephalous Churches other than that of Rome, except insofar as this is part of the concept of primus inter pares

See also

External links

  • The Gift of Authority (Eternal Word Television Network)

The dictionary definition of ultramontane at Wiktionary

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