Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Varieties of Ultramontanism

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Varieties of Ultramontanism

Article excerpt

Varieties of Ultramontanism. Edited by Jeffrey von Arx, SJ. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 1998. Pp. viii, 152. $34.95 clothbound; $19.95 paperback.)

Ultramontanism is among those big categories that are at once unavoidable and hazy. Its emphasis on the authority of the papacy and the Roman Curia in the government of the universal Church is obvious. Beyond that, ultramontanism is perhaps more often used as a shibboleth, whether of acclaim or of reproof, than as a tool of historical analysis. As Jeffrey von Arx, SJ., reasonably observes in introducing the essays he has collected in Varieties of Utramontanism, it "can only be properly understood by a careful study of its place and functioning within a particular context."

In an effort to refine ultramontansim into a more precise category, von Arx, who chairs the history department at Georgetown University, joined five other specialists to write on six cardinals who were "perceived in their time and in their locale to be very strong ultramontanes." The result is a lucid volume whose greatest contribution may lie in raising fundamental questions rather than delivering premature and partial answers. It is, however, striking that those ultramontane prelates whose minds were most immune to nostalgia for vanished regimes and least constrained by clericalism made the centralization of ecclesiastical authority seem as up-to-date and necessary as the contemporary centralization of political authority.

Eric Yonke offers a detailed study of the "tough yet elegant Johannes von Geissel, archbishop of Cologne from 1845 to 1864. Working in an often politically hostile environment, the aristocratic Geissel succeeded in renewing his local church along lines that were both devotedly Roman and patently modern. …

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