Ultramontanism is a religious philosophy within the Roman Catholic community that places strong emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the Pope. In particular, ultramontanism may consist in asserting the superiority of Papal authority over the authority of local temporal or spiritual hierarchies (including the local bishop).
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 Christians not in full communion with Rome 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.
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