I seriously considered not blogging about this book. Vatican I is an area that I have almost no background knowledge, so I cannot comment on the quality of the book. I had a friend recommend to me another book by John O’Malley, and as I was saving the book to my future reading list, I saw that Vatican I was free to listen to in Audible because of their new member benefit.
I know I have extensive holes in my knowledge of history. And in this case, that includes not knowing hardly anything about European history after roughly Elizabeth I and hardly anything about Catholic history between Trent and Vatican II.
Luckily, nearly half of the book was about the history and cultural influences that led to the start of Vatican I. So the book seemed to place the context of the subject well so that even someone like myself can benefit. Vatican I did not end, the Franco-Prussian war moved to Rome, and the council was evacuated. Officially Vatican I did not end until the start of Vatican II. Several of the decisions of the council may not have happened if the schedule had been different. There is quite a bit of criticism of Pope Pius IX, but that criticism also seems tempered from how strong it feels like it could have been.
As a Protestant who wants to have a good relationship with the Catholic church and who is unlikely to become Catholic for several reasons, Vatican I, and that general era it is part of, is what concerns me. I am not a fan of Papal Infallibility, although more in theory than practice. From what I know, it has not been ‘abused’ much, and I generally, I object to how it could be misused more than anything else. And I am not a fan of the concept of the Immaculate Conception, although I know that wasn’t part of Vatican I, but an earlier statement by Pope Pius IX, because it seems unnecessary or not a complete solution.
(At some point, it is God’s work that brings about sinlessness. So if Mary must be conceived in sinlessness, then why not her parents as well and further and further back. A more straightforward solution it seems to me, as a non-Catholic without a good understanding of the logic of the immaculate conception, is that if sinlessness is essential, that the nature of Christ bringing about forgiveness of sin, brings about Mary’s forgiveness of sin. In other words, Jesus had the power to forgive sin before his death and resurrection, so why could not the simple forgiveness of sin happened without a miraculous conception.)
Because the council ended early, the more extensive work on the nature of the church, of which the concept of Papal Infallibility was just a small part, was never approved. There were several other ramifications of Vatican I. Still, O’Malley emphasizes that you cannot really understand Vatican I without understanding Vatican II, and I need to do some more work to understand Vatican II. Overall I thought this was helpful, and most of the time, it was clear enough that there were not too many concepts that I was unclear on, but for me, this was almost totally new material.