The Challenge of the Nineteenth Century
Although the church in the early nineteenth century sought to restore its position and authority, at the same time various forces proclaiming ideologies inconsistent with Roman Catholicism gained strength in Europe. The period of restoration (1815–1830) saw the ascent of the bourgeoise and with it the rise of economic and political liberalism. Politically this meant the doctrine of the “happy mean,” a middle ground between the despotism of the ancien régime and rule by the masses. The rights of the individual were considered supreme. The philosophy of natural law, which called for the emancipation of each citizen, was used by liberals to justify the political supremacy of the bourgeoise.
Risorgimento and Revolutions
In Italy, political liberalism was experienced through the Risorgimento, or national unification drive. At the time of Napoleon's defeat in 1815, the Italian peninsula was a galaxy of city states, including the Papal States that were geographically located in the middle of the “country.” Italian patriots held political ideas in line with the emerging bourgeoise attitude in Europe. Thus, a series of uprisings, including skirmishes in Naples and Piedmont in 1821, vaulted the Italian national unification drive onto the international scene.
The Risorgimento movement initially had two possible directions, but it settled on a revolutionary path. The chief architect for the movement was Vincenzo Gioberti, who called for a federation of Italian states under the presidency of the pope. However, two revolutionary figures, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini, who both rejected the church, called for an Italian Republic. Garibaldi was anticlerical but intelligent enough to realize he needed to win the people and the clergy in order to achieve his goal. Mazzini believed in a personal God; he counted on moral forces to attain his ends. It was Camillo di Cavour, however, who was the true architect of national unification. He called for a free church in a free state; the church could claim no privilege but rather must be subject to the law of the land. On May 31, 1871, the Law of Guarantees was passed, depriving the pope of all sovereign lands save the Vatican, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence. The pope, Pius IX, rejected this legislation completely.
Age of Revolutions
In 1848 the combination of economic crises and political discontent led to a series of revolutions in Europe. Agricultural failures, especially potatoes and grains between 1846 and 1847, created a severe shortage of food. Unemployment caused by competition between domestic industries and automation added to the general woes of people. These economic problems, occurring at a time of political discontent and for many the absence of liberty, caused people to take up arms. Absolute governments in France, Italy, Prussia, and Austria angered people and forced them to action. Thus, in these countries and in the Netherlands, major political revolts occurred.
The Ideological Challenge
Europe in the nineteenth century was a hotbed for liberal and progressive thinking on many fronts. The devastation wrought by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars was the catalyst that generated various responses to the dilemma of society. Liberalism and the rise of the individual, championed by promoters of the French Revolution, was one solution. Karl Marx, through his publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848, offered socialism to right the economic ship and Communism as a political structure to guide nations. Enlightenment thinkers, fostering reason over faith, offered religious indifferentism as a solution to what they perceived to be a church stranglehold over society.
Church insiders also played their role in the ideological challenge to Roman Catholicism. Félix Dupanloup was a champion of the Gallican cause. In 1852, working with three Sulpician priests, Dupanloup drafted a special Memoire that synthesized the Gallican position. It rejected the Vatican's use of the Roman Index of Forbidden Books to exclude the works of Gallican authors. In short, the document understood Roman decrees in their historical context, not as infallible statements. When informed of the document, Pope Pius IX placed it on the Index. The concept of Gallican liberties, that dioceses were autonomous and decisions and documents from the Vatican were purely advisory, was unacceptable to the pope.