The Pope and The Professor: Digging Into the Vatican Archives

Tal Howard’s ID pass for the Vatican archives.

While some travel to the Vatican in Rome for a spiritual pilgrimage, Tal Howard, professor of history and director of the Center for Faith and Inquiry, recently spent two weeks there poring over historic documents and records. Though the Vatican only allows access to materials before 1939, Pope John Paul II made a special dispensation to open the archives of Vatican II for Howard‘s current research project. He completed a strict application process (which even required a copy of his doctoral diploma) to be able to gather primary material for his new book (tentatively titled), “The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Döllinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age.”  Howard’s book is a study of the modern papacy, and how one German scholar, Ignaz von Dollinger, dissented to the decree of papal infallibility given at the First Vatican Council in 1869 and 1870 by Pope Pius IX. 

Howard—who blogged for Patheos about his recent trip—describes his latest work in this abstract: “This project tells the story and examines the thought of the German Catholic theologian and historian Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890), who fiercely opposed the doctrine of Papal Infallibility at the time of the First Vatican Council (1869-70).  Döllinger’s opposition to the Council, his high-profile excommunication in 1871, and the aftermath of this action offer a fascinating window into the intellectual and religious history of the nineteenth century, even as they touch upon abiding questions concerning the relationship between individual conscience and religious authority.  The project helps put to rest the notion of the nineteenth century as a ‘secular age,’ and it challenges modern intellectual historians to bring more nuance and insight to their examination of theological topics.”

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