Ultramontanism is the tendency in the Roman Catholic Church to centralise power and authority in the hands of the Pope and the Papal Curia and to limit the role of national kings and governments, and diocesan bishops. Ultramontane means ‘beyond the mountains&rsquo (i.e. the Alps) and was applied to those who looked to Rome for decisions, took their lead from the Papacy, and supported papal policy, often without question. The opposite tendency is called Gallicanism (the term was originally especially applied to France) which minimised the authority of the Papacy over the national kings and governments, the national churches, the local bishops, and the practices of local churches.
In the eighteenth century, Ultramontanism became a definite and conservative point of view, opposed to Gallicanism, to liberalism in theology, and to the French Revolution and the ideas proposed by it. In France, the Gallicans were discredited by their association with revolutionary ideas.
In the early nineteenth century, the Popes were careful not to push Ultramontanism too far, fearing a backlash from national governments and local hierarchies. They were willing to make concessions to national governments. When, for example, as a security measure to accompany a grant of Catholic Emancipation in 1808–14, it was proposed that the Crown should have the power to veto any Roman Catholic episcopal appointment if it thought the candidate politically unreliable, the papacy was quite willing to make this concession. It was rejected by the majority of the Irish bishops, and even more forcefully by the organised Catholic laity.
Pope Pius IX (1846–78) took an extreme position on the powers of the papacy. He extended papal authority in his Syllabus of Errors (1864). It set out papal teaching in regard to the church and its rights, civil society and the church, and is asserted the temporal power of the Pope. It condemned rationalism, socialism, communism, and liberalism, and forbade Catholics to hold such beliefs or ideologies. Much of its teaching was embodied in the decisions of the First Vatican Council (1870). The Council also enacted the dogma of Papal Infallibility, namely, that in making solemn pronouncements on faith and morals the Pope could not err. In future, there was no room for Gallicanism. This was a triumph for Ultramontanists: the Syllabus of Errors and the decisions of the First Vatican Council were their programme in the later nineteenth century.
Ultramontanism in Ireland is associated with the Rome-educated Paul Cullen (1803–78), archbishop of Armagh, later archbishop of Dublin (made a cardinal in June 1866). His object was re-organise the Irish Catholic Church and bring it into total conformity with Rome in organisation, liturgy, cult and devotions. In this large project, he was successful and ever since his time the Irish Roman Catholic Church has been the most tamely ultramontane of the western churches.
Bibliography. Jeffrey von Arx, Varieties of Ultramontanism (Washington DC 1998). Desmond Bowen, Paul cardinal Cullen and the shaping of modern Irish Catholicism (Dublin 1983).
Donnchadh Ó Corráin