First Vatican Council
1869-1870 A.D.
part one of three

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


The translation found here is that which appears in Decrees of the Ecumencal Councils ed. Norman Tanner. S.J. Apart from the footnotes any text in square brackets "[ ]" is editor's addition. The choice of terms to put in bold or italic print, the arangement of the text into paragraphs in "structured english" format, as well as the numbering of the paragraphs is also editor's and constitutes editor's "invisible" interpretation/commentary. The numbering of the canons is however found in Tanner's text.



This council was summoned by Pope Pius IX by the bull Aeterni Patris of 29 June 1868. The first session was held in St Peter's basilica on 8 December 1869 in the presence and under the presidency of the pope.

The purpose of the council was, besides the condemnation of contemporary errors, to define the Catholic doctrine concerning the Church of Christ. In fact, in the three following sessions, there was discussion and approval of only two constitutions: Dogmatic Constitution On The Catholic Faith and First Dogmatic Constitution on the church of Christ, the latter dealing with the primacy and infallibility of the bishop of Rome. The discussion and approval of the latter constitution gave rise, particularly in Germany, to bitter and most serious controversies which led to the withdrawal from the church of those known as "Old Catholics".

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war led to the interruption of the council. It was in fact never resumed, nor was it ever officially closed. As in other councils at which the pope was present and presided, the decrees were in the form of bulls, at the end of which was the clear declaration: "with the approval of the sacred council". Very large numbers attended this council, including, for the first time, bishops from outside Europe and its neighbouring lands. Bishops from the eastern Orthodox churches were also invited, but did not come.

The decrees of the council were published in various simultaneous editions. Later they were included in volume 7 of Collectio Lacensis ( 1892) and in volumes 49-53 of Mansi's collection (1923-1927). The collection which we use is that entitled Acta et decreta sacrosancti oecumenici concilii Vaticani in quatuor prionbus sessionibus, Rome 1872. Comparison with other editions reveals no discrepancies, indeed absolute agreement.

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SESSION 1 : 8 December 1869

Decree of opening of the council

Pius, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. Most reverend fathers, is it your pleasure that,

  • to the praise and glory of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
  • for the increase and exaltation of the Catholic faith and religion,
  • for the uprooting of current errors,
  • for the reformation of the clergy and the Christian people, and
  • for the common peace and concord of all,
the holy ecumenical Vatican council should be opened, and be declared to have been opened?

[They replied: Yes]

Pius, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. Most reverend fathers, is it your pleasure that

  • the next session of the holy ecumenical Vatican council should be held on the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, that is 6 January 1870?

[They replied: Yes]

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SESSION 2 : 6 January 1870

Profession of faith

  1. I, Pius, bishop of the Catholic Church, with firm faith believe and profess each and every article contained in the profession of faith which the Holy Roman Church uses, namely:
    • I believe in one God
      • the Father almighty,
        • maker of
          • Heaven and
          • earth, of
        • all things
          • seen and
          • unseen. And in
      • one Lord Jesus Christ
        • the only-begotten Son of God.
          • Born of the Father before all ages.
            • God from God,
            • light from light,
            • true God from true God.
            • Begotten not made,
            • of one substance with the Father:
        • through Whom all things were made.
        • Who for us humans and for our salvation
          • came down from Heaven.
            • He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary: and became man. He
          • was crucified also for us, He suffered under Pontius Pilate and was buried. The third day He
          • rose again according to the scriptures. He
          • ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.
          • He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and of His kingdom there shall be no end. And in
      • the Holy Spirit,
        • the Lord and the Giver of life, Who
        • proceeds from the Father and the Son.
        • Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified: Who
        • spoke through the prophets. And
      • One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church.
        • I confess one baptism for the remission of Sins.
    • And I look for
      • the resurrection of the dead. And
      • the life of the world to come. Amen.
  2. Apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and all other observances and constitutions of that same Church I most firmly accept and embrace.
  3. Likewise I accept sacred scripture
    • according to that sense which Holy Mother Church held and holds,
      • since it is her right to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy scriptures;
    • nor will I ever receive and interpret them except according to the unanimous consent of the fathers.
  4. I profess also that
    • there are seven sacraments of the new law,
      • truly and properly so called,
      • instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ and
      • necessary for salvation,
        • though each person need not receive them all.
    • They are:
      1. baptism,
      2. confirmation,
      3. the Eucharist,
      4. penance,
      5. last anointing,
      6. order and
      7. matrimony; and
    • they confer grace.
    • Of these
      • baptism,
      • confirmation and
      • order
      may not be repeated without sacrilege.
  5. I likewise receive and accept the rites of the catholic church which have been received and approved in the solemn administration of all the aforesaid sacraments.
  6. I embrace and accept the whole and every part of what was defined and declared by the holy council of Trent concerning original sin and justification. Likewise
  7. I profess that
    • in the mass there is offered to God a true, proper and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that
    • in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist there is truly, really and substantially the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there takes place the conversion of the whole substance of the bread into His body, and of the whole substance of the wine into His blood, and this conversion the Catholic Church calls transubstantiation.
  8. I confess that under either species alone the whole and complete Christ and the true sacrament are received.
  9. I firmly hold that
    • Purgatory exists, and that
    • the souls detained there are helped by the suffrages of the faithful. Likewise, that
    • the saints reigning with Christ are to be honoured and prayed to, and that
    • they offer prayers to God on our behalf, and that
    • their relics should be venerated.
  10. I resolutely assert that images of
    1. Christ and
    2. the ever virgin mother of God, and likewise those of
    3. the other saints,
    are to be kept and retained, and that due honour and reverence is to be shown Them.
  11. I affirm that the power of indulgences was left by Christ in the Church, and that their use is eminently beneficial to the Christian people.
  12. I acknowledge the
    • Holy,
    • Catholic,
    • Apostolic and
    • Roman
    Church, the mother and mistress of all the churches [1] .
  13. Likewise
    • all other things which have been transmitted, defined and declared by the sacred canons and the ecumenical councils, especially the sacred Trent, I accept unhesitatingly and profess; in the same way
    • whatever is to the contrary, and whatever heresies have been condemned, rejected and anathematised by the Church, I too condemn, reject and anathematise.

This true Catholic faith, , which I now freely profess and truly hold, is what I shall steadfastly maintain and confess, by the help of God, in all its completeness and purity until my dying breath, and I shall do my best to ensure [2] that all others do the same. This is what I, the same Pius, promise, vow and swear. So help me God and these holy gospels of God.

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SESSION 3 : 24 April 1870

Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith

Pius, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record.
  1. The Son of God, redeemer of the human race, our Lord Jesus Christ, promised, when about to return to His Heavenly Father, that He would be with this Church Militant upon earth all days even to the end of the world [3] . Hence never at any time has He ceased to stand by His beloved bride,
    • assisting her when she teaches,
    • blessing her in her labours and
    • bringing her help when she is in danger.
  2. Now this redemptive providence appears very clearly in unnumbered benefits, but most especially is it manifested in the advantages which have been secured for the Christian world by ecumenical councils, among which the council of Trent requires special mention, celebrated though it was in evil days.
  3. Thence came
    1. a closer definition and more fruitful exposition of the holy dogmas of religion and
    2. the condemnation and repression of errors; thence too,
    3. the restoration and vigorous strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline,
    4. the advancement of the clergy in zeal for
      • learning and
      • piety,
    5. the founding of colleges for the training of the young for the service of religion; and finally
    6. the renewal of the moral life of the Christian people by
      • a more accurate instruction of the faithful, and
      • a more frequent reception of the sacraments. What is more, thence also came
    7. a closer union of the members with the visible head, and an increased vigour in the whole Mystical Body of Christ. Thence came
    8. the multiplication of religious orders and other organisations of Christian piety; thence too
    9. that determined and constant ardour for the spreading of Christ's kingdom abroad in the world, even at the cost of shedding one's blood.
  4. While we recall with grateful hearts, as is only fitting, these and other outstanding gains, which the divine mercy has bestowed on the church especially by means of the last ecumenical synod, we cannot subdue the bitter grief that we feel at most serious evils, which have largely arisen either because
    • the authority of the sacred synod was held in contempt by all too many, or because
    • its wise decrees were neglected.
  5. Everybody knows that those heresies, condemned by the fathers of Trent, which rejected the divine magisterium of the church and allowed religious questions to be a matter for the judgment of each individual, have gradually collapsed into a multiplicity of sects, either at variance or in agreement with one another; and by this means a good many people have had all faith in Christ destroyed.
  6. Indeed even the holy Bible itself, which they at one time claimed to be the sole source and judge of the christian faith, is no longer held to be divine, but they begin to assimilate it to the inventions of myth.
  7. Thereupon there came into being and spread far and wide throughout the world that doctrine of rationalism or naturalism, - utterly opposed to the christian religion, since this is of supernatural origin, - which spares no effort to bring it about that Christ, Who alone is our Lord and Saviour, is shut out from the minds of people and the moral life of nations. Thus they would establish what they call the rule of simple reason or nature. The abandonment and rejection of the Christian religion, and the denial of God and his Christ, has plunged the minds of many into the abyss of pantheism, materialism and atheism, and the consequence is that they strive to destroy rational nature itself, to deny any criterion of what is right and just, and to overthrow the very foundations of human society.
  8. With this impiety spreading in every direction, it has come about, alas, that many even among the children of the Catholic Church have strayed from the path of genuine piety, and as the truth was gradually diluted in them, their Catholic sensibility was weakened. Led away by diverse and strange teachings [4] and confusing
    • nature and grace,
    • human knowledge and divine faith,
    they are found to distort the genuine sense of the dogmas which Holy Mother Church holds and teaches, and to endanger the integrity and genuineness of the faith.
  9. At the sight of all this, how can the inmost being of the Church not suffer anguish? For
    • just as God wills all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth [5] , just as Christ came to save what was lost [6] and to gather into one the children of God who were scattered abroad [7] ,
    • so the Church, appointed by God to be mother and mistress of nations, recognises her obligations to all and is always ready and anxious
      • to raise the fallen,
      • to steady those who stumble,
      • to embrace those who return, and
      • to strengthen the good and urge them on to what is better.
    Thus she can never cease from witnessing to the truth of God which heals all [8 ] and from declaring it, for she knows that these words were directed to her: My spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth from this time forth and for evermore [9] .
  10. And so we, following in the footsteps of our predecessors, in accordance with our supreme apostolic office, have never left off
    • teaching and defending Catholic truth and
    • condemning erroneous doctrines.
But now it is our purpose to
  • profess and declare from this chair of Peter before all eyes the saving teaching of Christ, and, by the power given us by God, to
  • reject and condemn the contrary errors.
This we shall do
  • with the bishops of the whole world as our co-assessors and fellow-judges, gathered here as they are in the holy Spirit by our authority in this ecumenical council, and
  • relying on the word of God
    • in scripture
    • and tradition as we have received it,
    • religiously preserved and authentically expounded by the Catholic Church

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Chapter 1 On God the creator of all things

  1. The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church believes and acknowledges that there is one true and living God,
    • Creator and Lord of Heaven and earth,
    • almighty,
    • eternal,
    • immeasurable,
    • incomprehensible,
    • infinite in
      • will,
      • understanding and
      • every perfection.
  2. Since He is
    • one,
    • singular,
    • completely simple and
    • unchangeable
    • spiritual
    • substance,
    He must be declared to be in reality and in essence,
    • distinct from the world,
    • supremely happy in Himself and from Himself, and
    • inexpressibly loftier than anything besides Himself which either exists or can be imagined.
  3. This one true God,
    • by His goodness and almighty power,
    • not with the intention of increasing His happiness,
    • nor indeed of obtaining happiness,
    • but in order to manifest His perfection by the good things which He bestows on what He creates,
    • by an absolutely free plan,
    • together from the beginning of time
    • brought into being from nothing
      • the twofold created order, that is
        • the spiritual and the bodily,
        • the angelic and the earthly,
      • and thereafter the human which is, in a way, common to both since it is composed of spirit and body [10].
  4. Everything that God has brought into being He protects and governs by his providence, which reaches from one end of the earth to the other and orders all things well [11] . All things are open and laid bare to His eyes [12] , even those which will be brought about by the free activity of creatures.

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Chapter 2 On revelation

  1. The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things,
    • can be known
      • with certainty from the consideration of created things,
      • by the natural power of human reason : ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. [13]
  2. It was, however, pleasing to His wisdom and goodness to reveal
    • Himself and
    • the eternal laws of His will
    to the human race by another, and that a supernatural, way.
    • This is how the Apostle puts it : In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son [14] .
  3. It is indeed thanks to this divine revelation, that those matters concerning God
    • which are not of themselves beyond the scope of human reason,
    • can, even in the present state of the human race, be known
      • by everyone
      • without difficulty,
      • with firm certitude and
      • with no intermingling of error.
  4. It is not because of this that one must hold revelation to be absolutely necessary; the reason is that God directed human beings to a supernatural end,
    • that is a sharing in the good things of God that utterly surpasses the understanding of the human mind; indeed eye has not seen, neither has ear heard, nor has it come into our hearts to conceive what things God has prepared for those who love Him [15] .
  5. Now this supernatural revelation, according to the belief of the universal church, as declared by the sacred council of Trent, is contained in
    • written books and
    • unwritten traditions,
    which were
    • received by the apostles from the lips of Christ Himself,
    • or came to the apostles by the dictation of the Holy Spirit,
    • and were passed on as it were from hand to hand until they reached us [16].
  6. The complete books of the old and the new Testament with all their parts, as they are listed in the decree of the said council and as they are found in the old Latin Vulgate edition, are to be received as sacred and canonical.
  7. These books the Church holds to be sacred and canonical
    • not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill,
    • nor simply because they contain revelation without error,
    • but because,
      • being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
      • they have God as their Author,
      • and were as such committed to the Church.
  8. Now since the decree on the interpretation of holy scripture, profitably made by the council of Trent, with the intention of constraining rash speculation, has been wrongly interpreted by some, we renew that decree and declare its meaning to be as follows: that
    • in matters of faith and morals,
    • belonging as they do to the establishing of Christian doctrine,
    • that meaning of holy scripture must be held to be the true one,
    • which Holy Mother Church held and holds,
      • since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of holy scripture.
  9. In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret holy scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers.

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  • 1 The Profession of faith of the other fathers added: and I pledge and swear true obedience to the Roman pontiff, successor of blessed Peter the prince of the apostles, and vicar of Jesus Christ
  • 2 The profession of faith of the other fathers continues: my subjects, or those for whom I have responsibility in virtue of my office, hold, teach and preach the same
  • 3 See Mt 28, 20.
  • 4 See Heb 13, 9
  • 5 1 Tm 2, 4.
  • 6 Lk 19, 10.
  • 7 Jn 11, 52.
  • 8 See Wis 16, 12
  • 9 Is 59, 21
  • 10 See Lateran council IV, const. 1 (see above, p. 230).
  • 11 Wis 8, 1.
  • 12 Heb 4, 13.
  • 13 Rm 1, 20.
  • 14 Heb 1, 1-2
  • 15 1 Cor 2, 9.
  • 16 Council of Trent, session 4, first decree (see above p. 663).

For the second part, see FIRST VATICAN COUNCIL

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