The Strange Case of Bishop Strossmayer

During the debates on papal infallibility in 1870 (the council called Vatican I), at least one bishop was opposed to the doctrine of papal infallibility. His name was Joseph Georg Strossmayer, Bishop of Diakovar. The reason I bring him up in a blog post is as an illustration of some of the problems with Loraine Boettner’s book on Roman Catholicism, but also to dig a little deeper into the history of Vatican I.

On pp. 244-245 of the book, Boettner quotes a speech purportedly from Strossmayer. The problem with the speech is that it appears to be a forgery. Karl Keating, in his book Catholicism and Fundamentalism, points this out (on page 34), referencing the Catholic Encyclopedia. You can see that article in the Encyclopedia here. Believe it or not, there is an entire book written about the man, by Ivo Sivric, which also confirms that the speech is a forgery, perpetrated by a man named Jose Agustin de Escudero. The speech which Boettner quotes certainly sounds Protestant, and not Roman Catholic. If it had been a genuine speech from Strossmayer, it would have great weight indeed. However, it is almost certainly a forgery.

However, there is more to the story. Strossmayer was opposed to the proceedings of the Council. In a letter to Lord Acton, he wrote “There is no denying that the Council lacked freedom from beginning to end” (quoted on p. 133 of How the Pope Became Infallible, by August Hasler). He was accused of being another Luther (Hasler, p. 81). After the Council was over, the dissenting bishops were oppressed by Pope Pius IX himself until they submitted (Hasler, pp. 200-201). This included the refusal to grant marriage dispensations (the bishops were not allowed to perform marriages in their dioceses). This happened not only to Strossmayer, but also to Joseph Karl Hefele, Bishop of Rottenburg. This certainly brings a cloud over the later recantation and submission of Strossmayer. He submitted to the infallibility doctrine later, as many Roman Catholic apologists note, but they do not explore the reason why.

Now, Hasler himself, though an insider when it comes to Vatican politics (and who had access to the Vatican vaults) appears to be something of a dissident when it comes to papal infallibility. The fact that Hans Kung wrote the introduction certainly seems to be an indication of this. However, that does not mean that this perspective should be overlooked. The question becomes this: if the Council was not free, then are its proclamations binding? Strossmayer believed that the Council was not free, and that therefore he did not have to submit to the Council’s decision. The evidence amassed in Hasler’s book certainly points to a Council that was not free. Enormous pressure was brought to bear on anyone who opposed Pius IX’s desire to proclaim papal infallibility.