Ultramontanism indicates a teaching or a tendency favourable to reinforcing the authority of the Apostolic See, the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, the validity of his theological definitions and his condemnations.
Ultramontanism saw its time of growth in XIX century. When he was deported to France, Pius VII gained the sympathy of the crowds. In the same way, the Revolution of 1848 and the misfortunes endured by Pius IX gave rise to a new school of thought: ultramontane, anti-liberal and which upheld the temporal power of the Pope. This movement spread thanks to thinkers like Joseph de Maistre and Félicité de Lamennais, to journalists like Louis Veuillot and the editors of L’Univers, to influential bishops like Cardinal Gousset in Rheims. Bishop Pie in Poitiers, etc. In opposition to this ultramontane current stood another group of bishops among whom were Bishop Sibour of Paris, Bishop Dupanloup of Orleans, Bishop Mathieu of Besançon, etc.
When everything was said and done, between ultramontanists and gallicans two camps stood in opposition: The one espoused the view that the challenge launched by the post-revolutionary society could only be met by a Church that was centralized, monolithic in its doctrine, its way of doing things and its discipline, controlled by a Pope who was infallible and by a vigilant Roman administration; the other took the stand that the Church was doomed to lose all influence in the modern society if it did not take profound root in the national character and local institutions and espouse a governmental structure that was flexible, federal and collegial.
While a seminarian in Paris where he was in contact with the Italian cardinals in exile and as a young priest in Aix, Abbé de Mazenod took an unequivocal ultramontane stance, one opposed to gallicanism. (see article: Gallicanism) Several Oblates admired Lamennais and, in a letter to Father Tempier on January 16, 1829, Father de Mazenod stated that Bishop Arbaud, the bishop of Gap, was contemplating sending the Oblates away from Notre-Dame du Laus because they were ultramontane and disciples of Lamennais. From the time of their arrival in Marseilles, the de Mazenods adopted the Roman liturgy long before the other dioceses in France. They did, however, maintain a few characteristically French offices which were founded on century long traditions.
Bishop de Mazenod was a middle of the road ultramontane, one opposed to the destruction of ancient customs which had been recognized by the Popes. On March 2, 1850, in his diary, he wrote an important page on this topic: “In an effort to become Roman, as if we were not Roman already, our young bishops lapse into childishness. They do not know like I know how they are being ridiculed in Rome! [….] I have in hand at this moment a series of questions drawn up by the bishop of La Rochelle for the Congregation of Rites. It is unbelievable!… I do not see things that way at all! To be sure, I have always had the reputation of being ultramontane and, if I want to have nothing to do with any alleged gallican liberties from 1682 and others, I do hold to the right the custom of constant usage gives our churches, a right our predecessors enjoyed with the full knowledge of the Sovereign Pontiffs who never even dreamed of taking them away. And it is a genuinely painful experience for me to see our young bishops one after the other jumping on the band wagon of a few overweening individuals, sacrificing one after the other all our privileges, all our most ancient and most venerable customs. Our church, such as it was before this trend took hold, was it not treasured and respected by all the popes and the sacred college which makes up the Roman clergy? I am one who is able to answer this question, I who have found myself on intimate terms with all the popes from Pius VII to Gregory XVI inclusively, and with all the cardinals of this age [Here he lists the names of 33 cardinals.] who were all in admiration of our churches. [….] I maintain that never would the popes have entertained the thought of troubling the bishops of France with regard to the possession of their customs as long as these latter by an excessive zeal had not provoked them to it with regard to the approval of the changes they had in mind to make […] I will mourn all my life the conduct of my young colleagues whom I will never imitate even though I was to be the only one left standing in the midst of these ruins.”
When in 1852, with regard to La Correspondence de Rome (see article: La Correspondence de Rome) Cardinal Gousset accused him of being a gallican, Bishop de Mazenod reacted strongly against this accusation, but he praised and approved of the ancient traditions of the church of France. (letter of July 21, 1852) He subsequently sent a copy of this letter to the bishops. In the October 30 letter to Bishop Doney, the bishop of Montauban, he wrote among other things: “I put forward the thesis that the church of France, or if you wish, the churches of France, the clergy of France, had shown themselves very worthy in matters of religion and with great distinction in the two last centuries and in the present century; and that I stated without claiming to justify the trend of gallicanism of which I have formally excluded from my praise, but which, according to my way of thinking was almost nothing more than a memory which had burned itself out in people’s minds and no longer found any root in the hearts devoted to the Holy See. So, there is nothing there that an ultramontane supporter cannot say and should congratulate himself for being able to say it.”
In the course of his life, Bishop de Mazenod had several other opportunities to state his ultramontanism, especially when Pope Pius IX was compelled to flee Rome in 1848 and was invited to take refuge in Marseilles or again with regard to the Papal States. (see article: Pius IX)
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.