the Challenge: April 23, 1833
Like all Europeans, Catholics in the 1840s were divided on how to meet the challenges of their time. The Church in Western Europe was in many ways still in a state of shock because of the French Revolution and its aftermath. It was hard for Catholics, bishops and popes included, to understand fully all that had happened. Thus, when they considered what needed to be done to bring Europe back to the Faith, Catholics came up with very different answers.
There were those Catholics who thought Europe had to return to the way things were under the ancient regime. They saw the cause of the Church as tied up with the cause of the old monarchies, such as the Bourbons or the Habsburgs. The watchword of such monarchist Catholics was “throne and altar” — the old alliance of the Catholic Church and the Catholic monarchy.
Other Catholics thought the Church had to realize that Liberal society was not going to go away and so should look for what might be good in it. They thought that the Church must not only accept republican forms of government but even the new spirit of political liberty. Such “Liberal Catholics” said the Church should allow for freedom of the press, freedom of conscience, and the toleration of non-Catholic religions in Catholic countries. It was just such ideas, however, that Pope Gregory XVI condemned in his encyclical, Mirari Vos. Despite the encyclical, Liberal Catholics continued to spread their ideas, especially in France.