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The Catholic Historical Review 89.2 (2003) 312-316

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The Black International / L'Internationale noire, 1870-1878. The Holy See and Militant Catholicism in Europe / Le Saint-Siège et le Catholicisme militant en Europe. Edited by Emiel Lamberts. [KADOC—Studies 29.] (Leuven: Leuven University Press. 2002. Pp. 515. 45€.)

This collection of essays is the product of an international colloquium held in Rome and Leuven in the spring and fall of 2000. The project was under the direction of Emiel Lamberts, Professor of Contemporary History at the Catholic University of Leuven and Director of the Center of Documentation and Research KADOC, and focused on the little-known history of the Black International.

The Prussian Chancellor Bismarck in his Kulturkampf frequently referred to the dealings of a secret Catholic organization, a reactionary "Black International" that sought to undermine the German state. Bismarck's warnings were regarded as mere propaganda. Catholics and even church officials considered his references fanciful, so secret was the existence of this underground association. Although there is a vast volume of scholarship on the Socialist ("Red") International, very little was known about the Black International. The organization left almost no documentary evidence in public or ecclesiastical archives and consequently remained a mystery to historians until recently. The Black International came into existence after the capture of Rome by Italian troops in September, 1870. Its purpose was to mobilize European Catholics to defend the temporal sovereignty of the papacy, which had been dispossessed by the Italian state of territory over which it had exercised sovereignty for a thousand years, and to help restore the social and moral authority of the Church. The loss of the Papal States was ominous, a sign that the Vatican could lose its political independence. The temporal sovereignty of the Holy See, in the words of the seventeenth-century French Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, had "ensured that the Pope cannot be at the mercy of any one state." During its early years the Black International was headquartered in Geneva, where it brought together major Catholic leaders from nine European countries.

In the historical documents the Black International was generally referred to as the "Geneva Committee." Its leading figures were conservative Catholic aristocrats who were threatened by the growing power of the bourgeoisie and their ideology of liberalism. Furthermore, by 1860 the Socialist International was actively promoting working-class revolution. In Geneva, the Russian firebrand Mikhail Bakunin at a Congress of Anarchist Revolutionaries announced the end of Christianity. France became a Republic in 1870 and revived the anticlerical policies of the French Revolution; by March of the following year Paris was in the grip of revolution. In Germany Bismarck began his "Battle of Culture" (Kulturkampf) against the Catholic Church. In 1868 Queen Isabella of Spain was expelled and the liberal government began suppressing convents and monasteries. For the Catholic conservatives who formed the Geneva Committee, the Church was the principal bulwark against the imminent chaos posed by such unsettling events. Their intention was to activate the Catholic masses to [End Page 312] protect the Church, safeguard the traditional social and moral order, and restore the power of Europe's Christian monarchs. The Black International published a newspaper under Vatican supervision called La Correspondance de Genève. This journal served as the mouthpiece for the pope on matters deemed important to the Holy See, namely, the "Roman Question," the dangers of liberalism, nationalism, and international socialism.

Information on the nature of the Geneva Committee initially surfaced in biographical studies on Gaspard Mermillod, bishop of Lausanne, Count Gustav von Blome, Count Johann Anton Pergen, and René de La Tour du Pin. Concrete information was sketchy, however, and nothing pointed to the Committee's direct ties with the Vatican. Only recently did scholars discover archival material that offered more information on the history of Black International. This was found in the private papers of some of the association's leading figures, namely, the Ghent textile magnate Joseph de...


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