Apostolic Letter of Pope Leo XIII

Apostolic Letter of Pope Leo XIII
“Apostolic Letter of Pope Leo XIII”





Venerable Brothers, Health and Apostolic Benediction.

HAVING come to the twenty-fifth year of our Apostolic Ministry, and being astonished ourselves at the length of the way which we have traveled amidst painful and continual cares, we are naturally inspired to lift our thoughts to the ever blessed God, who, with so many other favors, has deigned to accord us a Pontificate the length of which has scarcely been surpassed in history. To the Father of all mankind, therefore; to Him who holds in His hands the mysterious secret of life, ascends, as an imperious need of the heart, the canticle of our thanksgiving. Assuredly the eye of man cannot pierce all the depths of the designs of God in thus prolonging our old age beyond the limits of hope: here we can only be silent and adore. But there is one thing which we do well understand; namely, that as it has pleased Him, and still pleases Him, to preserve our existence, a great duty is incumbent on us — to live for the good and the development of His immaculate spouse, the holy Church; and far from losing courage in the midst of cares and pains, to consecrate to Him the remainder of our strength unto our last sigh.

After paying a just tribute of gratitude to our Heavenly Father, to whom be honor and glory for all eternity, it is most agreeable to us to turn our thoughts and address our words to you, Venerable Brothers, who, called by the Holy Ghost to govern the appointed portions of the flock of Jesus Christ, share thereby with us in the struggle and triumph, the sorrows and joys, of the ministry of pastors. No, they shall never fade from our memory, those frequent and striking testimonials of religious veneration which you have lavished upon us during the course of our Pontificate, and which you still multiply with emulation full of tenderness in the present circumstances. Intimately united with you already by our duty and our paternal love, we are more closely drawn by those proofs of your devotedness, so dear to our heart, less for what was personal in them in our regard than for the inviolable attachment which they denote to this Apostolic See, centre and mainstay of all the Sees of Catholicity. If it has always been necessary, that, according to the different grades of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, all the children of the Church should be sedulously united by the bonds of mutual charity and by the pursuit of the same objects, so as to form but one heart and one soul, this union is become in our day more indispensable than ever. For who can ignore the vast conspiracy of hostile forces which aims today at destroying and making disappear the great work of Jesus Christ, by endeavoring, with a fury which knows no limits, to rob man, in the intellectual order of the treasure of heavenly truth, and, in the social order, to obliterate the most holy, the most salutary Christian institutions. But by all this you yourselves are impressed every day. You who, more than once, have poured out to us your anxieties and anguish, deploring the multitude of prejudices, the false systems and errors which are disseminated with impunity amongst the masses of the people. What snares are set on every side for the souls of those who believe! What obstacles are multiplied to weaken, and if possible to destroy the beneficent action of the Church! And, meanwhile, as if to add derision to injustice, the Church herself is charged with having lost her pristine vigor, and with being powerless to stem the tide of overflowing passions which threaten to carry everything away.

We would wish, Venerable Brothers, to entertain you with subjects less sad, and more in harmony with the great and auspicious occasion which induces us to address you. But nothing suggests such tenor of discourse — neither the grievous trials of the Church which call with insistence for prompt remedies; nor the conditions of contemporary society which, already undermined from a moral and material point of view, tend toward a yet more gloomy future by the abandonment of the great Christian traditions; a law of Providence, confirmed by history, proving that the great religious principles cannot be renounced without shaking at the same time the foundations of order and social prosperity. In those circumstances, in order to allow souls to recover, to furnish them with a new provision of faith and courage, it appears to us opportune and useful to weigh attentively, in its origin, causes and various forms, the implacable war that is waged against the Church; and in denouncing its pernicious consequences to indicate a remedy. May our words, therefore, resound loudly, though they but recall truths already asserted; may they be hearkened to, not only by the children of Catholic unity, but also by those who differ from us, and even by the unhappy souls who have no longer any faith; for they are all children of one Father, all destined for the same supreme good: may our words, finally, be received as the testament which, at the short distance that separates us from eternity, we would wish to leave to the people as a presage of the salvation which we desire for all.

During the whole course of her history the Church of Christ has had to combat and suffer for truth and justice. Instituted by the Divine Redeemer Himself to establish throughout the world the Kingdom of God, she must, by the light of the Gospel law, lead fallen humanity to its immortal destinies; that is, to make it enter upon the possession of the blessings without end which God has promised us, and to which our unaided natural power could never rise — a heavenly mission, in the pursuit of which the Church could not fail to be opposed by the countless passions begotten of man’s primal fall and consequent corruption — pride, cupidity, unbridled desire of material pleasures: against all the vices and disorders springing from those poisonous roots the Church has ever been the most potent means of restraint. Nor should we be astonished at the persecutions which have arisen, in consequence, since the Divine Master foretold them; and they must continue as long as this world endures. What words did He address to His disciples when sending them to carry the treasure of His doctrines to all nations? They are familiar to us all: “You will be persecuted from city to city: you will be hated and despised for My Name’s sake: you will be dragged before the tribunals and condemned to extreme punishment.” And wishing to encourage them for the hour of trial, He proposed Himself as their example: “If the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated Me before you.” (St. John xv., 18.)

Certainly, no one, who takes a just and unbiased view of things, can explain the motive of this hatred. What offense was ever committed, what hostility deserved by the Divine Redeemer? Having come down amongst men through an impulse of Divine charity, He had taught a doctrine that was blameless, consoling, most efficacious to unite mankind in a brotherhood of peace and love; He had coveted neither earthly greatness nor honor; He had usurped no one’s right; on the contrary, He was full of pity for the weak, the sick, the poor, the sinner and the oppressed: hence His life was but a passage to distribute with munificent hand His benefits amongst men. We must acknowledge, in consequence, that it was simply by an excess of human malice, so much the more deplorable because unjust, that, nevertheless, He became, in truth, according to the prophecy of Simeon, “a sign to be contradicted.”

What wonder, then, if the Catholic Church, which continues His Divine mission, and is the incorruptible depositary of His truths, has inherited the same lot? The world is always consistent in its way. Near the sons of God are constantly present the satellites of that great adversary of the human race, who, a rebel from the beginning against the Most High, is named in the Gospel the prince of this world. It is on this account that the spirit of the world, in the presence of the law and of him who announces it in the name of God, swells with the measureless pride of an independence that ill befits it. Alas, how often, in more stormy epochs, with unheard-of cruelty and shameless injustice, and to the evident undoing of the whole social body, have the adversaries banded themselves together for the foolhardy enterprise of dissolving the work of God! And not succeeding with one manner of persecution, they adopted others. For three long centuries the Roman Empire, abusing its brute force, scattered the bodies of martyrs through all its provinces, and bathed with their blood every foot of ground in this sacred city of Rome; while heresy, acting in concert, whether hidden beneath a mask or with open effrontery, with sophistry and snare, endeavored to destroy at least the harmony and unity of faith. Then were set loose, like a devastating tempest, the hordes of barbarians from the north, and the Moslems from the south, leaving in their wake only ruins in a desert. So has been transmitted from age to age the melancholy heritage of hatred by which the Spouse of Christ has been overwhelmed. There followed a Cæsarism as suspicious as powerful, jealous of all other power, no matter what development it might itself have thence acquired, which incessantly attacked the Church, to usurp her rights and tread her liberties under foot. The heart bleeds to see this mother so often oppressed with anguish and woes unutterable. However, triumphing over every obstacle, over all violence and all tyrannies, she pitched her peaceful tents more and more widely; she saved from disaster the glorious patrimony of arts, history, science and letters; and imbuing deeply the whole body of society with the spirit of the Gospel, she created Christian civilization — that civilization to which the nations, subjected to its beneficent influence, owe the equity of their laws, the mildness of their manners, the protection of the weak, pity for the afflicted and the poor, respect for the rights and dignity of all men, and, thereby, as far as it is possible amidst the fluctuations of human affairs, that calm of social life which springs from the just and prudent alliance between justice and liberty.

Those proofs of the intrinsic excellence of the Church are as striking and sublime as they have been enduring. Nevertheless, as in the Middle Ages and during the first centuries, so in those nearer our own, we see the Church assailed more harshly, in a certain sense at least, and more distressingly than ever. Through a series of well-known historical causes, the pretended Reformation of the sixteenth century raised the standard of revolt; and, determining to strike straight into the heart of the Church, audaciously attacked the Papacy. It broke the precious link of the ancient unity of faith and authority, which, multiplying a hundredfold, power, prestige and glory, thanks to the harmonious pursuit of the same objects, united all nations under one staff and one shepherd. This unity being broken, a pernicious principle of disintegration was introduced amongst all ranks of Christians.

We do not, indeed, hereby pretend to affirm that from the beginning there was a set purpose of destroying the principle of Christianity in the heart of society; but by refusing, on the one hand, to acknowledge the supremacy of the Holy See, the effective cause and bond of unity, and by proclaiming, on the other, the principle of private judgment, the divine structure of faith was shaken to its deepest foundations and the way was opened to infinite variations, to doubts and denials of the most important things, to an extent which the innovators themselves had not foreseen. The way was opened. Then came the contemptuous and mocking philosophism of the eighteenth century, which advanced farther. It turned to ridicule the sacred canon of the Scriptures and rejected the entire system of revealed truths, with the purpose of being able ultimately to root out from the conscience of the people all religious belief and stifling within it the last breath of the spirit of Christianity. It is from this source that have flowed rationalism, pantheism, naturalism and materialism — poisonous and destructive systems which, under different appearances, renew the ancient errors triumphantly refuted by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church; so that the pride of modern times, by excessive confidence in its own lights, was stricken with blindness; and, like paganism, subsisted thenceforth on fancies, even concerning the attributes of the human soul and the immortal destinies which constitute our glorious heritage.

The struggle against the Church thus took on a more serious character than in the past, no less because of the vehemence of the assault than because of its universality. Contemporary unbelief does not confine itself to denying or doubting articles of faith. What it combats is the whole body of principles which sacred revelation and sound philosophy maintain; those fundamental and holy principles which teach man the supreme object of his earthly life, which keep him in the performance of his duty, which inspire his heart with courage and resignation, and which in promising him incorruptible justice and perfect happiness beyond the tomb, enable him to subject time to eternity, earth to heaven. But what takes the place of these principles which form the incomparable strength bestowed by faith? A frightful skepticism, which chills the heart and stifles in the conscience every magnanimous aspiration.

This system of practical atheism must necessarily cause, as in point of fact it does, a profound disorder in the domain of morals, for, as the greatest philosophers of antiquity have declared, religion is the chief foundation of justice and virtue. When the bonds are broken which unite man to God, who is the Sovereign Legislator and Universal Judge, a mere phantom of morality remains; a morality which is purely civic and, as it is termed, independent, which, abstracting from the Eternal Mind and the laws of God descends inevitably till it reaches the ultimate conclusion of making man a law unto himself. Incapable, in consequence, of rising on the wings of Christian hope to the goods of the world beyond, man will seek a material satisfaction in the comforts and enjoyments of life. There will be excited in him a thirst for pleasure, a desire of riches and an eager quest of rapid and unlimited wealth, even at the cost of justice. There will be enkindled in him every ambition and a feverish and frenzied desire to gratify them even in defiance of law, and he will be swayed by a contempt for right and for public authority, as well as by licentiousness of life which, when the condition becomes general, will mark the real decay of society.

Perhaps we may be accused of exaggerating the sad consequences of the disorders of which we speak. No; for the reality is before our eyes and warrants but too truly our forebodings. It is manifest that if there is not some betterment soon, the bases of society will crumble and drag down with them the great and eternal principles of law and morality.

It is in consequence of this condition of things that the social body, beginning with the family, is suffering such serious evils. For the lay State, forgetting its limitations and the essential object of the authority which it wields, has laid its hands on the marriage bond to profane it and has stripped it of its religious character; it has dared as much as it could in the matter of that natural right which parents possess to educate their children, and in many countries it has destroyed the stability of marriage by giving a legal sanction to the licentious institution of divorce. All know the result of these attacks. More than words can tell they have multiplied marriages which are prompted only by shameful passions, which are speedily dissolved and which, at times, bring about bloody tragedies, at others the most shocking infidelities. We say nothing of the innocent offspring of these unions, the children who are abandoned or whose morals are corrupted on one side by the bad example of the parents, on the other by the poison which the officially lay State constantly pours into their hearts.

Along with the family, the political and social order is also endangered by doctrines which ascribe a false origin to authority, and which have corrupted the genuine conception of government. For if sovereign authority is derived formally from the consent of the people and not from God, who is the supreme and Eternal Principle of all power, it loses in the eyes of the governed its most august characteristic and degenerates into an artificial sovereignty which rests on unstable and shifting bases, namely, the will of those from whom it is said to be derived. Do we not see the consequences of this error in the carrying out of our laws? Too often these laws instead of being sound reason formulated in writing are but the expression of the power of the greater number and the will of the predominant political party. It is thus that the mob is cajoled in seeking to satisfy its desires; that a loose rein is given to popular passion, even when it disturbs the laboriously acquired tranquillity of the State, when the disorder in the last extremity can only be quelled by violent measures and the shedding of blood.

Consequent upon the repudiation of those Christian principles which had contributed so efficaciously to unite the nations in the bonds of brotherhood, and to bring all humanity into one great family, there has arisen little by little in the international order, a system of jealous egoism, in consequence of which the nations now watch each other, if not with hate, at least with the suspicion of rivals. Hence, in their great undertakings they lose sight of the lofty principles of morality and justice and forget the protection which the feeble and the oppressed have a right to demand. In the desire by which they are actuated to increase their national riches, they regard only the opportunity which circumstances afford, the advantages of successful enterprises and the tempting bait of an accomplished fact, sure that no one will trouble them in the name of right or the respect which right can claim. Such are the fatal principles which have consecrated material power as the supreme law of the world and to them is to be imputed the limitless increase of military establishments, and that armed peace, which in many respects, is equivalent to a disastrous war.

This lamentable confusion in the realm of ideas has produced restlessness among the people, outbreaks and the general spirit of rebellion. From these have sprung the frequent popular agitations and disorders of our times which are only the preludes of much more terrible disorders in the future. The miserable condition, also, of a large part of the poorer classes, who assuredly merit our assistance, furnishes an admirable opportunity for the designs of scheming agitators, and especially of socialist factions, which hold out to the humbler classes the most extravagant promises and use them to carry out the most dreadful projects.

Those who start on a dangerous descent are soon hurled down in spite of themselves into the abyss. Prompted by an inexorable logic, a society of veritable criminals has been organized, which, at its very first appearance, has, by its savage character, startled the world. Thanks to the solidarity of its construction and its international ramifications, it has already attempted its wicked work, for it stands in fear of nothing and recoils before no danger. Repudiating all union with society, and cynically scoffing at law, religion and morality, its adepts have adopted the name of Anarchists, and propose to utterly subvert the actual conditions of society by making use of every means that a blind and savage passion can suggest. And as society draws its unity and its life from the authority which governs it, so it is against authority that anarchy directs its efforts. Who does not feel a thrill of horror, indignation and pity at the remembrance of the many victims that of late have fallen beneath its blows, Emperors, Empresses, Kings, Presidents of powerful republics, whose only crime was the sovereign power with which they were invested?

In presence of the immensity of the evils which overwhelm society and the perils which menace it, our duty compels us to again warn all men of good will, especially those who occupy exalted positions, and to conjure them as we now do, to devise what remedies the situation calls for and with prudent energy to apply them without delay.

First of all, it behooves them to inquire what remedies are needed, and to examine well their potency in the present needs. We have extolled liberty and its advantages to the skies, and have proclaimed it as a sovereign remedy and an incomparable instrument of peace and prosperity which will be most fruitful in good results. But facts have clearly shown us that it does not possess the power which is attributed to it. Economic conflicts, struggles of the classes are surging around us like a conflagration on all sides, and there is no promise of the dawn of the day of public tranquility. In point of fact, and there is no one who does not see it, liberty as it is now understood, that is to say, a liberty granted indiscriminately to truth and to error, to good and to evil, ends only in destroying all that is noble, generous and holy, and in opening the gates still wider to crime, to suicide and to a multitude of the most degrading passions.

The doctrine is also taught that the development of public instruction, by making the people more polished and more enlightened, would suffice as a check to unhealthy tendencies and to keep man in the ways of uprightness and probity. But a hard reality has made us feel every day more and more of how little avail is instruction without religion and morality. As a necessary consequence of inexperience, and of the promptings of bad passion, the mind of youth is enthralled by the perverse teachings of the day. It absorbs all the errors which an unbridled press does not hesitate to sow broadcast and which depraves the mind and the will of youth and foments in them that spirit of pride and insubordination which so often troubles the peace of families and cities.

So also was confidence reposed in the progress of science. Indeed the century which has just closed has witnessed progress that was great, unexpected, stupendous. But is it true that it has given us all the fullness and healthfulness of fruitage that so many expected from it? Doubtless the discoveries of science have opened new horizons to the mind; it has widened the empire of man over the forces of matter and human life has been ameliorated in many ways through its instrumentality. Nevertheless, every one feels and many admit that the results have not corresponded to the hopes that were cherished. It cannot be denied, especially when we cast our eyes on the intellectual and moral status of the world as well as on the records of criminality, when we hear the dull murmurs which arise from the depths, or when we witness the predominance which might has won over right. Not to speak of the throngs who are a prey to every misery, a superficial glance at the condition of the world will suffice to convince us of the indefinable sorrow which weighs upon souls and the immense void which is in human hearts. Man may subject nature to his sway, but matter cannot give him what it has not, and to the questions which most deeply affect our gravest interests human science gives no reply. The thirst for truth, for good, for the infinite, which devours us, has not been slaked, nor have the joys and riches of earth, nor the increase of the comforts of life ever soothed the anguish which tortures the heart. Are we then to despise and fling aside the advantages which accrue from the study of science, from civilization and the wise and sweet use of our liberty? Assuredly not. On the contrary, we must hold them in the highest esteem, guard them and make them grow as a treasure of great price, for they are means which of their nature are good, designed by God Himself, and ordained by the Infinite Goodness and Wisdom for the use and advantage of the human race. But we must subordinate the use of them to the intentions of the Creator, and so employ them as never to eliminate the religious element in which their real advantage resides, for it is that which bestows on them a special value and renders them really fruitful. Such is the secret of the problem. When an organism perishes and corrupts, it is because it had ceased to be under the action of the causes which had given it its form and constitution. To make it healthy and flourishing again it is necessary to restore it to the vivifying action of those same causes. So society in its foolhardy effort to escape from God has rejected the divine order and revelation; and it is thus withdrawn from the salutary efficacy of Christianity which is manifestly the most solid guarantee of order, the strongest bond of fraternity and the inexhaustible source of public and private virtue.

This sacrilegious divorce has resulted in bringing about the trouble which now disturbs the world. Hence it is the pale of the Church which this lost society must reenter, if it wishes to recover its well-being, its repose and its salvation.

Just as Christianity cannot penetrate in the soul without making it better, so it cannot enter into public life without establishing order. With the idea of a God who governs all, who is infinitely wise, good and just, the idea of duty seizes upon the consciences of men. It assuages sorrow, it calms hatred, it engenders heroes. If it has transformed pagan society — and that transformation was a veritable resurrection — for barbarism disappeared in proportion as Christianity extended its sway, so, after the terrible shocks which unbelief has given to the world in our days, it will be able to put that world again on the true road, and bring back to order the states and peoples of modern times. But the return to Christianity will not be efficacious and complete if it does not restore the world to a sincere love of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. In the Catholic Church Christianity is incarnate. It identifies itself with that perfect, spiritual, and, in its own order, sovereign society, which is the mystical body of Jesus Christ and which has for its visible head the Roman Pontiff, successor of the Prince of the Apostles. It is the continuation of the mission of the Saviour, the daughter and the heiress of His redemption. It has preached the Gospel, and has defended it at the price of its blood, and strong in the Divine assistance, and of that immortality which have been promised it, it makes no terms with error, but remains faithful to the commands which it has received to carry the doctrine of Jesus Christ to the uttermost limits of the world and to the end of time and to protect it in its inviolable integrity. Legitimate dispensatrix of the teachings of the Gospel it does not reveal itself only as the consoler and redeemer of souls, but it is still more the internal source of justice and charity, and the propagator as well as the guardian of true liberty, and of that equality which alone is possible here below. In applying the doctrine of its Divine Founder, it maintains a wise equilibrium and marks the true limits between the rights and privileges of society. The equality which it proclaims does not destroy the distinction between the different social classes. It keeps them intact, as nature itself demands, in order to oppose the anarchy of reason emancipated from faith, and abandoned to its own devices. The liberty which it gives in no wise conflicts with the rights of truth, because those rights are superior to the demands of liberty. Nor does it infringe upon the rights of justice, because those rights are superior to the claims of mere numbers or power. Nor does it assail the rights of God because they are superior to the rights of humanity.

In the domestic circle, the Church is no less fruitful in good results. For not only does it oppose the nefarious machinations which incredulity resorts to in order to attack the life of the family, but it prepares and protects the union and stability of marriage, whose honor, fidelity and holiness it guards and develops. At the same time it sustains and cements the civil and political order by giving on one side most efficacious aid to authority, and on the other by showing itself favorable to the wise reforms and the just aspirations of the classes that are governed; by imposing respect for rulers and enjoining whatever obedience is due to them, and by defending unwaveringly the imprescriptible rights of the human conscience. And thus it is that the people who are subject to her influence have no fear of oppression because she checks in their efforts the rulers who seek to govern as tyrants.

Fully aware of this divine power, we, from the very beginning of our Pontificate, have endeavored to place in the clearest light the benevolent designs of the Church and to increase as far as possible, along with the treasures of her doctrine the field of her salutary action. Such has been the object of the principal acts of our Pontificate, notably in the Encyclicals on Christian Philosophy, on Human Liberty, on Christian Marriage, on Freemasonry, on The Powers of Government, on The Christian Constitution of States, on Socialism, on the Labor Question, and the Duties of Christian Citizens and other analogous subjects. But the ardent desire of our soul has not been merely to illumine the mind. We have endeavored to move and to purify hearts by making use of all our powers to cause Christian virtue to flourish among the peoples. For that reason we have never ceased to bestow encouragement and counsel in order to elevate the minds of men to the goods of the world beyond; to enable them to subject the body to the soul; their earthly life to the heavenly one; man to God. Blessed by the Lord, our word has been able to increase and to strengthen the convictions of a great number of men; to throw light on their minds in the difficult questions of the day; to stimulate their zeal and to advance the various works which have been undertaken.

It is especially for the disinherited classes that these works have been inaugurated, and have continued to grow in every country, as is evident from the increase of Christian charity which has always found in the midst of the people its favorite field of action. If the harvest has not been more abundant, Venerable Brothers, let us adore God who is mysteriously just and beg Him, at the same time, to have pity on the blindness of so many souls, to whom unhappily the terrifying word of the Apostle may be addressed: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine to them.” II. Corinthians iv., 4.

The more the Catholic Church devotes itself to extend its zeal for the moral and material advancement of the peoples, the more the children of darkness arise in hatred against it and have recourse to every means in their power to tarnish its divine beauty and paralyze its action of life-giving reparation. How many false reasonings have they not made and how many calumnies have they not spread against it! Among their most perfidious devices is that which consists in repeating to the ignorant masses and to suspicious governments that the Church is opposed to the progress of science, that it is hostile to liberty, that the rights of the state are usurped by it and that politics is a field which it is constantly invading. Such are the mad accusations that have been a thousand times repudiated and a thousand times refuted by sound reason and by history and, in fact, by every man who has a heart for honesty and a mind for truth.

The Church the enemy of knowledge and instruction! Without doubt she is the vigilant guardian of revealed dogma, but it is this very vigilance which prompts her to protect science and to favor the wise cultivation of the mind. No! in submitting his mind to the revelation of the Word, who is the supreme truth from whom all truths must flow, man will in no wise contradict what reason discovers. On the contrary, the light which will come to him from the Divine Word will give more power and more clearness to the human intellect, because it will preserve it from a thousand uncertainties and errors. Besides, nineteen centuries of a glory achieved by Catholicism in all the branches of learning amply suffice to refute this calumny. It is to the Catholic Church that we must ascribe the merit of having propagated and defended Christian philosophy, without which the world would still be buried in the darkness of pagan superstitions and in the most abject barbarism. It has preserved and transmitted to all generations the precious treasure of literature and of the ancient sciences. It has opened the first schools for the people and crowded the universities which still exist, or whose glory is perpetuated even to our own days. It has inspired the loftiest, the purest and the most glorious literature, while it has gathered under its protection men whose genius in the arts has never been eclipsed.

The Church the enemy of liberty! Ah, how they travesty the idea of liberty which has for its object one of the most precious of God’s gifts when they make use of its name to justify its abuse and excess! What do we mean by liberty? Does it mean the exemption from all laws; the deliverance from all restraint, and as a corollary, the right to take man’s caprice as a guide in all our actions? Such liberty the Church certainly reproves, and good and honest men reprove it likewise. But do they mean by liberty the rational faculty to do good, magnanimously, without check or hindrance and according to the rules which eternal justice has established? That liberty which is the only liberty worthy of man, the only one useful to society, none favors or encourages or protects more than the Church. By the force of its doctrine and the efficaciousness of its action the Church has freed humanity from the yoke of slavery in preaching to the world the great law of equality and human fraternity. In every age it has defended the feeble and the oppressed against the arrogant domination of the strong. It has demanded liberty of Christian conscience while pouring out in torrents the blood of its martyrs; it has restored to the child and to the woman the dignity and the noble prerogatives of their nature in making them share by virtue the same right that reverence and justice which is their due, and it has largely contributed, both to introduce and maintain civil and political liberty in the heart of the nations.

The Church the usurper of the rights of the State! The Church invading the political domain! Why, the Church knows and teaches that her Divine Founder has commanded us to give to Cæsar what is Cæsar’s and to God what is God’s, and that He has thus sanctioned the immutable principle of an enduring distinction between those two powers which are both sovereign in their respective spheres, a distinction which is most pregnant in its consequences and eminently conducive to the development of Christian civilization. In its spirit of charity it is a stranger to every hostile design against the State. It aims only at making these two powers go side by side for the advancement of the same object, namely, for man and for human society, but by different ways and in conformity with the noble plan which has been assigned for its divine mission. Would to God that its action was received without mistrust and without suspicion. It could not fail to multiply the numberless benefits of which we have already spoken. To accuse the Church of ambitious views is only to repeat the ancient calumny, a calumny which its powerful enemies have more than once employed as a pretext to conceal their own purposes of oppression.

Far from oppressing the State, history clearly shows when it is read without prejudice, that the Church like its Divine Founder has been, on the contrary, most commonly the victim of oppression and injustice. The reason is that its power rests not on the force of arms but on the strength of thought and of truth.

It is therefore assuredly with malignant purpose that they hurl against the Church accusations like these. It is a pernicious and disloyal work, in the pursuit of which above all others a certain sect of darkness is engaged, a sect which human society these many years carries within itself and which like a deadly poison destroys its happiness, its fecundity and its life. Abiding personification of the revolution, it constitutes a sort of retrogressive society whose object is to exercise an occult suzerainty over the established order and whose whole purpose is to make war against God and against His Church. There is no need of naming it, for all will recognize in these traits the society of Freemasons, of which we have already spoken, expressly in our Encyclical, Humanum Genus of the 20th of April, 1884. While denouncing its destructive tendency, its erroneous teachings and its wicked purpose of embracing in its far-reaching grasp almost all nations, and uniting itself to other sects which its secret influences puts in motion, directing first and afterwards retaining its members by the advantages which it procures for them, bending governments to its will, sometimes by promises and sometimes by threats, it has succeeded in entering all classes of society, and forms an invisible and irresponsible state existing within the legitimate state. Full of the spirit of Satan who, according to the words of the Apostle, knows how to transform himself at need into an angel of light, it gives prominence to its humanitarian object, but it sacrifices everything to its sectarian purpose and protests that it has no political aim, while in reality it exercises the most profound action on the legislative and administrative life of the nations, and while loudly professing its respect for authority and even for religion, has for its ultimate purpose, as its own statutes declare, the destruction of all authority as well as of the priesthood, both of which it holds up as the enemies of liberty.

It becomes more evident day by day that it is to the inspiration and the assistance of this sect that we must attribute in great measure the continual troubles with which the Church is harassed, as well as the recrudescence of the attacks to which it has recently been subjected. For the simultaneousness of the assaults in the persecutions which have so suddenly burst upon us in these later times, like a storm from a clear sky, that is to say without any cause proportionate to the effect; the uniformity of means employed to inaugurate this persecution, namely, the press, public assemblies, theatrical productions; the employment in every country of the same arms, to wit, calumny and public uprisings, all this betrays clearly the identity of purpose and a programme drawn up by one and the same central direction. All this is only a simple episode of a prearranged plan carried out on a constantly widening field to multiply the ruins of which we speak. Thus they are endeavoring by every means in their power first to restrict and then to completely exclude religious instruction from the schools so as to make the rising generation unbelievers or indifferent to all religion; as they are endeavoring by the daily press to combat the morality of the Church, to ridicule its practices and its solemnities. It is only natural, consequently, that the Catholic priesthood, whose mission is to preach religion and to administer the sacraments, should be assailed with a special fierceness. In taking it as the object of their attacks this sect aims at diminishing in the eyes of the people its prestige and its authority. Already their audacity grows hour by hour in proportion as it flatters itself that it can do so with impunity. It puts a malignant interpretation on all the acts of the clergy, bases suspicion upon the slenderest proofs and overwhelms it with the vilest accusations. Thus new prejudices are added to those with which the clergy are already overwhelmed, such for example as their subjection to military service, which is such a great obstacle for the preparation for the priesthood, and the confiscation of the ecclesiastical patrimony which the pious generosity of the faithful had founded.

As regards the religious orders and religious congregations, the practice of the evangelical counsels made them the glory of society and the glory of religion. These very things rendered them more culpable in the eyes of the enemies of the Church and were the reasons why they were fiercely denounced and held up to contempt and hatred. It is a great grief for us to recall here the odious measures which were so undeserved and so strongly condemned by all honest men by which the members of religious orders were lately overwhelmed. Nothing was of avail to save them, neither the integrity of their life, which their enemies were unable to assail, nor the right which authorizes all natural associations entered into for an honorable purpose, nor the right of the constitutions which loudly proclaimed their freedom to enter into those organizations, nor the favor of the people who were so grateful for the precious services rendered in the arts, in the sciences and in agriculture, and for the charity which poured itself out upon the most numerous and poorest classes of society. And hence it is that these men and women who themselves had sprung from the people and who had spontaneously renounced all the joys of family to consecrate to the good of their fellowmen, in those peaceful associations, their youth, their talent, their strength and their lives, were treated as malefactors as if they had formed criminal associations, and have been excluded from the common and prescriptive rights at the very time when men are speaking loudest of liberty. We must not be astonished that the most beloved children are struck when the father himself, that is to say, the head of Catholicity, the Roman Pontiff, is no better treated. The facts are known to all. Stripped of the temporal sovereignty and consequently of that independence which is necessary to accomplish his universal and divine mission; forced in Rome itself to shut himself up in his own dwelling because the enemy has laid siege to him on every side, he has been compelled in spite of the derisive assurances of respect and of the precarious promises of liberty to an abnormal condition of existence which is unjust and unworthy of his exalted ministry. We know only too well the difficulties that are each instant created to thwart his intentions and to outrage his dignity. It only goes to prove what is every day more and more evident that it is the spiritual power of the head of the Church which little by little they aim at destroying when they attack the temporal power of the Papacy. Those who are the real authors of this spoliation have not hesitated to confess it.

Judging by the consequences which have followed, this action was not only impolitic, but was an attack on society itself; for the assaults that are made upon religion are so many blows struck at the very heart of society.

In making man a being destined to live in society, God in His providence has also founded the Church, which as the holy text expresses it, He has established on Mount Zion in order that it might be a light which, with its lifegiving rays, would cause the principle of life to penetrate into the various degrees of human society by giving it divinely inspired laws, by means of which society might establish itself in that order which would be most conducive to its welfare. Hence in proportion as society separates itself from the Church, which is an important element in its strength, by so much does it decline, or its woes are multiplied for the reason that they are separated whom God wished to bind together.

As for us, we never weary as often as the occasion presents itself to inculcate these great truths, and we desire to do so once again and in a very explicit manner on this extraordinary occasion. May God grant that the faithful will take courage from what we say and be guided to unite their efforts more efficaciously for the common good; that they may be more enlightened and that our adversaries may understand the injustice which they commit in persecuting the most loving mother and the most faithful benefactress of humanity.

We would not wish that the remembrance of these afflictions should diminish in the souls of the faithful that full and entire confidence which they ought to have in the Divine assistance. For God, in His own hour and in His mysterious ways, will bring about a certain victory. As for us, no matter how great the sadness which fills our heart, we do not fear for the immortal destiny of the Church. As we have said in the beginning, persecution is its heritage, because in trying and in purifying its children, God thereby obtains for them greater and more precious advantages. And in permitting the Church to undergo these trials He manifests the Divine assistance which He bestows upon it, for He provides new and unlooked for means of assuring the support and the development of His work, while revealing the futility of the powers which are leagued against it. Nineteen centuries of a life passed in the midst of the ebb and flow of all human vicissitudes teach us that the storms pass by without ever affecting the foundations of the Church. We are able all the more to remain unshaken in this confidence, as the present time affords indications which forbid depression. We cannot deny that the difficulties that confront us are extraordinary and formidable, but there are also facts before our eyes which give evidence, at the same time, that God is fulfilling His promises with admirable wisdom and goodness.

While so many powers conspire against the Church and while she is progressing on her way deprived of all human help and assistance, is she not in effect carrying on her gigantic work in the world and is she not extending her action in every clime and every nation? Expelled by Jesus Christ, the prince of this world can no longer exercise his proud dominion as heretofore; and although doubtless the efforts of Satan may cause us many a woe they will not achieve the object at which they aim. Already a supernatural tranquillity due to the Holy Ghost who provides for the Church and who abides in it reigns not only in the souls of the faithful but also throughout Christianity; a tranquillity whose serene development we witness everywhere, thanks to the union ever more and more close and affectionate with the Apostolic See; a union which is in marvelous contrast with the agitation, the dissension and the continual unrest of the various sects which disturb the peace of society. There exists also between bishops and clergy a union which is fruitful in numberless works of zeal and charity. It exists likewise between the clergy and laity who more closely knit together and more completely freed from human respect than ever before, are awakening to a new life and organizing with a generous emulation in defense of the sacred cause of religion. It is this union which we have so often recommended and which we recommend again, which we bless that it may develop still more and may rise like an impregnable wall against the fierce violence of the enemies of God.

There is nothing more natural than that like the branches which spring from the roots of the tree, these numberless associations which we see with joy flourish in our days in the bosom of the Church should arise, grow strong and multiply. There is no form of Christian piety which has been omitted whether there is question of Jesus Christ Himself, or His adorable mysteries, or His Divine Mother, or the saints whose wonderful virtues have illumined the world. Nor has any kind of charitable work been forgotten. On all sides there is a zealous endeavor to procure Christian instruction for youth; help for the sick; moral teaching for the people and assistance for the classes least favored in the goods of this world. With what remarkable rapidity this movement would propagate itself and what precious fruits it would bear if it were not opposed by the unjust and unfriendly efforts with which it finds itself so often in conflict.

God, who gives to the Church such great vitality in civilized countries where it has been established for so many centuries, consoles us besides with other hopes. These hopes we owe to the zeal of Catholic missionaries. Not permitting themselves to be discouraged by the perils which they face; by the privations which they endure; by the sacrifices of every kind which they accept, their numbers are increasing and they are gaining whole countries to the Gospel and to civilization. Nothing can diminish their courage, although after the manner of their Divine Master they receive only accusations and calumnies as the reward of their untiring labors.

Thus our sorrows are tempered by the sweetest consolations, and in the midst of the struggles and the difficulties which are our portion we have wherewith to refresh our souls and to inspire us with hope. This ought to suggest useful and wise reflections to those who view the world with intelligence, and who do not permit passions to blind them; for it proves that God has not made man independent in what regards the last end of life, and just as He has spoken to him in the past so He speaks again in our day by His Church which is visibly sustained by the Divine assistance and which shows clearly where salvation and truth can be found. Come what may, this eternal assistance will inspire our hearts with an incredible hope and persuade us that at the hour marked by Providence and in a future which is not remote, truth will scatter the mists in which men endeavor to shroud it and will shine forth more brilliantly than ever. The spirit of the Gospel will spread life anew in the heart of our corrupted society and in its perishing members.

In what concerns us, Venerable Brethren, in order to hasten the day of divine mercy we shall not fail in our duty to do everything to defend and develop the Kingdom of God upon earth. As for you, your pastoral solicitude is too well known to us to exhort you to do the same. May the ardent flame which burns in your hearts be transmitted more and more to the hearts of all your priests. They are in immediate contact with the people. If full of the spirit of Jesus Christ and keeping themselves above political passion, they unite their action with yours they will succeed with the blessing of God in accomplishing marvels. By their word they will enlighten the multitude; by their sweetness of manners they will gain all hearts, and in succoring with charity their suffering brethren, they will help them little by little to better the condition in which they are placed.

The clergy will be firmly sustained by the active and intelligent cooperation of all men of good will. Thus the children who have tasted the sweetness of the Church will thank her for it in a worthy way, viz., by gathering around her to defend her honor and her glory. All can contribute to this work which will be so splendidly meritorious for them; literary and learned men, by defending her in books or in the daily press, which is such a powerful instrument now made use of by her enemies; fathers of families and teachers, by giving a Christian education to children; magistrates and representatives of the people, by showing themselves firm in the principles which they defend as well as by the integrity of their lives and in the profession of their faith without any vestige of human respect. Our age exacts lofty ideals, generous designs, and the exact observance of the laws. It is by a perfect submission to the directions of the Holy See that this discipline will be strengthened, for it is the best means of causing to disappear or at least of diminishing the evil which party opinions produce in fomenting divisions; and it will assist us in uniting all our efforts for attaining that higher end, namely, the triumph of Jesus Christ and His Church. Such is the duty of Catholics. As for her final triumph she depends upon Him who watches with wisdom and love over His immaculate spouse, and of whom it is written, “Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb. xiii., 8.)

It is therefore to Him, that at this moment we should lift our hearts in humble and ardent prayer, to Him who loving with an infinite love our erring humanity has wished to make Himself an expiatory victim by the sublimity of His martyrdom; to Him who seated although unseen in the mystical bark of His Church can alone still the tempest and command the waves to be calm and the furious winds to cease. Without doubt, Venerable Brethren, you with us will ask this Divine Master for the cessation of the evils which are overwhelming society, for the repeal of all hostile law; for the illumination of those who more perhaps through ignorance than through malice, hate and persecute the religion of Jesus Christ; and also for the drawing together of all men of good will in close and holy union.

May the triumph of truth and of justice be thus hastened in the world, and for the great family of men may better days dawn; days of tranquillity and of peace.

Meanwhile as a pledge of the most precious and Divine favor may the benediction which we give you with all our heart, descend upon you and all the faithful committed to your care.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, 19th March, 1902, in the twenty-fifth year of our Pontificate.


*Published in The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Vol. XXVII (January to October, 1902), pp. 583-601.