Pope Pius XI to his Venerable Brethren:
1. Never perhaps in the past have the minds of men been so engrossed as they are today with the desire to strengthen and extend for the common good of mankind that tie of brotherhood -- which binds us all so closely together. The world does not yet fully enjoy the fruits of peace; on the contrary, dissensions old and new in various lands still issue in rebellions and conflict. Such disputes, affecting the tranquil prosperity of nations, can never be settled without the combined and active good will of those who are responsible for their government and hence it is easy to understand -- especially now that the unity of mankind is no longer called into question -- the widespread desire that all nations, in view of this universal kinship, should daily find closer union with one another.
2. It is with a similar motive that efforts are being made by some in connection with the New Law promulgated by Christ our Lord. Assured that there exist few men who are entirely devoid of the religious sense, they seem to ground on this belief a hope that all nations, while differing indeed in religious matters, may yet without great difficulty be brought to fraternal agreement on certain points of doctrine which will form a common basis of the spiritual life. With this object, congresses, meetings, and addresses are arranged, attended by a large concourse of hearers, where all without distinction, unbelievers of every kind as well as Christians, even those who unhappily have rejected Christ and denied His divine nature or mission, are invited to join in the discussion. Now such efforts can meet with no kind of approval among Catholics. They presuppose the erroneous view that all religions are more or less good and praiseworthy, inasmuch as all give expression, under various forms, to that innate sense which leads man to God and to the obedient acknowledgement of His rule. Those who hold such a view are not only in error; they distort the true idea of religion, and thus reject it, falling gradually into naturalism and atheism. To favor this opinion, therefore, and to encourage such undertakings is tantamount to abandoning the religion revealed by God.
3. Nevertheless, when there is a question of fostering unity among Christians, it is easy for many to be misled by the apparent excellence of the object to be achieved. Is it not right, they ask, is it not the obvious duty of all who invoke the name of Christ to refrain from mutual reproaches and at last to be united in charity? Dare anyone say that he loves Christ, and yet not strive with all his might to accomplish the desire of Him Who asked His Father that His disciples might be one? 1 Did not Christ will that mutual charity should be a distinguishing characteristic of His disciples? "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for another."2 If only all Christians were one, it is contended, then they might do much more to drive out the pest of irreligion, which with its insidious and far-reaching advance is threatening to sap the strength of the Gospel. These and similar arguments, with amplifications, are constantly on the lips of pan-Christians who, so far from being a few isolated individuals, have formed an entire class and grouped themselves into societies of extensive membership, usually under the direction of non-Catholics, who also disagree in matters of faith. The energy with which this scheme is being promoted has won for it many adherents, and even many Catholics are attracted by it, since it holds out the hope of a union apparently consonant with the wishes of Holy Mother Church, whose chief desire is to recall her erring children and to bring them back to her bosom. In reality, however, these fair an alluring words cloak a most grave error, subversive of the foundations of the Catholic Faith.
4. Conscious, therefore, of Our Apostolic Office, which warns us not to allow the flock of Christ to be led away by harmful fallacies, We invoke your zeal, Venerable Brethren, to avert this evil. We feel confident that each of you, by written and spoken word, will explain clearly to the people the principles and arguments that We are about to set forth, so that Catholics may know what view and what course of action they should adopt regarding schemes for the promiscuous union into one body of all who call themselves Christians.
5. God, the Creator of all things, made us that we might know Him and serve Him; to our service, therefore, He has a full right. He might indeed have been contented to prescribe for man's government the natural law alone, that is, the law which in creation He has written upon man's heart, and have regulated the progress of that law by His ordinary Providence. He willed, however, to make positive laws which we should obey, and progressively, from the beginning of the human race until the coming and preaching of Jesus Christ, He Himself taught mankind the duties which a rational creature owes to his Creator. "God, Who at sundry times and divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days hath spoken to us by His Son.3 Evidently, therefore, no religion can be true save that which rests upon the revelation of God, a revelation begun from the very first, continued under the Old Law, and brought to completion by Jesus Christ Himself under the New. Now, if God has spoken -- and it is historically certain that He has in fact spoken -- then it is clearly man's duty implicitly to believe His revelation and to obey His commands. That we might rightly do both, for the glory of God and for our own salvation, the only-begotten Son of God founded His Church on earth. None, we think, of those who claim to be Christians will deny that a Church, and one sole Church, was founded by Christ.
6. On the further question, however, as to what in the intention of its Founder was to be the precise nature of that Church, there is not the same agreement. Many of them, for example, deny that the Church of Christ was intended to be visible and manifest, at any rate in the sense that it was to be visibly the one body of the faithful, agreeing in one and the same doctrine under one teaching and governing authority. They conceive the visible Church as nothing more than a federation of the various Christian communities, even though these may hold different and mutually exclusive doctrines. The truth is that Christ founded His Church as a perfect society, of its nature external and perceptible to the senses, which in the future would carry on the work of the salvation of mankind under one Head, with a living teaching authority, administering the Sacraments which are the sources of heavenly grace.4 Wherefore He compared His Church to a kingdom, to a house, to a sheepfold, and to a flock.5 The Church thus wondrously instituted could not cease to exist with the death of its Founder and of the Apostles, the pioneers of its propagation; for its mission was to lead all men to salvation, without distinction of time or place. "Going therefore, teach ye all nations."6 Nor could the Church ever lack the effective strength necessary for the continued accomplishment of its task, since Christ Himself is perpetually present with it, according to His promise: "Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."7 Hence not only must the Church still exist today and continue always to exist, but it must ever be exactly the same as it was in the days of the Apostles. Otherwise we must say -- which God forbid -- that Christ has failed in His purpose, or that He erred when He asserted of His Church that "the gates of hell should never prevail against it."8
7. And here it will be opportune to expound and to reject a certain false opinion which lies at the root of this question and of that complex movement by which non-Catholics seek to bring about a union of Christian churches. Those who favor this view constantly quote the words of Christ, "That they may be one.... And there shall be one fold and one shepherd" in the sense that Christ thereby merely expressed a desire or a prayer which as yet has not been granted.9 For they hold that the unity of faith and government which is a note of the one true Church of Christ has up to the present time hardly ever existed, and does not exist today. They consider that this unity is indeed to be desired and may even, by cooperation and good will, be actually attained, but that meanwhile it must be regarded as a mere ideal. The Church, they say, is of its nature divided into sections, composed of several churches or distinct communities which still remain separate, although holding in common some articles of doctrine, nevertheless differ concerning the remainder; that all these enjoy the same rights; and that the Church remained one and undivided at the most only from the Apostolic age until the first Ecumenical Councils. Hence, they say, controversies and long standing differences, which today still keep asunder the members of the Christian family, must be entirely set aside, and from the residue of doctrines a common form of faith drawn up and proposed for belief, in the profession of which all may not only know but also feel themselves to be brethren. If the various churches or communities were united to some kind of universal federation, they would then be in a position to oppose resolutely and successfully the progress of irreligion.
8. Such, Venerable Brethren, is the common contention. There are indeed some who recognize and affirm that Protestantism has with inconsiderate zeal rejected certain articles of faith and external ceremonies which are in fact useful and attractive, and which the Roman Church still retains. But they immediately go on to say that the Roman Church, too, has erred, and corrupted the primitive religion by adding to it and proposing for belief doctrines no only alien to the Gospel but contrary to its spirit. Chief among these they count that of the primacy of jurisdiction granted to Peter and his successors in the See of Rome. There are actually some, though few, who grant to the Roman Pontiff a primacy of honor and even a certain power or jurisdiction; this, however, they consider to arise not from the divine law but merely from the consent of the faithful. Others, again, even go so far as to desire the Pontiff himself to preside over their mixed assemblies. For the rest, while you may hear many non-Catholics loudly preaching brotherly communion in Jesus Christ, yet not one will you find to whom it ever occurs with devout submission to obey the Vicar of Jesus Christ in his capacity of teacher or ruler. Meanwhile they assert their readiness to treat with the Church of Rome, but on equal terms, as equals with an equal. But even if they could so treat, there seems little doubt that they would do so only on condition that no pact into which they might enter should compel them to retract those opinions which still keep them outside the Fold of Christ.
9. This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See can by no means rake part in these assemblies, nor is it in any way lawful for Catholics to give to such enterprises their encouragement or support. If they did so, they would be giving countenance to a false Christianity quite alien to the one Church of Christ. Shall we commit the iniquity of suffering the truth, the truth revealed by God, to be made a subject for compromise? For it is indeed a question of defending revealed truth. Jesus Christ sent His Apostles into the whole world to declare the Faith of the Gospel to every nation, and, to save them from error. He willed that the Holy Ghost should first teach them all truth. Has this been obscured, in the Church of which God Himself is the Ruler and Guardian? Our Redeemer plainly said that His Gospel was intended not only for the apostolic age but for all time. Can the object of faith, then, have become in the process of time so dim and uncertain that today we must tolerate contradictory opinions? If this were so, then we should have to admit that the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, the perpetual indwelling of the same Spirit in the Church, nay, the very preaching of Jesus Christ, have centuries ago lost their efficacy and value. To affirm this would be blasphemy. The only-begotten Son of God not only bade His representatives to teach all nations: He also obliged all men to give credence to whatever was taught them by "witnesses preordained by God."10 Moreover, He enforced His command with this sanction: "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; he that believes not shall be condemned."11 These two commands, the one to teach, the other to believe for salvation, must be obeyed. But they cannot be understood unless the Church proposes an inviolate and clear teaching, and in proposing it is immune from all danger of error. It is also false to say that, although the deposit of truth does indeed exist, yet it is to be found only with such laborious effort and after such lengthy study and discussion, that a man's life is hardly long enough for its discovery and attainment. This would be equivalent to saying that the most merciful God spoke through the prophets and through His only-begotten Son merely in order that some few men, and those advanced in years, might learn what He had revealed, and not in order to inculcate a doctrine of faith and morals by which man should be guided throughout the whole of his life.
10. These pan-Christians who strive for the union of the churches would appear to pursue the noblest of ideals in promoting charity among all Christians. But how should charity tend to the detriment of faith? Everyone knows that John himself, Apostle of love, who seems in his Gospel to have revealed the secrets of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and who never ceased to impress upon the memory of his disciples the new commandment "to love one another," nevertheless strictly forbade any intercourse with those who professed a mutilated and corrupt form of Christ's teaching: "If any man come to you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house, nor say to him, 'God speed you.'"12
11. Therefore, since the foundation of charity is faith pure and inviolate, it is chiefly by the bond of one Faith that the disciples of Christ are to be united. A federation of Christians, then, is inconceivable in which each member retains his own opinions and private judgment in matters of faith, even though they differ from the opinions of all the rest. How can men with opposite convictions belong to one and the same federation of the faithful; those who accept sacred Tradition as a source of revelation and those who reject it; those who recognize as divinely constituted the hierarchy of bishops, priests, and ministers in the Church, and those who regard it as gradually introduced to suit the conditions of the time; those who adore Christ really present in the most Holy Eucharist through that wonderful conversion of the bread and wine, transubstantiation, and those who assert that the Body of Christ is there only by faith or by the signification and virtue of the Sacrament; those who in the Eucharist recognize both Sacrament and Sacrifice, and those who say that it is nothing more than the memorial of the Lord's Supper; those who think it right and useful to pray to the Saints reigning with Christ, especially to Mary the Mother of God, and to venerate their images, and those who refuse such veneration as derogatory to the honor due to Jesus Christ, "the one Mediator of God and men"?13
12. How so great a variety of opinions can clear the ay for the unity of the Church, We know not. That unity can arise only from one teaching authority, one law of belief, and one Faith of Christians. But We do know that from such a state of affairs it is but an it is but an easy step to the neglect of religion or indifferentism, and to the error of the modernists, who hold that dogmatic truth is not absolute but relative, that is, changes according to the varying necessities of time and place and the varying tendencies of the mind; that it is not contained in an immutable tradition, but can be altered to suit the needs of human life.
13. Furthermore, it is never lawful to employ in connection with articles of faith the distinction invented by some between fundamental and non-fundamental articles, the former to be accepted by all, the latter being left to the free acceptance of the faithful. The supernatural virtue of faith has as its formal motive the authority of God revealing, and this allows no such distinction. All true followers of Christ, therefore, will believe the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God with the same faith as they believe the mystery of the august Trinity, the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff in the sense defined by the Ecumenical Vatican Council with the same faith as they believe the Incarnation of our Lord. That these truths have been solemnly sanctioned and defined by the Church at various times, some of them even quite recently, makes no difference to their certainty, nor to our obligation of believing them. Has not God revealed them all?
14. The teaching authority of the Church in the Divine Wisdom was constituted on earth in order that the revealed doctrines might remain for ever intact and might be brought with ease and security to the knowledge of men. This authority is indeed daily exercised through the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who are in communion with him; but it has the further office of defining some truth with solemn decree whenever it is opportune, and whenever this is necessary wither to oppose the errors or attacks of heretics, or again to impress the minds of the faithful with a clearer and more detailed explanation of the articles of sacred doctrine. But in the use of this extraordinary teaching authority no fresh invention is introduced, nothing new is ever added to the number of those truths which are at least implicitly contained within the deposit of Revelation divinely committed to the Church; but truths which to some perhaps may still seem obscure are rendered clear, or a truth which some may have called into question is declared to be of faith.
15. Thus, Venerable Brethren, it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics. There is but one way in which the unity of Christians may be fostered, and that is by furthering the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it; for far from that one true Church they have in the past fallen away. The one Church of Christ is visible to all, and will remain, according to the Will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it. The Mystical Spouse of Christ has never in the course of centuries been contaminated, nor in the future can she be, as Cyprian bears witness: "The Bride of Christ cannot become false to her Spouse; she is inviolate and pure. She knows but one dwelling, and chastely and modestly she guards the sanctity of the nuptial chamber." The same holy martyr marvelled that anyone could believe that "this unity of the Church built upon a divine foundation, knit together by heavenly sacraments, could ever be rent asunder by the conflict of wills."14 For since the Mystical Body of Christ, like His physical body, is one, compactly and fitly joined together, it were foolish to say that the Mystical Body is composed of disjointed and scattered members.15 Whosoever therefore is not united with the Body is no member thereof, neither is he in communion with Christ its Head.
16. Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize, and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors. Did not the ancestors of those who are now entangled in the errors of Photius and of the Reformers obey the Bishop of Rome, the chief shepherd of souls? Their children, alas! have left the home of their fathers; but that house did not therefore fall to the ground and perish forever, for it was supported by God. Let them, then, return to their Father, Who, forgetting the insults in the past heaped upon the Apostolic See, will accord them a most loving welcome. If, as they constantly say, they long to be united with Us and Ours, why do they not hasten to enter the Church, "the mother and mistress of all Christ's faithful"?16 Let them heed the words of true worship. This is the font of truth, this the house of faith, this the temple of God; if any man enter not here, or if any man go forth from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation. Let none delude himself with obstinate wrangling. For life and salvation are here concerned, and these will be lost forever unless their interests be carefully and assiduously kept in mind."17
17. Let our separated children, therefore, draw nigh to the Apostolic See, set up in the City which Peter and Paul, Princes of the Apostles, consecrated by their blood; to the See which is "the root and womb whence issues the Church of God"; and let them come, not with any intention nor hope that "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth," will cast aside the integrity of the Faith and tolerate errors, but to submit themselves to its teaching and government.18 Would that the happy lot, denied to so many of Our Predecessors, might at last be Ours, to embrace with fatherly affection those children whose unhappy separation from Us We now deplore. Would that God our Savior, "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth," might hear our humble prayer and vouchsafe to recall to the unity of the Church all that are gone astray.19 To this all-important end We implore, and We desire that others should implore, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Divine Grace, Help of Christians, victorious over all heresies, that she may entreat for Us the speedy coming of that longed for day, when all men shall hear the voice of her Divine Son, and shall be "careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."20
18. You, Venerable Brethren, know how dear to Our heart is this desire, and We wish that Our children also should know, not only those belonging to the Catholic fold, but also those separated from us. If these will humbly beg light from heaven, there is no doubt that they will recognize the one true Church of Jesus Christ, and entering therein, will at last be united with Us in perfect charity. In the hope of this fulfillment, and as a pledge of Our fatherly goodwill, We impart most lovingly to you, Venerable Brethren, and to your clergy and people the apostolic benediction.
Given at St. Peter's, Rome, on the 6th day of January, the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the year 1928, the sixth of Our Pontificate
1. John xvii: 21.
1. John xvii: 21.