Motu Proprio of Pope Saint Pius X
Sacrorum Antistitum (1910)
Establishing the Oath against Modernism and other Laws for the Driving Out of the Danger of Modernism
None of the Bishops, we believe, can have failed to observe how that most cunning class of persons, the Modernists, though unmasked by the encyclical letter “Pascendi dominici gregis”, have not abandoned their designs on the peace of the Church. For they continue to enroll new associates and to band them together in a secret alliance, and with these they are now engaged in inoculating into the veins of the Christian people the poison of their opinions by means of books and pamphlets published anonymously or under false names. To those who read again and more closely the document just mentioned, it will be clear that this climax of audacity, which has caused us such grief, proves that these men are really as we described them, and enemies all the more to be feared by reason of their proximity, and who abuse their ministry to catch by their poisoned bait those who are not on their guard and who are liable to be led astray by a semblance of science which contains the germs of all errors.
But as this pest is spreading in a part of the field of the Lord from which the fairest fruits were to be expected if it is the duty of all the pastors to labor for the defense of the Catholic faith, and to use the utmost vigilance that the Divine deposit suffer no hurt, upon us especially rests the charge of realizing the commands of Christ the Saviour, who said to Peter, whose supreme authority we, unworthy though we are, have received: “Confirm thy brethren.” And this is why we deem it well in the present conflict to recall to memory the following teachings and rulings contained in our letter above mentioned [Pascendi Dominici Gregis, nn. 44-56]:
“We beg and conjure you to see to it that in this most grave matter nobody will ever be able to say that you have been in the slightest degree wanting in vigilance or zeal or firmness. And what we ask of you and expect of you we ask and expect also of all other pastors of souls, of all educators and professors of clerics and in a very special way of the superiors of religious institutions.
“I. In the first place, with regard to studies, we will and ordain that scholastic philosophy be made the basis of the sacred sciences. It goes without saying that ‘if anything is met with among the scholastic doctors which may be regarded as an excess of subtlety, or which does not square with later discoveries, or which is altogether destitute of probability, we have no desire whatever to propose it for the imitation of present generations [Leo XIII., Enc. Aeterni Patris]. And let it be clearly understood above all things that the scholastic philosophy we prescribe is that which the Angelic Doctor has bequeathed to us, and we, therefore, declare that all the ordinances of our predecessor on this subject continue fully in force, and, as far as may be necessary, we do decree anew, and confirm, and ordain that they be by all strictly observed. In seminaries where they may have been neglected let the Bishops impose them and require their observance, and let this apply also to the superiors of religious institutions. Further, let professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment. ‘A small error at the beginning,’ to use the words of Aquinas, ‘becomes great in the end.’
“On this philosophical foundation the theological edifice is to be solidly raised. Promote the study of theology, venerable brothers, by all means in your power, so that your clerics on leaving the seminaries may admire and love it and always find their delight in it. ‘For in the vast and varied abundance of studies opening before the mind desirous of truth, everybody knows how the old maxim describes theology as so far in front of all others that every science and art should serve it and be to it as handmaidens” [Leo XIII, Lett. In magna, 10 December, 1889]. We will add that we deem as worthy of praise those who with full respect for tradition, the Holy Fathers, the ecclesiastical magisterium, undertake, with well-balanced judgment and guided by Catholic principles (which is not always the case), seek to illuminate positive theology by throwing the light of true history upon it. Certainly more attention must be paid to positive theology than in the past, but this must be done without detriment to scholastic theology, and those are to be disapproved as of modernist tendencies who exalt positive theology in such a way as to seem to despise the scholastic.
“With regard to profane studies suffice it to recall here what our predecessor has admirably said: ‘Apply yourselves energetically to the study of natural sciences: the brilliant discoveries and the bold and useful applications of them made in our times, which have won such applause from our contemporaries, will be an object of perpetual praise for those that come after us’ [Leo XIII, Alloc. ap. 7 March, 1880]. But do this without interfering with sacred studies, as our predecessor urges in these most grave words: ‘If you carefully search for the cause of these errors you will find that it lies in the fact that these days, when the natural sciences absorb so much study, the more severe and lofty studies have been proportionately neglected—some of them have almost passed into oblivion, some of them are pursued in a half-hearted or superficial way, and, sad to say, now that they are fallen from their old estate, they have been disfigured by perverse doctrines and monstrous errors’ [Loc. cit.]. We ordain therefore that the study of natural science in the seminaries be carried on under this law.
“II. All these prescriptions and those of our predecessor are to be borne in mind whenever there is question of choosing directors and professors for seminaries and Catholic universities. Anybody who in any way is found to be imbued with modernism is to be excluded without compunction from these offices and those who already occupy them are to be removed. The same policy is to be adopted towards those who favor modernism either by extolling the Modernists or excusing their culpable conduct, or by criticizing scholasticism and the Holy Fathers, or by refusing obedience to ecclesiastical authority in any of its depositaries; and towards those who show a love of novelty in history, archeology, Biblical exegesis, and finally towards those who neglect the sacred sciences or appear to prefer to them the profane. In all this question of studies, venerable brothers, you cannot be too watchful or too constant, but most of all in the choice of professors, for as a rule the students are modeled after the pattern of their masters. Strong in the consciousness of your duty, act always prudently but vigorously.
“Equal diligence and severity are to be used in examining and selecting candidates for holy orders. Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty! God hates the proud and the obstinate. For the future the doctorate of theology and canon law must never be conferred on anybody who has not made the regular course of scholastic philosophy; if conferred, it shall be held as null and void. The rules laid down in 1896 by the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars for the clerics, both secular and regular, of Italy concerning the frequenting of the universities we now decree to be extended to all nations. Clerics and priests inscribed in a Catholic institute or university must not in the future follow in civil universities those courses for which there are chairs in the Catholic institutes to which they belong. If this have been permitted anywhere in the past, we ordain that it be not allowed for the future. Let the Bishops who form the governing board of such Catholic institutes or universities watch with all care that these our commands be constantly observed.
“III. It is also the duty of the Bishops to prevent writings infected with modernism or favorable to it from being read when they have been published, and to hinder their publication when they have not. No book or paper or periodical of this kind must ever be permitted to seminarists or university students. The injury to them would be equal to that caused by immoral reading; nay, it would be greater, for such writings poison Christian life at its very fount. The same decision is to be taken concerning the writings of some Catholics, who though not badly disposed themselves, but ill-instructed in theological studies and imbued with modern philosophy, strive to make this harmonize with the faith, and, as they say, to turn it to the account of the faith. The name and reputation of these authors causes them to be read without suspicion, and they are therefore all the more dangerous in preparing the way for modernism.
“To give you some more general directions, venerable brothers, in a matter of such moment, we bid you do everything in your power to drive out of your dioceses, even by solemn interdict, any pernicious books that may be in circulation there. The Holy See neglects no means to put down writings of this kind, but the number of them has now grown to such an extent that it is impossible to censure them all. Hence it happens that the medicine sometimes arrives too late, for the disease has taken root during the delay. We will, therefore, that the Bishops, putting aside all fear and the prudence of the flesh, despising the outcries of the wicked, gently by all means, but constantly, do each his own share of this work, remembering the injunctions of Leo XIII. in the Apostolic Constitution ‘Officiorum’: Let the Ordinaries, acting in this also as delegates of the Apostolic See, exert themselves to proscribe and to put out of reach of the faithful injurious books or other writings printed or circulated in their dioceses.’ In this passage the Bishops, it is true, receive a right, but they have also a duty imposed on them. Let no Bishop think that he fulfills this duty by denouncing to us one or two books, while a great many others of the same kind are being published and circulated. Nor are you to be deterred by the fact that, a book has obtained the ‘imprimatur’ elsewhere, both because this may be merely simulated and because it may have been granted through carelessness, or easiness, or excessive confidence in the author, as may sometimes happen in religious orders. Besides, just as the same food does not agree equally with everybody, it may happen that a book, harmless in one place, may on account of the different circumstances be hurtful in another. Should a Bishop, therefore, after having taken the advice of prudent persons, deem it right to condemn any of such books in his diocese, we not only give him ample faculty to do so, but we impose it upon him as a duty to do so. Of course, it is our wish that in such cases the proper regards be used, and sometimes it will suffice to restrict the prohibition to the clergy; but even in such cases it will be obligatory on Catholic booksellers not to put on sale the books condemned by the Bishop. And while we are on this subject of booksellers, we wish the Bishops to see to it that they do not through desire for gain put on sale unsound books. It is certain that in the catalogues of some of them the books of the Modernists are not unfrequently announced with no small praise. If they refuse obedience, let the Bishops have no hesitation in depriving them of the title of Catholic booksellers; so, too, and with more reason, if they have the title of Episcopal booksellers, and if they have that of Pontifical, let them be denounced to the Apostolic See. Finally, we remind all of the XXVI. article of the above-mentioned Constitution ‘Officiorum’: All those who have obtained an apostolic faculty to read and keep forbidden books are not thereby authorized to read books and periodicals forbidden by the local Ordinaries, unless the apostolic faculty expressly concedes permission to read and keep books condemned by anybody.’
“IV. But it is not enough to hinder the reading and the sale of bad books—it is also necessary to prevent them from being printed. Hence let the Bishops use the utmost severity in granting permission to print. Under the rules of the Constitution ‘Officiorum’ a great many publications require the authorization of the Ordinary, and in some dioceses it has been made the custom to have a suitable number of official censors for the examination of writings. We have the highest praise for this institution, and we not only exhort, but we order that it be extended to all dioceses. In all episcopal Curias, therefore, let censors be appointed for the revision of works intended for publication, and let the censors, to be chosen from both ranks of the clergy, be men of age, knowledge and prudence, who will know how to follow the golden mean in their judgments. It shall be their office to examine everything which requires permission for publication according to Articles XLI. and XLII. of the above-mentioned Constitution. The censor shall give his verdict in writing. If it be favorable, the Bishop will give the permission for publica- tion by the word ‘Imprimatur,’ which must always be preceded by the ‘Nihil obstat’ and the name of the censor. In the Curia of Rome official censors shall be appointed just as elsewhere, and the appointment of them shall appertain to the Master of the Sacred Palaces, after they have been proposed to the Cardinal Vicar and accepted by the Sovereign Pontiff. It shall also be the office of the Master of the Sacred Palaces to select the censor for each writing. Permission for publication shall be granted by him as well as by the Cardinal Vicar or his vicegerent, and this permission, as above prescribed, must always be preceded by the ‘Nihil obstat’ and the name of the censor. Only on very rare and exceptional occasions, and on the prudent decision of the Bishop, shall it be permissible to omit mention of the censor. The name of the censor shall never be made known to the authors until he have given a favorable decision, so that he may not have to suffer annoyance either while he is engaged in the examination of a writing or in case he should deny his approval. Censors shall never be chosen from the religious orders until the opinion of the provincial, or in Rome of the general, have been privately obtained, and the provincial or the general must give a conscientious account of the character, knowledge and orthodoxy of the candidate. We admonish religious superiors of their solemn duty never to allow anything to be published by any of their subjects without permission from themselves and from the Ordinary. Finally, we affirm and declare that the title of censor has no value and can never be adduced to give credit to the private opinions of the person who holds it.
“Having said this much in general, we now ordain in particular a more careful observance of Article XLII. of the above-mentioned Constitution ‘Officiorum.’ It is ‘forbidden to secular priests, without the previous consent of the Ordinary, to undertake the direction of papers or periodicals.’ This permission shall be withdrawn from any priest who makes a wrong use of it, after having been admonished. With regard to priests who are ‘correspondents’ or ‘collaborators’ of periodicals, as it happens not unfrequently [sic] that they write matter infected with modernism for their papers or periodicals, let the Bishops see to it that this is not permitted to happen, and should it happen, let them warn the writers or prevent them from writing. The superiors of religious orders, too, we admonish with all authority to do the same, and should they fail in this duty, let the Bishops make due provision with authority delegated by the Supreme Pontiff. Let there be, as far this is possible, a special censor for newspapers and periodicals printed by Catholics. It shall be his office to read in due time each number after it has been published, and if he find anything dangerous in it, let him order that it be corrected. The Bishop shall have the same right even when the censor has seen nothing objectionable in a publication.
“V. We have already mentioned congresses and public gatherings as among the means used by the Modernists to defend and propagate their opinions. In the future Bishops shall not permit congresses of priests except on very rare occasions. When they do permit them, it shall only be on condition that matters appertaining to the Bishop or the Apostolic See be not treated in them, and that no motions or postulates be allowed that would imply a usurpation of sacred authority, and that no mention be made in them of modernism, presbyterianism or laicism. At congresses of this kind, which can only be held after permission in writing has been obtained in due time and for each case, it shall not be lawful for priests from other dioceses to take part without the written permission of their Ordinary. Further, no priest must lose sight of the solemn recommendation of Leo XIII.: ‘Let priests hold as sacred the authority of their pastors, let them take it for certain that the sacerdotal ministry, if not exercised under the guidance of the Bishops, can never be either holy, or very fruitful, or respectable’ [Lett. Encyc. Noblissima Gallorum, 10 February, 1884].
“V. But of what avail, venerable brothers, will be all our commands and prescriptions, if they be not dutifully and firmly carried out? And in order that this may be done, it has seemed expedient to us to extend to all dioceses the regulations laid down with great wisdom many years ago by the Bishops of Umbria for theirs:
“‘In order’, they say, ‘to extirpate the errors already propagated and to prevent their further diffusion and to remove those teachers of impiety through whom the pernicious effects of such diffusion are being perpetuated, this sacred assembly, following the example of St. Charles Borromeo, has decided to establish in each of the dioceses a council consisting of approved members of both branches of the clergy, which shall be charged with the task of noting the existence of errors and the devices by which new ones are introduced and propagated, and to inform the Bishop of the whole, so that he may take counsel with them as to the best means for nipping the evil in the bud and preventing it spreading for the ruin of souls, or, worse still, gaining strength and growth’ [Acts of the Congress of Bishops of Umbria, November, 1849, Tit. 2, Art. 6]. We decree therefore that in every diocese a council of this kind, which we are pleased to name ‘The Council of Vigilance,’ be instituted without delay. The priests called to form part of it shall be chosen somewhat after the manner above prescribed for the censors, and they shall meet every two months on an appointed day under the presidency of the Bishop. They shall be bound to secrecy as to their deliberations and decisions, and their function shall be as follows: They shall watch most carefully for every trace and sign of modernism, both in publications and in teaching, and, to preserve from it the clergy and the young, they shall take all prudent, prompt and efficacious measures. Let them combat novelties of words, remembering the admonitions of Leo XIII. [Instruct. S. C. NN. EE. EF., 27 January, 1902]: ‘It is impossible to approve in Catholic publications of a style inspired by unsound novelty which seems to deride the piety of the faithful and dwells on the introduction of a new order of Christian life, on new directions of the Church, on new aspirations of the modern soul, on a new vocation of the clergy, on a new Christian civilization.’ Language of this kind is not to be tolerated either in books or from chairs of learning. The councils must not neglect the books treating of the pious traditions of different places or of sacred relics. Let them not permit such questions to be discussed in periodicals destined to stimulate piety, neither with expressions that savor of mockery or contempt, nor by dogmatic pronouncements, especially when, as is often the case, what is stated as a certainty either does not pass the limits of probability or is merely based on prejudiced opinions. Concerning sacred relics, let this be the rule: When the Bishops, who alone are judges in these matters, know for certain that a relic is not genuine, let them remove it at once from the veneration of the faithful; if the authentications of a relic happen to have been lost through political disturbances or in some other way, let it not be exposed for public veneration until the Bishop has verified it. The argument of prescription or well-founded presumption is to have weight only when devotion to a relic is commendable by reason of its antiquity, according to the sense of the decree issued in 1896 by the Congregation of Indulgences and Sacred Relics; ‘Ancient relics are to enjoy the veneration they have always enjoyed except in those individual instances when there are clear arguments that they are false or supposititious.’ In passing judgment on pious traditions be it always be borne in mind that in this matter the Church uses such prudence that she does not permit traditions of this kind to be narrated in books except with the utmost caution and with the insertion of the declaration imposed by Urban VIII.; and even then she does not guarantee the truth of the fact narrated: she simply does not forbid belief in things for which human arguments are not wanting. On this matter the Sacred Congregation of Rites thirty years ago decreed as follows [Decree, May 2, 1877]: ‘These apparitions have neither been approved nor condemned by the Holy See, which has simply allowed that they be believed on purely human faith, on the traditions that relate them, corroborated by testimonies and documents’ ‘worthy of credence.’” Anybody who follows this rule has no cause for fear. For the devotion based on any apparition, in as far as it regards the fact itself, that is to say, in as far as it is ‘relative,’ always implies the hypothesis of the truth of the fact; while in as far as it is ‘absolute,’ it must always be based on the truth, seeing that its object is the persons of the saints who are honored. The same is true of relics. Finally, we entrust to the Councils of Vigilance the duty of overlooking assiduously and diligently social institutions as well as writings on social questions, so that they may harbor no trace of modernism, but obey the prescriptions of the Roman Pontiffs.
“VII. Lest what we have laid down thus far should fall into oblivion, we will and ordain that the Bishops of all dioceses a year after this publication and every three years thenceforward furnish the Holy See with a diligent and sworn report on all the prescriptions contained in them, and on the doctrines that find currency among the clergy, and especially in the seminaries and other Catholic institutions, and we impose the like obligation on the generals of religious orders with regard to those under them.”
To all this, which we fully confirm under pain of temerarious conscience upon those who refuse to hearken to our words, we now add some special instruction concerning ecclesiastical students in the seminaries and aspirants in religious institutes. In the seminaries all the parts of the institutions must be directed to the formation of priests worthy of the name. For it must not be thought that such institutions are destined merely for study or for piety—they combine both these; they are the training schools in which the army of Christ is built up by a long course of preparation. In order that a host thoroughly equipped may come forth from them, two things are fundamentally necessary: doctrine for the culture of the mind, virtue for the perfection of the soul. The former of these demands that ecclesiastical students be highly enlightened in those branches which are closely connected with the studies of divine things; the latter demands a special degree of virtue and constancy. Let the superiors of discipline and piety, therefore, note what promise the individual students give of themselves and study their characters — whether they give themselves up unduly to their natural bent, whether they show worldly tendencies; whether they are docile to obey, given to piety, not having an exalted idea of themselves, observant of discipline; whether they are led to aspire to the priesthood by a right aim or by human motives; whether their lives are marked by the holiness and doctrine suitable to their state, or at least, if there be any defect in this respect, do they endeavor sincerely and willingly to acquire it. Nor does this investigation present excessive difficulties; for the lack of virtue referred to is speedily produced by a hypocritical performance of the offices of religion and by the observance of discipline through fear rather than at the dictates of conscience, and the person who observes discipline through servile fear, or violates it through levity of mind or through contempt is very far from offering a guarantee of living worthily in the priesthood. For it is not easy to believe that he who despises domestic discipline will not fall away from the public laws of the Church. When a superior of sacred youth finds one of them in this frame of mind and after warning him once or twice notes no change for the better after a year of trial, he should expel him in such a way as to render it impossible for such a student to be again received either by himself or by any Bishop.
Two things, therefore, are primarily necessary in promoting clerics: innocence of life joined with soundness of doctrine. Nor must it be forgotten that the precepts and admonitions addressed by the Bishops to those whom they are initiating in sacred orders are meant as much for themselves as for the candidates; as, for instance, when it is laid down: “Care must be taken that heavenly wisdom, upright life and long observance of justice commend the elect for this office. . . . Let them be upright and ripe at once in knowledge and in works . . . let the form of all justice shine forth in them.”
With regard to probity of life it would not be necessary to say more were it possible to separate this easily from the doctrines and opinions which a man takes it upon him to defend. But, as we read in the Book of Proverbs: “A man shall be known by his doctrine” [Prov 12:8], and as the Apostle teaches: “Whosoever continueth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God” [2 John 9]. How much of effort is to be spent in acquiring knowledge of many and various things may be seen from the very conditions of the age which proclaims that the light of progressing humanity is the most glorious of achievements. All the clergy, therefore, who wish to perform their duties in a manner worthy of the time, fruitfully “to exhort in sound doctrine and to convince the gainsayers” [Titus 1:9] to devote the resources of intellect to the utility of the Church, must acquire a knowledge of things beyond the common and approach as closely as possible to the perfection of doctrine. For the fight is one with enemies not lacking in skill, whose polished studies are not unfrequently united with a science full of wiles and whose specious and vibrant sentences are made up of impetuous and sounding phrases, so as to make it appear that they contain something entirely new. Hence we must carefully prepare our arms, that is, a rich fund of doctrine is to be acquired by all those who are preparing themselves in retirement for the holiest and most arduous of tasks. But since the life of man is circumscribed within such limits that it is barely possible for one to learn cursorily something of the immense fund of things that are to be known, the thirst for knowledge must be regulated and the sentence of Paul be acted upon “not to be more wise than it behooveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety” [Romans 12:3]. Hence as clerics are already sufficiently burdened with the many important studies imposed upon them relating to sacred literature, to the points of faith, morals, the science of piety and offices known as ascetics, to the history of the Church, canon law and sacred eloquence, in order that the students may not waste their time in the pursuit of other questions and be distracted from the main objects of their studies, we absolutely forbid that any journals or periodicals, however excellent, be read by them, binding the consciences of the superiors to take care scrupulously that this does not happen.
To remove all suspicion of the secret introduction of Modernism, we not only will the absolute observance of the prescriptions contained in No. 2 above, but we ordain, moreover, that the individual professors before inaugurating their lectures at the beginning of the year shall present to the Bishop the text they propose to use in teaching or the questions or theses which are to be treated; then that the teaching of each of them be examined during the year, and should it appear that this is not in harmony with sound doctrine, the fact shall be held sufficient to have the professor removed there and then. Finally, in addition to the profession of faith, each professor shall take an oath according to the formula given below before his Bishop and shall sign his name to it.
This oath, after the profession of faith, in the form prescribed by our predecessor, Pius IV., of holy memory, has been made, together with accompanying definitions of the Vatican Council, shall be taken in presence of the Bishop by:
I. Clerics who are to be initiated in major orders: to each of whom a copy shall be previously presented both of the profession of faith and of the form of oath, so that they may know accurately what they are, and with them the penalties incurred by violation of the oath.
II. Priests appointed for hearing confessions and sacred preachers, before they receive faculties for exercising these sacred offices.
III. Parish priests, canons, holders of livings, before they enter on possession of their benefices.
IV. Officials in the episcopal curias and ecclesiastical tribunals, not excepting the vicar general and the judges.
V. Lenten preachers.
VI. All officials in the Roman Congregations or Tribunals before the Cardinal Prefect or Cardinal Secretary of the same.
VII. The superiors and professors of religious families and congregations, before they enter on office.
The formula of the profession of faith, mentioned above, and of the oath are to be kept in special frames in all episcopal curias as well as in the different offices of the Roman congregations. And should anybody dare, which may God forbid, to violate the oath, he is to be delated at once to the Holy Office.
“I . . . firmly hold and accept each and every definition of the unerring teaching of the Church, with all she has maintained and declared, but especially those points of doctrine which expressly combat the errors of our time. In the first place, I profess my belief that God, the beginning and end of all, can be surely known and also proved to exist by the natural light of reason from the things that are made, that is, from the visible works of the creation as a cause from its effects. Next I recognize and acknowledge the external arguments of revelation, that is, divine facts, especially miracles and prophecies, as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion, and I hold that these are specially suited to the understanding of every age and of all men, even of our times. Thirdly, I likewise hold with firm faith that the Church, the guardian and exponent of the revealed Word, was proximately and directly founded by Christ Himself, the true person of history, while He dwelt amongst us, and that she was also built upon Peter, the Prince of the Apostolic Hierarchy, and upon his successors to the end of time. Fourthly, I sincerely receive the teaching of faith as transmitted in the same sense and meaning right down to us; and, therefore, I wholly reject the heretical notion of the evolution of dogmas, which pass from one sense to another alien to that the Church held from the start; and I likewise condemn every error whereby is substituted for the divine deposit, entrusted by Christ to His spouse and by her to be faithfully guarded, a philosophic system or a creation of the human conscience, gradually refined by the striving of men and finally to be perfected hereafter by indefinite progress. Fifthly, I hold for certain and sincerely profess that faith is not a blind religious sense making its way out of the hidden regions of the subliminal consciousness, morally tinged by the influence of heart and will, but is a true assent of the intellect to truth received from without by hearing, an assent whereby we believe to be true, because of the authority of the all true God, whatever by the personal God, our Creator and Lord, has been spoken, testified and revealed.
“I further, with all due reverence, submit and with my whole mind adhere to all the condemnations, declarations and directions contained in the encyclical letter ‘Pascendi’ and in the decree ‘Lamentabili’, particularly regarding what is called the history of dogma.
“I also reject the error of those who allege that the faith proposed by the Church may be in conflict with history and that Catholic dogmas in the sense in which they are now understood cannot be harmonized with the more truthful ‘origins’ of Christianity. Moreover, I condemn and reject the opinion which declares that a Christian man of better culture can assume a dual personality, one as believer and another as historian, thus taking it to be permissible for the historian to hold fast what his faith as a believer contradicts, or to lay down premises from which there follows the falsity or the uncertainty of dogmas, provided only that these are not directly denied. Likewise I reject that method of estimating and interpreting Holy Writ which, setting aside the Church’s tradition and the analogy of faith and the rules of the Apostolic See, adopts the rationalists’ principles and with equal arbitrariness and rashness considers criticism of the text the one only supreme rule. In like manner I reprobate the opinion of those who hold that a teacher of the science of historical theology or the writer on the subject must first put aside the notions previously conceived about the supernatural origin of Catholic tradition or about the divine aid promised for the perpetual preservation of each revealed truth; then that the writings of individual fathers must be interpreted solely by the data of science, without any reference to sacred authority, and with the freedom of judgment wherewith every profane record is usually examined.
“Finally and in general, I declare myself to be far removed from the error of the modernists who hold that in sacred tradition there is nothing inherently divine; or who — far worse still — admit it in a pantheistic sense: thus there would remain only a bare simple fact equal to the ordinary facts of history, viz., that the school started by Christ and His Apostles still finds men to support it by their energy, their shrewdness, their ability. Wherefore most firmly I retain and to my last breath will I retain the faith of the Fathers of the Church concerning the sure endowment of truth, which is, has been and ever will be in the succession of the episcopate from the Apostles (St. Irenaeus IV., c. 26); not in such a way that we may hold what seems best and most fitting according to the refinement of each age, but that we never in any different wise understand the absolute and unchangeable truth preached from the beginning by the Apostles. (Praescript, c. 28.)
“All this I promise that I will faithfully, entirely and sincerely keep and inviolably guard, and from this never in teaching or howsoever by word or writing in the least depart. So I promise, so I swear, so help me God, etc.”
Since long experience has taught us that the zeal of the Bishops in providing for the preaching of the Divine Word has not produced its proper fruit, not, we think, on account of the negligence of the hearers, but on account of the vanity of preachers whose words are the words of men rather than of God, we deem it well to reproduce here in Latin and to recommend to the Ordinaries the document issued at the command of our predecessor, Leo XIII., of happy memory, by the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars on July 31, 1894, and sent to the Ordinaries of Italy and to the superiors of religious families and congregations:
1. “And in the first place as regards the ornament of virtue, which should above all distinguish sacred orators, let the Ordinaries and the superiors of religious families take good care never to entrust this holy and salutary mission of the Divine Word to those whose piety towards God and love of His Son Christ our Lord does not shine forth. For if the preachers of Catholic doctrine be lacking in these qualities, they will never be anything but ‘a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal’ (I. Cor. xiii., 1), and they will always be destitute of that which forms the whole strength and efficacy of evangelical preaching, that is, zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
“And this piety, so necessary for sacred orators, must shine forth even in their external conduct in order that their lives may not be in opposition with the Christian precepts and institutions which they extol in their discourses and that they may not destroy by their acts what they build up by their words. Again, there must be nothing profane in this piety, but rather let it be instinct with that gravity which reveals them as ‘the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the Divine mysteries.’ (I. Cor. iv., 1.) For otherwise, as the Angelic Doctor well says, ‘if the doctrine is good and the preacher bad, the latter is an occasion of blasphemy against the doctrine of God.’
“But piety and the other Christian virtues must have knowledge as their inseparable companion, since it is obvious and clearly proved by long experience that the Word cannot be suitably and fruitfully preached by men destitute of knowledge, especially sacred knowledge, who, trusting to a certain natural facility in elocution, boldly ascend the pulpit without any preparation. Such as they beat the air, and all unconsciously expose Divine revelation to derision and contempt and put themselves on a level with those of whom the Divine words were spoken: ‘Because thou has rejected knowledge, I will reject thee, that thou shalt not do the office of priesthood to me.’ (Os. iv., 6.)
2. “Therefore Bishops and superiors of religious communities must not entrust the ministry of the Divine Word to any priest who has not proved himself to be sufficiently endowed with piety and knowledge. They are to take great care, too, that only subjects worthy of sacred eloquence be treated in the pulpit. These have been indicted by our Lord when He said: ‘Preach the Gospel.’ (Mark xvi., 15.) ‘Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’ (Matt. xxviii., 20), words which are thus suitably explained by St. Thomas: ‘Preachers must enlighten in faith, direct in works, point out what is to be avoided, and by threats and promises lead men to truth and goodness’ [Comm. in Matt. v]. And the Council of Trent adds: ‘Let them preach the extirpation of vice and the practice of virtue to avoid eternal punishment and gain the glory of heaven [Sess. V., cap. 2, De Reform.], in development of which Pius IX., of happy memory, has written: ‘They must preach not themselves, but Christ crucified; let them, then, announce to the people, clearly and simply, with grave and persuasive eloquence and according to the doctrine of the Catholic Church and of the Fathers, the dogmas and precepts of our most holy religion; let them carefully explain to the people the special duties of each, turn them from vice and kindle them in charity, so that the faithful, healthily strengthened by the Word of God, may abandon vice, practice virtue and thus be enabled to avoid eternal punishment and win the glory of heaven’ [Encyclical Qui Pluribus, n. 26].
“From all this it will be clear that the proper subjects for preaching are the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the precepts of the Church, the sacraments, the virtues and vices, the duties of one’s state of life, the four last things and other eternal truths of the same kind.
3. “But to-day the ministers of the Divine Word only too often pay but small attention to this rich and important mine of subjects ; they neglect it and almost reject it as something useless and superannuated. Knowing well as they do that the topics we have just enumerated are little calculated to win popular applause, for which they are so eager, and ‘seeking their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ’ (Philip. ii., 21), they thrust aside these topics even during Lent and the most solemn seasons of the year. And changing names as well as things, they substitute for the old instructions a new and not very intelligible kind of discourse, which they call ‘conferences,’ far better adapted to flatter intellect and thought than to control the will and reform conduct. They do not reflect that while moral instructions are useful for all, conferences are so only to a few, and that even these few, if the orator occupied himself more with their conduct by frequently inculcating chastity, humility of heart, obedience to the authority of the Church, would thus be freed from their prejudices against the faith and receive the light of truth with better dispositions. For if there are many, especially in Catholic countries, who have false ideas regarding religion, the fact is to be attributed to the unchecked passions of the heart rather than to aberration of the mind, according to the Divine sentence: ‘From the heart come forth evil thoughts . . . blasphemies.’ (Matt. xv., 19.) Thus St. Augustine, referring to the words of the Psalmist: ‘The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God’ (Psalms xiii., 1) says: ‘It is the heart, not the mind, that speaks here.’
4. “This does not imply, however, that discourses of this kind are to be absolutely condemned, for when they are well done they may often prove very useful and even necessary to refute errors contrary to religion. But it is necessary to banish absolutely from the pulpit that elaborate style of address which concerns theory more than practice, which concerns the civil more closely than the religious order and which is more notable for its external show than for the fruit that follows from it. All that elaboration which is better suited for meetings or learned gatherings is quite out of touch with the majesty of the house of God. As regards lectures or conferences which aim at the defense of religion against attack, very necessary as they are in certain cases, they are not within the capacity of all, but only of the best equipped; and even the best speakers should not hold these conferences except when time and place and the condition of the hearers render them necessary and there is some hope of their doing good — and this, it will be clear to all, is a point which must be left to the legitimate verdict of the Ordinary. In these discourses, too, the power of conviction should be based rather on sacred doctrine than on the words of human wisdom, and that the exposition should be made with force and clearness, so that error may not make a deeper impression than truth on the minds of the hearers and objections be not stronger than the answers given to them. But above all things, care must be taken that the frequency of such discourses shall not diminish that of moral instructions, and that the importance of the latter be not minimized as though, being of an inferior order, they were less worthy of respect than the others and were therefore to be left to ordinary preachers and hearers; for the truth is, on the contrary, that moral instructions are absolutely necessary for the majority of the faithful and are not less in dignity than apologetic dissertations, so that even the best orators, at least from time to time, and before the best classes of hearers should devote themselves with the greatest care to this kind of sermons. If a contrary practice is followed, the faithful are forever being obliged to listen to discourses about errors from which the majority of them are immune and never of the faults and vices they really possess.
5. “But if there is reason to complain about the choice of subjects, there are other reasons and grave ones as regards the style and form of the sermons preached. St. Thomas well teaches that to be really ‘the light of the world the preacher of the Divine Word must possess three things: first, solidity, so that he may not fall away from the truth; second, clearness, so that he may not teach it obscurely; third, a useful aim, so that he may seek God’s glory and not his own’ [Loc. cit.].
“Too often the style of contemporary eloquence is not only at variance with the clearness of that evangelical simplicity which it should possess, but is mostly made up of clashing words and recondite thoughts beyond the grasp of the people. This is deplorable and to be lamented in the words of the Prophet: ‘The little ones asked for bread and there was no one to break it for them.’ (Thren. [Lamentations] iv., 4.) But even more lamentable still is the fact that so many sermons are destitute of the religious spirit, the atmosphere of Christian piety, that Divine force and virtue of the Holy Spirit which appeals to the soul and leads it gently to what is right — a force and virtue which should always assimilate preaching to the words of the Apostle: ‘My speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in showing of the Spirit and power.” (I. Cor. ii., 4.)
“But those who place their reliance in the persuasive words of human wisdom rarely if ever have recourse to the Divine sources and to the Sacred Scriptures, that contain those living waters which are the most fruitful and abundant matter for sacred preaching, as His Holiness Leo XIII. eloquently explained recently in these grave words: ‘Herein is to be found the proper and special virtues of the Scriptures, from the Divine breath of the Holy Spirit, who confers authority on the preacher, endows him with apostolic liberty of speech and inspires him with forceful and triumphant eloquence. Such a speaker reproduces the spirit and force of the Divine Word, his preaching “is not in word only, but in power also, and in the Holy Ghost and in much fullness.” (I. Thess. i. 5.) Hence it must be said that inconsistent and thoughtless is the conduct of those who deliver addresses on religion and announce the Divine commandments in the mere words of human science and prudence instead of availing themselves of the only means that are divine. Their language, empty of the fire of the Word of God, necessarily languishes and grows cold and possesses nothing of that divine virtue which shines forth in the Divine Word. “The Word of God is living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword, and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit.” (Heb. iv., 12.) Thinking men must recognize that there is in the sacred writings an eloquence truly wonderful and varied and worthy of the great things it expresses. Augustine understood this and expatiated on it with skill; and experience shows that the greatest sacred orators, and they have recognized it themselves, owe their reputation to their assiduous use and pious meditation of the Bible’ [De Doctr. Christ. iv., 6, 7].
“The Bible is, therefore, the chief source of sacred eloquence. But preachers eager after new models instead of going to the ‘living source,’ turn deplorably to ‘the broken cisterns of human wisdom,’ and neglecting the divinely inspired doctrine of the Fathers of the Church and the councils, lose themselves entirely in quoting the names and phrases of modern and still living profane writers — phrases which very often give rise to very dangerous interpretations or misunderstandings.
“They offend again by speaking of religion as if they wished to measure everything according to the standard of the goods and advantages of this ephemeral life, with hardly any reference to a future and eternal life; by dilating on the fruits which the Christian religion has brought to human society, but omitting to dwell on the duties which it imposes; by exalting the charity of Christ the Saviour, but without speaking of His justice. Hence the small fruit derived from such preaching, from which the profane hearer rises with the impression that he can, without changing his conduct, be a Christian merely by saying: ‘I believe in Jesus Christ.’ But what care they for the fruits of their preaching — it is not of these they are thinking. Their one great care is to flatter their hearers by tickling their ears. It is enough for them that the churches are full, even if the hearts of the people in them are empty. Hence they never make any mention of the remission of sins, of the four last things and of other capital questions; they speak only to please and they think only of extracting cries of admiration and applause by a profane eloquence better fitted for speech-makers than for those engaged in the apostolic and sacred ministry. Against such as these St. Jerome writes: ‘When you teach in the church, let the people utter not exclamations, but groans; let the tears of your hearers be your praise’ [Ad Nepotian]. Hence it happens that these instructions, both within and without the precincts of the church, take on a theatrical appearance and lose all efficacy and all semblance of holiness; hence, too, the ears of the people and even of many of the clergy no longer find the pleasure which the Divine Word would give; hence a source of scandal for the good, little or no profit for the erring, who even when they crowd to hear fine language, drawn especially by big words about human progress, patriotism, recent discoveries of science, a hundred times repeated, punctuate the periods of the orator with prolonged applause, but leave the temple no better than they entered it, like those ‘who admired, but were not converted’ [Ex Aug. in Matth. xix., 25].
“This Sacred Congregation, therefore, wishing, by order of the Holy Father, to remove all these deadly abuses, obliges all the Bishops and superiors general of religious communities and ecclesiastical institutes to employ all their apostolic zeal and energy to extirpate them. Remembering the prescription of the Council of Trent, ‘they are to select men suitable for this office of preaching’ [Sess. V., c. 2, De Reform.]. Let them perform this duty with the utmost zeal. In the case of priests of their own dioceses the Ordinaries must not admit them to this office until they have received a certificate of good life, knowledge and conduct [Sess. V., c. 2, De Reform.], that is, until their capacity has been tested by an examination or in some other way. And in the case of priests from other dioceses, they must not allow them into the pulpit, especially on the principal solemnities, until they receive from their Ordinary or religious superior a written attestation of their good conduct and of a sufficient preparation.
“The superiors of all religious orders, societies and congregations must not admit to the office of preaching, still less recommend to the Ordinaries, any of their subjects until they have assured themselves of the upright life and suitable preparation for sacred oratory of the candidates. And if after having given letters of recommendation to a preacher, they find that his sermons are not in harmony with the directions given in this letter, they must at once call him to a sense of his duty, and if he refuse to obey, they must interdict him from the pulpit, even using, when necessary, the canonical penalties which the circumstances may require.”
If we have thought it necessary to repeat and reproduce these prescriptions, ordering them to be religiously observed, the reason is that we are forced to it by the gravity of an evil which is increasing every day and which it would be extremely dangerous not to arrest immediately. For we have not now, as in the beginning, to deal with contradictors who present themselves in sheep’s clothing, but with open and declared enemies — and in addition internal enemies, who in alliance with the chief enemies of the Church are aiming at the ruin of the faith. The audacity of these rises up each day against the wisdom which comes from heaven, arrogating to themselves the right to amend it as though it had become corrupted, to rejuvenate it as though it had become effete, to enlarge it and adapt it to the tendencies, progress and interests of the age, as though it were opposed not to some superficial minds, but to the welfare of society. Against these attacks on the teaching of the Gospel and sacred ecclesiastical tradition those who have received the sacred deposit of faith can never offer too vigilant and severe an opposition.
As to the admonitions and prescriptions which, with certain knowledge, we have laid down in the present “Motu proprio,” we will and ordain that they be religiously observed, both by all the Ordinaries of the whole Catholic Church and by the superiors general of the regular orders and ecclesiastical institutes and that they be efficaciously applied, all things to the contrary notwithstanding.
Given at Rome at St. Peter’s, September 1, 1910, in the eighth year of our pontificate.
Pius X., Pope.
[Original, official Latin text appears in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. II (1910), pp. 655-680. English translation taken from American Catholic Quarterly Review, vol. XXXV, n. 140 (October, 1910), pp. 712-731.]
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