Apostolic Letter of Pope Pius IX

Æterni Patris (June 29, 1868)

Apostolic Letter of His Holiness Pope Pius IX convoking the [First] Vatican Council

[not to be confused with the Encyclical Aeterni Patris of Pope Leo XIII,
nor with the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus of the Vatican Council]

Servant of the Servants of God

In perpetual remembrance

The Only-Begotten Son of the Eternal Father, be cause of the exceeding charity wherewith He hath loved us, and in order that in the fulness of time He might deliver the whole human race from the yoke of sin, from slavery to the devil, and from the darkness of error, by which through the fault of our first parent it had long been miserably oppressed, came down from His heavenly throne, and, without parting from His Father’s glory, was clothed in human nature from the Immaculate and Most Holy Virgin Mary. He manifested a doctrine and a rule of life brought down by Him from heaven, giving witness to the same by many wonderful works, and delivering Himself up for us an Oblation and Victim unto God in the odour of sweetness. And, having conquered death, He ascended triumphant into heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Father, having first sent the Apostles into the whole world to preach the Gospel to every creature. He gave them the power of ruling the Church — the pillar and ground of the truth — which had been purchased and established by His blood, and which, enriched with heavenly treasures, shows to all nations the safe way of salvation and the light of true doctrine, and, like to a ship, is so borne upon the waves of this present time as, while the world perishes, to preserve unhurt all whom she receives (S. Max. Serm. 89).

But in order that the government of that same Church should always proceed rightly and in order, and that the whole Christian people should ever stand firm in one faith, doctrine, charity, and communion, He both promised that He would Himself be present with her even to the consummation of the world, and also chose one out of all, Peter, whom He appointed Prince of the Apostles and His Vicar here on earth, and head, foundation, and centre of the Church; that both in the grade of rank and honour, and in the amplitude of chief and most full authority, power, and jurisdiction, he should feed the lambs and the sheep, strengthen his brethren, and rule the whole Church, and should be the keeper of the gate of heaven, and the arbiter of things to be bound and loosed, so that the determination of his judgments should abide hereafter even in heaven. And because the unity and integrity of the Church, and the government thereof, as established by the same Christ, are for ever to remain unchanged, therefore in the Roman Pontiffs, successors of Peter, who are placed on this same Roman Chair of Peter, the very same supreme power, jurisdiction, and primacy, possessed by Peter over the whole Church, most fully continues and is in force.

Therefore the Roman Pontiffs, exercising the power and care of feeding the Lord’s flock divinely intrusted to them by Christ Himself Our Lord in the person of Blessed Peter, have never ceased to endure all labours, to devise all counsels, in order that from the rising to the setting of the sun all peoples, and races, and nations might acknowledge the teaching of the Gospel, and, walking in the paths of truth and justice, might attain eternal life. Known unto all is the unwearied care wherewith the Roman Pontiffs have laboured to defend the deposit of faith, the discipline of the clergy and their education in sanctity and learning, and also the holiness and dignity of marriage: known also is the care wherewith they have endeavoured to promote daily more and more the Christian education of the youth of both sexes, to cherish the religion, piety, and good morals, of the people, — to defend justice, and to consult for the tranquillity, order, prosperity, and interests, of civil society itself.

Nor have the Pontiffs omitted, when they thought it seasonable, especially in times of very grave disturbance, and of calamity to our holy religion and to civil society, to convoke General Councils; that comparing counsels and uniting strength with the Bishops of the whole Catholic world, whom the Holy Ghost has appointed to rule the Church of God, they might wisely and prudently establish whatsoever might conduce to the definition in an especial manner of the dogmas of the faith, to put to flight advancing errors, to defend, illustrate, and develop Catholic doctrine, to preserve and reform ecclesiastical discipline, and to correct the corrupt morals of the people.

Now, it is well known and manifest to all by how fearful a tempest the Church is at this time shaken; and what and how great are the evils with which civil society itself is afflicted. By the bitter enemies of God and men, the Catholic Church and her saving doctrine and venerable power, and the supreme authority of this Holy See, have been assailed and trodden under foot. All sacred things have been despised; ecclesiastical possessions have been plundered; Bishops, and most excellent men devoted to the divine ministry, and men remarkable for their Catholic spirit, have been in every way harassed; religious communities have been destroyed; impious books of every kind, pestilential journals, and most pernicious sects of many forms have been on every side spread abroad; and the education of unhappy youth has been almost everywhere taken away from the clergy, and, what is worse, in no few places, committed to the teachers of iniquity and error. Hence, to our own extreme grief and that of all good men, and with a loss of souls which can never be enough deplored, impiety has been so propagated, together with corruption of morals, unbridled license, and the contagion of all kinds of depraved opinions, of all vices, and crimes, and violation of Divine and human laws, that not only our most holy religion, but human society itself, is miserably disturbed and afflicted.

Amidst so great a mass therefore of calamities wherewith our heart is overwhelmed, the supreme pastoral ministry divinely intrusted to us requires that we more and more put forth our strength to repair the ruins of the Church, to procure the salvation of the whole flock of Our Lord, and to repress the deadly attacks and endeavours of those who labour to overthrow from the foundation both civil society and, if it were ever possible, the Church herself. We indeed, by God’s help, from the very commencement of our supreme Pontificate, have never ceased, according to the duty of our most weighty office, to raise our voice in many consistorial Allocutions and Apostolic Letters; and unflinchingly to defend with all zeal the cause of God and of His Holy Church intrusted to us by Christ the Lord; to defend the rights of this Apostolic See, and of justice and truth; to detect the treacheries of enemies; to condemn their errors and false doctrines; to proscribe the impious sects, and to watch over and provide for the salvation of the Lord’s whole flock.

But treading in the footsteps of our illustrious predecessors, we have therefore thought it opportune to collect into a General Council (as we had long wished) all our Venerable Brethren, the Bishops of the whole Catholic world, who have been called to a share of our solicitude. These Venerable Brethren indeed, inflamed as they are with singular love towards the Catholic Church, distinguished for eminent piety and loyalty towards us and this Apostolic See, anxious for the salvation of souls, excelling in wisdom, knowledge, and learning, are together with ourselves grievously afflicted at the most sad condition both of sacred and of civil affairs, they have nothing nearer at heart than to communicate to us and to combine their counsels, and apply salutary remedies to so many calamities. For in this Ecumenical Council all those things are to be most accurately weighed and determined which, particularly in these painful times, have especial regard to the greater glory of God, the integrity of the faith, the beauty of divine worship, the eternal salvation of men, the discipline as well as the salutary and solid instruction of the clergy, secular and regular; the observance of ecclesiastical laws; the reformation of morals; the Christian education of youth, and the common peace and concord of all. Every effort also must be made that, by God’s good help, all evils may be removed from the Church and from civil society; that unhappy wanderers may be brought back into the straight path of truth, justice, and salvation; that, vices and errors being taken away, our august religion and its salutary doctrine may receive fresh life over all the earth, and increase daily in extent and power; and that thus piety, honour, probity, justice, charity, and all Christian virtues may abound and flourish, to the great benefit of human society.

For no one can deny that the power of the Catholic Church, and of her doctrine, not only regards men’s eternal salvation, but also benefits the temporal welfare of the people; and that it promotes their true prosperity, order, and tranquillity, and also the progress and solidity of human sciences, as the annals of sacred and profane history by conspicuous facts clearly show and constantly and evidently prove. And since Christ Our Lord wonderfully refreshes, recreates, and consoles us by those words, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them,” therefore we cannot doubt but that in this Council He will vouchsafe to be at hand in the abundance of His Divine Grace, in order that we may be able to determine all those things which appertain in any way to the greater advantage of His Church. Having, therefore, in the humility of our heart, poured forth, night and day, most fervent prayers to God the Father of lights, we have judged that this Council should by all means be assembled. Wherefore, relying and resting on the authority of Almighty God Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, which we also exercise on earth, with the counsel and assent of our Venerable Brethren the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, by these Letters we proclaim, announce, convoke, and appoint a sacred Ecumenical and General Council to be held in this Holy City of Rome, in the coming year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine, in the Vatican Basilica; to be begun on the eighth day of the month of December, sacred to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God; to be continued, and by the help of God to be completed and finished for His glory, and for the salvation of the whole Christian people.

And we therefore will and command that, from every place, all our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops, our Beloved Sons the Abbots, and all others to whom by right or by privilege power has been granted of sitting in General Councils and declaring their opinions therein, shall come to this Ecumenical Council proclaimed by us. We require, exhort, admonish, and none the less enjoin and strictly command them, by force of the oath which they have taken to us and to this Holy See, and in virtue of holy obedience, and under the penalties ordinarily enacted and proposed by law or custom in the celebration of Councils against those who do not come, that they be altogether bound to be present, and to take part in this Sacred Council, unless they happen to be detained by just impediment, which nevertheless they will be obliged to prove to the Synod through their legitimate proctors. And we are borne up by the hope that God, in whose hands are the hearts of men, propitiously granting our petitions, will by His unspeakable mercy and grace bring it to pass that the supreme governors of all nations, and especially Catholic rulers, knowing daily more and more that the greatest blessings redound to human society from the Catholic Church, and that she is the firmest foundation of empires and kingdoms, not only will throw no impediment in the way of our Venerable Brethren the Bishops and others above named coming to this Council, but will even willingly favour and help, and will, as becomes Catholic princes, most studiously cooperate in all those things which may tend to the greater glory of God and the good of the said Council.

But in order that these our Letters, and all that is contained therein, may come to the knowledge of all whom they concern, and that no one may pretend ignorance of them, since perhaps not all to whom they ought to be nominally made known can be safely reached, we will and command that they shall be publicly read in a loud voice, by the Apparitors of our Court or by some public notaries, in the Lateran, Vatican, and Liberian Patriarchal Basilicas, at a time when the multitude of people is wont to come to gether to hear Mass; and that after the reading of the Letters they shall be affixed to the doors of the said churches, to the gates of the Apostolic Chancery, in the accustomed place in the Campus Floræ, and in other usual places: that there, in order that they may be read and known by all, they shall for some time be left exposed; and that, when they shall have been removed, copies of them shall in the same places remain affixed. For, by the aforesaid reading, publication, and affixing, we will that all and whomsoever these our Letters concern, shall, after the space of two months from the publication and affixing of the same, be obliged and bound in the same way as if the letters had been read in their presence. Also we command and decree that to copies taken by public notaries or signed by them, and stamped with the seal of any person of ecclesiastical dignity, certain and undoubted faith be given.

Let no one therefore infringe this document of our indiction, announcement, convocation, statute, decree, command, precept, and exhortation, or with rash attempt oppose it. But if any one shall attempt to do so, let him know that he will incur the indignation of Almighty God, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, in the year 1868 of Our Lord’s Incarnation, on the third day before the calends of July, in the 23rd year of our Pontificate.

+ I, Pius, Bishop of the Catholic Church

Note: This translation has been taken from The Year of Preparation for the Vatican Council by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (London: Burns, Oates, and Co., 1869), pp. 33-44; italics given. Some minor edits have been made to facilitate easier reading. The original Latin text can be found on the Vatican web site here.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
License: public domain

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