Allocution of Pope Pius IX
Singulari Quadam (1854)
Allocution of His Holiness Pope Pius IX to Cardinals gathered in Consistory on the day after the Definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dec. 9, 1854
Filled with a singular joy, We exult in the Lord, Venerable Brothers, when we behold, standing in great numbers around us this day, you whom we can call with truth our joy and crown. You are indeed a portion of those who partake of our labors and our cares, in feeding that universal flock which the Lord has confided to our weakness, in protecting and defending the rights of the Catholic religion, in adding to it new followers who serve and adore, in sincerity of faith, the God of justice and of truth. What Christ our Lord said to the Prince of the Apostles, “You being converted, confirm your brothers,” seems, then, on the present occasion, to invite us, who, by the Divine Grace, have been put in his place, notwithstanding our unworthiness, to speak to you, Venerable Brothers, not to remind you of your duty, or to demand more ardor from you whom we know to be already inflamed with zeal to extend the glory of God, but that, fortified as it were by the very voice of the blessed Peter, who lives and will live in his successors, and raised up as it were, in new vigor, you may be strengthened to labor for the salvation of the flocks which are confided to you, and to sustain the interests of the Church with courage and firmness in the face of all difficulties.
Nor, indeed, is it to be doubted whose intercession we should especially invoke with the Heavenly Father of lights, in order that His grace may aid Us to speak to you profitably, since you have been assembled around Us to join your co-operation to the cares and the zeal that We used to extend the glory of the august Mother of God ; We have, therefore, earnestly supplicated the Most Holy Virgin, her whom the Church calls the Seat of Wisdom, to be pleased to obtain for Us a ray of the Divine wisdom which might enlighten Us in order to say to you that which might the better contribute to the preservation and the prosperity of the Church of God.
Now, in beholding from the height of this See, which is, as it were, the citadel of religion, the fatal errors which, in these difficult times, disseminate themselves in the Catholic world, it has seemed to Us, above all, fitting to point them out to you, Venerable Brothers, that you may employ all your strength to combat them ; you who are constituted the guardians and the sentinels of the House of Israel.
We have still to lament the existence of an impious race of unbelievers who would exterminate all religious worship, if that were possible for them ; and we must count amongst them, before all, the members of secret societies, who, bound together by a criminal compact, neglect no means of overthrowing and destroying the Church and the State by the violation of every law. It is against them, assuredly, that the words of the Divine Redeemer are directed :—” You are children of the Devil, and you do the works of your father.” If We except these, it must be admitted that men now-a-days generally abhor the wickedness of unbelievers, and that there is a certain disposition of mind shown towards religion and faith.
Whether the cause of this may be attributed to the enormity of the crimes which the infidels committed in the last century, and which people cannot recall without trembling, or the fear of the troubles and revolutions which so unhappily disturb states, and carry misery to nations, or, rather, to the action of that divine Spirit which breathes where it will, it is evident that the number of the abandoned who vaunt and glory in their unbelief is now diminished ; people do not refuse the praise due to uprightness of life and morals, and a feeling of admiration is raised in the souls of men for the Catholic religion, the splendor of which yet shines in all eyes like the light of the sun.
That is no small good, Venerable Brothers, and is as it were a sort of progress towards the truth; but there are still many obstacles which turn men aside from cleaving wholly to it, or which, at least, retard them.
Amongst those who have to direct public affairs, there are many who pretend to favor and profess religion, who lavish their eulogies upon it, who proclaim it useful, and perfectly appropriate to human society; nevertheless they wish to restrain its discipline, to govern its sacred ministers, to meddle in the administration of holy things ; in a word, they endeavor to confine the Church within the limits of the State, to have the mastery of her, who is, however, independent, and who, according to the order of her Divine Founder, cannot be contained within the limits of any empire, for she is obliged to extend herself even to the extremities of the earth, and embrace in her bosom all peoples and all nations, to show them the way of eternal happiness.
And, alas ! whilst we speak to you, Venerable Brothers, a law has just been proposed in the Sardinian States, which destroys the religious and Ecclesiastical institutions, which completely tramples under foot the rights of the Church, and, as far as possible, abolishes them. But We will have to recur another time to this important affair. Heaven grant that those who are opposed to the liberty of the Catholic religion, may recognise at last how much she contributes to the public weal in exacting from every citizen the observance of the duties that she makes known to them, according to the heavenly doctrine that she has received ! Heaven grant that they may come to persuade themselves of that which St. Felix, Our Predecessor, wrote in former days to the. Emperor Zeno, that “nothing is more useful to princes than to leave the Church the free action of her laws ; for it is salutary to them when the question is of the things of God, to study to submit the royal will to the Priests of Christ, instead of seeking to bend them to theirs.”
There are also, Venerable Brothers, men distinguished for their learning, who avow that religion is the greatest of the benefits that God has granted to men, but who have nevertheless so great an idea of human reason, who exalt it so much, that they have the madness of equalling it to religion herself. According to the vain opinion of these men, the theological sciences should be treated in the same manner as the philosophical sciences. They forget that the former science is based upon the dogmas of faith, than which nothing can be more fixed and certain, while the latter is illustrated and explained only by human reason, than which nothing can be more uncertain, for it changes according to the diversity of minds, and it is subject to numberless errors and illusions. Therefore, the authority of the Church once rejected, the field is widely opened to the most difficult and abstract questions, and human reason, too confident in the infirmity of its strength, falls into the most shameful errors, which We have neither time nor wish to recall here; you know them too well, and you have seen how fatal they have been to the interests of religion and of society. “
Wherefore it is necessary to show to those men who exalt beyond measure the strength of human reason that they put themselves in direct opposition to these true words of the Doctor of the Gentiles:—”If any one believes himself to be something, whereas he is nothing, he deceives himself.” It is necessary to make them see all the arrogance there is in scrutinizing the mysteries that God in His infinite goodness has deigned to reveal to us, and in pretending to penetrate and comprehend them by the human mind, so feeble and so broken, the strength of which they greatly overestimate, and which we should, according to the word of the same Apostle, hold captive in the obedience of the Faith.
These partisans, or rather worshippers of human reason, who take it, as it were, for an infallible mistress—who promise themselves to find under its auspices all kinds of happiness—have, no doubt, forgotten what grave and terrible injury human nature received from the fault of our first parents—an injury which has darkened its intellect, and inclined its will to evil. Owing to this cause, the most celebrated philosophers of antiquity, all of them writing admirably on many subjects, have contaminated their teaching with the gravest errors; and hence that continual combat, which We experience ourselves, and which makes the Apostle say: ” I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind.” It is then unquestionable that, by the original sin propagated in all the children of Adam, the light of reason has decreased, and mankind is miserably fallen from the former state of justice and innocence. This being so, who can believe reason sufficient to attain the truth ? In the midst of so many perils, and in such great diminution of our strength, who can deny that he needs the aid of religion and Divine grace to preserve him from stumbling and falling in the way of salvation?
This assistance God, in His goodness, gives abundantly to those who ask it by humble prayers; for it is written: “God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.” Wherefore, turning towards His Father, Christ our Lord affirmed that the sublime mysteries of the truth are not discovered to the prudent and the wise of this world, who pride themselves upon their genius and their learning, and who refuse to render obedience to the Faith ; but that they are revealed to humble and simple men who place their help and their repose in the oracles of the divine faith. It is necessary that you inculcate this salutary teaching in the souls of those who exaggerate the strength of human reason to the extent of presuming, by it, to scrutinize and explain even mysteries, an undertaking the folly of which nothing can surpass. Do you endeavor to withdraw them from such great perversity of mind, by making them understand that the authority of the divine faith is the most beautiful gift made by the Providence of God to men; that it is like the torch in the darkness, and the guide which conducts to life ; that it is, in fine, absolutely necessary for salvation, for, “without faith it is impossible to please God, and he who will not believe will be condemned.”
We have learned with grief that another error, not less melancholy, is introduced into certain parts of the Catholic world, and has taken possession of the souls of many Catholics. Carried away with a hope for the eternal salvation of those who are out of the true Church of Christ, they do not cease to inquire with solicitude what shall be the fate and the condition after death of men who are not submissive to the Catholic faith. Seduced by vain reasoning they make to these questions replies conformably to that perverse doctrine. Far from Us, Venerable Brothers, to lay claim to put limits to the Divine mercy, which is infinite! Far from Us to scrutinize the counsels and mysterious judgments of God, unfathomable depth where human thought cannot penetrate ! But it belongs to the duty of Our Apostolic office to excite your Episcopal solicitude and vigilance to make all possible efforts to remove from the minds of men the opinion, as impious as it is fatal, according to which people can find in any religion the way of eternal salvation. Employ all the resources of your minds and of your learning to demonstrate to the people committed to your care that the dogmas of the Catholic faith are in no respect contrary to the Divine mercy and justice. Faith orders Us to hold that out of the Apostolic Roman Church no person can be saved, that it is the only ark of salvation, and that whoever will not enter therein shall perish in the waters of the deluge.
On the other hand it is necessary to hold for certain that ignorance of the true religion, if that ignorance be invincible, is not a fault in the eyes of God. But who will presume to arrogate to himself the right to mark the limits of such an ignorance, holding in account the various conditions of peoples, of countries, of minds, and of the infinite multiplicity of human things? When delivered from the bonds of the body, we shall see God as He is, we will comprehend perfectly by what admirable and indissoluble bond the divine mercy and the divine justice are united; but as long as we are upon the earth, bent under the weight of this mortal mass which overloads the soul, let us hold firmly that which the Catholic doctrine teaches us, that there is only one God, one Faith, one Baptism; to seek to penetrate further is not permitted.
However, as charity demands, let us pour out before God incessant prayers, in order that, from all parts, all the nations may be converted to Christ; let us labor, as much as it is in us, for the common salvation of men. The arms of the Lord are not shortened, and the gifts of the heavenly grace are never wanting to those who sincerely wish for them, and who beg for the assistance of that light. These truths should be deeply engraved on the minds of the Faithful, that they may not suffer themselves to be corrupted by false doctrines, the object of which is to propagate indifference in matters of religion, an indifference that we see growing up, and spreading itself on all sides, to the loss of souls.
Do you, Venerable Brothers, oppose with force and constancy the principal errors by which the Church is attacked in our days, and which “We have just explained ; in order to combat and destroy them, it is necessary to have Ecclesiastics who will aid you in this labor. Our joy is great to see the Catholic Clergy neglect nothing, shrink from no fatigue to accomplish its duties superabundantly. Neither length of voyages, nor their dangers, nor fear of the inconveniences which are inseparable from them, can hinder them from traversing continents and seas to proceed to the most distant regions in order to procure for the barbarous nations which inhabit them the benefits of humanity and the Christian law.
It is also a happiness for Us that the Clergy, in the frightful calamity which has ravaged so many places and so many great cities, have fulfilled all the duties of charity with such devotedness, and to the extent of making it an honor and a glory for one to give his life for the salvation of his neighbor. This fact will make it more and more manifest that in the Catholic Church, the only true one, is always found that beautiful fire of Charity which Christ came to bring down upon the earth to burn there without end. We have seen Religious women vying in charity with the Clergy beside the sick, without any fear of death, which a great many amongst them have suffered heroically. At the sight of so much courage, even those who are separated from the Catholic faith have been seized with astonishment, and have not been able to refuse the tribute of their admiration. “
We have, then, good reason to rejoice, Venerable Brothers ; but, on the other hand, Our Soul is penetrated with sorrow when We reflect that, in certain places, We find members of the Clergy who do not conduct themselves in all things as the Ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God. The result of this is, that the bread of the Divine “Word is wanting in those places for the Christian people, who do not receive the nourishment necessary to the true life, and who have lost the use of the Sacraments, the sources of such great efficacy to obtain or to preserve the grace of God. These Priests should be admonished, Venerable Brothers, and ardently excited to fulfil with care, regularly, and faithfully, the duties of the Sacred Ministry. It is necessary to represent to them all the gravity of the fault of which they are guilty, who, in this time in which the harvest is so abundant, refuse to labor in the field of the Lord. We ought to exhort them to explain frequently to the Faithful what is the efficacy of the Divine Host to appease God and to turn away the chastisements which the crimes of men deserve; to remind them how important it consequently is to assist at the Sacrifice of the Mass religiously, and in a manner to receive abundantly the salutary fruits that it produces. Assuredly the Faithful will be in certain places more eager for acts of piety, if they shall receive from the Clergy a more active direction and greater assistance.
By this you see, Venerable Brothers, how much we stand in need of seminaries governed by Bishops exclusively, and not by the civil power, in order to have worthy Ministers of Christ. You must have great care to form in piety and sound doctrine the young men, the hope of religion, assembled in these establishments, in order that they may thus be provided with a two-edged sword with which they may one day, as good soldiers, fight the battles of the Lord. Whether in the theological sciences, or even for the philosophical sciences, do not put into their hands any but the authors of approved faith, that they may not find themselves in any manner imbued with opinions little compatible with Catholic doctrine. Thus, Venerable Brothers, you will be able to provide for the weal and the increase of the Church.
But, in order that our efforts may have happy results, we must cultivate concord and union of hearts. Banish dissensions, then ; they break the bonds of charity, and the perfidious enemy of our race does not fail to foment them, knowing well of what assistance they are to him to enable him to do evil. Let us call to mind the defenders of the Faith in former times ; they triumphed over the most obstinate heresies because they descended into the arena full of courage and of confidence, united, as they were, among themselves and with the Apostolic See as soldiers with their chief. Such are, Venerable Brothers, the things on which “We desire to speak to you in Our care and Our solicitude to fulfil the Apostolic Ministry which the divine clemency and goodness have imposed upon Our weakness.
But We feel elevated and full of courage by the hope of heavenly succors; and the ardent zeal, of which you have given so many proofs, for religion and piety, is a support on which We count with confidence in difficulties so great and so numerous. God will protect His Church; He will incline favorably to our common wishes, more especially if We obtain the intercession and the prayers of the Most Holy Virgin, Mother of God, Mary, whom We have, with the assistance of the Holy Ghost, and to Our great joy, proclaimed exempt from the stain of original sin, in your presence and in the midst of your applause.
Certainly it is a glorious privilege and one fully suited to the Mother of God, to be kept safe and secure in the universal disaster of our race. The greatness of this privilege will serve powerfully to refute those who pretend that human nature has not been tainted in consequence of the first fault, and who exaggerate the force of reason to deny or diminish the benefit of revealed religion. May at length the Blessed Virgin, who has vanquished and destroyed all heresies, also efface and entirely overthrow this pernicious error of rationalism, which, in our unfortunate epoch, disturbs not only civil society, but which also afflicts the Church.
Now, it remains for Us, Venerable Brothers, to express to you with what consolation we have seen you come with eagerness and in a great joy from far distant countries to this Apostolic See, the bulwark of the Faith, the rule of the truth, the support of Catholic unity, and to wish you, with a great zeal of love, before you return to your sees, all things happy and salutary.
May God, the Arbiter of all things, and Author of all good, give you the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, that you may preserve your sheep from the snares set on every side for their ruin; and may that good and propitious God confirm with His all-powerful hand what you have already undertaken, or may hereafter undertake, for the advantage of your churches; may He give to the Faithful confided to your care, such a spirit that they may never seek to remove themselves from the side of the Pastor, but that they may listen to His voice, and hasten wherever he calls.
May the Most Holy Virgin, Immaculate in her Conception, assist you; may she aid you with faithful counsel in your doubts, sustain you in your anguish, and succor you in your adversities. Lastly, raising Our hands to Heaven, We bless you, with your flocks, from the bottom of Our heart. May this Apostolic Benediction bestowed upon you be, then, as a certain testimony of Our charity in your regard; may it be as a certain presage of the eternal and blessed life that We wish to you all, and to your flocks ; and which we beg of the Sovereign Pastor of souls, Christ Jesus, to whom, as well as to the Father and the Holy Ghost, be honor, praise, and thanksgiving for all eternity.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
License: public domain