Venerable Brothers Greetings and the Apostolic Blessing.
It has been Our lot from the very beginning of Our Pontificate to suit many grievous and painful occurrences from various causes, which We have often explained to you in encyclical letters; in these last years the burden of distress has grown so that, if the divine goodness did not sustain Us, we would be all but overwhelmed. Indeed things have reached such a point that death itself would seem preferable to life tossed about by so many waves; with eyes lifted to heaven, we are compelled to cry out from time to time: “it is better for us to die, than to witness the ruin of our sanctuary.” Forsooth, from the time when this Our beloved city was forcibly captured and subjected to the rule of men who are disdainers of right and enemies of religion, men to whom all things human and divine are one and the same, scarcely no day has gone by without some new wound beings invited on Our already wounded heart.
Evils Which Have Befallen Catholicism
2. We still hear lamentations of men and women of religious congregations, who driven from their houses and in need, are dispersed in a hostile manner; this usually happens when the dominating faction has as its aim the perversion of the social order. As the great Saint Anthony, on the testimony of Athanasius, says, “The devil hates all Christians indeed, but cannot tolerate in any way upright monks and virgins of Christ.” We have also seen recently something We never expected would happen, namely Our Gregorian University has been suppressed and abolished. It was instituted for this purpose: that to it would come (in the words of an ancient author writing for Anglo-Saxons about the Roman School) young clerics, even from distant regions, to be educated in Catholic doctrine and faith, so nothing contrary to Catholic unity would be taught in their Churches. Thus strengthened in firm faith, they might return to their own people. Little by little all defenses and instruments by which We are able to rule and direct the universal Church are nefariously taken away from Us. It was aimed that once the city was taken from Us, the Roman Pontiff would still have complete freedom in the exercise of spiritual ministry and in carrying out religious matters. This is far from true. As we predicted, the purpose of the sacrilegious usurpation of Our rule is the destruction of the force and efficacy of the papal primacy and eventually the Catholic religion itself.
3. However, it was not Our intention to write to you concerning these evils by which this Our city and all of Italy as well is infested; indeed, We would perhaps have suppressed these Our troubles in mournful silence, if it were permitted by divine clemency that We could lessen the bitter sorrows by which so many venerable brothers, bishops, and laity are tortured in other regions.
Problems in Switzerland
4. For you are well aware, that certain cantons of the Swiss Federation have perverted all order and have undermined the very foundation of the constitution of the Church of Christ. This was brought about not so much by heterodox men, some of whom even find fault with the crime, as by followers of sects who today have gained power far and wide. They not only subvert all of justice and reason, but they even go against their publicly declared trust as well. For it was solemnly pledged, with the approval and authority of the laws of the Federation as well, that religious liberty for Catholics would remain safe and sound. We deplored, indeed, in Our allocution of last 23 December the force applied to the religious situation by the government of those cantons “whether in decisions about dogmas of the Catholic faith or by the favoring of apostates or by interfering with the exercise of episcopal power.” We made these just complaints known when We sent Gestore to the Federal Council as Our negotiator, but they were wholly neglected. Nor were protests from Catholics of all ranks nor those repeatedly sent from the Swiss episcopacy treated any better; indeed the earlier injuries inflicted were greatly increased by worse ones.
New Laws Promulgated
5. The violent banishment of Our venerable brother Gaspar, bishop of Hebron and Vicar Apostolic of Geneva took place as decorously and gloriously for him who endured it as it was foul and indecorous for those who ordered and carried it out. After this banishment the government of Geneva on 12 March and 27 August of this year promulgated two laws fully in keeping with the edict proposed the previous October, the one with which We found fault in Our allocution mentioned previously. In effect the same government arrogated the right to itself of refashioning in that canton the constitution of the Catholic Church and of conforming it to the democratic form. This subjects the bishop, both in the exercise of his proper jurisdiction and administration and in the delegation of his power, to the civil authority. It forbids him to live in the canton and defines the number and limit of parishes. It also proposes the conditions for the election of pastors and vicars and the method of their recall or suspension from office. Furthermore it grants to laics the right of nominating them, entrusting to the same laity the temporal administration of cult and in general setting them in charge, as if inspectors, of ecclesiastical affairs.
Why the Laws Are Invalid
6. These same laws provide that without the government’s favor, which is revocable, the pastors and vicars could not exercise any functions and could not accept any office more extensive than those which they received through popular election. Furthermore, they are compelled by the civil power to take an oath, the words of which denote apostasy. Everyone sees that laws of this nature are void and useless because lay legislators, who are for the most part heterodox men, do not have the power to make such laws. They are also invalid because in what they teach, they are opposed to dogmas of the Catholic faith and ecclesiastical discipline sanctioned by the Ecumenical Council of Trent and by pontifical constitutions. We must therefore condemn and disapprove them.
Condemnation of the New Laws
7. Therefore as is required by the duty of Our offices, with Our Apostolic authority We solemnly condemn them, declaring at the same time that the oath they impose is illicit and clearly sacrilegious; therefore all those who in Geneva or elsewhere are elected according to the decrees of these laws or in a similar way, by the vote of the people and with the confirmation of the civil power, and who subsequently dare to undertake the tasks of ecclesiastical ministry incur a major excommunication reserved specially to this Holy See and also incur other canonical penalties. Furthermore, they must all be avoided by the faithful according to the divine admonition, as aliens and thieves who come only to rob, kill, and destroy.
8. Sad and calamitous as these events are which We have just recounted, more dreadful things have happened in five of the seven cantons which constitute the diocese of Basel, namely Solothurn, Bern, Basel-Landschaft, Aargau, and Zurich. Laws have also been passed there concerning parishes, the election of pastors, and vicars and their recall. These laws overturn the rule of the Church and its divine institution, subjugating ecclesiastical ministry to secular power. One of them, that passed by the Governor of Solothurn on 23 December 1872, is completely schismatical. We condemn it and decree that it be forever considered condemned. Indeed Our venerable brother, Eugene, Bishop of Basel, with just indignation and apostolic constancy, rejected certain articles drawn up and presented to him in his meeting. They call said meeting a diocesan conference, to which delegates of the five aforesaid cantons came. In rejecting the articles, he said that they were harmful to episcopal authority, subversive of hierarchical rule, and openly favorable to heresy. For this reason he was deprived of his bishopric, taken from his residence, and violently driven into exile. After this they omitted no type of fraud or vexation to lead the clergy and faithful in the previously mentioned cantons into schism. They forbade the clergy to have any communication with the exiled bishop. Additionally, they ordered the cathedral chapter of Basel to convene for the election of a vicar or administrator of the diocese, just as if the episcopal see were really vacant. The chapter strenuously rejected this proposal.
Difficulties in the Territory of Jura
9. Meanwhile by a decree and vote of the civil magistrates of Bern, sixty-nine pastors of the territory of Jura were first forbidden to carry out the functions of their ministry and then deprived of office. This was because they had openly attested that they recognized only Eugene as legitimate bishop and pastor, or were unwilling to separate themselves dishonorably from Catholic unity. This whole territory, has constantly held onto the Catholic faith and was earlier joined to the canton of Bern under the legal stipulation and agreement that it preserve the exercise of its religion free and inviolate. But now it is deprived of parish sermons, solemn baptisms, weddings, and funerals. The multitude of the faithful is protesting in vain that on account of consummate injury done to them, they are compelled either to accept schismatic and heretical pastors forced on them by the political authority or else be deprived of any priestly ministry and aid.
10. We, for Our part, give thanks to God who, with the same grace with which He formerly strengthened and confirmed martyrs, sustains and strengthens that select part of the Catholic flock which courageously supports their bishop as he builds a wall in defense of the house of Israel that it may stand in battle the day of the Lord. Without fear they follow in the footsteps of the head of the martyrs of Jesus Christ; while offering the gentleness of the lamb to the ferocity of wolves, they constantly and readily fight for their faith.
11. This noble constancy of the faithful Swiss is emulated with no less commendation by the clergy and faithful in Germany, who themselves follow the illustrious example of their ecclesiastical leaders. The Germans, assuming the shield of Catholic truth and the helms of salvation, fight the battles of the Lord and are a wonder to the world, to the angels, and to men who look on them from every side. All the more is their fortitude of spirit and unbroken constancy admired and extolled with outstanding praise as the bitter persecution set in motion against them in the German Empire and especially in Prussia increases with each day.
Unwarranted Power Given to Laity
12. In addition to many grave injuries inflicted on the Catholic Church last year, the government of Prussia with harsh, iniquitous laws totally different from previous ones have subjected the whole institution and education of clerics to lay power. One can now legitimately ask how clerics are to be educated and formed for the priestly and pastoral life. Going further still, the government grants to the same lay power the right to bestow any office or ecclesiastical benefice and even the right to deprive sacred pastors of office and benefice.
13. Moreover so that the ecclesiastical government and the hierarchical order of subordination constituted by Christ Himself may be more quickly and fully subverted, these same laws impose many obstacles on bishops so that they cannot provide, through canonical censures and punishments, for the salvation of souls, the soundness of doctrine in Catholic schools, and the obedience due them from clerics. These same laws forbid bishops to do these things unless they are in accord with the wishes of the civil authority and the norms proposed by it. And so that nothing be lacking in the total oppression of the Catholic Church, a royal tribunal for ecclesiastical affairs has been instituted. Bishops and holy pastors can be summoned before it, both by private individuals and by public magistrates, so as to stand trial like criminals and be coerced in the exercise of their spiritual functions
Existence of Church Threatened
14. Thus the holy Church of Christ, whose necessary and full freedom of which religion had repeatedly been guaranteed by public pacts and the highest princes, has in these same places been deprived of all its rights and exposed to hostile men. Its final extinction now threatens. For the new laws, to be sure, have as their intent its destruction.
15. No wonder, then, that the former religious tranquility has been gravely disturbed in that Empire by this kind of law and other plans and actions of the Prussian government most hostile to the Church. But who would wish to falsely cast the blame of this disturbance on the Catholics of the German Empire! For if they are faulted for not acquiesing in such laws in which they could not acquiesce with good conscience, for the same reason the apostles of Jesus Christ ant the martyrs, who preferred to undergo most dreadful tortures and death itself than to betray their duty and violate the rights of their most holy religion by obeying the commands of the princes who persecuted them, must also be faulted.
16. If no other laws than these of the civil authority existed and if they were of the highest order, it would be wrong to transgress them. If, moreover, these same civil laws constituted the norm of conscience, as some maintain both impiously and absurdly, the early martyrs and their followers would have been worthy of reprehension rather than honor and praise. Indeed it would have been against the laws and the wish of princes to hand down the Christian faith, propagate it, and found the Church. Nevertheless the faith teaches and human reason demonstrates that there is a twofold order of things. Two kinds of powers must be distinguished on earth-one natural that looks to the tranquility and secular business of human society; the other, whose origin is above nature, which is in charge of the Church of Christ, divinely instituted for the salvation and peace of souls. The offices of these two powers are wisely coordinated so that things which belong to God are returned to God and, because of God, those of Caesar to Caesar, who “for this reason is great because he is less than heaven for he belongs to Him whom heaven and all creatures belong.”
17. From this divine command, to be sure, the Church has never turned aside. It always and everywhere attempts to inculcate in the faithful an inviolable obedience towards their supreme rulers and their rights, insofar as they are secular, and it has taught, with the Apostle, that they are rulers not for fear of good works but of evil, teaching the faithful to be subject not only because of fear, because the prince bears the sword to carry out his ire against him who has done evil, but also because of conscience because in his office he is a minister of God. However, this fear of princes the Church limits to evil acts, excluding the same totally from the observance of the divine law, being mindful of what blessed Peter taught the faithful; “May none of you suffer for being a murderer, a thief, a criminal or an informer, but if any of you should suffer for being a Christian, then he is not to be ashamed of it; let him glorify God in that name.”
18. Since these things are so, you understand how sad We must have been when We read in the recent letter from the German Emperor the unexpected accusation against certain of his Catholic subjects, especially against the Catholic clergy, and bishops. The reason for this accusation is that they, fearing neither bonds nor tribulations and not placing any great value on their lives, refuse to obey the aforementioned laws. They protest with that same firmness shown before the passing of these laws. They pointed out their faults by serious, clear and most solid explanations which, with the approval of the whole Catholic world and even of some heterodox men, they delivered to the Prince, his administrators and the supreme council of the kingdom.
19. For the same reason now they are accused of treason, as if they were conspiring with those who strive to upset all orders of human society. No attention is paid to the excellent arguments in which they clearly attest their unbroken loyalty and obedience to the Prince and their lively devotion to their fatherland. Indeed We Ourselves are asked to exhort Catholics and holy pastors there to observe these laws; this would be equivalent to Our contributing to the oppression and dispersion of the flock of the Christ. However, supported by God, We are confident that the most serene Emperor, having more carefully weighed things, will reject the empty suspicion conceived against his most loyal subjects and will no longer allow their honor to be reviled with foul detraction. In addition, he will end the unmerited persecution against them. Moreover, We would have willingly passed over the imperial letter if it had not been published, against Our knowledge and in a most unusual fashion, by an official newspaper in Berlin. It was published together with other material written by Us, in which We appealed for justice from the Emperor for the Catholic Church in Prussia.
Harassing of the Church
20. What We have recounted so far is common knowledge. Monks and virgins devoted to God are deprived of the common liberty of ordinary citizens and ejected with enormous cruelty, Catholic schools are daily being taken away from the care of the Church, and sodalities for pious works and even seminaries are dissolved. Additionally, the liberty of evangelical preaching is interfered with, hindered, teaching religion in the native language is forbidden in certain parts of the kingdom. Curates are withdrawn from their parishes, and prelates themselves are deprived of revenues coerced in many ways, and frightened with threat of imprisonment. While Catholics are vexed with all kinds of harassment such as these, how can We possibly acquiesce to what is suggested and not invoke the religion of Jesus Christ and the truth?
Government Support for Heretics
21. Nor is this the limit of the injuries which are committed against the Catholic Church. In addition the Prussian and other governments of the German Empire openly support those recent heretics who call themselves Old Catholics. Their abuse of such a name would be plainly ridiculous if it were not for the fact that so many monstrous errors of this sect against the principal teachings of the Catholic faith, so many sacrileges in divine service and the administration of the sacraments, so many grave scandals, and so much ruin of souls redeemed by the blood of Christ did not force tears from Our eyes.
22. And surely what these sons of perdition intend is quite clear from their other writings, especially that impious and most imprudent one which has only recently been published by the person whom they recently constituted as a pseudo-bishop. For these writings attack and pervert the true power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, who are the successors of blessed Peter and the apostles; they transfer it instead to the people, or, as they say, to the community. They obstinately reject and oppose the infallible magisterium both of the Roman Pontiff and of the whole Church in teaching matters. Incredibly, they boldly affirm that the Roman Pontiff and all the bishops, the priests and the people conjoined with him in the unity of faith and communion fell into heresy when they approved and professed the definitions of the Ecumenical Vatican Council. Therefore they deny also the indefectibility of the Church and blasphemously declare that it has perished throughout the world and that its visible Head and the bishops have erred. They assert the necessity of restoring a legitimate episcopacy in the person of their pseudo-bishop, who has entered not by the gate but from elsewhere like a thief or robber and calls the damnation of Christ upon his head.
23. These unhappy men undermine the foundations of religion, overturn all its marks and properties, and invent so many foul errors, or rather, draw forth from the ancient store of heretics and gather them together and publish them. Yet they do not blush to call themselves Catholics and Old Catholics, while in their doctrine, novelty, and number they show themselves in no way to be either old or Catholic. Certainly the Church rises up with greater right against them than it once did through Augustine against the Donatists. Diffused among all people, the Church was built by Christ the Son of the living God upon the rock, against which the gates of Hell will not prevail, and with which He Himself, to Whom all power in heaven and on earth is given, said He would be with until the consummation of the world. “The Church cries to her Spouse: Why do certain men withdrawing from me murmur against me? Why do these lost men claim that I have perished? Announce to me the length of my days, how long I will be in this world? Tell me on account of those who say: it was and is no longer; on account of those who say: the scriptures have been fulfilled, all nations have believed, but the Church has apostatized and perished from all nations. And He announced and the voice was not vain. What did He announce? ‘Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.’ Moved by your voices and your false opinions, it asked of God that He announce to it the length of its days and it found that God said ‘Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.’ Here you will say: He spoke about us; we are as we will be until the end of the world. Christ Himself is asked; He says ‘and this gospel will be preached in the whole world, in testimony to all nations, and then will come the end.’ Therefore the Church will be among all nations until the end of the world. Let heretics perish as they are, and let them find that they become what they are not.”
24. But these men having progressed more boldly in the ways of wickedness and destruction, as happens to heretical sects from God’s just judgment, have wished to create a hierarchy also for themselves, as we have intimated. They have chosen and set up a pseudo-bishop, a certain notorious apostate from the Catholic faith, Joseph Humbert Reinkens. So that nothing be lacking in their impudence, for his consecration they have had refuge to those very Jansenists of Utrecht, whom they themselves, before they separated from the Church, considered as heretics and schismatics, as do all other Catholics. However, this Joseph Humbert dares to say that he is a bishop, and, what passes belief, he is recognized and named in an explicit decree by the most serene Emperor of Germany and is proposed to all his subjects as a lawful bishop. But as even the rudiments of Catholic faith declare, no one can be considered a bishop who is not linked in communion of faith and love with Peter, upon whom is built the Church of Christ; who does not adhere to the supreme Pastor to whom the sheep of Christ are committed to be pastured; and who is not bound to the confirmer of fraternity which is in the world. And indeed “the Lord spoke to Peter; to one person therefore, so that He might found unity from one”; to Peter, “the divine dignity granted a great and wonderful consortium of his power, and if He wished anything to be common with him and the rest of the princes, He never gave, except through him, what He did not deny to the others.” Hence it is from this Apostolic See, where blessed Peter “lives and presides and grants the truth of faith to those seeking it,” that the rights of venerable communion flow to all”; and this same See “for the Churches spread throughout the whole world is certainly the head, as it were, of their members, from which if one cuts himself off, he becomes an exile from the Christian religion, as soon as he begins not to belong to its structure.”
25. Therefore the holy martyr Cyprian, writing about schism, denied to the pseudobishop Novatian even the title of Christian, on the grounds that he was cut off and separated from the Church of Christ. “Whoever he is,” he says, “and whatever sort he is, he is not a Christian who is not in the Church of Christ. Let him boast and preach his philosophy and eloquence with a proud voice; he who does not have fraternal charity and does not retain ecclesiastical unity, loses also what he previously had. Since by Christ one Church was founded divided into many members throughout the world, so likewise one episcopate, diffused in the harmonious multiplicity of many bishops. Subsequent to the teaching of God and the conjoined unity of the Catholic Church, he attempts to build a human church. Therefore, he who does not retain unity of spirit nor communion of peace and thus separates himself from the bond of the Church and the college of the priesthood cannot have the power nor the honor of a bishop because he kept the unity or the peace of the episcopacy.
26. We have been undeservingly placed on this supreme seat of Peter to preserve the Catholic faith and the unity of the universal Church. Therefore following the custom and example of Our Predecessors and of holy legislation, by the power granted to Us from heaven, We declare the election of the said Joseph Humbert Reinkens, performed against the sanctions of the holy canons to be illicit, null, and void. We furthermore declare his consecration sacrilegious. Therefore, by the authority of Almighty God, We excommunicate and hold as anathema Joseph Humbert himself and all those who attempted to choose him, and who aided in his sacrilegious consecration. We additionally excommunicate whoever has adhered to them and belonging to their party has furnished help, favor, aid, or consent. We declare, proclaim, and command that they are separated from the communion of the Church. They are to be considered among those with whom all faithful Christians are forbidden by the Apostle to associate and have social exchange to such an extent that, as he plainly states, they may not even be greeted.
27. From these matters We have touched upon more by way of deploring than narrating them, venerable brothers, you understand how sad and full of danger is the condition of Catholics in those regions of Europe which We indicated. Nor, truly, are things much better or more peaceful in America, several of whose regions are so hostile to Catholics that their governments seem to deny in deeds their Catholic faith. For there, some years past, a most severe war was begun against the Church, its institutions, and the rights of this Apostolic See. If We were to pursue these matters, We would find much to say; since, however, because of the gravity of the situation, they cannot be touched on in passing, We will treat them more thoroughly at another time and place.
28. Some of you may perchance wonder that the war against the Catholic Church extends so widely. Indeed each of you knows well the nature, zeal, and intention of sects, whether called Masonic or some other name. When he compares them with the nature, purpose, and amplitude of the conflict waged nearly everywhere against the Church, he cannot doubt but that the present calamity must be attributed to their deceits and machinations for the most part. For from these the synagogue of Satan is formed which draws up its forces, advances its standards, and joins battle against the Church of Christ.
29. Our Predecessors, as watchers in Israel, denounced these forces from the very beginnings to rulers and nations. Against them they have struck out again and again with their condemnations. We Ourselves have not been deficient in Our duty. Would that the Pastors of the Church had more loyalty from those who could have averted such a pernicious plague! But, creeping through sinuous openings, never stinting in toil, deceiving many by clever fraud, it has reached such an outcome that it has burst forth from its hiding places and boasts itself lord and master. Grown immense by a multitude of followers, these nefarious bands think that they have been made masters of their desire and have all but achieved their goal. The have at last achieved what they have so long desired, that is, that in many places they obtained supreme power and won for themselves bulwarks of men and authority. Now they boldly turn to this, to hand over the Church of God to a most harsh servitude, to tear up the supports on which it rests, and to attempt to distort the marks by which it stands out gloriously. What more? They would, if possible, completely wipe it out from the world after they had shaken it with frequent blows, ruined it, and overturned it.
Efforts to Defeat Heresies
30. Since these things are so, venerable brothers, apply all your effort to protect the faithful committed to your care against the snares and contagion of these sects. Bring back those who have unhappily joined these sects. Expose especially the error of those who have been deceived or those who assert now that only social utility, progress, and the exercise of mutual benefits are the intention of these dark associations. Explain to them often and fix deeper in their minds the pontifical decrees on this matter. Teach them that these decrees refer not only to Masonic groups in Europe, but also those in America and in other regions of the world.
31. As for the rest since we have fallen on these evil times let us take care first and foremost, as good soldiers of Christ, not to lose heart. Indeed, in the very storms in which we are tossed, there is a certain hope of achieving future tranquility and greater serenity in the Church. So let us arouse ourselves and the toiling clergy and laity, propped up by divine help and inspired by that most noble statement of Chrysostom: “Many waves and dire storms, press on but we do not fear lest we be submerged, for we stand on a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot dissolve the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the bark of Christ. Nothing is stronger than the Church. The Church is stronger than the heavens. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will not pass away. What words? Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. If you do not trust the words, trust the deeds. How many tyrants have tried to oppress the Church! How many cauldrons, furnaces, teeth of beasts, sharp swords! They have accomplished nothing. Where are those enemies? They are handed over to silence and forgetfulness. Where is the Church? It shines brighter than the sun. Their deeds are extinct, its deeds are immortal. If when they were few, the Christians were not conquered, how can you conquer them when the whole world is full of this holy religion? Heaven and earth will pass, my words will not pass away. Therefore not moved by any danger and not hesitating at all, let us persevere in prayer. Let us all strive to placate the celestial anger provoked by the sins of mankind so that the Almighty will rise up and command the winds and bring about tranquility.
32. In the meantime, We lovingly grant the apostolic blessing as a testimony of the special benevolence We have to you all, venerable brothers, and the clergy and the entire people committed to the care of each of you.
Given in Rome at Saint Peter’s, 21 November 1873, in the 28th year of Our Pontificate.