“If you love . . . feed.” These words which are a command of our Divine Redeemer to the Apostle Peter are the commencement of the Mass in honor of one or more Supreme Pontiffs. They show clearly the meaning of apostolic labor, its exalted virtue, and the reason for its merit.
Jesus Christ is the eternal High Priest and Shepherd of souls, Who taught, labored, and suffered greatly for our sakes. Pius X, Bishop of Rome, whom it has been Our great joy to enroll in the list of the Saints, following closely in the footsteps of his Divine Master, took that command from the lips of Christ and strenuously fulfilled it: he loved and fed. He loved Christ and fed His flock. He drew abundantly on the heavenly treasures which our merciful Redeemer brought to the earth, and distributed them bountifully to the flock: namely, the nourishment of truth. heavenly mysteries, the munificent grace of the Eucharistic sacrament and sacrifice, charity, earnestness in governing, fortitude in defense. He gave fully of himself and of those things which the Author and Giver of all good things had bestowed on him.
Your presence in Rome, Venerable Brothers, and participation in these solemn celebrations, gladdens Us. You have come in order that in union with Us you may pay a tribute of admiration and honor to a Bishop of the city of Rome whose life was the glory of the entire Church; and to give thanks to Almighty God for those whom His paternal mercy, with a great abundance of favors, guides to salvation through this Pontiff.
And now, beloved Brothers, as we stand among you gathered together from all parts of the world, Our heart is overjoyed. We, that is, the Vicar of Christ, one who is also an “ancient” among you “the ancients.” What We have to say to you We wish to sum up first of all in words taken from the letter, which We have just quoted, of the first Supreme Pontiff and Prince of the Apostles himself: “The ancients therefore that are among you, I beseech, who am myself also an ancient and witness of the sufferings of
Christ . . . feed the flock of God which is among you, taking care of it not by constraint, but willingly according to God . . . being made a pattern of the flock from the heart” (cf. I Pet. 5:1-3). These words have the same purport as the Divine utterance: “If you love . . . feed !” encouraging pastors to active charity in their ministry.
We wish to develop briefly what We have just summed up in the words of Blessed Peter.
Care of all the Church, and the daily vigilance which Our supreme office demands of Us, compel Us to consider and weigh certain ideas, sentiments, and ways of acting. We draw your attention to them, and ask you to unite your vigilant care with Ours, in order thus to provide more quickly and effectively for the needs of Christ’s flock. There are evident the symptoms and effects of a certain spiritual contagion, which require your pastoral care, in order that they may not spread, but may be remedied in time and extirpated.
Our purpose will be best effected by explaining the triple office and privilege, which by divine institution belongs to you, the successors of the Apostles, under the authority of the Roman Pontiff (cf. can. 329): namely, of teacher, priest, and ruler. But since time will not permit today, We will limit Ourselves to the first point, putting the others off to another occasion, if God so permits.
Christ Our Lord entrusted the truth which He had brought from heaven to the Apostles, and through them to their successors. He sent His Apostles, as He had been sent by the Father (John 20:21), to teach all nations everything they had heard from Him (cf. Matt. 28:19 f.). The Apostles are, therefore, by divine right the true doctors and teachers in the Church. Besides the lawful successors of the Apostles, namely the Roman Pontiff for the universal Church and Bishops for the faithful entrusted to their care (cf. can. 1326), there are no other teachers divinely constituted in the Church of Christ. But both the Bishops and, first of all, the Supreme Teacher and Vicar of Christ on earth, may associate others with themselves in their work of teacher, and use their advice; they delegate to them the faculty to teach, either by special grant, or by conferring an office to which the faculty is attached (cf. can. 1328). Those who are so called teach not in their own name, nor by reason of their theological knowledge, but by reason of the mandate which they have received from the lawful Teaching Authority. Their faculty always remains subject to that Authority, nor is it ever exercised in its own right or independently. Bishops, for their part, by conferring this faculty are not deprived of the right to teach; they retain the very grave obligation of supervising the doctrine, which others propose, in order to help them, and of seeing to its integrity and security. Therefore the legitimate Teaching Authority of the Church is guilty of no injury or no offense to any of those to whom it has given a canonical mission, if it desires to ascertain what they, to whom it has entrusted the mission of teaching, are proposing and defending in their lectures, in books, notes and reviews intended for the use of their students, as well as in books and other publications intended for the general public. In order to accomplish this, We do not contemplate extending the prescriptions of canon law on previous censorship of books to include all these kinds of teaching; for there are many ways and means at hand for investigating and acquiring accurate information on what professors are teaching. And this care and prudence of the legitimate Teaching Authority does not at all imply distrust or suspicion-(nor does the profession of faith which the Church requires of professors and many others; cf. can. 1406, nn. 7 f.)-on the contrary, the fact that the office of teacher has been bestowed implies confidence, high regard, and honor shown the person to whom the office has been entrusted. Indeed the Holy See, whenever it inquires and wishes to be informed about what is being taught in various seminaries, colleges, universities, and institutions of higher learning, in those fields which pertain to its jurisdiction, is led by no other motive than the consciousness of Christ’s mandate and the obligation by which She is bound before God to safeguard and preserve without corruption or adulteration sound doctrine. Moreover the exercise of this vigilance aims also at protecting and upholding your right and office of feeding with the genuine teaching of Christ and with His truth the flock entrusted to your pastoral care.
Not without serious reason, Venerable Brothers, have We wished to recall these things in your presence. For unfortunately it has happened that certain teachers care little for conformity with the living Teaching Authority of the Church, pay little heed to her commonly received doctrine clearly proposed in various ways; and at the same time they follow their own bent too much, and regard too highly the intellectual temper of more recent writers, and the standards of other branches of learning, which they declare and hold to be the only ones which conform to sound ideas and standards of scholarship. Of course the Church is very keen for and fosters the study of human branches of learning and their progress; she honors with special favor and regard learned men who spend their lives in the cultivation of learning. However matters of religion and morals, because they completely transcend truths of the senses and the plane of the material, pertain solely to the office and authority of the Church. In Our encyclical letter, Humani generis, We described the attitude of mind, the spirit, of those whom We have referred to above; We also recalled to mind that some of the aberrations from the truth which We repudiated in that Encyclical had their direct origin in a neglect of conformity with the living Teaching Authority of the Church. Time and again Saint Pius X, in writings whose importance is known to all of you, urgently stressed the need for this union with the mind and teaching of the Church. His successor in the Supreme Pontificate, Benedict XV, did the same; in his first Encyclical (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum Principis, Nov. 1, 1914), after solemnly repeating Pius’ condemnation of Modernism, he thus describes the attitude of mind of followers of that doctrine: “He who is influenced by its principles disdainfully spurns whatever appears old, and eagerly pursues the new: in his manner of speaking of divine things, in performance of divine worship, in Catholic usages, even in private devotions” (AAS VI , 578). And if there are any present-day teachers making every effort to produce and develop new ideas, but not to repeat “that which has been handed down,” and if this is their whole aim, they should reflect calmly on those words which Benedict XV, in the Encyclical just referred to, proposes for their consideration: “We wish this maxim of our elders held in reverence: Nihil innovetur nisi quod traditum est (Let nothing new be introduced but only what has been handed down); it must be held as an inviolable law in matters of faith, and should also control those points which allow of change, though in these latter for the most part the rule holds: Non nova sed noviter (Not new things but in a new way).”
As for the laity, it is clear that they can be invited by legitimate teachers and accepted as helpers in the defense of the faith. It is enough to call to mind the thousands of men and women engaged in catechetical work, and other types of lay apostolate, all of which are highly praiseworthy and can be strenuously promoted. But all these lay apostles must be, and remain, under the authority, leadership, and watchfulness of those who by divine institution are set up as teachers of Christ’s Church. In matters involving the salvation of souls, there is no teaching authority in the Church not subject to this authority and vigilance.
Recently what is called “lay theology” has sprung up and spread to various places, and a new class of “lay theologian” has emerged, which claims to be sui juris; there are professors of this theology occupying established chairs, courses are given, notes published, seminars held. These professors distinguish their teaching authority from, and in a certain way set it up against, the public Teaching Authority of the Church; at times, in order to justify their position, they appeal to the charismatic gifts of teaching and of interpreting prophecy, which are mentioned more than once in the New Testament, especially in the Pauline Epistles (e.g. Rom. 12:6 f.; I Cor. 12:28-30); they appeal to history, which from the beginning of the Christian religion down to today presents so many names of laymen who for the good of souls have taught the truth of Christ orally and in writing, though not called to this by the Bishops and without having asked or received the sacred teaching authority, led on by their own inward impulse and apostolic zeal. Nevertheless it is necessary to maintain to the contrary that there never has been, there is not now, and there never will be in the Church a legitimate teaching authority of the laity withdrawn by God from the authority, guidance, and watchfulness of the sacred Teaching Authority; in fact, the very denial of submission offers a convincing proof and criterion that laymen who thus speak and act are not guided by the Spirit of God and of Christ. Furthermore, everyone can see how great a danger of confusion and error there is in this “lay theology”; a danger also lest others begin to be taught by men clearly unfitted for the task, or even by deceitful and fraudulent men, whom Saint Paul described: “The time will come when men . . ., always itching to hear something fresh, will provide themselves with a continuous succession of new teachers, as the whim takes them, turning a deaf ear to the truth bestowing their attention on fables instead” (cf. II Timothy 4:3 f.).
Far be it from Us by this admonition to turn away from a deeper study and dissemination of sacred doctrine those men, of whatsoever class or group, who are inspired to it by such a noble zeal.
With daily increasing diligence, Venerable Brothers. as both the duty and the privilege of your office demand of you, devote yourselves to searching and penetrating more and more into the sublimate and profundity of supernatural truth, whose exponents you are by right, and with eloquence inflamed by zeal make known the holy truths of religion to those who at the present time, not without the threat of extremely grave dangers, are being engulfed by the darkness of error in matters of both mind and heart. And thus through salutary penance and rectitude of affection men may at last return to God, “to turn away from Whom is to fall, to turn towards Whom is to rise again; to remain in Whom is to stand firm; . . . to return to Whom is to come to life again; to dwell in Whom is to live” (Saint Aug. Soliloquiorum, lib. I. 3, Migne PL 32, col. 870).
In order that you may accomplish this, We call down heaven’s help upon you; and that it may be poured out in abundance, with great affection We impart to you and to your flocks the Apostolic Blessing.
Delivered by Pope Pius XII to the Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops who came to Rome for the canonization of Saint Pius X. The Allocution was read at a special audience granted on 31 May 1954.