THE TEACHING OF CATECHISM.
ENCYCLICAL LETTER OF OUR HOLY FATHER
BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE
To THE PATRIARCHS, PRIMATES, ARCHBISHOPS, BISHOPS, AND OTHER ORDINARIES IN PEACE AND COMMUNION WITH THE APOSTOLIC SEE.
PIUS X., POPE.
HEALTH AND THE APOSTOLIC BENEDICTION.
A time of great trouble and difficulty is this in which Our littleness has been raised by the inscrutable designs of Divine Providence to the office of Supreme Pastor of the whole flock of Christ. Long has the enemy been prowling round the fold, attacking it with such subtle cunning that now more than ever seems to be verified the prediction made by the Apostle to the elders of the Church of Ephesus : “I know that ravening wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” (Acts xx. 29.)
The reasons and causes of this religious decadence are being studied by those who still cherish zeal for the glory of God, and differing as they do in their conclusions, they point out, each according to his own views, various ways for protecting and restoring the kingdom of God on earth. But to Us, Venerable Brethren, it seems that, while other reasons may play their part, We must agree with those who hold that the main cause of the present lassitude and torpor, and of the most serious evils that flow from it, is to be found in the prevailing ignorance about Divine things. And this fully bears out what God Himself affirmed through the Prophet Osee: ” . . . And there is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have overflowed, and blood hath touched blood. Therefore shall the earth mourn and every one that dwelleth in it shall languish.” (Osee iv. 1 ff.)
That there are among Christians in our time large numbers who live in utter ignorance of the truths necessary for salvation is a common lament nowadays, and one that is unhappily only too well-founded. And when We say among Christians We mean not only the masses and those in the lower walks of life, who are sometimes not to blame, owing to the inhumanity of masters whose demands leave them little time to think of themselves and their own interests, but We refer also and even more especially to all those who, while endowed with a certain amount of talent and culture and possessing abundant knowledge of profane matters, have no care or thought for religion. It is hard to find words to describe the dense darkness that environs these and, more painful still, the indifference with which they regard it. Barely do they give thought to the Supreme Author and Ruler of all things or to the teaching of the faith of Christ. Consequently they are absolutely without knowledge of the Incarnation of the Word of God and the redemption of mankind wrought by Him, and of Grace which is the chief means for the attainment of eternal welfare, and of the Holy Sacrifice and the Sacraments by which this grace is acquired and preserved. They fail to appreciate the malice and foulness of sin, and they have therefore no care to avoid it and free themselves from it. Thus they reach their last day in such a state that the minister of God, anxious to take advantage of the slightest hope of their salvation, is obliged to employ those final moments, which should be consecrated entirely to stimulating in them the love of God, in imparting a summary instruction on the things indispensable for salvation—and even then it often happens that the invalid has become so far the slave of culpable ignorance as to consider superfluous the intervention of the priest and to face calmly the terrible passage to eternity without reconciling himself with God. Our predecessor Benedict XIV., therefore, had good reason to write as he did: “This we asseverate: that the majority of those who are condemned to eternal punishment fall into this everlasting misfortune through ignorance of these mysteries of the faith which must necessarily be known and believed by all who belong to the elect.” (Inst. xxvi. 18.)
This being so, Venerable Brethren, what wonder is it if we see today in the world, not merely among barbarous peoples, but in the very midst of Christian nations, a constantly increasing corruption and depravity? The Apostle writing to the Ephesians admonished them: “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be so much as named among you, as becometh saints, or obscenity or foolish talking.” (Ephes. v. 3, 4.) But as the basis of this holiness and of the modesty that curbs the passions he sets supernatural wisdom: “See, therefore, brethren, how you walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time, for the days are evil.” (Ibid. 15-16.)
And rightly so, for the human will has retained but little of that love of what is right and just which God the Creator infused into it, and which drew it, so to speak, towards the real and not merely apparent good. Depraved as it has become by the corruption of the first sin, and hardly conscious of the existence of God, its Author, its affections are almost entirely turned to vanity and lying. The erring will, blinded by perverse passions, has need, therefore, of a guide to point out the way and lead it back to the paths of justice so unhappily abandoned. This guide, not selected at random, but designated especially by nature, is no other than the intellect. But if the intellect be itself lacking in true light—that is, in the knowledge of Divine things—it will be the blind leading the blind, and both will fall into the ditch. Holy David, praising God for the light of truth which is flashed from Him on our minds, said: “The light of thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us.” (Ps. iv. 7.) And he described the effect of this light when he added: “Thou hast given gladness in my heart”—the gladness that fills the heart to make it run in the way of Divine commandments.
All this becomes evident on a little reflection, for the doctrine of Jesus Christ reveals to us God and His infinite perfection with far greater clearness than does the natural light of the human intellect. What follows? That same doctrine commands us to honor God by faith, which is the homage of our mind; by hope, which is the homage of our will; by charity, which is the homage of our heart; and thus it binds and subjects the whole of man to his Supreme Maker and Euler. So, too, only the doctrine of Christ makes known to us the true and most lofty dignity of man by showing him to be the son of the celestial Father who is in heaven, made to His image and likeness and destined to live with Him in eternal bliss. But from this very dignity and from the knowledge that man has of it Christ deduces the obligation for all men of loving one another like brothers, as they are; commands them to live here below as children of light, “not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy” (Rom. xiii. 13) ; obliges them, too, to place all their solicitude in God, since He has care of us; commands us to stretch forth a helping hand to the poor, to do good to those who do evil to us, to prefer the eternal good of the soul to the fleeting good of time. And, not to go too far into detail, is it not the doctrine of Jesus Christ which inspires in proud man the love of humility, which is the source of all true glory ? “Whosoever shall humble himself . . . he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. xviii. 4.) From the same doctrine we learn prudence of the spirit, by means of which we are enabled to shun the prudence of the flesh ; justice, which teaches us to give every one his due; fortitude, which makes us ready to suffer all things; and by means of which we do, in fact, suffer all things with generosity for the sake of God and of our eternal happiness; and, finally, temperance, through which we find it possible to love even poverty, and actually to glory in the cross and pay no heed to contempt. In fine, the science of Christianity is a fount not only of light for the intellect, enabling it to attain to truth, but of warmth to the will, whereby we raise ourselves up to God and unite ourselves with Him for the practice of virtue.
Not, indeed, that We mean to say that a knowledge of religion may not be joined with a perverse will and a bad life. Would to God that facts did not only too abundantly prove the contrary! But We do maintain that the will cannot be upright nor conduct good while the intellect is the slave of crass ignorance. A man using his eyes may certainly turn aside from the right path, but the one who has become blind is certain to walk into the mouth of danger. Besides, there is always some hope for the reform of evil living as long as the light of faith is not wholly extinguished; whereas if, as a result of ignorance, want of faith is added to corruption, the case hardly admits of remedy, and the road to eternal ruin lies open.
Such, then, being the unhappy consequences of ignorance in matters of religion, and such, on the other hand, the necessity and utility of religious instruction, seeing that nobody can fulfil the duties of a Christian without knowing them, it only remains to inquire as to whose duty it is to eliminate this ignorance from the minds of the people and to impart to them a knowledge so essential on this point. Venerable Brethren, there can be no room for doubt, for this most important duty is incumbent on all who are pastors of souls. On them, by command of Christ, rests the obligation of knowing and feeding the flocks entrusted to them. To feed implies first of all to teach. “I will give you,” God promised through Jeremiah, “pastors after my own heart, and they will feed you with knowledge and doctrine.” (Jer. iii. 15.) Hence the Apostle St. Paul said: “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (I Cor. i. 17), thus indicating that the first office of all those who are placed to rule in some measure the Church is to instruct the faithful.
We do not think it necessary to speak here of the sublime character of this instruction or to show how meritorious it is in the sight of God. Assuredly the almsgiving with which we alleviate the trials of the poor is highly praised by the Lord. But who will deny that a far greater measure of praise is due to the zeal and the labor expended in teaching and exhortation, not on the fleeting welfare of the body but on the eternal welfare of souls? In truth, than this nothing is nearer or dearer to the heart of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of souls, who, through the lips of Isaias, affirmed of Himself : “I have been sent to preach the gospel to the poor.” (Luke iv. 18.)
For Our present purpose it will be better to dwell on a single point and to insist on it, viz., that for no priest is there a duty more grave or an obligation more binding than this one. Will any one deny that knowledge ought to be joined with holiness of life in every priest? “For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge.” (Mal. ii. 7.) And the Church does, in fact, require it most rigorously in those who are to be raised to the sacerdotal ministry. And why this? Because it is from them that the Christian people are to learn, and it is for that end that they are sent by God. “And they shall seek the law at his mouth, for he is the angel of the Lord of Hosts.” (Ibid.) Thus the bishop in ordaining addresses the candidates for orders in these words: “Let your spiritual doctrine be as medicine for the people of God; let them be prudent co-operators of our order; in order that meditating day and night on His law they may believe what they shall read, and teach what they shall believe.” (“Pont. Rom.”)
If this is true of all priests, what is to be thought with regard to those who possess the title and the authority of parish priests, and who, by virtue of their rank and in a sense by contract, have the office of ruling souls? These, in a certain measure, are to be numbered among the pastors and doctors designated by Christ in order that the faithful may be no longer as children tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, but that “doing the truth in charity they may in all things grow up in him who is the head, even Christ.” (Eph. iv. 14, 15.)
Hence the sacred Council of Trent, treating of the pastors of souls, lays down as their first and chief duty that of instructing the faithful. It prescribes that they must speak to the people on the truths of religion on Sundays and the more solemn feasts, and do the same either daily or at least three times a week during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent. Nor is it content with this, for it adds that parish priests are bound, either by themselves or through others, to instruct the young, at least on Sundays and feast days, in the principles of faith and in obedience to God and their parents. (Sess. 5 ch. 2 de ref.; Sess. 22 ch. 8; Sess. 24 ch. 4 and 7 de ref.) And when the Sacraments are to be administered it enjoins upon them the duty of explaining their efficacy in the vulgar tongue to those who are about to receive them.
These prescriptions of the sacred Council of Trent have been epitomized and still more clearly defined by Our predecessor Benedict XIV. in his Constitution “Ètsi Minime” in the following words: “Two chief obligations have been imposed by the Council of Trent on those who have the care of souls : first, that they address the people on divine things on feast days, and second, that they instruct the young and the ignorant in the rudiments of the law of God and of faith.” Rightly does that most wise Pontiff make a distinction between those two duties of the sermon, commonly known as the explanation of the Gospel and of the catechism. For it may be that there are some who, to save themselves trouble, are willing to believe that the explanation of the Gospel may serve also for catechetical instruction. This is an error which should be apparent to all, for the sermon on the Gospel is addressed to those who may be supposed to be already instructed in the rudiments of the faith. It is, so to say, the bread that is broken for adults. Catechetical instruction, on the other hand, is that milk which the Apostle St. Peter wished to be desired with simplicity by the faithful as newly born children. The task of the catechist is to take up one or other of the truths of faith or Christian precept, and to explain it in all its parts; and since the scope of his instruction is always directed to amendment of life, he must necessarily institute a comparison between what is required of us by Our Lord and our actual conduct; and he should, therefore, by appropriate examples skilfully selected from the Holy Scriptures, church history, and the lives of the saints, use persuasion with his hearers and point out to them how they are to shape their conduct, concluding with an efficacious exhortation in order that they may be moved to shun and detest vice and to practice virtue.
We are aware that the office of catechist is not much sought after, because, as a rule, it is deemed of little account and does not lend itself easily to the winning of applause. But this, in Our view, is an estimate born of vanity and not of truth. We are quite willing to admit the merits of those sacred orators who dedicate themselves with genuine zeal to the glory of God by the defense and maintenance of the faith or by extolling the heroes of Christianity. But their labor presupposes labor of another kind, that of the catechist. Where the latter is wanting the foundations are wanting, and they labor in vain who build the house. Too often it happens that ornate sermons which win the applause of crowded congregations serve only to tickle the ears, and fail utterly to touch the heart. Catechetical instruction, on the other hand, plain and simple though it be, is that word of which God Himself speaks in Isaias: “And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and return no more thither, but soak the earth and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater ;so shall my word be which shall go forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it.” The same, We think, is to be said of those priests who compose laborious books to illustrate the truths of religion. They are worthy of great commendation for their activity. But how many read these volumes and derive fruit in proportion to the toil and the wishes of those who wrote them? Whereas the teaching of the catechism, when properly done, never fails to be of profit to those who listen to it.
For (we must repeat this truth in order to stimulate the zeal of the ministers of the sanctuary) there are to-day vast numbers—and they are constantly increasing—who are utterly ignorant of the truths of religion, or who have at most so little knowledge of God and of the Christian faith that they can live as idolaters in the very midst of the light of Christianity. How many there are, not only among the young, but among adults and even those tottering with age, who know nothing of the principal mysteries of faith, who on hearing the name of Christ can only ask: “Who is he . . . that I may believe in him.” (John ix. 36.) And in consequence of this ignorance they make no crime of exciting and cherishing hatred against their neighbor, of entering into most unjust contracts, giving themselves up to dishonest speculations, possessing themselves of the property of others by enormous usury, and committing similar iniquities. They are actually ignorant that the law of Christ not only forbids immoral actions, but condemns deliberate immoral thoughts and immoral desires, so that even when they are restrained by some motive or other from abandoning themselves to sensual pleasures, they feed without any kind of scruple on evil thoughts, multiplying sins beyond the
hairs of their heads. Nor, let it be repeated, are such to be found only among the poorer classes of the people or in country places, but in the highest walks of life, and among those who, inflated with knowledge, rely upon a vain erudition and think themselves at liberty to turn religion into ridicule and to “blaspheme that which they know not.” (Jud. 10.)
Now, if it is vain to expect a harvest where no seed has been sown, how can we hope to have better-living generations if they be not instructed in time in the doctrine of Jesus Christ? It follows, too, that if faith languishes in our days, if it has almost vanished throughout a large proportion of the people, the reason is that the duty of catechetical teaching is either fulfilled very superficially or altogether neglected. Nor will it do to say, in excuse, that faith is a free gift bestowed on each one at baptism. Yes, all who are baptized in Christ have had infused into them the habit of faith; but this most divine germ does not develop, or “put forth great branches” (Mark iv. 32) when left to itself, and as if by its own virtue. Man at his birth has within him the faculty of understanding, but he has need, also, of the mother’s word to awaken it, as it were, and to bring it into action. So, too, the Christian, born again of water and the Holy Ghost, has faith within him, but he requires the word of the Church to fecundate it and develop it and make it fruitful. Hence the Apostle wrote: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans x. 17), and to show the necessity of teaching he adds: “How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Ibid.)
Now, if all that has been said serves to show the supreme importance of religious teaching, supreme, also, must be Our solicitude in maintaining always in vigor, and in establishing where it may happen to have become neglected, the teaching of the catechism which Benedict XIV. described as “the most useful of institutions for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.” (Cons. “Etsi Minime,” 13.) Desirous, therefore, Venerable Brethren, of fulfilling this most important duty, imposed upon Us by the Supreme Apostolate, and of introducing uniformity everywhere in this most weighty matter, We do, by Our Supreme authority, enact and strictly ordain that in all dioceses the following precepts be observed:
First—All parish priests and, in general, all those who have the care of souls, on every Sunday and feast day throughout the year, without exception, shall with the text of the catechism instruct for the space of an hour the young of both sexes in what every one must believe and do to be saved.
Second—They shall, at stated times during the year, prepare boys and girls by continued instruction, lasting several days, to receive the sacraments of Penance and Confirmation.
Third—They shall likewise, and with special care, on all ferial days of Lent, and, if necessary, on other days after the feast of Easter, by suitable instruction and reflections, prepare boys and girls to make their first Communion in a holy manner.
Fourth—In each and every parish the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine is to be canonically erected. Through this the parish priests, especially in places where there is a scarcity of priests, will find valuable helpers for the catechetical instruction in pious lay persons who will lend their aid to this holy and salutary work, both through zeal for the glory of God and as a means of gaining the numerous indulgences granted by the Sovereign Pontiffs.
Fifth—In large towns, and especially in those which contain universities, colleges and grammar schools, let religious classes be founded, to instruct in the truths of faith and in the practice of Christian life the young people who frequent those public schools from which all religious teaching is banned.
Sixth—Considering, too, that especially in these days adults not less than the young stand in need of religious instruction, all parish priests and others having the care of souls shall, in addition to the usual homily on the Gospel delivered at the parochial Mass on all days of obligation, explain the Catechism for the faithful in any easy style suited to the intelligence of their hearers, at such time of the day as they may deem most convenient for the people, but not during the hour in which the children are taught. In this instruction they are to make use of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and they are to divide the matter in such a way as within the space of four or five years to treat of the Apostles’ Creed, the Sacraments, the Decalogue, the Lord’s Prayer and the Precepts of the Church.
This, Venerable Brethren, We do prescribe and command by virtue of Apostolic Authority. It now rests with you to put it into prompt and complete execution in your diocese, and by all the force at your command, and to see to it that these prescriptions of Ours be not neglected or, what comes to the same thing, carried out superficially. And, that this may be avoided, you must not cease to recommend and to require that your parish priests do not impart this instruction carelessly, but that they diligently prepare themselves for it ; let them not speak words of human wisdom, but “with simplicity of heart and in the sincerity of God” (II. Cor. i. 12), imitating the example of Jesus Christ, who though “he revealed mysteries hidden from the beginning of the world” (Matt. xiii. 35) yet always spoke “to the multitudes in parables, and without parables did not speak to them” (Ibid. 34). The same thing was done, also, by the Apostles taught by Our Lord, of whom the Pontiff Gregory the Great said: “They took supreme care to preach to the ignorant things easy and intelligible, not sublime and arduous.” (Moral. I I . xviii, ch. 26.) In matters of religion the majority of men in our times must be considered as ignorant.
We would not, however, have it supposed that this studied simplicity of preaching does not require labor and meditation; on the contrary, it requires it more than any other kind. It is much easier to find a preacher capable of delivering an eloquent and elaborate discourse than a catechist able to impart instruction in a manner entirely worthy of praise. It must, therefore, be carefully borne in mind that whatever facility of ideas and language a man may have inherited from nature, he will never be able to teach the Catechism to the young and the adult without preparing himself thoughtfully for the task. It is a mistake for a man to suppose that, owing to the rudeness and ignorance of the people, he may perform this office in a careless manner. On the contrary, the more uncultured the hearers the greater is the necessity for study and diligence to bring home to their minds those most sublime truths, so far beyond the natural understanding of the multitude, which must yet be known by all the learned and the unlettered alike, in order that they may attain eternal salvation.
And now, Venerable Brethren, be it permitted Us to close this letter by addressing to you these words of Moses: “If any man be on the Lord’s side, let him join with me.” (Ex. xxxii. 26.) We pray and conjure you to reflect on the ruin of souls which is wrought by this one cause, ignorance of Divine things. Doubtless you have established many useful and praiseworthy undertakings in your respective dioceses for the benefit of the flock entrusted to you, but before all else, and with all the diligence, all the zeal, all the assiduity that is possible for you, see to it that the knowledge of Christian doctrine thoroughly penetrate and pervade the minds of all. “Let every one”— these are the words of the Apostle St. Peter—”as he has received grace, minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (I. Peter iv. 10.)
Through the intercession of the most blessed Immaculate Virgin, may your diligence and your energy be rendered fruitful by the Apostolic Blessing which, in token of Our affection and as an earnest of Divine favors, We impart to you and to the clergy and the people en- trusted to each one of you.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, on the 15th day of April, MDCCCCV., in the second year of Our Pontificate.
PIUS X., POPE.
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