ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS X
ON TEACHING CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
TO THE PATRIARCHS, PRIMATES,
ARCHBISHOPS, BISHOPS, AND OTHER ORDINARIES
IN PEACE AND COMMUNION WITH THE APOSTOLIC SEE.
Health and the Apostolic Blessing.
At this very troublesome and difficult time,
the hidden designs of God have conducted Our poor strength to
the office of Supreme pastor, to rule the entire flock of Christ.
The enemy has, indeed, long been prowling about the fold and attacking
it with such subtle cunning that now, more than ever before, the
prediction of the Apostle to the elders of the Church of Ephesus
seems to be verified: "I know that . . . fierce wolves will
get in among you, and will not spare the flock." Those
who still are zealous for the glory of God are seeking the causes
and reasons for this decline in religion. Coming to a different
explanation, each points out, according to his own view, a different
plan for the protection and restoration of the kingdom of God
on earth. But it seems to Vs, Venerable Brethren, that while we
should not overlook other considerations, We are forced to agree
with those who hold that the chief cause of the present indifference
and, as it were, infirmity of soul, and the serious evils that
result from it, is to be found above all in ignorance of things
divine. This is fully in accord with what God Himself declared
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. Thereafter shall
the land mourn, and everyone that dwelleth in it shall languish."
2. It is a common complaint, unfortunately too
well founded, that there are large numbers of Christians in our
own time who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for
salvation. And when we mention Christians, We refer not only to
the masses or to those in the lower walks of life - for these
find some excuse for their ignorance in the fact that the demands
of their harsh employers hardly leave them time to take care of
themselves or of their dear ones - but We refer to those especially
who do not lack culture or talents and, indeed, are possessed
of abundant knowledge regarding things of the world but live rashly
and imprudently with regard to religion. It is hard to find words
to describe how profound is the darkness in which they are engulfed
and, what is most deplorable of all, how tranquilly they repose
there. They rarely give thought to God, the Supreme Author and
Ruler of all things, or to the teachings of the faith of Christ.
They know nothing of the Incarnation of the Word of God, nothing
of the perfect restoration of the human race which He accomplished.
Grace, the greatest of the helps for attaining eternal things,
the Holy Sacrifice and the Sacraments by which we obtain grace,
are entirely unknown to them. They have no conception of the malice
and baseness of sin; hence they show no anxiety to avoid sin or
to renounce it. And so they arrive at life's end in such a condition
that, lest all hope of salvation be lost, the priest is obliged
to give in the last few moments of life a summary teaching of
religion, a time which should be devoted to stimulating the soul
to greater love for God. And even this as too often happens only
when the dying man is not so sinfully ignorant as to look upon
the ministration of the priest as useless, and then calmly faces
the fearful passage to eternity without making his peace with
God. And so Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, had just cause to write:
"We declare that a great number of those who are condemned
to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because
of ignorance of those mysteries of faith which must be known and
believed in order to be numbered among the elect."
3. There is then, Venerable Brethren, no reason
for wonder that the corruption of morals and depravity of life
is already so great, and ever increasingly greater, not only among
uncivilized peoples but even in those very nations that are called
Christian. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians, repeatedly
admonished them in these words: "But immorality and every
uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you,
as become saints; or obscenity or foolish talk." He also
places the foundation of holiness and sound morals upon a knowledge
of divine things - which holds in check evil desires: "See
to it therefore, brethren, that you walk with care: not as unwise
but as wise. . . Therefore, do not become foolish, but understand
what the will of the Lord is." And rightly so. For the
will of man retains but little of that divinely implanted love
of virtue and righteousness by which it was, as it were, attracted
strongly toward the real and not merely apparent good. Disordered
by the stain of the first sin, and almost forgetful of God, its
Author, it improperly turns every affection to a love of vanity
and deceit. This erring will, blinded by its own evil desires,
has need therefore of a guide to lead it back to the paths of
justice whence it has so unfortunately strayed. The intellect
itself is this guide, which need not be sought elsewhere, but
is provided by nature itself. It is a guide, though, that, if
it lack its companion light, the knowledge of divine things, will
be only an instance of the blind leading the blind so that both
will fall into the pit. The holy king David, praising God for
the light of truth with which He had illumined the intellect,
exclaimed: "The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed
upon us." Then he described the effect of this light by
adding: "Thou hast given gladness in my heart," gladness,
that is, which enlarges our heart so that it runs in the way of
4. All this becomes evident on a little reflection.
Christian teaching reveals God and His infinite perfection with
far greater clarity than is possible by the human faculties alone.
Nor is that all. This same Christian teaching also commands us
to honor God by faith, which is of the mind, by hope, which is
of the will, by love, which is of the heart; and thus the whole
man is subjected to the supreme Maker and Ruler of all things.
The truly remarkable dignity of man as the son of the heavenly
Father, in Whose image he is formed, and with Whom he is destined
to live in eternal happiness, is also revealed only by the doctrine
of Jesus Christ. From this very dignity, and from man's knowledge
of it, Christ showed that men should love one another as brothers,
and should live here as become children of light, "not of
revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not
in strife and jealousy." He also bids us to place all
our anxiety and care in the hands of God, for He will provide
for us; He tells us to help the poor, to do good to those who
hate us, and to prefer the eternal welfare of the soul to the
temporal goods of this life. Without wishing to touch on every
detail, nevertheless is it not true that the proud man is urged
and commanded by the teaching of Christ to strive for humility,
the source of true glory? "Whoever, therefore, humbles himself.
. . he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." From
that same teaching we learn prudence of the spirit, and thereby
we avoid prudence of the flesh; we learn justice, by which we
give to every man his due; fortitude, which prepares us to endure
all things and with steadfast heart suffer all things for the
sake of God and eternal happiness; and, last of all, temperance
through which we cherish even poverty borne out of love for God,
nay, we even glory in the cross itself, unmindful of its shame.
In fine, Christian teaching not only bestows on the intellect
the light by which it attains truth, but from it our will draws
that ardor by which we are raised up to God and joined with Him
in the practice of virtue.
5. We by no means wish to conclude that a perverse
will and unbridled conduct may not be joined with a knowledge
of religion. Would to God that facts did not too abundantly prove
the contrary! But We do maintain that the will cannot be upright
nor the conduct good when the mind is shrouded in the darkness
of crass ignorance. A man who walks with open eyes may, indeed,
turn aside from the right path, but a blind man is in much more
imminent danger of wandering away. Furthermore, there is always
some hope for a reform of perverse conduct so long as the light
of faith is not entirely extinguished; but if lack of faith is
added to depraved morality because of ignorance, the evil hardly
admits of remedy, and the road to ruin lies open.
6. How many and how grave are the consequences
of ignorance in matters of religion! And on the other hand, how
necessary and how beneficial is religious instruction! It is indeed
vain to expect a fulfillment of the duties of a Christian by one
who does not even know them.
7. We must now consider upon whom rests the obligation
to dissipate this most pernicious ignorance and to impart in its
stead the knowledge that is wholly indispensable. There can be
no doubt, Venerable Brethren, that this most important duty rests
upon all who are pastors of souls. On them, by command of Christ,
rest the obligations of knowing and of feeding the flocks committed
to their care; and to feed implies, first of all, to teach. "I
will give you pastors according to my own heart," God promised
through Jeremias, "and they shall feed you with knowledge
and doctrine." Hence the Apostle Paul said: "Christ
did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,"
thereby indicating that the first duty of all those who are entrusted
in any way with the government of the Church is to instruct the
faithful in the things of God.
8. We do not think it necessary to set forth
here the praises of such instruction or to point out how meritorious
it is in God's sight. If, assuredly, the alms with which we relieve
the needs of the poor are highly praised by the Lord, how much
more precious in His eyes, then, will be the zeal and labor expended
in teaching and admonishing, by which we provide not for the passing
needs of the body but for the eternal profit of the soul! Nothing,
surely, is more desirable, nothing more acceptable to Jesus Christ,
the Savior of souls, Who testifies of Himself through Isaias:
"To bring good news to the poor he has sent me."
9. Here then it is well to emphasize and insist
that for a priest there is no duty more grave or obligation more
binding than this. Who, indeed, will deny that knowledge should
be joined to holiness of life in the priest? "For the lips
of the priest shall keep knowledge." The Church demands
this knowledge of those who are to be ordained to the priesthood.
Why? Because the Christian people expect from them knowledge of
the divine law, and it was for that end that they were sent by
God. "And they shall seek the law at his mouth; because he
is the angel of the Lord of hosts." Thus the bishop speaking
to the candidates for the priesthood in the ordination ceremony
says: "Let your teaching be a spiritual remedy for God's
people; may they be worthy fellow-workers of our order; and thus
meditating day and night on His law, they may believe what they
read, and teach what they shall believe."
10. If what We have just said is applicable to
all priests, does it not apply with much greater force to those
who possess the title and the authority of parish priests, and
who, by virtue of their rank and in a sense by virtue of a contract,
hold the office of pastors of souls? These are, to a certain extent,
the pastors and teachers appointed by Christ in order that the
faithful might not be as "children, tossed to and fro and
carried about by every wind of doctrine devised in the wickedness
of men," but that practicing "the truth in love,"
they may, "grow up in all things in him who is the head,
11. For this reason the Council of Trent, treating
of the duties of pastors of souls, decreed that their first and
most important work is the instruction of the faithful. It
therefore prescribes that they shall teach the truths of religion
on Sundays and on the more solemn feast days; moreover during
the holy seasons of Advent and Lent they are to give such instruction
every day or at least three times a week. This, however, was not
considered enough. The Council provided for the instruction of
youth by adding that the pastors, either personally or through
others, must explain the truths of religion at least on Sundays
and feast days to the children of the parish, and inculcate obedience
to God and to their parents. When the Sacraments are to be administered,
it enjoins upon pastors the duty to explain their efficacy in
plain and simple language.
12. These prescriptions of the Council of Trent
have been summarized and still more clearly defined by Our Predecessor,
Benedict XIV, in his Constitution Esti minime. "Two chief
obligations," he wrote, "have been imposed by the Council
of Trent on those who have the care of souls: first, that of preaching
the things of God to the people on the feast days; and second,
that of teaching the rudiments of faith and of the divine law
to the youth and others who need such instruction." Here
the wise Pontiff rightly distinguishes between these two duties:
one is what is commonly known as the explanation of the Gospel
and the other is the teaching of Christian doctrine. Perhaps there
are some who, wishing to lessen their labors, would believe that
the homily on the Gospel can take the place of catechetical instruction.
But for one who reflects a moment, such is obviously impossible.
The sermon on the holy Gospel is addressed to those who should
have already received knowledge of the elements of faith. It is,
so to speak, bread broken for adults. Catechetical instruction,
on the other hand, is that milk which the Apostle Peter wished
the faithful to desire in all simplicity like newborn babes.
13. The task of the catechist is to take up one
or other of the truths of faith or of Christian morality and then
explain it in all its parts; and since amendment of life is the
chief aim of his instruction, the catechist must needs make a
comparison between what God commands us to do and what is our
actual conduct. After this, he will use examples appropriately
taken from the Holy Scriptures, Church history, and the lives
of the saints - thus moving his hearers and clearly pointing out
to them how they are to regulate their own conduct. He should,
in conclusion, earnestly exhort all present to dread and avoid
vice and to practice virtue.
14. We are indeed aware that the work of teaching
the Catechism is unpopular with many because as a rule it is deemed
of little account and for the reason that it does not lend itself
easily to the winning of public praise. But this in Our opinion
is a judgment based on vanity and devoid of truth. We do not disapprove
of those pulpit orators who, out of genuine zeal for the glory
of God, devote themselves to defense of the faith and to its spread,
or who eulogize the saints of God. But their labor presupposes
labor of another kind, that of the catechist. And so if this be
lacking, then the foundation is wanting; and they labor in vain
who build the house. Too often it happens that ornate sermons
which receive the applause of crowded congregations serve but
to tickle the ears and fail utterly to touch the hearts of the
hearers. Catechetical instruction, on the other hand, plain and
simple though it be, is the word of which God Himself speaks through
the lips of the prophet 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 it
shall do whatsoever I please and shall prosper in the things for
which I sent it." We believe the same may be said of
those priests who work hard to produce books which explain the
truths of religion. They are surely to be commended for their
zeal, but how many are there who read these works and take from
them a fruit commensurate with the labor and intention of the
writers? The teaching of the Catechism, on the other hand, when
rightly done, never fails to profit those who listen to it.
15. In order to enkindle the zeal of the ministers
of God, We again insist on the need to reach the ever-increasing
numbers of those who know nothing at all of religion, or who possess
at most only such knowledge of God and Christian truths as befits
idolaters. How many there are, alas, not only among the young,
but among adults and those advanced in years, who know nothing
of the chief mysteries of faith; who on hearing the name of Christ
can only ask? "Who is he. . . that I may believe in him?"
In consequence of this ignorance, they do not consider it a crime
to excite and nourish hatred against their neighbor, to enter
into most unjust contracts, to do business in dishonest fashion,
to hold the funds of others at an exorbitant interest rate, and
to commit other iniquities no less reprehensible. They are, moreover,
ignorant of the law of Christ which not only condemns immoral
actions but also forbids deliberate immoral thoughts and desires.
Even when for some reason or other they avoid sensual pleasures,
they nevertheless entertain evil thoughts without the least scruple,
thereby multiplying their sins above the number of the hairs of
the head. These persons are found, we deem it necessary to repeat,
not merely among the poorer classes of the people or in sparsely
settled districts, but also among those in the higher walks of
life, even, indeed, among those puffed up with learning, who,
relying upon a vain erudition, feel free to ridicule religion
and to "deride whatever they do not know."
16. Now, if we cannot expect to reap a harvest
when no seed has been planted, how can we hope to have a people
with sound morals if Christian doctrine has not been imparted
to them in due time? It follows, too, that if faith languishes
in our days, if among large numbers it has almost vanished, the
reason is that the duty of catechetical teaching is either fulfilled
very superficially or altogether neglected. It will not do to
say, in excuse, that faith is a free gift of God bestowed upon
each one at Baptism. True enough, when we are baptized in Christ,
the habit of faith is given, but this most divine seed, if left
entirely to itself, by its own power, so to speak, is not like
the mustard seed which "grows up. . . and puts out great
branches." Man has the faculty of understanding at his
birth, but he also has need of his mother's word to awaken it,
as it were, and to make it active. So too, the Christian, born
again of water and the Holy Spirit, has faith within him, but
he requires the word of the teaching Church to nourish and develop
it and to make it bear fruit. Thus wrote the Apostle: "Faith
then depends on hearing, and hearing on the word of Christ";
and to show the necessity of instruction, he added, "How
are they to hear, if no one preaches?"
17. What We have said so far demonstrates the
supreme importance of religious instruction. We ought, therefore,
to do all that lies in our power to maintain the teaching of Christian
doctrine with full vigor, and where such is neglected, to restore
it; for in the words of Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, "There
is nothing more effective than catechetical instruction to spread
the glory of God and to secure the salvation of souls."
18. We, therefore, Venerable Brethren, desirous
of fulfilling this most important obligation of Our Teaching Office,
and likewise wishing to introduce uniformity everywhere in so
weighty a matter, do by Our Supreme Authority enact the following
regulations and strictly command that they be observed and carried
out in all dioceses of the world.
19. I. On every Sunday and holy day, with no
exception, throughout the year, all parish priests and in general
all those having the care of souls, shall instruct the boys and
girls, for the space of an hour from the text of the Catechism
on those things they must believe and do in order to attain salvation.
20. II. At certain times throughout the year,
they shall prepare boys and girls to receive properly the Sacraments
of Penance and Confirmation, by a continued instruction over a
period of days.
21. III. With a very special zeal, on every day
in Lent and, if necessary, on the days following Easter, they
shall instruct with the use of apt illustrations and exhortations
the youth of both sexes to receive their first Communion in a
22. IV. In each and every parish the society
known as the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine is to be canonically
established. Through this Confraternity, the pastors, especially
in places where there is a scarcity of priests, will have lay
helpers in the teaching of the Catechism, who will take up the
work of imparting knowledge both from a zeal for the glory of
God and in order to gain the numerous Indulgences granted by the
23. V. In the larger cities, and especially where
universities, colleges and secondary schools are located, let
classes in religion be organized to instruct in the truths of
faith and in the practice of Christian life the youths who attend
the public schools from which all religious teaching is banned.
24. VI. Since it is a fact that in these days
adults need instruction no less than the young, all pastors and
those having the care of souls shall explain the Catechism to
the people in a plain and simple style adapted to the intelligence
of their hearers. This shall be carried out on all holy days of
obligation, at such time as is most convenient for the people,
but not during the same hour when the children are instructed,
and this instruction must be in addition to the usual homily on
the Gospel which is delivered at the parochial Mass on Sundays
and holy days. The catechetical instruction shall be based on
the Catechism of the Council of Trent; and the matter is to be
divided in such a way that in the space of four or five years,
treatment will be given to the Apostles' Creed, the Sacraments,
the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer and the Precepts of the
25. Venerable Brethren, We decree and command
this by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority. It now rests with you
to put it into prompt and complete execution in your respective
dioceses, and by the power of your authority to see to it that
these prescriptions of Ours be not neglected or, what amounts
to the same thing, that they be not carried out carelessly or
superficially. That this may be avoided, you must exhort and urge
your pastors not to impart these instructions without having first
prepared themselves in the work. Then they will not merely speak
words of human wisdom, but "in simplicity and godly sincerity,"
imitating the example of Jesus Christ, Who, though He revealed
"things hidden since the foundation of the world,"
yet spoke "all . . . things to the crowds in parables, and
without parables . . . did not speak to them." We know
that the Apostles, who were taught by the Lord, did the same;
for of them Pope Saint Gregory wrote: "They took supreme
care to preach to the uninstructed simple truths easy to understand,
not things deep and difficult." In matters of religion,
the majority of men in our times must be considered uninstructed.
26. We do not, however, wish to give the impression
that this studied simplicity in imparting instruction does not
require labor and meditation - on the contrary, it demands both
more than any other kind of preaching. It is much easier to find
a preacher capable of delivering an eloquent and elaborate discourse
than a catechist who can impart a catechetical instruction which
is praiseworthy in every detail. No matter what natural facility
a person may have in ideas and language, let him always remember
that he will never be able to teach Christian doctrine to children
or to adults without first giving himself to very careful study
and preparation. They are mistaken who think that because of inexperience
and lack of training of the people the work of catechizing can
be performed in a slipshod fashion. On the contrary, the less
educated the hearers, the more zeal and diligence must be used
to adapt the sublime truths to their untrained minds; these truths,
indeed, far surpass the natural understanding of the people, yet
must be known by all - the uneducated and the cultured - in order
that they may arrive at eternal happiness.
27. And now, Venerable Brethren, permit 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."
We pray and entreat you to reflect on the great loss of souls
due solely to ignorance of divine things. You have doubtless accomplished
many useful and most praiseworthy works in your respective dioceses
for the good of the flock entrusted to your care, but before all
else, and with all possible zeal and diligence and care, see to
it and urge on others that the knowledge of Christian doctrine
pervades and imbues fully and deeply the minds of all. Here, using
the words of the Apostle Peter, We say, "According to the
gift that each has received, administer it to one another as good
stewards of the manifold grace of God."
28. Through the intercession of the Most Blessed
Immaculate Virgin, may your diligent efforts be made fruitful
by the Apostolic Blessing which, in token of Our affection and
as a pledge of heavenly favors, We wholeheartedly impart to you
and to your clergy and people.
Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's, on the fifteenth
day of April, 1905, in the second year of Our Pontificate.
1. Acts 20:29.
2. Osee 4:1-3.
3. Instit., 27:18.
4. Eph. 5:34.
5. Eph. 5:15-16.
7. Rom. 13:13.
8. Matt. 18:4.
9. Jer. 3: 15.
10. I Cor. 1:17.
11. Luke 4:18.
12. Mal. 2:7.
14. Roman Pontifical.
15. Eph. 4:14, IS.
16. Sess. V, cap. 2, De Reform.; Sess. XXII, cap. 8; Sess. XXIV,
cap. 4 & 7, De Reform.
18. John 9:36.
19. Jude 10.
20. Mark 4:32.
21. Rom. 10:17.
22. Ibid., 14.
23. Constitution, Etsi minime, 13.
24. II Cor.1:12.
25. Matt. 13:35.
26. Ibid., 34.
27. Morals, I, 17, cap. 26.
28. Ex. 32:26.
29. I Pet. 4:10