COMMISSUM DIVINITUS (On Church and State)
Pope Gregory XVI
Encyclical Of Pope Gregory promulgated on 17 May 1835.
To the Clergy of
Venerable Brothers and Dearly Beloved Sons, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction.
The duty of the apostolic office which God entrusted to Us demands that We continually watch over the Lord's flock. We especially direct all Our zeal and thoughts to provide as much assistance as We can whenever the eternal salvation of the sheep and the Catholic religion seem to be in danger.. We are aware of and deplore the fact that Our enemies cunningly try many things, and not without success. Their works are an open blow against the Christian flock and an injury to the Catholic cause. This sorrow is aggravated because those who want to deceive the unwary claim that they do not intend to subtract anything from the integrity of the faith. They pretend to have as their only purpose the protection of the rights of the laity. They attempt, by a false pretense of public interest, to introduce, widely disseminate, establish, and somehow sanction the erroneous and wicked teachings which they follow.
2. Hence they dared to call together an
assembly to deliberate, and to fabricate a rule whereby aspects of the temporal
power in ecclesiastical affairs were revealed and defined. You already know
that We are speaking about those things which were nefariously accomplished
during January of last year in
3. The acts of that meeting were recently published by Gynopedius at Frauenfeld. These acts contain the names of the men who were present at the meeting, the speeches given by some of them in the sessions, and the articles passed there. We were horrified in reading those speeches and articles and the principles contained in them. We knew then that novelties were being introduced in the Catholic Church which are contrary to its teaching and discipline and which lead to the destruction of souls. We cannot allow this in any way.
4. He who made everything and who governs by a prudent arrangement wanted order to flourish in His Church. He wanted some people to be in charge and govern and others to be subject and obey. Therefore, the Church has, by its divine institution, the power of the magisterium to teach and define matters of faith and morals and to interpret the Holy Scriptures without danger of error. It also has the power of governance to preserve and strengthen in the true doctrine those whom it welcomes as children and to make laws concerning all things which pertain to the salvation of souls, the exercise of the sacred ministry, and divine worship. Whoever opposes these laws makes himself guilty of a very serious crime.
5. This power of teaching and governing in matters of religion, given by Christ to His Spouse, belongs to the priests and bishops. Christ established this system not only so that the Church would in no way belong to the civil government of the state, but also so that it could be totally free and not subject in the least to any earthly domination. Jesus Christ did not commit the sacred trust of the revealed doctrine to the worldly leaders, but to the apostles and their successors. He said to them only: "Whoever hears you, hears Me; whoever rejects you, rejects Me." These same apostles preached the Gospel, spread the Church, and established its discipline not in accordance with the pleasure of lay authority, but even in spite of it. Moreover, when the leaders of the synagogue dared command them to silence, Peter and John, who had used the evangelical freedom, responded: "You be the judge of whether it is right in the eyes of God to listen to you rather than to God." Thus, if any secular power dominates the Church, controls its doctrine, or interferes so that it cannot promulgate laws concerning the holy ministry, divine worship, and the spiritual welfare of the faithful, it does so to the injury of the faith and the overturning of the divine ordinance of the Church and the nature of government.
6. These principles are firm, unchangeable, and
supported by the authority and tradition of the ancient Fathers. Bishop Ossius of
7. However, in the
8. There is nothing which belongs more to the
Church and there is nothing Jesus Christ wanted more closely reserved for its
shepherds than the dispensation of the sacraments He instituted. The power to
judge concerning their dispensation belongs only to those whom He established
as ministers of His work on earth. It is wicked if the civil authority
appropriates for itself anything in this holy office! It is wicked if the civil
authority prescribes anything at all concerning it or gives orders to the
ministers of the sacraments! It is wicked if it tries with its laws to oppose
the rules handed down to Us in writing or by oral tradition from the early
Church concerning the distribution of the sacraments to the Christian people.
Our predecessor St. Gelasius said in his letter to
Emperor Anastasius: "You know, most merciful son, that you are allowed to rule over the human race.
Nevertheless, submit yourself to the bishops and seek from them the means of
your salvation. In receiving the heavenly sacraments and in distributing them
appropriately, you know that you should be subject rather than govern. You know
therefore that in these things you depend on their judgment and that they do
not want to be subjected to your power." What seems to be incredible and
portentous is that the meeting at
9. These things ought to be condemned because the civil authority makes laws concerning the celebration of a divinely established sacrament and dares to order the priests in such a serious matter. But they ought to be reproached even more so because they foster an absurd and impious idea which they call "indifferentism;" indeed they depend on it as necessary. Moreover, they oppose Catholic truth and Church doctrine which forbids mixed marriages as disgraceful because of the communion in holy things and because of the serious danger of the perversion of the Catholic spouse and the perverted education of the future children. Nor did the Church ever grant the free power to contract such a marriage unless conditions were added which prevented the causes of danger and deformity.
10. Jesus Christ conferred on His Church the supreme power of administering religion and governing Christian society. This is not subject to the civil authority. In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle teaches that Christ established this ecclesiastical power for the benefit of unity. And what is this unity unless one person is placed in charge of the whole Church who protects it and joins all its members in the one profession of faith and unites them in the one bond of love and communion? The wisdom of the Divine Lawgiver ordered that a visible head be placed over a visible body so that "once so established, the opportunity for division might be removed." Wherefore, although for all the bishops whom the Holy Spirit placed as governors of the Church of God there is a common dignity and in matters of rank there is nevertheless equal power, there is not the same rank in the hierarchy for all and they do not all have the same extent of jurisdiction.
Using the words of St. Leo the Great; "Among the holy apostles there was a similarity of honor but a distinction of power: while the election of all was equal, it was given only to one to have preeminence among the others ... because the Lord wanted the sacrament of evangelical duty to belong to the office of the apostles; thus He placed it principally in St. Peter, the head of all the apostles." He granted this to Peter alone out of all the apostles when He promised him the keys of the kingdom of heaven and entrusted to him the obligation of feeding the Lord's sheep and lambs and the duty of strengthening his brothers. He wanted this to extend to Peter's successors whom He placed over the Church with equal right. This has always been the firm and united opinion of all Catholics. It is Church dogma that the pope, the successor of St. Peter, possesses not only primacy of honor but also primacy of authority and jurisdiction over the whole Church. Accordingly the bishops are subject to him.
11. In the words of St. Leo, who continues
speaking about the Holy See of Peter: "It is necessary that the Church
throughout the world be united and cleave to the
center of Catholic unity and ecclesiastical communion, so that whoever dares to
depart from the unity of Peter might understand that he no longer shares in the
12. We tearfully admit that this was attempted
at the meeting in
13. The items contained in the
14. To these, We should add those things which
they indicate have been authorized concerning the rights of bishops. If these
things are examined mote deeply and referred back to the principles from which
the articles made in the
15. Since this is the situation and the Church is confronted by so great and open a disturbance of sound doctrine and ecclesiastical rights and by so great and serious a danger to the Catholic cause in these regions, it behooved Us to raise Our voice from this holy mountain soon after the meeting of Baden was held and to openly criticize, reprove, and condemn those articles to everyone who participated in the conference. We delayed Our decision on their wickedness up until now because We hoped that those who administer civil affairs would totally reject and disapprove of them. The matter did not, for the most part, come to pass according to Our expectation. On the contrary, We, greatly sorrowing, learned that laws were enacted which confirmed those articles and protected them by public decree.
16. We, in Our role as
teacher and universal doctor, ought diligently to beware lest anyone be led
into error by Our action and conclude that the articles of the
17. While We intend to point these things out openly because of Our apostolic duty, it remains for Us to speak with paternal affection to you who have taken on a part of His governance, the fullness of which the Prince of Shepherds entrusted to Us. Among so many evils which besiege the Catholic Church in these evil times, what great trials press upon Our heart! We have experienced great sadness, especially from those things which were daringly attempted recently. It should be enough to direct your attention to it, and it should not be necessary to explain the details.
18. In Our sorrow We must not neglect to mention that what you did in guarding the Catholic cause and caring for the salvation of the flock entrusted to your care brought Us great solace. Therefore, We give thanks to the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation who comforted Us with you while We were oppressed by such tribulation. We must arouse your devotion. We exhort you to fight for the cause of God and the Church with greater zeal as the attacks of the enemy become more severe. It is your duty to stand as a wall so that no other foundation can be placed other than the one which has already been laid. It is also your duty to keep the faith undefiled. There is another sacred trust which you should firmly defend, namely, the holy laws by which the Church establishes its discipline, and the rights of this Apostolic See. Therefore, act according to the position which you hold, according to the dignity with which you are vested, according to the authority which you received, according to the sacrament by which you bound yourselves in solemn consecration. Unsheathe the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. Denounce, beseech, rebuke in all patience and teaching. Labor and struggle for the Catholic religion, for the divine authority and laws of the Church, for the See of Peter and its dignity and rights "so that not only those who are upright may remain safe but also so that those who were deceived by seduction may be called back from error."
19. Moreover, so that the desired outcome may result from these cares and labors under taken by Our venerable brothers, We also address those of you who are ministers of the sacraments, shepherds of souls, and preachers of the divine word. It is your duty to be totally united with them in will, to be inflamed with the same zeal, and to be in harmony with them in this work so that the people might be protected from all danger of error and contamination. Exert yourselves so that everyone thinks the same thing and no one allows himself to be led astray by strange teachings. Let everyone avoid profane novelties, cling to the Catholic faith, and submit himself to the power and authority of the Church. Each person should bind himself ever more firmly to this See which the strong Redeemer of Jacob placed as an iron pillar and as a bronze wall against the enemies of religion. You should receive these enemies as people who ought to be educated in the law of Christ and of the Church.
20. It should be obvious that the secular power and those laws enacted by it concerning the welfare of civil society ought to be obeyed, not only because of the fear of wrath but also because of conscience. It is never permitted, however, to shamefully abandon the faith because of it. Since the spirits of the people are trained in this way, consider your labors to be both for the tranquility of the citizens and the welfare of the Church; these two things cannot be separated from one another.
21. May the most merciful God, from whom comes every perfect gift, accomplish these Our wishes. May Our apostolic blessing which We lovingly impart to you, venerable brothers, to Our brothers in the Lord, and to the faithful be a sign of good things which We ardently desire for this part of the Catholic flock.