ON THE PROPAGATION OF THE FAITH
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE GREGORY XVI
SEPTEMBER 18, 1840
Venerable Brothers, We Give You Greeting and Our Apostolic Blessing.
You are well aware, venerable brothers, of the many misfortunes which now afflict the Catholic Church. You know, too, that holy religion is being attacked by the pollution of errors of every kind and by the unbridled rashness of renegades. At the same time heretics and unbelievers attempt by cleverness and deceit to pervert the hearts and minds of the faithful You are aware, in shore, that practically no effort has been left untried in the attempt to overthrow the unshakeable building of the holy city. In particular, We are obliged, alas! to see the wicked enemies of truth spread everywhere unpunished. They harass religion with ridicule, the Church with insults, and Catholics with arrogance and calumny. They even enter cities and towns, establish schools of error and impiety, and publish their poisonous teachings which are adapted to secret deceit by misusing the natural sciences and recent discoveries. Furthermore they enter the hovels of the poor, traverse the countryside, and seek the acquaintance of the farmers and the lowest classes. They try every method of attracting the uneducated, especially the youth, to their sects, and of making them desert the Catholic faith, whether by means of Bibles inaccurately translated into the vernacular, pestilential newspapers and pamphlets of little weight, or by seductive speeches, pretended charity, and gifts of money.
- We mention events which you yourselves witness. For despite your sorrow and your pastoral denunciations, you are obliged to tolerate in your dioceses these men spreading heresy and unbelief, these assertive preachers who ceaselessly waylay and ravage your flock by going around in sheep’s clothing while inwardly they are ravening wolves. What more can We add? There is hardly any uncivilized district left in the entire world to which headquarters of the main societies of heretics and unbelievers have not sent scouts and emissaries without counting the cost. These men, by waging secret or open war on the Catholic religion and its pastors and ministers, tear the faithful from the bosom of the Church and prevent unbelievers from entering it.
- You can easily imagine the straits in which We live, since We are laden with the care of Christ’s flock and the churches, and must therefore render a detailed account to the divine Prince of Shepherds. For this reason We decided to recall in this letter the causes of the troubles which beset both Us and you. You can then reflect how important it is for all the bishops to redouble their efforts so as to break the assault of the enemies, to beat back their attacks, and to forewarn and protect the faithful from their clever appeals. We have been doing this, and We shall not stop. We know that you have likewise done so, and We are confident that you will continue.
- However, in order not to lose heart, “we should all be sure not to fear them as if We had to overcome them by our own strength, since Christ is both our counsel and our courage. As we can do nothing without Him, with Him we can do all things. To give strength to the preachers of the Gospel and ministers of the sacraments, He says, ‘Behold I am with you all days even to the end of the world’ and also, ‘I have spoken these things to you that you may have peace in me; in the world you shall have affliction but take heart, I have overcome the world.’ So clear and indisputable are these promises that no scandals should make us weak lest we seem unthankful for God’s choice of us even though His help is as effective as His promises are true.”
- Even in our time all can see those clear results of the divine promise which never have failed and never shall fail in the Church. They are plainly seen in the unconquerable constancy of the Church amid so many enemy attacks, in the spread of religion amid such disturbance and dangers, and in the consolation which “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation gives us in every trial.” On the one hand We have to lament the loss which the Catholic religion has suffered and continues to suffer in certain districts. But the many victories which the unconquerable constancy of Catholics and their priests has won and continues to win even in those districts gives us ground for joy. We rejoice greatly also at its marvellously abundant gains despite so many hindrances. This proves even to our enemies that oppression of the Church frequently contributes to its glory and strengthens the faithful.
- We are thankful for the success of apostolic missions in America, the Indies, and other faithless lands. The indefatigable zeal of many apostolic men has led them abroad into those places. Relying not on wealth nor on any army, they are protected by the shield of faith alone. They fearlessly fight the Lord’s battles against heresy and unbelief by private and public speech and writings. They are inspired with a burning love and undeterred by rough roads and heavy toil. They search out those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death to summon them to the light and life of the Catholic Religion. So, fearless in the face of every danger, they bravely enter the woods and caves of savages, gradually pacify them by Christian kindness, and prepare them for true faith and real virtue. At length they snatch them from the devil’s rule, by the bath of regeneration and promote them to the freedom of God’s adopted sons.
- However, We are reduced to tears both of sorrow in Our detestation of cruel persecutors and executioners, and of consolation in beholding the heroic constancy of the confessors of the faith, as We recall here the glorious deeds of the new martyrs in the Far East. We have already praised them at length in an address to the consistory. Tonkin and Cochin are still wet with the blood of many bishops, priests, and faithful. They have repeated the achievement of the early Christian martyrs in facing a cruel death for Christ undismayed by torture. This is a major victory for the Church and for religion. It casts the persecutors into confusion when they see that even today the divine promises of unending protection and help are really fulfilled. This is the reason why, in the words of St. Leo: “the religion established by the sacrament of the Cross of Christ cannot be destroyed by any kind of cruelty.”
- These events bring consolation and glory to the Catholic religion. But there are other grounds of consolation for the Church. Pious organizations are developing for the good of religion and Christian society. Some of these assist the work of the holy apostolic missions. God, who ceaselessly protects His Church, raises up within it new societies as times, places, and circumstances require. Under the Church’s authority each society in its own ways devotes its full energy to works of charity, the instruction of the faithful, and the spread of the faith.
- Likewise a source of joy to the Catholic world, and a wonder to nonCatholics, are the many widespread sodalities of pious women. Under the rule of St. Vincent de Paul or in association with other approved Institutes, they are remarkable in their practice of the Christian virtues. They devote themselves entirely either to saving women from the way of perdition, or to training girls in religion, solid piety and the tasks suited to their state in life, or to relieving the dire want of their neighbors with every assistance. No natural weakness of their sex or fear of any danger holds them back.
- A similar cause of joy for Us and for all good men are those groups of the faithful who recently have begun to meet regularly in many cities, especially the larger ones. Their purpose is to combat bad books with good ones written by themselves or others, displaying purity of doctrine instead of foul forms of error and Christian gentleness and charity instead of insults and attacks.
- Finally We must praise most highly the well known society which is constantly expanding, not alone in Catholic territories but even in the countries of non-Catholics and unbelievers. This society enables the faithful of every class to help the apostolic missions and to have a share themselves in the spiritual graces of these missions. We are referring, as you realize, to the famous Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
- Now you know both the sorrows which afflict Us for Our losses and of the consolations which sustain Us in the victories of the Catholic religion. We are concerned though that these societies should continue to grow. We earnestly urge you, then, to cherish, protect, and augment them in your own dioceses.
- The principal society which We recommend to you is the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. First organized in Lyons in 1822, it spread with marvellous speed and success. But certainly We recommend equally other societies of this type founded at Vienna and elsewhere. Their names are different, but they work at the same task of the propagation of the faith, a task which enjoys the religious support and favor of Catholic princes.
- This task is sustained and strengthened by the moderate offerings and daily prayers to God said by each of the members. It is directed to practicing the works of Christian charity towards neophytes, and to delivering the faithful from the attack of persecution. Consequently, We consider it deserving of the admiration and love of all good men. A work so beneficial to the Church can have begun so recently only by the special design of divine providence. For when every kind of plot of the infernal enemy besets the beloved spouse of Christ, the Church could have no more timely good fortune than this ardent desire of the faithful to spread Catholic truth.
- For this reason, established as We are despite Our unworthiness in the Papacy, We Ourselves affirm with Our predecessors Our complete support for this great work. Sharing Our concern, you should see to it that this important work flourishes among your flock. “Sing with the trumpet in Sion” and by your fatherly advice see to it that those not already members of the pious society are eager to become members, and that those who are members persevere in their purpose. This is surely the time “when the Christian battle line should smash the devil as he rages all over the world;” it is indeed the time for the faithful to join in this holy union with the priests. We have the strongest hope that God, who ceaselessly supports His Church in its long hard fight with its enemies and also gives it joy in the firmness, love and devotion of the faithful, will grant it the peace it desires when He is placated by Our combined prayers and pious works.
In the meantime We lovingly impart the apostolic blessing to yourselves, venerable brothers, and to all the clergy and lay faithful entrusted to your charge.
Given in Rome at St. Mary Major with the seal of the fisherman on the 18th day of September 1840, in the tenth year of Our Pontificate.
- 1. Cf. St. Leo the Great, epistle to Rusticus of Narbonne. 2. Sermon 82 (80) on the feast day of the Apostles Peter and Paul. 3. Cf. St. Leo the Great. epistle to Rusticus of Narbonne.
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