Given by His
Holiness Pope Gregory XVI
August 15, 1832
To All Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, and Bishops of the Catholic
Venerable Brothers, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction.
We think that you wonder why, from the time of Our assuming the
pontificate, We have not yet sent a letter to you as is customary and
as Our benevolence for you demanded. We wanted very much to address you
by that voice by which We have been commanded, in the person of blessed
Peter, to strengthen the brethren.
1 You know what storms of evil and toil, at the beginning of Our
pontificate, drove Us suddenly into the depths of the sea. If the right
hand of God had not given Us strength, We would have drowned as the
result of the terrible conspiracy of impious men. The mind recoils from
renewing this by enumerating so many dangers; instead We bless the
Father of consolation Who, having overthrown all enemies, snatched Us
from the present danger. When He had calmed this violent storm, He gave
Us relief from fear. At once We decided to advise you on healing the
wounds of Israel; but the mountain of concerns We needed to address in
order to restore public order delayed Us.
2. In the meantime We were again delayed because of the insolent and
factious men who endeavored to raise the standard of treason.
Eventually, We had to use Our God-given authority to restrain the great
obstinacy of these men with the rod.2 Before We did, their unbridled
rage seemed to grow from continued impunity and Our considerable
indulgence. For these reasons Our duties have been heavy.
3. But when We had assumed Our pontificate according to the custom and
institution of Our predecessors and when all delays had been laid
aside, We hastened to you. So We now present the letter and testimony
of Our good will toward you on this happy day, the feast of the
Assumption of the Virgin. Since she has been Our patron and savior amid
so many great calamities, We ask her assistance in writing to you and
her counsels for the flock of Christ.
4. We come to you grieving and sorrowful because We know that you are
concerned for the faith in these difficult times. Now is truly the time
in which the powers of darkness winnow the elect like wheat.3 "The
earth mourns and fades away....And the earth is infected by the
inhabitants thereof, because they have transgressed the laws, they have
changed the ordinances, they have broken the everlasting covenant."4
5. We speak of the things which you see with your own eyes, which We
both bemoan. Depravity exults; science is impudent; liberty, dissolute.
The holiness of the sacred is despised; the majesty of divine worship
is not only disapproved by evil men, but defiled and held up to
ridicule. Hence sound doctrine is perverted and errors of all kinds
spread boldly. The laws of the sacred, the rights, institutions, and
discipline--none are safe from the audacity of those speaking evil. Our
Roman See is harassed violently and the bonds of unity are daily
loosened and severed. The divine authority of the Church is opposed and
her rights shorn off. She is subjected to human reason and with the
greatest injustice exposed to the hatred of the people and reduced to
vile servitude. The obedience due bishops is denied and their rights
are trampled underfoot. Furthermore, academies and schools resound with
new, monstrous opinions, which openly attack the Catholic faith; this
horrible and nefarious war is openly and even publicly waged. Thus, by
institutions and by the example of teachers, the minds of the youth are
corrupted and a tremendous blow is dealt to religion and the perversion
of morals is spread. So the restraints of religion are thrown off, by
which alone kingdoms stand. We see the destruction of public order, the
fall of principalities, and the overturning of all legitimate power
approaching. Indeed this great mass of calamities had its inception in
the heretical societies and sects in which all that is sacrilegious,
infamous, and blasphemous has gathered as bilge water in a ship's hold,
a congealed mass of all filth.
6. These and many other serious things, which at present would take too
long to list, but which you know well, cause Our intense grief. It is
not enough for Us to deplore these innumerable evils unless We strive
to uproot them. We take refuge in your faith and call upon your concern
for the salvation of the Catholic flock. Your singular prudence and
diligent spirit give Us courage and console Us, afflicted as We are
with so many trials. We must raise Our voice and attempt all things
lest a wild boar from the woods should destroy the vineyard or wolves
kill the flock. It is Our duty to lead the flock only to the food which
is healthful. In these evil and dangerous times, the shepherds must
never neglect their duty; they must never be so overcome by fear that
they abandon the sheep. Let them never neglect the flock and become
sluggish from idleness and apathy. Therefore, united in spirit, let us
promote our common cause, or more truly the cause of God; let our
vigilance be one and our effort united against the common enemies.
7. Indeed you will accomplish this perfectly if, as the duty of your
office demands, you attend to yourselves and to doctrine and meditate
on these words: "the universal Church is affected by any and every
novelty"5 and the admonition of Pope Agatho: "nothing of the things
appointed ought to be diminished; nothing changed; nothing added; but
they must be preserved both as regards expression and meaning."6
Therefore may the unity which is built upon the See of Peter as on a
sure foundation stand firm. May it be for all a wall and a security, a
safe port, and a treasury of countless blessings.7 To check the
audacity of those who attempt to infringe upon the rights of this Holy
See or to sever the union of the churches with the See of Peter,
instill in your people a zealous confidence in the papacy and sincere
veneration for it. As St. Cyprian wrote: "He who abandons the See of
Peter on which the Church was founded, falsely believes himself to be a
part of the Church."8
8. In this you must labor and diligently take care that the faith may
be preserved amidst this great conspiracy of impious men who attempt to
tear it down and destroy it. May all remember the judgment concerning
sound doctrine with which the people are to be instructed. Remember
also that the government and administration of the whole Church rests
with the Roman Pontiff to whom, in the words of the Fathers of the
Council of Florence, "the full power of nourishing, ruling, and
governing the universal Church was given by Christ the Lord."9 It is
the duty of individual bishops to cling to the See of Peter faithfully,
to guard the faith piously and religiously, and to feed their flock. It
behooves priests to be subject to the bishops, whom "they are to look
upon as the parents of their souls," as Jerome admonishes.10 Nor may
the priests ever forget that they are forbidden by ancient canons to
undertake ministry and to assume the tasks of teaching and preaching
"without the permission of their bishop to whom the people have been
entrusted; an accounting for the souls of the people will be demanded
from the bishop."11 Finally let them understand that all those who
struggle against this established order disturb the position of the
9. Furthermore, the discipline sanctioned by the Church must never be
rejected or be branded as contrary to certain principles of natural
law. It must never be called crippled, or imperfect or subject to civil
authority. In this discipline the administration of sacred rites,
standards of morality, and the reckoning of the rights of the Church
and her ministers are embraced.
10. To use the words of the fathers of Trent, it is certain that the
Church "was instructed by Jesus Christ and His Apostles and that all
truth was daily taught it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."12
Therefore, it is obviously absurd and injurious to propose a certain
"restoration and regeneration" for her as though necessary for her
safety and growth, as if she could be considered subject to defect or
obscuration or other misfortune. Indeed these authors of novelties
consider that a "foundation may be laid of a new human institution,"
and what Cyprian detested may come to pass, that what was a divine
thing "may become a human church."13 Let those who devise such plans be
aware that, according to the testimony of St. Leo, "the right to grant
dispensation from the canons is given" only to the Roman Pontiff. He
alone, and no private person, can decide anything "about the rules of
the Church Fathers." As St. Gelasius writes: "It is the papal
responsibility to keep the canonical decrees in their place and to
evaluate the precepts of previous popes so that when the times demand
relaxation in order to rejuvenate the churches, they may be adjusted
after diligent consideration."14
11. Now, however, We want you to rally to combat the abominable
conspiracy against clerical celibacy. This conspiracy spreads daily and
is promoted by profligate philosophers, some even from the clerical
order. They have forgotten their person and office, and have been
carried away by the enticements of pleasure. They have even dared to
make repeated public demands to the princes for the abolition of that
most holy discipline. But it is disgusting to dwell on these evil
attempts at length. Rather, We ask that you strive with all your might
to justify and to defend the law of clerical celibacy as prescribed by
the sacred canons, against which the arrows of the lascivious are
directed from every side.
12. Now the honorable marriage of Christians, which Paul calls "a great
sacrament in Christ and the Church,"15 demands our shared concern lest
anything contrary to its sanctity and indissolubility is proposed. Our
predecessor Pius VIII would recommend to you his own letters on the
subject. However, troublesome efforts against this sacrament still
continue to be made. The people therefore must be zealously taught that
a marriage rightly entered upon cannot be dissolved; for those joined
in matrimony God has ordained a perpetual companionship for life and a
knot of necessity which cannot be loosed except by death. Recalling
that matrimony is a sacrament and therefore subject to the Church, let
them consider and observe the laws of the Church concerning it. Let
them take care lest for any reason they permit that which is an
obstruction to the teachings of the canons and the decrees of the
councils. They should be aware that those marriages will have an
unhappy end which are entered upon contrary to the discipline of the
Church or without God's favor or because of concupiscence alone, with
no thought of the sacrament and of the mysteries signified by it.
13. Now We consider another abundant source of the evils with which the
Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion
is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is
possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession
of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained. Surely, in
so clear a matter, you will drive this deadly error far from the people
committed to your care. With the admonition of the apostle that "there
is one God, one faith, one baptism"16 may those fear who contrive the
notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any
religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself
that "those who are not with Christ are against Him,"17 and that they
disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore "without a
doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith
whole and inviolate."18 Let them hear Jerome who, while the Church was
torn into three parts by schism, tells us that whenever someone tried
to persuade him to join his group he always exclaimed: "He who is for
the See of Peter is for me."19 A schismatic flatters himself falsely if
he asserts that he, too, has been washed in the waters of regeneration.
Indeed Augustine would reply to such a man: "The branch has the same
form when it has been cut off from the vine; but of what profit for it
is the form, if it does not live from the root?"20
14. This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and
erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be
maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs,
though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that
some advantage accrues to religion from it. "But the death of the soul
is worse than freedom of error," as Augustine was wont to say.21 When
all restraints are removed by which men are kept on the narrow path of
truth, their nature, which is already inclined to evil, propels them to
ruin. Then truly "the bottomless pit"22 is open from which John saw
smoke ascending which obscured the sun, and out of which locusts flew
forth to devastate the earth. Thence comes transformation of minds,
corruption of youths, contempt of sacred things and holy laws--in other
words, a pestilence more deadly to the state than any other. Experience
shows, even from earliest times, that cities renowned for wealth,
dominion, and glory perished as a result of this single evil, namely
immoderate freedom of opinion, license of free speech, and desire for
15. Here We must include that harmful and never sufficiently denounced
freedom to publish any writings whatever and disseminate them to the
people, which some dare to demand and promote with so great a clamor.
We are horrified to see what monstrous doctrines and prodigious errors
are disseminated far and wide in countless books, pamphlets, and other
writings which, though small in weight, are very great in malice. We
are in tears at the abuse which proceeds from them over the face of the
earth. Some are so carried away that they contentiously assert that the
flock of errors arising from them is sufficiently compensated by the
publication of some book which defends religion and truth. Every law
condemns deliberately doing evil simply because there is some hope that
good may result. Is there any sane man who would say poison ought to be
distributed, sold publicly, stored, and even drunk because some
antidote is available and those who use it may be snatched from death
again and again?
16. The Church has always taken action to destroy the plague of bad
books. This was true even in apostolic times for we read that the
apostles themselves burned a large number of books.23 It may be enough
to consult the laws of the fifth Council of the Lateran on this matter
and the Constitution which Leo X published afterwards lest "that which
has been discovered advantageous for the increase of the faith and the
spread of useful arts be converted to the contrary use and work harm
for the salvation of the faithful."24 This also was of great concern to
the fathers of Trent, who applied a remedy against this great evil by
publishing that wholesome decree concerning the Index of books which
contain false doctrine.25 "We must fight valiantly," Clement XIII says
in an encyclical letter about the banning of bad books, "as much as the
matter itself demands and must exterminate the deadly poison of so many
books; for never will the material for error be withdrawn, unless the
criminal sources of depravity perish in flames."26 Thus it is evident
that this Holy See has always striven, throughout the ages, to condemn
and to remove suspect and harmful books. The teaching of those who
reject the censure of books as too heavy and onerous a burden causes
immense harm to the Catholic people and to this See. They are even so
depraved as to affirm that it is contrary to the principles of law, and
they deny the Church the right to decree and to maintain it.
17. We have learned that certain teachings are being spread among the
common people in writings which attack the trust and submission due to
princes; the torches of treason are being lit everywhere. Care must be
taken lest the people, being deceived, are led away from the straight
path. May all recall, according to the admonition of the apostle that
"there is no authority except from God; what authority there is has
been appointed by God. Therefore he who resists authority resists the
ordinances of God; and those who resist bring on themselves
condemnation."27 Therefore both divine and human laws cry out against
those who strive by treason and sedition to drive the people from
confidence in their princes and force them from their government.
18. And it is for this reason that the early Christians, lest they
should be stained by such great infamy deserved well of the emperors
and of the safety of the state even while persecution raged. This they
proved splendidly by their fidelity in performing perfectly and
promptly whatever they were commanded which was not opposed to their
religion, and even more by their constancy and the shedding of their
blood in battle. "Christian soldiers," says St. Augustine, "served an
infidel emperor. When the issue of Christ was raised, they acknowledged
no one but the One who is in heaven. They distinguished the eternal
Lord from the temporal lord, but were also subject to the temporal lord
for the sake of the eternal Lord."28 St. Mauritius, the unconquered
martyr and leader of the Theban legion had this in mind when, as St.
Eucharius reports, he answered the emperor in these words: "We are your
soldiers, Emperor, but also servants of God, and this we confess freely
. . . and now this final necessity of life has not driven us into
rebellion: I see, we are armed and we do not resist, because we wish
rather to die than to be killed."29 Indeed the faith of the early
Christians shines more brightly, if with Tertullian we consider that
since the Christians were not lacking in numbers and in troops, they
could have acted as foreign enemies. "We are but of yesterday," he
says, "yet we have filled all your cities, islands, fortresses,
municipalities, assembly places, the camps themselves, the tribes, the
divisions, the palace, the senate, the forum....For what war should we
not have been fit and ready even if unequal in forces--we who are so
glad to be cut to pieces--were it not, of course, that in our doctrine
we would have been permitted more to be killed rather than to
kill?...If so great a multitude of people should have deserted to some
remote spot on earth, it would surely have covered your domination with
shame because of the loss of so many citizens, and it would even have
punished you by this very desertion. Without a doubt you would have
been terrified at your solitude.... You would have sought whom you
might rule; more enemies than citizens would have remained for you. Now
however you have fewer enemies because of the multitude of
19. These beautiful examples of the unchanging subjection to the
princes necessarily proceeded from the most holy precepts of the
Christian religion. They condemn the detestable insolence and improbity
of those who, consumed with the unbridled lust for freedom, are
entirely devoted to impairing and destroying all rights of dominion
while bringing servitude to the people under the slogan of liberty.
Here surely belong the infamous and wild plans of the Waldensians, the
Beghards, the Wycliffites, and other such sons of Belial, who were the
sores and disgrace of the human race; they often received a richly
deserved anathema from the Holy See. For no other reason do experienced
deceivers devote their efforts, except so that they, along with Luther,
might joyfully deem themselves "free of all." To attain this end more
easily and quickly, they undertake with audacity any infamous plan
20. Nor can We predict happier times for religion and government from
the plans of those who desire vehemently to separate the Church from
the state, and to break the mutual concord between temporal authority
and the priesthood. It is certain that that concord which always was
favorable and beneficial for the sacred and the civil order is feared
by the shameless lovers of liberty.
21. But for the other painful causes We are concerned about, you should
recall that certain societies and assemblages seem to draw up a battle
line together with the followers of every false religion and cult. They
feign piety for religion; but they are driven by a passion for
promoting novelties and sedition everywhere. They preach liberty of
every sort; they stir up disturbances in sacred and civil affairs, and
pluck authority to pieces.
22. We write these things to you with grieving mind but trusting in Him
who commands the winds and makes them still. Take up the shield of
faith and fight the battles of the Lord vigorously. You especially must
stand as a wall against every height which raises itself against the
knowledge of God. Unsheath the sword of the spirit, which is the word
of God, and may those who hunger after justice receive bread from you.
Having been called so that you might be diligent cultivators in the
vineyard of the Lord, do this one thing, and labor in it together, so
that every root of bitterness may be removed from your field, all seeds
of vice destroyed, and a happy crop of virtues may take root and grow.
The first to be embraced with paternal affection are those who apply
themselves to the sacred sciences and to philosophical studies. For
them may you be exhorter and supporter, lest trusting only in their own
talents and strength, they may imprudently wander away from the path of
truth onto the road of the impious. Let them remember that God is the
guide to wisdom and the director of the wise.31 It is impossible to
know God without God who teaches men to know Himself by His word.32 It
is the proud, or rather foolish, men who examine the mysteries of faith
which surpass all understanding with the faculties of the human mind,
and rely on human reason which by the condition of man's nature, is
weak and infirm.
23. May Our dear sons in Christ, the princes, support these Our desires
for the welfare of Church and State with their resources and authority.
May they understand that they received their authority not only for the
government of the world, but especially for the defense of the Church.
They should diligently consider that whatever work they do for the
welfare of the Church accrues to their rule and peace. Indeed let them
persuade themselves that they owe more to the cause of the faith than
to their kingdom. Let them consider it something very great for
themselves as We say with Pope St. Leo, "if in addition to their royal
diadem the crown of faith may be added." Placed as if they were parents
and teachers of the people, they will bring them true peace and
tranquility, if they take special care that religion and piety remain
safe. God, after all, calls Himself "King of kings and Lord of lords."
24. That all of this may come to pass prosperously and happily, let Us
raise Our eyes and hands to the most holy Virgin Mary, who alone
crushes all heresies, and is Our greatest reliance and the whole reason
for Our hope.33 May she implore by her patronage a successful outcome
for Our plans and actions. Let Us humbly ask of the Prince of the
Apostles, Peter and his co-apostle Paul that all of you may stand as a
wall lest a foundation be laid other than that which has already been
laid. Relying on this happy hope, We trust that the Author and Crown of
Our faith Jesus Christ will console Us in all these Our tribulations.
We lovingly impart the apostolic benediction to you, venerable
brothers, and to the sheep committed to your care as a sign of heavenly
Given in Rome at St. Mary Major, on 15 August, the feast of the
Assumption of the Virgin, in the year of Our Lord 1832, the second year
of Our Pontificate.
1. Lk 22:32.
2. 1 Cor 4:21.
3. Lk 22:53.
4. Is 24:5.
5. St. Celestine, Pope, epistle 21 to Bishop Galliar.
6. St. Agatho, Pope, epistle to the emperor, apud Labb., ed. Mansi,
vol. 2, p. 235.
7. St. Innocent, epistle 11 apud Constat.
8. St. Cyprian, de unitate eccles.
9. Council of Florence, session 25, in definit. apud Labb., ed. Venet.,
vol. 18, col. 527.
10. St. Jerome, epistle 2 to Nepot. a. 1, 24.
11. From canon ap. 38 apud Labb., ed Mansi, vol. 1, p. 38.
12. Council of Trent, session 13 on the Eucharist, prooemium .
13. St. Cyprian, epistle 52, ed. Baluz.
14. St. Gelasius, Pope, in epistle to the bishop of Lucaniae.
15. Heb 13:4.
16. Eph 4:5.
17. Lk 11:23.
18. Symbol .s. Athanasius.
19. St. Jerome, epistle 57.
20. St. Augustine, in psalm. contra part. Donat.
21. St. Augustine, epistle 166.
22. Ap 9:3.
23. Acts 19.
24. Acts of the Lateran Council 5, session 10, where the constitution
of Leo X is mentioned; the earlier constitution of Alexander VI, Inter
multiplices, ought to be read, in which there are many things on this
25. Council of Trent, sessions 18 and 25.
26. Letter of Clement XIII, Christianae, 25 November 1766.
27. Rom 13:2.
28. St. Augustine in psalt. 124, n. 7.
29. St. Euchenius apud Ruinart. Acts of the Holy Martyrs concerning
Saint Maurius and his companions, n. 4.
30. Tertullian, in apologet., chap. 37.
31. Wis 7:15.
32. St. Irenaeus, bk. 14, chap. 10.
33. St. Bernard, serm de nat. b.M.v., sect. 7.